From the electric pace of the 60-meter dash to the grueling length of the 5,000-meter run, track events take a variety of different forms. But at the end of the day, whether athletes toe the line or sit in the blocks before a race, their minds all focus on a single number — a time to beat. They want to run faster than they ever have before.
At the prestigious IC4As Championship meet this weekend, several Bulldogs crossed the finish line with new career-best times, concluding their indoor seasons on an exciting note. While most of Yale’s track and field team opted to scratch their spots at IC4As in order to recover and focus on preparing for the outdoor season, Yale head coach David Shoemaker took four men and one woman to Boston University for one final opportunity to see the team perform indoors against elite competition.
“It was an amazing feeling to break my [personal record],” sprinter Ek Ayhan ’21 said. “Doing so in the last race of the indoor season was huge for my confidence going into outdoors and confirmed that my goals for outdoors are attainable.”
Despite disappointing team finishes at the Ivy Heps last weekend, nine woman and 18 men qualified for IC4As — a testament to Yale’s potential as a program. The majority of qualifiers were members of the Bulldogs’ distance team, including Trevor Reinhart ’19, who was the Ivy champion in the 3,000-meter run at the Heps. Training alongside Reinhart throughout the indoor season were distance runners Will Laird ’21 and Thomas Gmür ’18 — the two Yale distance athletes who competed at IC4As this weekend.
Facing many of the northeast’s top milers, Laird and Gmür hit the track just a year after James Randon ’16 captured the meet record at IC4As with a brilliant 3:58.85 run in the same event. Throughout his career, Gmür has proven a versatile runner for Yale, competing in the 800-meter run as well as the 8,000-meter, and almost everything in between. Gmür crossed the line this weekend in 4:12.40, good enough for seventh place in his heat.
In just his rookie season, Laird has established himself as one of the Eli’s most promising distance athletes. Laird entered his first collegiate season with several solid high school personal bests, including a 4:17.72 record in the mile. However, since joining Yale’s program, he has improved significantly and rapidly. By the Valentine Invitational two weeks ago, Laird set a new personal best more than five seconds faster than his original high school time. At IC4As, Laird shone once again, setting yet another personal record with a 4:10.97 performance.
“Coming into the race we knew that there was a good chance that the race would go out quick and give me a chance to run a [personal record],” Laird said. “[Distance coach Paul Harkins] told me to stay relaxed and focus on my form, and I was able to fall in behind some of the guys in the race right away. I trusted my training and coaching and the pieces fell into place as the race went on.”
The next athlete to hit the track for the Elis was middle-distance runner Lilly Enes ’20, Yale’s only female athlete to compete at IC4As. After setting a new personal best in the 400-meter dash at the Heps last weekend, Enes suffered an unexpected blow when she was tripped from behind in the finals and was unable to recover her first-place position. But the sophomore was uninjured and unfazed by the accident and traveled to Boston seeking redemption.
Enes rebounded with conviction at IC4As, matching her personal record with a 55.55 time in the 400-meter dash and qualifying for a spot in the finals. Enes will look to chase another personal record in the upcoming spring season, with the Bulldogs’ first outdoor meet just two weeks away.
“After last weekend, I was really frustrated and wanted to re-prove myself,” Enes said. “I kept the same aggressive mentality as I always do, but I had a little chip on my shoulder, which pushed me to be even a little more aggressive.”
The last two athletes to run for Yale — sprinters Vincent Vaughns ’20 and Ayhan — both competed in the 200-meter dash for the Elis. Ayhan, who has shed time and set new personal records throughout the season in the event, was eager to hold his own among top competitors this weekend. Although he is just a first year, Ayhan has years of experience competing at a high level. In addition to being New Jersey’s four-time Prep-State 400-meter champion, he also ran at the New Balance National race four times in his high school career.
Hitting the track in the fifth heat, Ayhan ran a speedy 21.96 time, setting another personal record in the process. It was Vaughns, though, whose performance solidified a spot in the Yale record books. After chasing the school record in the indoor 200-meter dash all season, Vaughns finally succeeded in his last opportunity of the winter season. Vaughns won his heat with a time of 21.52 seconds, and qualified for a spot in the finals.
“It really felt good to compete this weekend,” Vaughns said. “It was my last shot to show what I was capable of indoors, and I knew the competition would help push me to a good time. In the week leading up to this meet, I thought a lot about why I came to Yale and it was to achieve things in sprints that had never been done before.”
Although Vaughns and Enes all secured a chance to run in the IC4A finals, they opted to save their legs with the outdoor season just around the corner. While the Bulldogs would have liked to have seen higher team finishes throughout the indoor season, many individual athletes made impressive strides and will look to improve further this spring.
The Elis’ first outdoor meet will begin on Friday March 30, as they travel to North Carolina for the Raleigh Relays.
Ellen Margaret Andrews | firstname.lastname@example.org