In the track and field team’s second-place finish at the Maine State Outdoor Championship, first year Liam Nicoll took first place in the 400-meter dash with a time of 49.06 seconds. The victory is the capstone of a season that has seen him rise from an unheralded newcomer to the 400-meter, through the many qualifying heats to a state championship and a second seed at this week’s NESCAC tournament.

Nicoll’s immediate success is rare for a 400-meter runner. The race is brutal: a sprint that requires near maximum exertion over a distance the human body cannot expect to cover at full-speed.

“It was the most brutal thing I’ve ever done in my life,” former 400m runner Jimmy Donnellan ’16 said. Donnellan, who has since moved to the 200m sprint, still practices with Nicoll, who referred to these practices as essential to his development.

Training for this race is difficult as well, because it is nearly impossible to practice racing speed trials.

“There’s a lot of trial and error to it. You can’t run a full-speed 400,” Nicoll said. “If you did it any more than once every week or every two weeks, you wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.”

Instead Nicoll focuses on his form, staying relaxed, and mapping out his run. He has stuck with a strategy of sprinting the first 120 meters, resting for the next 80 or so, and then sprinting the last 200 meters as fast as he can.

Donnellan also mentioned that typically, runners join the team with at least some 400m experience. He said that “only world-class athletes” could expect to come in and run one competitively for the first time. Yet Nicoll never ran the 400m in high school. In fact, he did very little organized running. A baseball player first, Nicoll had some experience with a 300m indoor race, but never made it through an outdoor season without injury. A torn hamstring effectively moved him from the 200m and shorter races to the 400m in college. The next interval, the 800-meter, required a background in distance running that Nicoll did not have.

Nicoll started the season experimenting with the 200m, and even ran an 800m, but settled into the 400m, which is now his strongest event. 

On his race last weekend, and on the NESCAC Championship coming up, Nicoll said he was running for the seniors, particularly Jarred Kennedy-Loving ’15, who ended his season in the fall by breaking his leg. Nicoll credited Kennedy-Loving’s motivation for his performance, and believes that he is primed to improve his time at NESCACs. He is also looking forward to racing Colby’s Brian Summers, one of the fastest runners in the division and the top-seeded runner in the 400m.