Some distance runners do it for a change of pace. Some do it to pick up the pace. Some just do it to best help the team.
No matter the reason, many track and field runners this season are comfortable going from two miles to two laps, or 800 meters. And it's showing in the results.
The top three runners in the boys 800 in last Friday's Eagle Honor Roll? Cross country and distance standouts Scott Carpenter of Lenox, Dan Brien of Pittsfield and Carter Stripp of Mount Greylock. In fact, Brien held off Carpenter in Tuesday's three-team meet at Monument Mountain and ran the fastest 800 time in the county (1 minute, 59.1 seconds) in the process.
Brien is also Berkshire County's fastest miler. He's one of Pittsfield's best in both the mile and two-mile, but has been running the 800 since he was a sophomore.
"It helps a lot," Brien said after a May 3 race. "You get nice speed work in. I like it better than the two-mile. You have to push hard through the entire thing."
Things aren't much different in the girls 800, with three of the top five times in the county turned in by distance veterans Emily Kaegi of Greylock, Heather Hassett of Monument and Lauren Farry of Pittsfield.
For Farry, Pittsfield's top miler and two-miler, the 800 is about improving speed for those races.
"She definitely has the endurance," PHS coach Stephanie Ambrose said. "We've got to teach her to build that speed a little more."
On paper, Farry's speed looks solid within Berkshire County. Her top 800 time of 2:33.4 is the fifth-fastest on the Honor Roll. She also has the fastest two-mile and the second-fastest mile this season.
"We just kind of fill her in wherever we need her for a meet, and I like to put a variety in," Ambrose said. "Running the one or two every meet gets tough on a person."
The mile/two-mile split, however, is one of what Greylock girls coach Brian Gill calls "natural doubles." In that group, he included combinations of the 3,200 relay and the 800; the mile and the 1,600 relay; and the mile and the 800.
It's toughest, though, to run the open 800 and the two-mile. Both are near a meet's end. They're separated by just one event, the 200.
If you've run the 800, you'd better hope there are quite a few heats in the 200 to allow you to recover in time for the eight laps awaiting you in the two-mile.
Gill used this rare double with Kaegi in a dual-meet loss to Wahconah earlier this month. It wasn't done to push Kaegi or improve her times, but rather to maximize the possible points the Mounties could get in a dual Gill expected to be close.
It was a smart move -- even if it didn't result in a Greylock victory -- as Kaegi won both events.
"It looked pretty easy. She seems to be in great form," Gill said. "I've tried very hard over the years not to double my distance runners in two open distance races. Give them a relay that's fun, then let them run one hard, open race. This year -- to try and win -- we couldn't do that."
Brien most often feels the benefits of the speed the 800 gives him in longer races at the end, with competitors on his heels and the finish line in sight.
"You get the speed work in, but it benefits you the whole race," he said. "You have to learn to push ... [and] not just toward the end."
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