Wednesday, May 14, 2008

WJ senior is county’s best miler again

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
With nary a competitor in sight on the track behind him, Walter Johnson senior Chris Moen was well on his way to breaking his own 1,600-meter record last Thursday at the Montgomery County Track and Field Championships at Churchill.
Churchill co-coach Steve Bettis gave Walter Johnson counterpart Tom Martin a big high-five as soon as Martin’s runner crossed the finish line. The public-address announcer led the cheers. Even the runners who finished too far behind to be considered ‘‘in his wake” were excited for him.

Walter Johnson senior Chris Moen ran 1,600 meters in 4 minutes, 13.05 seconds last Thursday night at Churchill, breaking the Montgomery County Championship meet record he himself had set two years earlier. It was just one of seven new records established that night, but none of the others had as much personal significance.

‘‘I feel amazing,” Moen said afterward. ‘‘It feels so out of my body. ... I’ve been thinking about this race all week. I thought about it so much in preparation, I felt like I didn’t really have to think about it while I was running. It was just all instinct.”

The two years between Moen’s county records were full of national-level competition, eye-popping times and plenty of local honors. But they were also packed with on-track adversity.

Rewind 16 months, to January 2007. Moen sets his personal best in the mile run, 4:16.76, at the New Balance Games. He wins the Montgomery Invitational indoor meet in 4:17.33, and competes in the prestigious mile run at the Millrose Games in New York, a select field of seven of the top high school runners in the country.

On the surface, Moen, the 2007 boys indoor Gazette Athlete of the Year, was set up for another record-breaking spring. But behind the scenes, his effort over the winter left Moen drained, mentally and physically.

‘‘Last season, I wasn’t feeling it,” Moen said. ‘‘Last year, when I had the crazy indoor season, I wasn’t really looking to outdoor to do anything.”

Moen’s times in the mile and 1,600 (roughly equivalent distances; one mile is 1,609.3 meters) tailed off over the spring. Instead of building up to the outdoor season, he appeared to have broken down. Martin went so far as to hold Moen out of the 1,600 at last year’s County and 4A West Region meets.

‘‘We decided that he just didn’t have the same intensity when he ran the mile, and it was starting to become a lot of pressure on him, because everybody expected so much,” Martin said. ‘‘It was a hard short-term plan last year, because so many people were looking at him and me, and saying, ‘What’s wrong with Chris?’ But it was a good long-term plan for him; it was the best thing for him.”

The plan carried into this past indoor season. Moen volunteered himself for the Wildcats’ 4x800-meter relay team, which because of the event schedule made it more or less impossible for him to also run the 1,600. He disappeared from the national radar in the mile.

But again, things weren’t as they seemed. Moen owned the 800 this winter, setting a record time of 1:56.77 in the Class 4A state championship. Concentrating on the 800 not only improved his speed, it gave Moen a needed mental respite from the event that owned him a year earlier.

By this spring, he was ready. Moen went into last Thursday as the top seed in the 1,600, with a time of 4:22.0. But it was his 2006 time of 4:15.90 that he had his eye on.

‘‘My workouts have been really good, and my mind has really come around at this point,” Moen said. ‘‘It wasn’t that counties was the mark, but my mentality has been getting better and better. So this just happened to be the race where I really re-proved myself. And also having the record, wanting to do it again, it really pumped me up.”

Moen made his move on Quince Orchard’s Neal Darmody on the second turn of the second lap. By the time he heard the bell for the final lap, he was nearly 100 meters out in front.

‘‘I’m so happy for him,” said Darmody, who finished a distant second. ‘‘I feel like he’s kind of been having some down time. I’m really glad he’s continuing where he left off, because he’s a great runner. ... He wanted to leave the county with a statement, and he did.”

Moen goes into this week’s 4A West Region meet just looking to qualify for states, which begin May 22. It is in the 4A state championships where Moen will look to leave one more lasting impression; the state record in the event, by the way, is 4:07.11.

After that, Moen looks forward to joining his new teammates at Appalachian State (N.C.) University, where he committed in February. College running will present a new set of challenges. But after what Moen has been through, and the manner in which he came out the other side, there’s no reason to doubt him.

‘‘He can tap a well of strength like I’ve never seen before, and we’ve had some great runners through our school,” Martin said. ‘‘I’ve been waiting for him to find that well again, and he found it again [Thursday]. ... I’ve always had faith that he would be capable of doing this again. The hard part of it was watching what other people thought, knowing in my head what was in his.”