While most everyone else was sucked into a three-acre quagmire, Rush-Henrietta junior Mickey Burke sailed over and around high-ankle mud to become the Rochester area's all-time top finisher at the Nike Cross Nationals Saturday.
"This race was just insane," he said by telephone, shortly after being anointed as a Nike All-American for his 13th-place finish at Portland Meadows Race Track in Portland, Ore. "I have never experienced anything like this, and probably ... hopefully ... never will."
Almost three weeks of rain, and another overnight deluge, left the infield's 3.1-mile triple-loop course with standing water everywhere. About 400 yards into the race, runners waded through a pond nine inches deep.
Lost shoes were strewn everywhere. Many finished in bare feet. A few wore mud-spattered goggles. Dozens just flopped into puddles and flailed away like delirious swimmers when they staggered through the finishing chute.
Singlets were so caked with mud the lettering was often obliterated. Announcers on the live Webcast, also heard on the stadium's public address system, misidentified leaders repeatedly.
"These are absolutely the worst conditions I have ever seen ... not even close ..." said R-H assistant coach Mike Burke, a lifelong runner and Mickey's dad. "Mickey started out 30-something, very much in control, and just kept moving his way up through. He's so light on his feet, he just has an uncanny way of rising to the occasion."
Burke was New York state's highest finisher -- a fraction of a second ahead of nationally co-No. 1 Nick Ryan of Fayetteville-Manlius, who somersaulted to a nasty fall shortly after the start. Their times -- both 17 minutes, 37 seconds -- are worth mentioning only in the context of the ultra-slow pace. The winner, senior Sam Wharton from Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City, Ohio, finished in 17:06. The last-place runner among 195 finishers struggled to 23:09. The nine-year course record is 15:03, set last year.
"It was slow, obviously, but no matter where you are, everybody's so aggressive you get pushed and shoved," said Burke, who was six spots higher than Victor's MJ Erb's finish a year ago. "I almost tackled some kid. I didn't see Nick go down, but I feel just horribly for him. To be the best in the nation and not be able to prove it just stinks."
Canandaigua junior Kennedy Jensen improved 10 spots from her 56th finish a year ago, but said the course was "nothing like this year."
Rush-Henrietta sophomore Siobhan Quinn was 59th among 193 finishers.
"It was a race of survival,' said her coach, Mike DeMay. "I told her to just go out and have fun. She did very well for the conditions. It was so bad that even wearing work boots, the water's over the top in many spots."