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Tristynn Mercedes, John Mahon win steeplechase races at Valley Stream Challenge

Clarke's Tristynn Mercedes takes first in the girls

Clarke's Tristynn Mercedes takes first in the girls 2000 steeplechase at the Valley Stream Challenge Track Meet. (March 23, 2013) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

With the exception of raindrops or the occasional snow flurry in the early part of the spring season, track events are generally devoid of major obstacles. It's running, throwing and jumping -- pretty straight forward stuff.

But don't tell that to Clarke's Tristynn Mercedes or Bellmore JFK's John Mahon. They run the steeplechase, an event that combines the endurance of distance running, the agility of hurdling, and the ability to leap over a water pit.

Mahon won the 3,000 meters boy's race in 10 minutes, 27.1 seconds at the 10th Annual Valley Stream Challenge Saturday at Valley Stream North High School in Franklin Square. Mercedes won the 2,000-meter girl's race in 7:36.8.

As steeplechase runners move around the track, they are confronted with various barriers -- one that includes a water pit.

"The water pit is fun," Mercedes said. 'You have to just go with it. There's nothing much you can do to prepare yourself for it. You want to try and clear it as much as you can. It's rough. But, it's the best part of the race."

Landing in the deeper parts of the water pit is a major disadvantage, causing valuable time to be lost.

"You have to trudge out of the water," Mercedes said. "That takes a lot of time and effort. It's really hard to recoup after that."

If it sounds grueling, that's because it is.

"It's a tough race," Mahon said. "You're going over a ton of barriers, and it gets really rough on your body. You have to deal with the normal fatigue and then [the obstacles] beat you up throughout the race."

But the difficulty of it doesn't bother Mahon one bit. In fact, he relishes it.

"I like that it's so hard," he said. "I'm a distance runner, so I like that it's a pretty long race. It's challenging. It's way different than any other race that you're going to find."

Winning doesn't hurt either. Mahon was the top seeded runner entering the race.

"You have to be tough the whole time and push through the pain," Mahon said. "You have to mentally detach yourself. You also can't go crazy in the beginning. You have to pace yourself in the first half, making sure you finish strong."

That's exactly how he approached yesterday's race, pacing himself early and exploding to victory with a late kick.

"I didn't want to go out fast," he said. "The field went out really fast. I just let them go. With three laps left, I worked my way all the way up to the front. What I'm really good at is making up time over the barriers. I'm smoother over the barriers than a lot of other guys that do this. When I was trying to catch the field, I made sure that I came over the barriers clean."

Even at 2,000 meters, energy conservation is key. This makes the event perfect for cross country runners such as Mercedes.

"In cross country, you're used to the changing terrain," Mercedes said. "You have to adjust to what the course gives you. You're constantly changing what you're doing while you're running. In the steeple, you're always changing [between running and jumping]. Cross country really helps with that."

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