Cal State Bakersfield junior track and field runner Curt Threlkeld assumes most of the people in the stands at Sacramento State thought that he was crazy and that he looked like he was about to die.
Watching the film from the 800-meter race on March 15, Threlkeld admittedly got nervous himself. In the race, he took the lead immediately, created a 10-meter gap in the first 400 meters and no one ever pushed to catch up to him.
“I’m out there in front of these guys by that much, that does look like I’m about to die because I’m so far ahead,” Threlkeld said. “But I hold on well in the race.”
Threlkeld finished in a personal record of 1:49.74 that race, which was his third week in a row posting the top time in the nation. It currently is the top time in the Western Athletic Conference and third in the entire West region.
Even though he took second in the 800 at the WAC Championships as a freshman and won it as a sophomore last year, Threlkeld said this season everything is coming together and he finally feels more like the runner he was in seventh grade.
Threlkeld started track when he was 8 and the 800 was the first event he ever ran. It was the shortest race that also didn’t require runners to stay in a single lane, which he felt like he couldn’t do at that age.
By seventh grade, he could run the second of two laps of the 800 comfortably.
Then came football and high school. Threlkeld started lifting weights, became heavier and developed a “football attitude.” He would just go into track season after football at North High School without having built a base of running workouts in the offseason.
His freshman year at CSUB, Threlkeld was held back some by hamstring injuries he attributed to high school football. Through his sophomore year in college, Threlkeld still weight lifted like a football player.
But this summer, he switched his weight lifting to more bodyweight workouts. He’s dropped 10 pounds since his freshman year. His form has improved and for the first time since seventh grade, he feels good going through the second lap of the 800.
“I’m starting to feel like an 800-meter runner,” Threlkeld said. “... Here I am my junior year of college and I’m able to finally do it again.”
Threlkeld won in 1:53.29 at the season opener, beating the field by more than three seconds. He ran a 1:51.22 the next week, winning by more than four seconds. His 1:49.71 came in the third week of the season.
In what is considered by some to be the most difficult race, Threlkeld is willing to sprint out of the start and hold a large lead the entire race. He doesn’t like slow races and considers most 800 runners to be milers.
Threlkeld still has another gear he can get to and a few seconds he wants to knock off his time before the WAC Championships in May, he said. In the shower, he often thinks about how he will handle the WAC Championships race. He’ll be willing to not take it slow at the start, like most people do in championship races.
“It is, I believe, one of the hardest races you can compete in,” CSUB coach Marcia Mansur-Wentworth said. “You got to have 400 speed and you have to have almost 1500 meter strength and you have to have a heck of a lot of courage and he has all those things. … He’s one of the finest competitors I’ve seen in my 20-plus years of coaching. He’s just a fireball.”