Down on his luck and drained of confidence, Chestnut Hill distance runner Dustin Wilson replenished both during the weekend at the 118th Penn Relays.
Wilson, a senior, entered Saturday's 3,000-meter high school boys' championship race seeded 12th in a field of 22. It was a race in which he had experienced success as a sophomore, when he clocked a personal record of 8 minutes, 30.96 seconds for seventh place.
Wilson called it the "race of his life." He rode that confidence into the same event as a junior - until an unpredictable collapse.
"Last year, I completely fell apart; nothing really worked for me," Wilson said. "I took the lead at, like, 800 meters in, and I wasn't ready for that. I fell back. I got beat up."
The result was a 16th-place finish in 8:39.90. A self-described "flop."
Compounding the angst Wilson felt after that failure, he entered this year's carnival amid pervading uncertainty. For nearly three months he battled a calf injury that had him in and out of physical therapy and the doctor's office. His high-mileage training was derailed.
"My confidence was a little low," he admitted.
Then, out of nowhere, the miraculous payoff.
On Saturday, Wilson used a spirited effort to place second in the 3,000 championship race.
He pushed into third place with about 800 meters to go. Then he dug deeper.
"It was just chasing, chasing, chasing," Wilson said. "At 200 [meters to go], I thought maybe I could get second. For a brief second, I thought maybe I could win this."
First-place honors went to Skyline's Thomas Madden, whose time of 8:25.54 blew away the field. Madden placed 18th last year.
A silver medal was still one heck of a consolation prize for Wilson. After all, he registered a personal record in clocking Pennsylvania's top time in the event this year. Above all, it restored his confidence.
"Although it would have been nice to have the Penn Relays win, I know there was a reason that this happened to me right now," said Wilson, who will attend Columbia for college.
"I just needed to get out of this slump. I don't want to say there's a higher power out there, but this was the perfect time for it. I've sort of got my confidence back going into the late season."
The hangover. Upper Moreland's Drew Magaha cited an insufficient amount of recovery time for his fourth-place finish in the high school boys' mile championship at the Relays.
Magaha was timed in a not-too-shabby 4:12.74, but for a runner who holds state records in the 800-meter and 1,600-meter runs, the result was lackluster. "Just didn't go out as planned," Magaha said. "I don't feel as good as I thought I would."
It was the 800 record, set April 20 at Abington, that did him in. After registering the nation's fastest time of the year, setting the Pennsylvania mark in 1:48.82, Magaha emerged drained.
"That 1:48 last week took a lot out of me," he said Saturday. "And I haven't recovered from it yet."
The fourth-place showing was little consolation.
"You can always nitpick yourself about anything, but that was just a bad race for me," he said.
The race was won in 4:09.42.
"You can't be expected to run stellar times week after week, especially coming back from what I did," Magaha concluded. "In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have run that fast last week, but I did and I kind of have to deal with it."
Field check. Strath Haven's Chris Williams turned in the top field result of area competitors in the Penn Relays. Williams' mark of 4.90 meters in the pole-vault championship was good enough for second place, just behind the winning mark of 5 meters. . . . Williams' teammate, Wellington Zaza, took fourth in the boys' triple jump with a mark of 14.44 meters. . . . Norristown's Jalen Ramsey placed fourth in the high jump championship with a leap of 2.03 meters.
On the girls' side, Council Rock South's Amanda Benninghoff placed eighth in the girls' high school pole-vault championship with a vault of 3.60 meters. . . . Germantown Academy's Megan McCloskey tied for eighth in the high-jump championship with a mark of 1.69 meters.