With rain looming at the 7:30 a.m. start, two dozen of America’s best race walkers (and several foreign stars) gathered Sunday in Santee.
They pronounced the weather “about perfect.”
El Cajon native Nick Christie and Chula Vista’s Miranda Melville defended their 2022 titles in the USA Track & Field 35-Kilometer National Championships.
It poured for about 15 minutes a few circuits into the 35-lap race, and then again briefly 90 minutes after the start.
But Christie, a former Grossmont High hurdler and pole vaulter, was unfazed, calling the cool and wet conditions “really good.”
Christie, 31, thus notched his 26th national championship — or “halfway to Tim Seaman,” the Cuyamaca College coach who competed in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
He and Melville, both Olympians themselves, also collected checks of $8,000 each for their 21.75-mile leg-straightening journeys.
At 20 kilometers, Christie was near the pace to break his own American record of 2 hours, 38 minutes, 16 seconds.
“I just went after it, and I blew up a bit the last 6K or 8K,” he said. “When you go after records, you have to commit to it. And if you don’t commit to it, you won’t break it. It does leave some room to crash and burn sometimes.”
He crashed a bit Sunday.
“Somewhere in the last 10K, I was throwing up a bit.”
“Too many (times) to count,” he said.
Still, he finished in 2:44:16, 3 1/2 minutes ahead of runner-up Dan Nehnevaj of Beckley, West Virginia.
The women’s race saw Olympian Robyn Stevens, 39, leading until about 13 laps left of the 1,000-meter road course behind the Santee Trolley Square mall — on Riverview Parkway and Town Center Parkway.
But Melville, 31, and longtime rival Maria Michta-Coffey, 36, of Lake Grove, New York, — “aiming for similar paces” — walked in lockstep and overtook Stevens, 39, of Vacaville.
“Maria and I were just working together,” Melville said. “(Stevens) is welcome to work with us.”
She said Michta-Coffey have raced each other for over 12 years “and we know how to work together … and encourage each other, and we just did that today.”
She finished in in 2:57:22 — making Melville the second-fastest American woman ever after Stevens’ 2:49:29.Michta-Coffey broke 3 hours as well 2:58:39, the No. 3 all-time U.S. performance, while Stephanie Casey’s 3:00:05 PB in third put her at No. 4 on the all-time U.S. performer list.
Family physician Dr. Stephanie Casey, 39, of Portland, Oregon, took third in just over 3 hours — falling into the welcoming arms of Melville and Michta-Coffey.
Stevens, who fought U.S. track authorities to compete at the Eugene world meet last summer, took fourth after suffering from “super stiff” legs.
When she was passed, she said, “I didn’t really care. I pretty much accepted it as a workout. … Mentally I’m just exhausted (over battling USATF) and automatic standards not meaning anything.”
Second- and third-placers won $6,000 and $4,000, respectively, out of a total purse of $50,000.
World rankings points were awarded at the event, which could mean spots in the 50-member men’s and women’s fields at the Budapest world track and field championships in late August.
Christie and Melville also made themselves eligible to compete in November at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
Before the summer meets, however, both are looking at some indoor competitions.
Christie aims to defend his 3,000-meter walk title at the Millrose Games next month in New York and the same event at the indoor nationals a week later in Albuquerque.
Melville credited her coach, Terrence Mahon, for being in better shape this year than last (when she set an American record at Santee in the relatively new 35K event).
She said her main goal is having fun — but wouldn’t race at both 20K and 35K distances at Budapest.
“I have a lot of great support behind me,” Melville said. “I’m using that to keep pushing me forward in my old age. … I’m an Olympian already [from 2016]. I’ve done some really great times. … I want to end my career on a great note.”