One of the deepest fields of the 2019 Colorado State Track & Field Championships stood nervously on the starting line of the 5A 800. Their minds were already somewhere ahead of the body, preparing to endure just under two minutes of coal walking.
At some point within the season 36 had broken 2 minutes in 5A, and here stood 18 finalists in 5A in staggers up the track, waiting for the starter's gun to send them off and into a voluntary bout of pain.
On the line were favorites, underdogs, and those hopeful of the most unlikely of upsets.
It only takes one perfectly executed race to win a state title.
When the gun shot out the stagger remained for most of the curve, though that wouldn't last.
100 meters into the race William Merrick jumped to the front and pressed the pedal down the floor. This would be a race of attrition..
The Castle View sophomore quickly strung out the pack, as the pace was scorching hot within the first 200 meters.
Merrick gapped the field around the turn and into the straight while the pack gave chase from several meters back.
For a moment, it was clear that there was a hesitation with diving head first into waters of unknown depth.
With 500 to go Merrick held nearly a second on the pack, though the race was just heating up.
He blitzed the opening quarter in just under 56 seconds as the the chase followed a second later.
As the 18 finalists inched into the third 200 - where the 800 is made or lost - David Cardenas sat patiently on the rail in sixth, right besides Connor Ohlson, while Cole Sprout moved quickly through the pack in Lane 2.
A month earlier this trio put together the top-three times in the state at the Dakota Ridge Invitational. That day Cardenas kicked late to beat Ohlson and Sprout to the line, running 1:53.49. Ohlson finished second that day in 1:53.84, just ahead of Sprout's 1:53.87.
Heading into the final 400 meters off an insanely hot pace compliments of Merrick, this race was destined to be a real burner.
The only question was who would last.
With 300 to go the gravity of the early pacing began to take its toll on the field, and the pack began to gradually string out, leaving a few gaps between runners which Cardenas eyed intently. When he caught glance of his first opening on the backstretch, he jumped on it.
The Central (GJ) senior slide out into Lane 2 the first chance he got, and pounced.
Out in Lane 2 he took efficient strides down the backstretch. He shifted gears and cruised by runners one by one, making it look nearly effortless as everyone began to fade.
Everyone except Ian Kelly, who began to make a push for home on his own up front, and Ohlson, who moved behind Cardenas.
With just over 200 to go it was clear that the bear had finally jumped onto Merrick's back as Kelly kicked by, followed by Cardenas a few strides later.
A few tenths of a second back Luke Johnson pumped hard as Ohlson was making a late charge around the curve.
Kelly entered the final straightaway with the lead, and just as he did he took a quick peek over his left shoulder to see where the field was, and right on cue Cardenas came charging by on his right.
The Heritage senior quickly noticed and stole a glance as Cardenas lit the afterburners and stormed by.
Within six strides Cardenas had broken the tether that attaches runners to each other and pumped hard down the final straight.
Behind him Kelly kicked to maintain his position, but was caught by a free-flying Ohlson, who was devouring the ground beneath him, and perhaps the only person to run a faster final 100 than Cardenas.
But the race belong the tactician Cardenas, who used his position wisely, and timed his kick to perfection.
Heading into the final 20 meters Cardenas held a clear 10 meters on Ohlson, and a few more on Kelly, which was insanely impressive given the fact that the two were neck and neck just 80 meters earlier.
As Cardenas crossed the white finish line he stretched his arms out in victory before bringing them in for a celebratory scream. The Central (GJ) senior dropped his personal best by two-hundredths of a second, running 1:53.47.
Just under a second later Ohlson finished in the runner-up spot in 1:54.69, arms spread wide just like Cardenas, just ahead of Kelly, who held on for third in 1:55.18.
And then the masses came storming in.
The next eight finishers crossed the line within one second of each other, running between 1:55.78 and 1:56.60.
The entire field of 18 broke 2 minutes.