BELFAST — Luke Laverdiere knew he was on the cusp of history Saturday on the trails of the Troy Howard Middle School.
He could hear it.
“I could hear (the loudspeakers),” Laverdiere said. “I was feeling it in the last mile. I tried my hardest but I came up a little short.”
“A little short” was still plenty fast at the Festival of Champions to earn a win.
Laverdiere chugged to the finish line in 15:10.9, four seconds shy of the course record held by Josef Holt-Andrews of Telstar, set in 2015, but well ahead of the next-best runner.
The weather at the 2017 Festival of Champions was perfect for runners to break their personal records, and Laverdiere took advantage early.
Through the first mile, the runner from Yarmouth already had a solid lead of a few seconds over second-place runner Maximillian Sparks of Canton High School. After a 4:49 first mile, Laverdiere came through the second-mile marker at 9:43, increasing his lead. Around a minute behind was Oxford Hills’ Dominic Sclafani, who came through at 10:32, followed closely by Lewiston’s Abbas Muktar and Edward Little’s Russell Allen.
Coming down the home stretch and up over the last hill, the PA announcer was informing the crowd of the course record and Laverdiere’s chances at breaking it, something the Yarmouth senior took into account.
Laverdiere finished short of the new course record, but 17 seconds better than the old second-best time. The next finisher from a Maine school was John Auer of Falmouth, who ran 16:02 — good for seventh. Falmouth, as a team, finished in fourth.
As for Sclafani, the Vikings senior finished in 28th with a time of 16:37. Allen finished in 43rd with a time of 16:53, a PR of “ten-to-fifteen seconds.”
“I’m ecstatic about that,” Allen said. “I’m really happy. Since I was injured in my junior year, it has been a while since I’ve run a PR. Today just feels amazing.”
Early in the race, a few runners fell as the runners funnelled through the first hill, which made Allen all the more cautious.
“At the beginning there was a big fall and I was kind of shook up from that,” Allen said. “I had to watch where I was running because I didn’t want to trip anyone and cause another fall. I just got more comfortable as the race went on.”
Muktar was the next local finisher after Allen with a time of 16:54. Having high aspirations to start the year, Muktar will take the PR in stride, but knows there is work to be done.
“I was feeling really good coming into the race,” Muktar said. “The start was pretty fast, a bit too fast if you ask me… I thought I could have done better, but I PR’d, so I will take it.”
In the girls’ seeded race, a freshman crushed the competition to take the title. Falmouth’s Sofie Matson won with a time of 18:17, 19 seconds faster than second place.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking,” Matson said. “I knew I wanted to be at the front of the lead pack but I didn’t know if I would end up taking the lead.”
Matson had about an 18-second lead after the first mile, but Matson ran with the head of a professional and knew how to handle running on her own.
“I wanted to keep my splits consistent,” Matson said. “I definitely didn’t want to die out. It is definitely a self confidence booster and I’m really excited to continue racing.”
Sophia Laukli from Yarmouth, who finished in second, ran 18:36.
Edward Little’s Jillian Richardson beat her PR from earlier in the season at Leavitt to finish in 21st with a time of 19:20, all while being under the weather.
“My goal was to do better than my seed, pretty much, and get a PR,” Richardson said. “It went pretty well but I didn’t feel very well today, I didn’t feel my best so it’s kind of a bummer.”
Even though Richardson wasn’t totally healthy, the junior had a personal fan section following her throughout the race in her parents.
“My family is a big support for me,” Richardson said.
The top finishing Maine school on the girls’ side was Camden Hills, which finished with a total of 228, 113 more than first-place Glastonbury High School from Connecticut.
The seeded girls’ heat of runners takes off during the Festival of Champions at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast on Saturday.