EMU sophomore Justice Allen (Waynesboro, Va./Waynesboro) barreled down the home stretch of the tiny 200 meter track, pumping his arms and panting in the dry air. He crossed the finish line, triumphant. First place, by nearly four seconds.
Justice had just completed the 3K, a grueling 15-lap race - his specialty.
“I don’t see myself as strong enough or fast enough in the mile,” he said, “but in the 3K I can somehow manage to run 10 seconds slower than my mile PR and then hold it for another mile.”
Justice ran this race at the At the Last Minute Invitational, hosted by Roanoke College last Saturday. His win, however, was anything but last minute.
“The original strategy was to sit and kick,” Justice said, explaining a strategy distance runners often use. He had already set a new PR (personal record) in the mile that day, and was planning to tuck in behind the lead runners and then pass them at the end.
“But feeling out the race,” he continued, “I decided to take it out from the gun and hold it to the end.”
This was Justice’s first collegiate win.
“It felt amazing!” he said. “Winning a collegiate race is definitely not easy, so knowing the hard work is paying off is definitely rewarding.”
If you had told Justice four years ago that he would be a collegiate runner someday, he probably would have thought you were crazy.
“I started running my sophomore year of high school to stay in shape for wrestling,” he said. “And I found out after being recruited to run cross country at my school my junior year that I was just a way better cross country runner than I was a wrestler.”
Justice is a competitive person.
“And I was just getting pummeled in wrestling,” he said, “so I decided to quit wrestling my senior year and just full-time run.”
The running community felt like a good one to be a part of.
“Everyone from different teams is friendly and will always encourage you after the race and whatnot.”
Now he’s fully committed to that community, with long-term goals for his career as a runner.
“To just be the best athlete I can be,” he said, “to reach the best PRs I can do while I’m still young and under good coaching.”
Head Coach Bob Hepler sees lots of potential for Justice.
“Justice is becoming a beautiful blooming athlete before our eyes,” he said. “While he's setting all sorts of PRs in the mile and 3000, he needs to realize that he is much more talented than those new PRs represent.”
Justice shares that belief; he is gunning for EMU’s 3K steeplechase record in outdoor track.
“I don’t anticipate getting it this year, but it is something I’ve been reaching after since last year. And just to keep enjoying it,” he added, “even when I feel like it can get hard sometimes.”
And it will be challenging, if Coach Hepler has anything to say about it (which he does).
“I'm looking forward to giving him many more unpleasant workout experiences this spring as he continues to quickly improve,” Coach Hepler quipped.
But there’s a lot to be grateful for.
“I’m blessed to be a part of a great team,” Justice said.
Coach Hepler got a little mushy, too.
“I am honored that I get to be his coach.”
--- by Elizabeth Nisly, EMU Sports Information Writing Intern