It was a very May ending to a very October race. Half Hollow Hills East’s RJ Pleasants and Smithtown’s Nicholas DeFelice ran neck-and-neck as they approached the final 50 meters of the Suffolk Division Championships Tuesday afternoon at Sunken Meadow State Park. What began as a 5-kilometer treck to determine the best long distance runner in one of the state’s best counties turned into an uncharacteristic sprint toward the tape.
It could have been an indoor 1,000 meters or an outdoor 800, if not for the season. Those are the kind of races that are determined by mere moments, not 5ks. In long distance races, the winners are typically all but crowned in the final half-mile.
“I’ve never had any type of experience like that before, where it’s come down to that long of a kick side by side,” DeFelice said.
Pleasants took the ultimate crown, outsprinting DeFelice in the final 15 meters to win in 16 minutes, 19.95 seconds. DeFelice was second in 16:20.75.
“This year, I haven’t really had anyone that close in the final mile,” Pleasants said. “So I usually just slow down and not push myself as hard. But [DeFelice] was with me the whole time, so I just went when he went.”
“I came in second, but it was still fun,” DeFelice said. “I’m glad because it helped my time and if I’d want to lose to anyone, it’s RJ because he’s tough and he fights hard.”
It was Pleasants' first big race of the season, he said. He focused his fall on tempo runs and getting ready for the postseason. He won the Varsity II race at the Brown Northeast Invitational in 15:52.23 last weekend, a final tune up for the Division Championships.
“Besides [Brown], this is the only really challenging race that I’ve had this season,” Pleasants said. “…I just had a lot of rest and knew that my summer training would eventually kick in and help me win.”
Pleasants avoided leading in the first mile, not wanting to expend too much energy before the reaching the meatier parts of the course. A mile and a half into the race, a handful of runners had already broken away from the rest of the county.
“I just didn’t want to go to the front because I never lead races, generally speaking, with a good field,” Pleasants said. “I was just waiting for someone to go. Once we got to the top of Cardiac [Hill], we decided who was going and who wasn’t.”
By the time runners reached the bottom of Cardiac, it was a two-man race between Pleasants and DeFelice. The fight to the finish was on.
“But DeFelice hardly walked away empty handed. His finish led Smithtown to the team title — proving, as if there was any doubt, that they are the class of Suffolk. Smithtown scored 27 points. Northport was second with 94.”
Smithtown placed four runners in the top 10 — DeFelice, Kevin Cawley (fourth in 16:34.15), Michael Danzi (sixth in 16:51.20), and David Cabello (seventh in 16:58.32).
“I think our strength is that we have so many guys,” DeFelice said. “It’s not like we just have one guy that’s going out there, just destroying every race. All seven of us, and even our JV guys, are all running close together. It’s our pack mentality that makes us stronger.”