Class of 2006
Jordan Welling knew he wouldn’t have any problem beating the bridge.
What he didn’t expect was to beat everyone else May 18 at the 26th Annual Nordstrom Beat the Bridge to Beat Diabetes, the fourth largest 8K race in the country.
“I really didn’t give much thought to actually winning it,” said Welling, a Burlington-Edison High School grad who runs at Western Washington University.
“I was starting up front, so I figured I’d finish somewhere in the top 10. I run by how I feel. I’ve ran a lot of races and I usually start conservatively and then speed up. My only strategy was not to go out too fast and die. I just wanted to put myself in the mix and then put myself possibly in a position to win it.”
Welling, a 20-year-old sophomore, crossed the finish line inside Husky Stadium in a time of 24 minutes, 3 seconds to post the fastest time among 4,036 runners.
Welling outdueled 23-year-old Mike Sayenko of Bellevue by a mere three seconds.
NCAA rules prevented Welling from collecting the $1,000 first prize. Race officials donated it to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“The officials assured me the money would go to the charity,” Welling said. “That just made the experience even more memorable. The race was for a good cause and it was a lot of fun.”
About 20 minutes after the race’s third wave (those running 8-minute miles or better) leaves the starting line, the Montlake Cut bridge is raised. The bridge is near the race’s 2-mile mark.
Miss the bridge and it becomes a waiting game for it to be lowered in order to continue to the finish line.
Before the race, Welling chatted with the race director, who said he believed this year’s race could be the fastest in some time.
“He told me there were multiple guys who had run under 30 minutes in 8K events,” Welling said. “That didn’t interfere with how I was going to run the race.”
Welling took off in the first wave. It was comprised of competitors capable of a running 7-minute miles or better. Wave two was for runners with paces of 7:01 to 7:59.
From the outset, Welling said he hung in a pack between fourth and eighth place.
He said that running in a pack serves its purpose. It allows runners to work with each other and draft.
A couple of miles in, two runners broke away from the lead pack.
“It’s always good to run with someone,” Welling said. “You get out on your own and it can get tough. It’s a risky move. You don’t have anyone else to work with.”
He had a decision to make.
“They were running at a pretty good pace,” he said. “If I was going to have any chance to catch them, I knew I had to make my move. I knew catching them was going to take some time and distance. So I just started to work my way up.”
He felt a surge of energy as he reached the leaders about two miles after they broke away.
“It was a long process (catching up),” Welling said. “I didn’t want to just sprint up there. But I was still doing a lot of work to catch them.
“It’s a mental thing. You know the pace and how you feel. It’s just a matter of hanging on. Once I caught up, then I focused on relaxing — and winning the race.”
As it turned out, those two guys had impressive credentials. One was a sub-4-minute miler while the other was an Olympic marathoner.
“Had I known who those guys were, one guy just came back from the Olympic trials and the other had run sub-4-minute miles, I am not sure whether I would have taken off with them,” said Welling.
“It was obvious that no one was going to sprint away until late in the race and whoever did was probably going to sprint for the win.”
With one mile to go, Sayenko took off — with Welling close behind.
“There was a significant increase in the pace at the one-mile (remaining) mark,” Welling recalled. “He knew he had to make his move.
“I increased the pace more with about a half mile to go and went by him. I didn’t look back. I was able to open up a little gap.”
How small? Welling could hear Sayenko breathing.
“As we entered Husky Stadium, the crowd was really loud,” Welling said, “but I could still hear him breathing down my neck. I ended up running a 4:30 the last mile. I had no idea that it was that fast.”
As Welling crossed the finish line, he glanced up to see himself on the stadium’s big screen monitor.
“That was one of the coolest finishes ever,” he said. “The announcer was on the public address system and I was on the JumboTron in front of thousands of people. It was quite the experience.
“It was a definite relief to get into the stadium. The last couple hundred meters, I was beginning to run out of gas.”
After the race, Welling and Sayenko ran together to cool down.
“I knew who he was,” Welling said of Sayenko’s name. “But I didn’t know what he looked like.”
About 9,000 took part in the event. About 4,000 ran in the competitive race. Non-competitive events included a four-mile family walk, a one-mile fun run and a Diaper Derby.
“This sort of race is different than what I am used to,” Welling said. “In track, you know where you are going and what is left. This is different.
“And there was so much energy at this race. There were people lined up along the whole way."
It was sort of a fluke that Welling had the opportunity to run the race.
He had hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships. That, however, didn’t happen as he just missed the cut by a single spot (a mere 3 seconds) in the 10K and missed qualifying for the 5K by two spots.
“I was still training hard in hopes of qualifying for the national championships,” he said. “When I didn’t, I didn’t want all that training to go to waste. So my roommate told me about this race and I signed up. For this race, I was in peak shape. That made it a lot of fun.”
On the horizon for Welling is plenty. He will continue competing at Western. However, he eventually wants to turn his focus toward marathons.
“I see myself as a better marathon runner,” he admitted. “Maybe I’ll make the Olympic trials in the 10K, for 2012. Then maybe 2016 I go for the marathon. I just want to give myself a shot at qualifying for the Olympics.
“I have time. Who knows what will happen in the next 10 years. Even if I just make it to the Olympic trials, I would see that as a success. For now, I am just going to keep running.”
Vince Richardson can be reached at 360-416-2181 or by e-mail at vrichardson @skagitvalleyherald.com
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