Mepham’s Chris Perillo is no stranger to the Cougar 3,200-meter run. He’s woken up each morning for the past year and stared at his 2015 second-place trophy, relishing the chance to go out on top.
The senior had competed in this one-of-a-kind elimination race twice before. But he got the result he was looking for yesterday, when he won the race in 10 minutes, 16.3 seconds in his last opportunity at the Bellmore JFK Cougar Invitational.
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“I was like ‘I can’t wait to go and get the first-place trophy,’’ Perillo said. “That’s pretty much how I pumped myself up for this.”
The race takes a somewhat unique strategy, with the focus on runners the back of the pack rather than those who are leading it. The last runner is eliminated every 400 meters until the final lap when only two runners remain. Finishing kicks are used throughout, as runners hope for at least one more loop. For Perillo, even first place didn’t feel safe. He constantly looked behind him to make sure he wasn’t risking elimination.
“Just to make sure I was in a good spot, make sure no one was too close behind me,” Perillo said. “That way I wouldn’t have to worry about sprinting too much at the end of each lap.”
Others didn’t have that luxury, including Wantagh’s James McVeigh. Mineola’s Matteo Itri passed the junior runner with three laps to go and 200 meters from elimination, but McVeigh used his kick to take over third in the straightaway and survive for another lap and a third-place finish.
“You’re exhausted for the next lap,” McVeigh said, pausing to contemplate the feeling. “I was just, done.”
Perillo wasn’t, though. Holding onto a comfortable lead allowed him to save his energy, and he powered through his final lap to take the winner’s trophy he envisioned all year.
“It’s not like a state championship, but it’s something to remember while you’re here on Long Island,” Perillo said.
On the girls side, Kellenberg’s Julia Bryant won the 800 in 2:29.8 just ahead of her training partner Nora Bennett, who was second in 2:32.7.
The two work with each other in practice and feed off of each other’s energy in races, they said. It helped yesterday when Bennett wasn’t feeling her best and a cold wind threatened to hurt times.
“I think I really like it when we run together because we really push each other and she really pushes me to do better,” Bryant said.
Despite the many hours logged side-by-side, Bryant said the there isn’t even a friendly competition to one-up each other — only encouragement.
“We’re such good friends and I really like that because it’s never ‘Oh, I’m going to go out and try to beat her,’ Bryant said.
Bennett took the lead on the first lap, cutting through the consistent wind. Then Bryant took over for the second lap. Bennett said that while she wasn’t feeling well, having help along the way kept her focused.
“She really pushed me and made sure I held on,” Bennett said.
Both runners finished with strong results for an early season meet. They said it’s part of a team plan to get better each season and peak late during the spring.
“It’s all about getting the work in and making sure you build your base so we can be at our best come championship season,” Bennett said.
MacArthur’s Daniel Vargas won the triple jump with a leap of 41-feet, 3-inches. Mineola’s Andrew Ariza won the 110 hurdles in 14.8.