The combination of a narrow course and a shorter distance than usual took Sachem North's Jonathan Lauer slightly out of his comfort zone last Saturday, not that it mattered all that much. Lauer knew what he had to do, envisioned a race plan, stuck to it almost effortlessly, and walked away with a victory

The senior won the 4-kilometer varsity A race in 12 minutes, 42.9 seconds at the Manhattan Invitational at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The key, more so than 5k races, was a fast start. Without one, making up ground would be almost impossible.

"It's a really wide start," Lauer said "They're a bunch of teams on the line. It funnels into a really small opening in the woods. You know you have to get out or you're going to get packed behind a bunch of people."

And with trees and other assorted shrubbery lining the New York City course, making a huge move on the leader after the first half mile is almost impossible. Although the race covers more than two miles, it can be won or lost very quickly.

"You have to be within striking distance in that first 800 meters of the race," Lauer said. "Usually kids go out hard to begin with, even if they're not able to keep that whole pace throughout the race. It's vital to be in the top five or 10 if you want to have a chance at winning or coming in the top three."

Going out fast is not Lauer's preferred plan, but at the Manhattan he had no choice. The amount of teams in his race (28) dictated the plan without much room for error. The longer a runner waits in a race with that volume of competition, the harder it becomes to move toward the front. But once that initial burst is over, a huge advantage is gained.

"It takes a toll on your legs in the first 800 meters," he said. "Once you get in the front, you can slow down the pace and settle in. Usually, my race strategy is not to get out that hard, but at that particular meet, you have to go out and do what you have to do."

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Lauer said he stayed with another runner through the first mile, then used the downhills to separate from the top of the pack.

"I passed my coach [Billy Holl] with half a mile to go," Lauer said. "He gave me my two-mile split and told me that I was at 10:10. I knew I had to turn it on that last half a mile. Coming down that hill into the final stretch, I definitely felt strong and felt that the amount of mileage I put in was paying off."

Lauer's teammate, Christopher Tibbetts, finished second in 12:58.

"That was great," Lauer said. "I was so proud of him. The fact that we could go one-two in a huge invitational shows a lot about the program, the coaching staff and how dedicated we are."

West Islip's Kyle Kelly was fifth in 13:11.3, the only other Long Island top 10 finish in the varsity A race. Sachem North finished second in the team competition, one point behind Arlington, giving Lauer a flowery outlook as the team creeps toward the postseason.

"Before the Manhattan Invitational, I didn't know what our team was capable of," Lauer said. "But after I saw everybody running on all cylinders, it showed us. It was a huge confidence booster for the team. Although we lost to Arlington by one point, we're really happy with the way everyone performed."