Christina Aragon of Billings, Mont. started her stand-out season with a win at the Stanford Invitational. (Kirby Lee, Image of Sport)
By Johanna Gretschel for MileSplit
Matthew Maton from Summit, Ore. became the sixth prep in history to break four minutes in the mile two weeks ago. Pundits nationwide expect Grand Blanc, Mich. senior Grant Fisher to do the same before season's end.
The mystique of the sub-four minute mile is always a popular topic of conversation for the nation's top high school boys. But it's not just boys setting records in the classic distance this year.
There's a girl out in Billings, Mont., who has already run her way into history.
High school junior Christina Aragon ran 4:16.36 for 1500m at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, placing fourth in a field of professional and collegiate runners. The mark catapulted her to U.S. No. 5 on the All-Time List, putting Aragon as a favorite for the adidas Dream Mile and at the epicenter of a resurgence in girls middle-distance running.*
High School Girls 1500m All-Time List
|2013||4:04.62||Mary Cain||Bronxville, NY|
|2014||4:07.05||Alexa Efraimson||Camas, WA|
|2014||4:10.95||Elise Cranny||Niwot, CO|
|2008||4:14.50||Jordan Hasay||Mission Prep, CA|
|2015||4:16.36||Christina Aragon||Billings, MT|
|2008||4:16.42||Christina Babcock||Woodbridge, CA|
|1982||4:16.6||Kim Gallagher||Upper Dublin, PA|
|1969||4:16.8||Francie Larrieu||Fremont, CA|
|2011||4:17.12||Cami Chapus||Harvard-Westlake, CA|
A 4:16 for 1500m equates to about 4:35.2 for 1600m and 4:36.79 for the full mile distance. Those times would also rank U.S. No. 5 on the All-Time List.
As Aragon tells it, the 4:16 came out of nowhere.
"I was actually hoping to run a 4:25," she said. "Before the race, the girls were saying that they wanted the rabbit to go 67-68 and I was pretty nervous about that, because that was a little fast for what I was trying to run... It was kind of hard to tell, exactly, because there's not really a mark at the 300, so I wasn't exactly sure what I was going through in."
But Billings distance coach Don Blankenship says he was "not surprised at all."
"I told her before she left, she was capable of running [that]," he said. "The way she carries herself is very good, she is one of the smoothest runners I've darn near ever seen."
This all from a girl who does not consider track her main sport. If there were more opportunities in gymnastics, the track and field world may never have watched her lace up a pair of spikes.
But how long can you outrun a family legacy?
* - Editor's Note: The top 10 prep performances ever recorded in the 1500m came from just three girls - Mary Cain, Alexa Efraimson and Elise Cranny - all in the past three years. Both Cain of Bronxville, New York and Efraimson of Camas, Wash. turned professional before graduating from high school. Cranny is a freshman at Stanford. The table represents the top 10 high school performances by 10 different athletes. A table of the top 10 overall marks would include Mary Cain 8 times (including the top two marks), Alexa Efraimson once at No. 3 and Elise Cranny once at No. 8.
"It Would Definitely Be Hard To Say Bye To Gymnastics"
Christina - who goes by "Teeny" to friends and family - fell in love with her first sport, gymnastics, in preschool.
She currently competes for Billings Gymnastics School as a Level 9, which is the second-highest level in Junior Olympics. She will continue to compete in both track and gymnastics as a senior, when she hopes to advance to Level 10.
"I think I'm probably gonna run in college, because I think I'll have more opportunities for that," she said. "I don't know. It would definitely be hard to say bye to gymnastics."
Her father, Chuck, opines that gymnastics is one secret to Teeny's success on the track.
"Because of that, she has always been a little precocious in regards to her development," he said. "She has incredible core strength and her physique is much more developed than her sisters because of the hours in the gymnasium and that plays into the whole running game. Physically, she's very strong."
She competes in the all-around, though her favorite event is the uneven bars.
Hectic weekdays involve the typical early wake-up and full day of classes at her high school, followed by track practice from 3:20 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. She has 5:30 p.m. gymnastics practice four days per week - "sometimes five" - which runs until 8:30 p.m.
