The starter’s pistol for the 3,200-meter run at the Arcadia Invitational was scheduled to be fired at 8:40 p.m. Saturday. Hundreds of track-and-field fans had been ready to fill the bleachers at Arcadia High to watch the nation’s No. 1 high school distance runner, Nico Young of Newbury Park, launch his bid to break the national record of 8 minutes 29 seconds, set in 2011.
The atmosphere likely would have been electric, with fans standing, clapping and shouting their encouragement as Young, a senior, sprinted around the eighth and final lap.
In early March, with school still in session and Young stretching with his teammates in a busy Newbury Park sports stadium, coach Sean Brosnan said, “If everything goes as planned, he’ll give it a shot.”
“I ran 8:40 last year at Arcadia,” Young said at the time. “I knew what the record was but didn’t think I’d be able to get it. Coming back this year, I really want to go after it, especially because it’s definitely within my range. I really hope it’s not canceled.”
One month later, the world has changed.
It’s tough for Young that in this time of social distancing the 17-year-old, who can run long distances faster than virtually any teenager in America, can’t show off his skills by running away from his rivals.
Young talked this week about having to miss the Arcadia Invitational, his “most important race of the season.”
Now, “it will probably be a regular Saturday for me,” he said. “I’ll still do my run. I’ll probably try not to think about it too much.”
The 2019-20 sports season had been rewarding for Young. First, he had the chance to be on the same cross-country team as his freshmen twin brothers, Lex and Leo.
“It’s been special,” he said.
In perhaps the greatest run in NXN history, Nico Young of Newbury Park (CA) crushes a loaded field at NXN with a course record of 14:52 in the rain. Went from the gun and never looked back. Won by 14 secs over 2nd-place Josh Methner. pic.twitter.com/267iJeferP— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) December 7, 2019
In September, he set a national record for a three-mile race, winning the Woodbridge Cross-Country Classic in 13:39.7. He won Southern Section, state and national titles. He was selected Gatorade national runner of the year. He set a national indoor record at the Millrose Games for the 3,000-meter run in February.
Not bad for a 6-foot, 135-pound senior who never envisioned himself becoming the No. 1 high school distance runner in America.
“My freshman year and and sophomore year, I had a lot of problems with injuries and wasn’t able to improve that much,” Young said. “That’s been a big factor in helping me improve, staying healthy.”
Brosnan is the one who recognized Young’s talent and helped him develop into a runner with amazing potential.
Meet Newbury Park’s Nico Young, the best cross country runner in the nation and the Gatorade High School Runner of the Year. @NewburyParkHS @Gatorade #GatoradePOY https://t.co/4T8gOcElbM pic.twitter.com/fj2qAE2PId— CBSLA Sports Central (@SportsCentralLA) March 6, 2020
“The combination of talent, hard work and having genetics to do it makes him really good,” Brosnan said. “He’s still 17. He has a growth area in strength to keep getting better and hopefully beyond college.”
His twin brothers have been training alongside him and learning his work habits, which they intend to emulate.
“He’s extraordinary,” Lex said.
“There’s no days off and he’s so dedicated,” Leo said.
When others slow down, Young goes faster. He possesses important assets as a runner: outstanding lung capacity and an ability to fight through pain.
“I just have to be mentally strong and realize there’s a point during a workout and a race where sometimes going a little bit faster doesn’t feel as bad as slowing down a little bit,” he said. “I just have to tell myself I’m prepared. A lot of it is confidence.”
With the high school track-and-field season called off, Young has shifted his focus from trying to break the 3,200 record at Arcadia to preparing to run the 5 kilometers in college for Northern Arizona. He continues to train with his brothers, trying to find trails that haven’t been closed.
One time he ran into Brosnan and his wife running in Moorpark.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Brosnan said. “He’s still getting in the work. It would have been pretty amazing and a once-in-a-life race at Arcadia. It’s one of those things. It’s like when you get injured. There’s nothing you can do. It’s out of our hands.”