Northampton High runners finish what they started

  • From left, Tim Jacques, Tobias L’Esperance, Ben Howe and Simon LaClair organized their own 800-meter run, Saturday at Smith College, after New Balance Indoor Nationals was canceled last week. They qualified for the championship in the 4x800-meter relay. Each runner broke 2 minutes in their 800 over the weekend. COURTESY JENNIFER CHRISLER

  • From left, Tim Jacques, Tobias L’Esperance, Ben Howe and Simon Laclair organized their own 800-meter run Saturday at Smith College after the New Balance Indoor Nationals was canceled last week. They qualified in the 4x800-meter relay. Each runner broke 2 minutes in their 800. COURTESY JENNIFER CHRISLER

Staff Writer
Published: 3/17/2020 3:42:47 PM

Tim Jacques, Simon LeClair, Tobias L’Esperance and Ben Howe huddled around a table at the McDonald’s on King Street in Northampton.

They heard on Wednesday that New Balance Indoor Nationals was canceled and met Thursday to formulate a plan. The foursome had qualified for the 4x800-meter relay and didn’t want three weeks of training with Northampton coach Dave Reinhardt to go to waste.

Howe suggested running anyway on Saturday to match when they were trying to peak. L’Esperance thought of a modification: rather than attempt a relay on their own, why not race an open 800 so they could clock the fastest times possible?

They tried to bring in other teams and make it more like a meet, but when schools banned gatherings and practices they scrapped the idea and zeroed in on running themselves.

“We figured they couldn’t stop four boys from doing it on their own,” L’Esperance said.

The team reached out to local timer Mackenzie Gray, who agreed to set up a timing system at Smith College.

“He was really generous and did it for us for free,” Jacques said. “It was pretty perfect.”

Conditions were not. Wind whipped around the Smith track at the scheduled start time of 3:30 p.m. The team formulated a plan for the race to make it as fast as possible: LeClair and Howe would set the pace early while Jacques and L’Esperance kept up since they had faster personal bests.

That held for the first lap until a gust of wind blew around the turn on the second lap and it slowed the group down. Then L’Esperance made a move for the good of the group. He sprinted to the front of the pack and forced the rest to chase.

“I absolutely yossed it for the next 200 meters,” L’Esperance said. “My legs went lactic. I got completely absolutely obliterated by my teammates. If I’m going to get destroyed, I’m glad it’s by them.”

Howe crossed the finish line first in 1 minute, 57.35 seconds, just edging LeClair, who was .11 seconds behind. Jacques placed third (1:58.5). L’Esperance was fourth (1:58.74).

Even though they were racing for time more than place, the group’s natural competitiveness took over. No runner toes the line without at least trying to finish first.

“It definitely was a race,” L’Esperance said. “We all had at least some shred of us hoping for the win.”

Instead, they all set personal bests. Though there are few parallels between times in an open 800 on an outdoor track in Northampton and the time of a 4x800 team indoors in New York City, the run showed the group their training produced results.

“We thought we would have had a pretty good race given how fast we ran,” Jacques said. “It was good to have that kind of closure.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at sports@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.



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