Gymnastics practice always begins or ends with 30 to 45 minutes of conditioning exercises, featuring some assortment of push-ups, pull-ups, abs and bar dips in a circuit routine. Each day, the group will practice three of the four events. Mondays usually begin with the uneven bars and Wednesdays begin with the vault, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to floor routines.
Aragon usually returns home at around 9 p.m.
How does she get through it all?
"I definitely eat a lot of snacks on the way," she said. "Usually just granola bars. And I really like those little cheese or apples and oranges."
(Photos courtesy of Chuck Aragon)
Getting in the gym is tough after a hard track workout, when she says her stomach usually bothers her, and especially after a tough cross country effort. But ultimately, the two sports complement each other.
"The conditionings things we do is about lifting your own body weight and building lean muscle," she said. "It's nice to have something to go to and you have to condition. It's hard when you run and you're like, 'you have to go to the gym.' It's a lot harder to make yourself do a workout after you run. At gymnastics, it makes it a lot easier."
Aragon sisters Alexa and Danielle have carried on their father's running legacy at Notre Dame. Youngest sister Christina (center) has one more year of high school and says she is exploring all options for college. (Photo courtesy of Chuck Aragon)
The Aragon Family Distance Running Legacy
The Aragon success on the track preceded Teeny - by more than 30 years.
Aragon's father, Chuck, was the first New Mexican native and University of Notre Dame runner to break four minutes in the mile as a senior in 1981. Besides those records, he is most known for the epic 1984 Olympic Trials 1500m race that saw him tragically dive at the line to finish fourth and just miss qualifying by five hundredths of a second behind Jim Spivey, Steve Scott and Sydney Mareé.
Mom, Kathy (neé Pfiefer), competed in three Olympic Trials herself, most recently in 2004.
Sisters Alexa and Danielle both won multiple state titles for Billings and earned All-American honors together as Fighting Irish. Alexa, a 2014 graduate, was an All-American in the 3k steeplechase and partnered with Danielle to earn All-American honors in the distance medley relay in 2013. Danielle ("Dani") is a junior with one more year of eligibility. She is currently injured, but captured the ACC title in the 3k and runner-up honors in the Mile this indoor season.
Danielle (215) and Alexa (214) Aragon compete at the 2014 ACC Championship. (Photo courtesy of Chuck Aragon)
Watching her sisters win state and set records opened Aragon's eyes to her own potential.
"I think you don't realize what's possible until you see other people run that fast," Aragon said. "If [my] sister ran 2:15, we were like, 'wow, that's so fast,' and then Dan ran 2:08."
Teeny is referencing the 2012 Montana state meet, when sister Dani ran 2:08.31 in the 800m to shatter a 39-year state record while battling through snow, wind and mid-30s temperatures.
"When your sisters prove it's possible, it almost makes it easier to experience," she said.
"She Kicks It Into A Sixth Gear And That's All She Wrote"
Christina Aragon won the Great Southwest Classic Mile last year ahead of All-American Lucy Biles, despite spending much of the season with one arm in a cast.
This weekend is the Montana state meet, where a Billings High School girl has won the state title in the 800m and 1600m for the past 10 consecutive years.
Last year, Aragon broke her elbow right before the state meet and still won the 400m, 800m and 1600m, while also placing fourth in the 3200m.
"Last year, she broke her arm and ran in a cast half the season," distance coach Blankenship said. "We were working with her on her arm swing and changes she still performed very well in all the races she ran."
In Blankenship's 13 years at the helm of the Billings distance program, he has not coached another runner with the same drive that he sees in Teeny - not even her sisters.
"She's just more intense," she said. "She does not like to be beat... She's got a sixth gear that nobody else has. That's what I call it, '[the sixth gear].' You can be coming around side-by-side [with her] and she kicks it into a sixth gear and that's all she wrote."
Aragon will look to keep yet another tradition going strong this weekend at the Montana Class AA State Championship, where she will compete for titles in not only the 800m and 1600m, but the 400m and 4x400m relay.
"I think it would be really fun to know that the conversion is really true," she said of the 4:16 to 4:35 1500m to 1600m conversion. "I'm pretty shocked."