NEW YORK — Mary Cain sat there inside Scarsdale High at 7:45 Saturday morning, just another kid in the room taking the SATs until 12:30.
Busy day. Shortly before 4, she ran across the finish line inside The Armory in northern Manhattan and looked up at the big board for her time in the elite women’s mile at the New Balance Games.
The magic numbers flashed next to Cain’s name: 4:32.78.
PHOTOS: Cain shatters record
This isn’t just another kid. The 16-year-old Bronxville High junior not only arrived a close third among a field of pros, but she shattered the longest-standing national high school record in girls track, a record set on March 17, 1972, when Debbie Heald ran 4:38.5 for her indoor mile in Richmond, Va.
Nearly 41 years later, girls across the country can now look up to Cain as the bar to chase. She also broke Polly Plumer’s overall national high school girls mile mark of 4:35.24 set outdoors in 1982. During the race, Cain also smashed Lynn Jennings’ 35-year-old national high school girls and U.S. Junior girls indoor 1,500-meter mark of 4:18.9, setting that bar at 4:16.11. Cain already had the high school girls outdoor 1,500 among her record collection.
“I’m definitely excited,” Cain said, talking about that mile record. “For me, I don’t really think of the records beforehand. I don’t want it to psyche me out. I don’t want to freak out with it. So I just stay calm throughout the whole experience. So then when you cross the line, you go, ‘Oh, it’s a record.’ That’s the cherry on top for me.”
After leaving Bronxville’s program during cross country season in October, Cain began working under the famed Alberto Salazar. Manhattan-based John Henwood, who ran the 10,000 meters for New Zealand in the 2004 Olympics, has helped with the coaching on this end since Salazar is based in Oregon.
“She’s phenomenal,” Henwood said. “Alberto and I, I think she has pretty much lived right up to what we kind of expected.”
Cain was running seventh out of seven with three laps to go against these accomplished women, but not that far off the lead. She had just run the fastest 3,000 ever by a U.S. high school girl at the University of Washington Preview Jan. 12 in her first event of the season, winning in 9:02.1. She will race against collegians and pros in the Women’s Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games here Feb. 16.
“I find it a little less stressful,” Cain said, “because I’m going into these races and I’m looking at the field and I’m like, ‘These girls are amazing.’ I could come in dead last and still run super fast.”
She took off on the last lap and finished only 1.17 seconds behind 26-year-old winner Sarah Bowman Brown, a former nine-time All-American at Tennessee.
“I’m a kicker,” Cain said. “That’s what I do.”
But her running style has been tweaked.
“I was like hitting myself with my arms and they were flailing, and I also hunch a bit,” Cain said. “If you don’t have a good running form, there’s only so fast you can go.”
So how fast can Cain go?
“She’s 16; she’s getting faster,” Henwood said. “She’s got a fantastic (coach). Alberto is currently the biggest coach in the world. I think anything can happen right now.”