Burke kicked in a furious final quarter-mile burst, uphill and downhill, to finish fourth at the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego, Calif. He pointed with a wave at the cheerleaders, smiling as he crossed the line in 15 minutes, 20 seconds under bright, 60-degree sunshine.
It is the highest finish by any of the nine Section V boys who have raced the famed Balboa Park course in the event’s 35 years. He was 13 seconds behind the winner.
“I really had to get it together to pull off something big,” Burke said by phone, when told he had surpassed John Horkheimer’s fifth place in 1987 for Pittsford. “The competition here was really hard and I was losing it midway through. If I had focused just a little bit more there, I might have had a shot at it.
“I’m a little bummed, but hey, fourth at this level is very fine. If there’s a quote here, it’s ‘dare to be great.’ More history? Yay! It’s why I run.”
He’s the first Section V runner to race both, and earn All-America status at both, national competitions — Foot Locker is top 15 and Nike Cross top 20. He was 13th at Nike last year.
“He lost it a little in the middle today,” agreed his coach, Mike DeMay. “But he really pulled it together on the big hill the second time around. It looked like he was ninth going up. It’s similar to Coronary Hill on our Mendon West course, so he knew what it would take. He passed five guys in the last 800 meters.”
First time up the climb Burke figured out what was needed. He said he crested the top of it in eighth or ninth, then “I told myself ‘that’s the pack I need to be with, let’s go for a ride,’ so I went after them hard. I didn’t want to drop back any farther.”
Penfield senior Katie Lembo ran a very similar race to a year ago and was 22nd in a field of 40 girls on the 3.1-mile course at Balboa’s Morley Field. Her time of 18 minutes, 11 seconds was just seven seconds slower than a year ago, when she was 21st. Eight Section V girls have competed in the championship.
“I went out with a new strategy,” she said, “a slower early pace … 5:26 first mile, about 10 seconds slower than last year. That way I was able to pick people off later and kick more at the end.
“I think I was in 28th at one point, and I worked my way up to 22. I’m really happy I got to end on a high note.”
Dave Hennessey, making his second straight trip to a fall nationals in 38 years of coaching at Penfield, said Lembo ran a very consistent race.
“It was all good,” he said. “The weather. The race. She is a very happy young lady. The Northeast girls won the team title and it was nice for her to finish ahead of those New York girls who beat her at states, feds and qualifiers.”
Lembo was the second New York finisher Saturday, after being fourth New Yorker and ninth overall at the qualifying race at VanCortlandt Park in the Bronx two weeks ago. The national winner, in 17:16, won the VanCortlandt qualifier, too — Tessa Barrett, a senior from Abington Heights High Sschool in Waverly, Pa. New York state Federations champion freshman Jessica Lawson of Corning was 27th (18:18) and state public schools champion Megan Reilly of Warwick Valley in southern Orange County was 29th (18:25).
Jim Castor, retired assistant sports editor of the Democrat and Chronicle, has covered running in the Rochester area for more than four decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foot Locker Nationals
At Balboa Park, San Diego, Calif.
Boys championship (39 finishers)
1. Grant Fisher (Grand Blanc H.S., Grand Blanc, Mich.) 15 minutes, 7 seconds. Section 5 finisher: 4. Mickey Burke (Rush-Henrietta) 15:20.