Garrett O’Toole, 18, clocked in at 4:01.89 to eclipse the New England high school record in the mile Thursday.
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CONCORD, Mass. — When Garrett O’Toole walked onto the track at Emerson Field here, he appeared as cool as could be. Shaking out his legs, the 18-year-old senior at Middlesex School took his place on the Adro Mile starting line at the Adrian Martinez Classic, set to face off against a strong field led by Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano.
On the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun becoming the first high schooler to break 4 minutes in the mile, O’Toole would race his way into the history books, finishing sixth overall in 4:01.89. His time would be the the fastest ever prep mile in Massachusetts and New England history, and the fastest high school time in the United States this year. O’Toole’s mark ranks 14th in American high school history, just behind German Fernandez, Galen Rupp and Austin Mudd.
“This is the track I train on, so it was just a treat to be able to race here with teammates, coaches, friends around the track supporting me,” he said following his race. “I was able to come out here, work hard, and get a good time. It was really exciting for me.”
O’Toole’s strategy heading into the race was to settle towards the back. With a pacesetter assigned to take the field through 1,000 meters in 2:26, O’Toole didn’t want to get caught going out too fast.
Instead, he hit opening splits of 61 seconds for each of the first two laps, putting himself in prime position. At halfway, the field had strung out, yet O’Toole was still clinging to the tail of the leading train.
“The most important thing was to stay efficient in the first half and then use the next lap to get in position then stay patient, move up, get in the right place, and then really use my kick in the last 200. That was the plan,” he said.
According to O’Toole, his third quarter split came in at 60 seconds. Hearing the bell, O’Toole was confident something good was going to happen.
“I knew once I hit a lap to go I was going to make it. I was just trying to work my way up to get in good position and give everything I had with 150 to go cause that’s the way I’ve been able to run my best races,” he said. Sticking close to Team USA Minnesota’s Jon Peterson, O’Toole was able to round the final bend and fly home, completing the last lap in approximately 58 seconds (He would add that the splits did not include the additional time taken to complete the final nine meters).
Crossing the finish in sixth and hearing his 4:01.89 time, O’Toole immediately went to celebrate by hugging and high-fiving friends and family.
“I’m really excited. You know, it was just such a great opportunity to come here,” he said.
O’Toole’s time eclipsed both the Massachusetts state record (previously a hand-timed 4:02.7 by Oliver Ames legend—and current Oregon Ducks coach—Andy Powell in 1999) and the New England record (a tie between Powell’s mark and the 4:02.70 run by Westerly, Rhode Island’s Andrew Springer in 2009).
After his race, O’Toole spent the better part of 10 minutes speaking with Manzano, who came in fourth (3:59.31). Bound for Princeton University in the fall, O’Toole said the pair talked about coach Jason Vigilante, who aided Manzano when he was at the University of Texas.
“The most important thing [Manzano’s] taught me is to stay humble and be really thankful for everything you’re given in the sport. All the fans, coaches, everyone who supports you. I think he’s a guy who has worked really hard over the years and I was really excited to get to race him today,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole’s next chance at a sub-4-minute mile will come June 14 at the adidas Grand Prix in New York City, part of the IAAF Diamond League. There, he’ll race the High School Dream Mile against Blake Haney and a number of the top prep milers in America.
Ironically, 12 months ago O’Toole was brought to the adidas Grand Prix as a pacer, rabbiting the field. Now, he is one of the favorites to win. Does he believe a time of 3:59 is achievable there?
“I think it’s a possibility on the right day. But the most important thing we’ve been working on is staying consistent and being able to make incremental, small steps. Building me up slowly over the years so I can be at my best later on,” he said. “That’s been the main goal. I’m not going to put a lot of pressure on myself to break four but I think on the right day that could be something to think about, yeah.”
Following the adidas Grand Prix, O’Toole plans on heading immediately to Greensboro, N.C., for New Balance Nationals Outdoor, where he’ll most likely enter the 800m on June 15, just one day after the New York meeting.
Beyond that, the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene, Ore., in July are a very strong possibility. O’Toole has already achieved the championships entry standard of 3:48.00 (he ran a personal best 3:45.55 at Princeton last month) and only the top two finishers with the standard at the USA Junior Championships are eligible for World Juniors.