Colin Baker had to alter his approach to accomplish something that’s never been achieved.
The Academic Magnet senior had lately become too consumed by the idea of breaking the state record in the 3,200-meter run. It weighed on him heaviest during races.
So last week he quit worrying about the all-time mark. He quit trying to chase history. He focused instead on running his own race at his own pace. And it seems to have worked.
Baker broke a 31-year-old state record in the 3,200, finishing in 8 minutes, 54.68 seconds to earn ninth place against many of the nation’s top runners at the Arcadia Invitational last weekend in Los Angeles, California.
He edged the previous state best by 1.41 seconds, set in 1988 by Ernie Shephard of Wren High School. He destroyed his own personal best by 14.55 seconds. No runner in the state in at least the past 20 years has run the 3,200 in less than nine minutes.
“It was a major relief,” Baker said. “Breaking that record had been a big goal of mine. After I crossed the line and knew I got it, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”
Baker entered with the state’s best mark of the season, running 9:14.87 in a meet at West Ashley High School in March. He ran 9:09.23 during cross country season in November. Both much improved from his state championship run of 9:38.55 but still considerably far off the all-time state best.
He tried different things to shave the seconds. He adjusted his pace at different points. He visualized when to attack the track and when to hold steady. But he found himself too consumed with history, too distracted maybe from performing at his best.
“I think it was a bit too dialed in on it,” he admits now reflecting back. “When things got tough and I fell off pace, I would crumble under the pressure. Although I really wanted to get the record, I tried not to overly focus on it going into this race. Rather, I went into this race with the mindset that I was just going to try to give it my best effort no matter what happens.”
Baker paced toward the back of the pack through a quick opening lap that saw nearly the entire field finish in roughly 64 seconds. He pressed ahead during the third lap in which the field began to separate some. Nearly the entire group completed the fourth lap on pace to finish the race in less than nine minutes.
Baker moved into the top 10 with about 600 meters to go. He seemed to grow stronger by the end, warding off runners who threatened from behind, and looked relieved as he crossed the finish line.
“About halfway through the race I could tell I was well on pace,” Baker said. “But the first half is the easy part. So I knew I wasn’t in the clear. I’d say with a lap to go, barring a disaster, I knew I was going to get the record.”
Baker is the defending Class AA state champion in the 3,200; he took second in the 1,600. He has his sight set on winning both this year.
Academic Magnet has risen to Class AAA this season. Baker’s record-setting time in the 3,200 last weekend would’ve won last year’s AAA state championship by more than 53 seconds. He’s run one 1,600 so far this spring; it would’ve won last year’s AAA state title by more than 10 seconds.
The Harvard signee has spent much of his senior year competing in national meets that have dotted the country from California to Texas to North Carolina. He next hopes to earn a spot on the U.S. junior men’s track team for an opportunity to compete against some of the world’s best as the Pan American Games this summer.
His jammed schedule hasn’t left much time to run in local meets with his high school team at Academic Magnet. That’s something he’s looking forward to doing more of this spring, even if he’s heavily favored now within the state.
“I never go into races expecting things to be handed to me,” Baker said. “I know when I toe the line in May at state there are going to be seven other guys who want that title too and none of my past accomplishments will have any impact on the race. I just go into it knowing I definitely have the ability to win but still have to execute.”
Now a record holder and maybe a wiser runner, it seems as though Baker has the approach part of it all figured out.