LINCOLN, Neb. -- If there’s a much better way to end a collegiate indoor running career than to win both of the events you qualified for for nationals, John Crain can’t think of one.
On Friday, the North Central (Ill.) senior burned the men’s 5,000 meters field at the NCAA Division III track and field championships, winning that event by nearly 13 seconds.
St. Olaf junior Grant Wintheiser went into the final lap of the 3,000 in the lead. However, building on the momentum he’d built over the past few laps and then finding it in his energy reserves to keep the burners running through the final 200, Crain overcame Wintheiser before hitting the finish line first.
Crain, who came into the DIII indoor finals at Bob Devaney Sports Center the defending 5,000 outdoor national champion, finished his 3,000 run Saturday in 8:10.40. Wintheiser ended just behind in 8:11.83, and Central (Iowa) junior Eli Horton finished third with a time of 8:14.94.
Fatigue from winning Friday’s 5,000 showed early in the 3,000 Saturday, Crain said, so adjustments – not least of them being a gut-check - had to be made mid-race.
“Going into the race, my goal was to make it hard (for the rest of the field) from the beginning,” Crain said. “I knew there were a couple of guys in the race with better foot speed than me, and I knew that if it was to drag out, then they might get me over the last couple of laps.
“As I went out, though, I could feel the [after-effects of the] 5,000 meters in my legs a little bit from the day before, so I kind of backed off and let a couple other guys take over, but from there it was all heart. Literally over the last 800 meters, I just kept questioning, ‘Can I actually do this,’ but I just pushed through it.”
This was the first year that men’s and women’s 3,000 indoor champions were crowned at the DIII level. As for its future, Crain pointed at his own race Saturday as proof of how exciting that event can and hopefully will continue to be in the future.
“It’s a really exciting event, having it as the last individual event of the second day puts the pressure on the teams more,” Crain, who is set to become a graduate assistant coach at Oklahoma once his time at NCC comes to an end, said.
“People are battling out for their teams, and it’s a short-enough event where it’s distance but it’s quick to where you aren’t going around the track for 15 minutes, but there’s a lot that can go on in the race.
“You could see there was a lot of pushing and shoving and battling for position. There was one point where I almost got tripped up and fell over, but I was able to stay upright and obviously I’m glad I did.”