SEATTLE – Isaac Updike’s prospects for posting a fast time in Saturday’s 3,000 meters at the University of Washington Invitational were diminished one-quarter of the way through the race – uneven pacing by the rabbit squelched that possibility – so the 30-year-old pro from Ketchikan focused on a fleet finish.
Updike covered the final 1,000 meters at the Dempsey Indoor Facility in roughly 2 minutes, 28 seconds – that’s after averaging 2:42 for each of the first two kilometers – on his way to winning his heat and posting the fastest overall time, 7:52.48, among 36 runners spread across five heats.
While Updike’s time was more than four seconds off his personal-best indoors (7:47.93, 2020), he was happy with his fierce finish. That was especially true after an uneven pace early, when the rabbit went through 400 meters in about 61 seconds, but backslid to a 66-second pace for the next 400 meters.
“Pretty big yo-yo there,’’ Updike said.
Updike, whose specialty is the 3,000-meter steeplechase, was more excited by covering the final kilometer in 2:28.
“Really fast close for me,’’ he said.
Saturday’s race on Dempsey’s flat 307-meter track was Updike’s first indoors this season. He led throughout the second half of the race, and though he finished more than two seconds ahead of runner-up Zach Stallings, a former Washington State athlete, Updike said the noise generated by the crowd of athletes and fans crammed inside the track fooled him into thinking competitors were literally on his heels.
“It was hard,’’ Updike said. “I wanted to have a more controlled race, then close the last three laps. But the crowd is so out of control I thought five or six guys were on me. I didn’t think I was going to win.’’
After Updike’s 2022 outdoor season was shredded by two bouts of COVID-19, he late in the year raced frequently on the roads and in cross country events. He called his fall and winter training his best stretch of work – importantly, injury-free grinding – since a stretch from 2019 into 2020.
The weekend was a big one for elite runners, Updike’s peers, across the country. In Boston on Friday night, pro Yared Naguse, who is primarily a miler, seized the American record indoors at 3,000 by clocking 7:28.24. In that same race, Northern Arizona University’s Drew Bosley finished fifth in an NCAA indoor record of 7:36.42. Naguse lead a string of nine runners – seven pros and two collegians — who finished sub-7:50.
“I’m glad none of those guys are steeplechasers,’’ Updike said with a laugh. “I’m trying to be in the moment and roll with the punches, and worry about myself.’’
Updike’s girlfriend of two years, Justine Fedronic, said that sums up Updike’s mental strength.
“He’s really adaptable and really quick to find perspective,’’ Fedronic said.
And that’s from a woman who understands the physical and emotional demands of elite racing. Fedronic, who is retired from the sport, represented France in the 2016 Rio Olympics and was a sub-2:00 800-meter runner – her personal-best was 1:59.86. Updike calls her the best athlete in the relationship.
Updike’s focus, naturally, is on the steeplechase and the outdoor season. He’s targeting the USA Track and Field Outdoor National Championships in Eugene, Ore., July 6-9. That event will determine, in part, which Americans qualify for the World Championships, Aug. 19-27, in Budapest, Hungary.
Next up for Updike, who is based in Flagstaff, Ariz., is an indoor 5,000 meters Feb. 11 at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational in Boston.
Until then, he’ll take comfort in his fast close to Saturday’s win, and he’ll savor his injury- and sickness-free training of late.
“It’s exciting, right?’’ he said.