In the last year, Riley McDermott’s times have dropped dramatically across the board.
Some of that is attributable to health. The junior runner for Middletown High School is no longer dealing with the achilles tendonitis that severely hampered his performance for the Knights’ track and field team last year.
Some of it is also the result of some of the toughest training McDermott has ever done. Coaches Paul Spurrier and Allen Caldwell are constantly pushing him and his teammates.
For example, during most practices, McDermott completes five or six 1Ks in succession. A 1K is a two-and-a-half-lap sprint around the track. Each 1K is separated by a 200-meter jog for McDermott and his teammates.
“[A 1K] feels pretty long for me,” he said. “Maybe it doesn’t for some of our other distance runners.”
Maybe more so than anything, McDermott’s drastic improvement is the product of him constantly resetting his goals and challenging himself to get better. His horizons are constantly being stretched.
“I have always tried my hardest to be good at what I do,” he said. “I don’t want to waste any part of my potential by settling.”
McDermott will head into this week’s state track and field championships at Morgan State University with a fresh set of readjusted goals. Among them will be winning each of his four events (the 800-meter run, the 1,600, the 4x800 relay and the 4x400 relay) and shaving more tenths and hundredths of seconds off of his already terrific times.
At one point this season, McDermott had the sixth fastest time in the country in the 800 — his best event — among high school juniors, according to Spurrier.
He ran a 1 minute, 52.9 second split in the 4x800 relay and a personal-record 1:53.33 in the open 800. All of his 800 times this season have been faster than 1:56. That represents roughly a seven-second improvement from most of the best times he ran last season while dealing with his injury.
“The 800 is a nice sweet spot for me,” McDermott said. “The [1,600] tends to lull on a bit too long. But the 800 is a fast and aggressive race. It’s pretty intense. There is always action going on.”
McDermott has also shined in the 1,600 this season, winning county and regional championships, and ran a leg for Middletown’s victorious 4x400 relay at the Class 2A West regional meet.
“He’s clearly our best 800 runner. He’s clearly our best 400 runner. If we let him run the 200 on a regular basis, he’d probably be our best at that, too,” Spurrier said.
“I’d say he’s been racing a lot smarter this season. Most of those 800 times this season have been run without anyone [in the race] really pushing him. That’s pretty tough to do.”
The one time McDermott ran the 400 in an invitational this season, he ran a personal-best time of 50.75 to place second at the Dwight Scott meet. Spurrier said he’s been trending under 50 seconds in the 400 during practice and relay splits.
“He’s gone beyond what any expected him to do at this point,” Spurrier said. “He’s always had the speed, and now, with all of the work he’s put in, he has gotten a lot stronger. So he is able to maintain his speed with all of that mileage that he is putting in.”
McDermott’s terrific outdoor season comes on the heels of his first state championship in the 500 dash in February at the state indoor meet. His winning time was 1:06.01.
“It’s always important to me to help my team score as many points as we can in these big meets,” he said.
Today, McDermott will run the 4x800 relay with teammates Brennan Straights, Kelvin Ngo and Holden Coblentz. Then, on Saturday, he will navigate a more physically demanding schedule with the 800, the 1,600 and the 4x400 relay with Alex Hayes, Harry Rentzeperis and Straights.
“I am really proud of all of my [teammates] this season,” McDermott said. “There have been a lot of big PR’s this season, which is great. To me, the team success is just as exciting and just as important as any individual success.”