KINGSTON — Kingston’s Stefans Lusis and Klahowya’s Lucas Becker have a lot in common.
Both are successful prep cross country runners. Both prefer longer distance races to shorter ones. And they are top contenders this season to finish at the top of the league in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.
But while Lusis is the relatively seasoned veteran on the track, Becker is taking part for the first time.
Lusis won the Olympic League championship last year in the 3,200 and finished third in the 1,600 behind Sequim’s Murray Bingham and Bremerton’s Jacob Burton — the latter has since graduated.
He then went on to finish first at the sub-district and district meets in the 3,200. Lusis placed second to Bingham again, and then eighth in the 1,600 at the same respective meets.
Despite having little experience at the shorter distances, Becker’s running ability gives him the chance to be one of the main challengers to jump into the league’s top three.
On March 22, the two Olympic League runners shared the track for the first time at a tri-meet with Sequim. Bingham won the 1,600 event with a time of 4:41.38 with Lusis (4:43.35) and Becker (4:45.15) just behind in second and third.
Lusis then pulled away for a big victory in the 3,200 with a time of 10:17.38. Becker crossed the line third with a respectable 10:45.21.
“Having him there along with me and Murray is an extra incentive to really push myself even harder and stay more motivated,” Lusis said.
After racing with the junior varsity team at the 2016 league cross country championships, Becker made a big splash in 2017, winning the league meet and placing fourth at districts. At the league meet, Lusis and Becker were a part of the lead pack along with Port Townsend’s Nathan Cantrell about halfway through the race, but Lusis became ill and did not finish.
Klahowya head coach James Felty then convinced him to keep running in the spring by joining the track team.
“Coach Felty talked me into it,” Becker said. “After this past season, he’s like, you just gotta keep running. I decided to drop baseball and come here.”
Track events put both runners out of their comfort zones. As a newcomer to track, Becker is learning the various nuances between running 5K races and one- and two-milers — such as figuring out when to “kick,” a term used for a runner who picks up the pace as the finish line nears — and the different training techniques.
“It’s doing a lot of short burst workouts,” Becker said. “I’m used to doing hard hill workouts and those long distance runs. I’m trying to get used to this track — it’s a harder surface, it’s harder on your legs and it’s hard to get used to.”
Though the hardest part may be keeping himself mentally sharp while running lap after lap in a loop rather than out on the trails.
“Oh, it’s so boring,” Becker said.
Lusis, too, prefers distance runs but has learned to embrace the opportunity to test himself in other races, especially at smaller league events. At the March 22 meet, Lusis also took part in the 800-meter run in addition to the 1,600 and 3,200.
“Racing against guys like Murray who are more middle and shorter distance … I cannot out-kick them by any means,” Lusis said. “Running the 800 for me, it’s not going to be my go-to event, but when it comes to smaller meets like this, it’s a good extra workout and good practice to get into. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t. It’s good to test out my shorter speeds.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.