Alaska's high school track and field season is bookended by two major meets -- the Big C Relays at the beginning and the state championships at the end.
The state championship meet can be nerve-wracking for athletes and coaches. The stakes are high, the atmosphere is intense, and for most of the seniors, it's the last meet of their lives.
The Big C "is more of a happy place," Kodiak runner Levi Thomet said Friday on the first day of the two-day meet at The Dome.
"You can talk to people," he said. "It's more relaxed, but it's still really competitive."
The Dome was a happy place for a number of athletes Friday, particularly Thomet and Kenai's Allie Ostrander, winners of the 3,200-meter runs.
Both eclipsed the existing state records, and Ostrander ran the season's fifth-fastest time in the nation, according to athletic.net rankings.
Ostrander finished in 10 minutes, 17.10 seconds, a jaw-dropping 20 seconds faster than the highly respected 1986 state record set by Kodiak's Kristi Klinnert. Klinnert remains the record holder, because state records can only be set at the state meet.
Thomet's time of 9:09.96 bettered the 2008 state mark of 9:11.27 set by Palmer's Jake Parisien. It was well off Don Clary's blazing two-mile record of 9:04.4 set back in 1975, before track and field switched to the metric system. Converted to meters, Clary's time is 9:01.3.
"I got a PR, so I'm happy," said Thomet, a junior who won by more than 40 seconds to better his previous best of 9:11.
Ostrander won by more than 70 seconds with a time that shaved eight seconds off her previous best of 10:25 and would have placed her 11th among boys.
Earlier in the week, Kenai assistant coach Levi Sutton wrote down the split times Ostrander needed to run a 10:20.
"It sounded really fast," she said, "but he got it in my head that I could do it. I had it in the back of my head the whole time."
This is the second season that Ostrander appears poised to take down Klinnert's long-standing record -- and the first in which she will actually get a chance to take aim at it.
She ran 10:25 at last season's Region III championships, breaking Klinnert's region record in the process, but she skipped the state championships because she's also a top soccer player, and the state meet was the same week as the Region III soccer championships.
This season, Ostrander's commitment is to track -- she will play soccer when possible, but when there are conflicts, track will prevail.
"I feel bad for not being there for my (soccer) teammates, but I told them I can't give up this opportunity again," Ostrander said. "I know going forward I'm going to be running in college, but I just love soccer, so it was hard to give it up."
Ostrander, a junior, spent spring break making unofficial visits to East Coast schools, with the full recruitment process, with official campus visits, still to come.
She can't spend her summer dreaming about college though -- she'll be too busy.
On the Fourth of July, Ostrander, 17, will run her final race in the junior division at Mount Marathon, where she is the five-time girls champion and record holder. The week after that is the first race in the five-race Salmon Run Series on the peninsula -- a race series that Ostrander created as a school project her freshman year.
"It's kind of our Tuesday Night Race Series," Sutton said of the Wednesday night races, each of which drew more than 100 runners last summer.
The race series began as a Caring for the Kenai project, an annual environmental contest for high school kids on the Kenai Peninsula. Ostrander's project, which Ostrander said was inspired by mom Teri, was to hold a fund-raising race series "to keep the river healthy."
"My family is a fishing family -- my dad's boat is his baby," she said. "It incorporates my family's love of fishing and running."
She decided to hold the 5-kilometer races on a different route each week at the Tsalteshi Trails, "because I feel people don't make enough use" of the well-regarded trail system near Skyview High.
This summer will mark the third year of the race series, which, for Ostander, has gone from being a high school project to a job. After a successful first season, she said, the Kenai Watershed Forum hired her to organize the races last summer and again this summer.
"It comes out to about 100 hours a summer, asking for donations and prizes, setting up the course, coordinating the times and bibs," Ostrander said. "I sit down for two hours on Thursdays" compiling results from times recorded with hand-held stopwatches.
On Friday, Ostrander ran like a metronome, beginning the eight-lap 3,200 with a split of 1:13 and ending it with a split of 1:13.
Thomet was a bit less consistent. He closed with a 62.1-second lap after covering the penultimate lap in 70.7.
"I was trying to stay under 70s, but it's hard to run perfectly even splits," said Thomet, who opened with a 65.3 and three times was in the 70s.
It's especially hard in such a crowded field -- there were 35 boys in each of two 3,200-meter heats, and Thomet lapped an awful lot of the runners in his race, often zig-zagging to pass them. On one corner of the track, runners were funneled into a single lane in order to accommodate the long jump competition at that end of The Dome.
With 40 teams and more than 1,000 athletes competing, the Big C Relays is a sight to behold. Early Friday afternoon, there were two high jumping competitions at one end of The Dome, while shot put, discus and long jumping happened at the other end.
Circling all of that action were runners, racing on the 400-meter track. In the space in the middle, athletes and teams set up camp -- some spread out tarps, one team pitched a small tent, and many used blankets and beach towels to make nesting spots.
During Thomet's race, West's Leroy Elliott drew a crowd at the boys high jump, where he recorded a personal-best jump of 6 feet, 3 inches, one inch better than his previous best.
"I'm wanting more," said Elliott, who said his goal is 6-5 or better. "But I'm happy I got a PR."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Big C Relays
3,200 -- 1) Allie Ostrander, Kenai, 10:17.10; 2) Briahna Gerlach, Glennallen, 11:23.02; 3) Maddie Hall, Thunder Mountain, 11:26.92; 4) Kaitlyn Maker, Eagle River, 11:34.74; 5) Mariah Burroughs, Wasilla, 11:53.23; 6) Cathelyne Powers, Colony, 12:04.83; 7) Hannah Brown, South, 12:07.59; 8) Elizabeth Balsan, ACS, 12:13.32; 9) Peyton Young, Eagle River, 12:13.52; 10) Sadie Fox, Soldotna, 12:15.99.
3,200 -- 1) Levi Thomet, Kodiak, 9:09.96; 2) Steven Brown, Casa Roble (Calif.), 9:50.82; 3) Christian Sessom, Colony, 9:54.92; 4) Jordan Theisen, Kenai, 9:56.00; 5) Derek Steele, South, 10:05.62; 6) Larkin Lynch, West, 10:07.62; 7) Brad Needles, Casa Roble (Calif.), 10:10.21; 8) Daniel Serventi, Grace Christian, 10:11.29; 9) Pedro Ochoa, Homer, 10:13.38; 10) David McPhetres, Chugiak, 10:16.11.
By BETH BRAGG