When Nick Hartle was in the eighth grade, his parents thought he should give sports a try. They saw an ad in a local paper about a club track team and he agreed to see if he enjoyed it.
He pictured himself a sprinter.
On the first day of practice, the coach had other ideas and sent the newcomers, most of whom were younger than Hartle, off on a 20-minute run.
That's when Hartle discovered he probably wasn't going to be the next Usain Bolt, but that he had other talents which might be developed if he stuck with it.
"I lapped the entire group and instantly fell in love with track," said Hartle, who last season as a junior at Centennial (Las Vegas)
set the state record when he roared to Nevada state championship 800-meter record in 1 minutes, 49.91 seconds.
"The coach told me I was a distance runner and I felt pretty good about that until I got home and almost fell trying to get out of the car. Then I knew I had to build up."
And build he did, making the Centennial varsity cross country team as a freshman, finishing seventh in the state meet while helping lift the Bulldogs to the state title as the team's No. 2 runner. This despite almost not going out for the sport.
Although Hartle has won the last two individual state cross country crowns, it's the much-shorter half-mile race that he enjoys most.
He'll show Southern Californians his vast two-lap skill Saturday in the Arcadia Invitational
, considered one of the premier national meets year-after-year. The two-event begins Friday at Arcadia High School and concludes with a six-hour Invitational session on Saturday.
The fact the 800 incorporates endurance and speed are perfect for Hartle, who signed a letter of intent to attend UCLA. Many find the race bedeviling because competitors can neither sprint nor run a slow pace. Those are the challenges he likes most.
A 47.5 split on the 4x400 relay attests to his speed and his 2011 best of 4:10.23 for 1,600 meters shows his endurance.
Being fearless helps and Hartle doesn't need a pace-setter since he prefers to take the lead and dare his opponents to stay with him yet still have something left at the end of the race.
"I split 52 and 57 when I ran the 1:49," said Hartle who is hoping to dip under 1:50 again this weekend at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational. "I have no problem with the 52 but I'd rather run a 55 on the second lap.
"My goal is to run 1:46.45 or faster but for Arcadia anything under 1:50 would be fine."
High school track fans will be familiar with that 1:46.45 as it is the National High School record set by Bell Gardens' Michael Granville in the 1996 California state high school championships.
Hartle's coach, Roy Sessions, thinks the record could tumble.
"I believe he can do it, he's not at all intimidated," Sessions said. "We're trying to toughen him up so he can run 51-54. I don't know if it will happen before the big summer meets, though. Last year he ran a lot early and it showed at the end of the year."
Hartle finished third in the National Junior championships with a 1:50.19 but then had no legs left for the World Youth Trials in South Carolina.
Before dismissing Sessions as just another overly-optimistic coach, consider that he was a 1:44 half-miler at the University of Oregon and his splits were usually in the 50-54 range, so he knows something about running the event.
His 3.96 grade-point average got Hartle into UCLA but he admits having American record-holder Johnny Gray as his coach pretty much clinched the deal.
"I'm really looking forward to training under Johnny Gray," said Hartle, who in his spare time helps tutor those on the track team who might be struggling academically — especially if it's math. "He told me the day he set the American Record (1:42.60), he didn't feel like running. I know the feeling. He said when sometimes you don't feel like you'll run well, expectations aren't as high so you do run well."
Kind of like setting off on a 20-minute run with nothing to lose.NOTES:
This is the 45th annual Arcadia Invitational and according to meet officials, the annual event has produced 24 national records and 125 meet alumni who went on to represent the U.S. in the Olympic Games. … There are three sessions – Friday Relays (4:30-10 p.m.), Saturday Open (9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Saturday Invitational (4-10 p.m.). … The premier event is the Invitational, but state and national leading marks have been set in earlier sessions. … Hartle will be pushed to the hilt by Canadian Tyler Smith
, who has also broke the 1:50 barrier. ... Some of the other premier Invitational events and athletes include: the boys 100 and 200 which features Maryland’s Ronald Darby
and Colorado’s Raymond Bozmans
. … The boys 400 relay not only features trio of fleet Southern California squads – Long Beach Poly
, Serra (Gardena)
and Dorsey (Los Angeles)
– but out-of-state powers Penn Wood (Lansdowne, Pa.)
and Dunbar (Baltimore)
. … Last year’s 3,200 for both genders was extremely fast and it promises to be again with defending girls champion Sarah Baxter
(Simi Valley) along with Foot Locker boys cross-country runner-up Futsum Zeinasellassie
(North Central, Indianapolis), who will be challenged by La Costa Canyon’s Darren Fahy
. … The Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.)
middle distance duo of Amy Weissenbach
and Cami Chapus
will compete though as of press time what events aren’t clear. Whatever they entered, they will be favored. … The nation’s top 100 hurdler Trinity Wilson
of St. Mary's (Albany, Calif.)
will be back to try to lower her meet record time of 13.50. Senior writer Mitch Stephens contributed to this report. Brand and Stephens will lead the MaxPreps coverage of Saturday's events at the Arcadia Invitational.