Eric Avila and Rachel Schneider both won the first national titles of their careers on Wednesday
The U.S. road mile championships took place in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday evening, and the winners in both the men’s and women’s races won the first national titles of their careers.
Eric Avila took the men’s crown, surging to a 3:58.96 finish, and Rachel Schneider won the women’s race in 4:30.26. The races kicked off the Drake Relays, which will run until Saturday.
Avila’s first win
Before Wednesday, Avila’s best result in a national championship race came in 2019 at the USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships. This event was also in Des Moines at Drake University’s stadium, where the mile races finished on Wednesday (the races started on the Drake campus before entering the stadium for the final 600m). Avila ran to a fifth-place finish in the 1,500m in 2019, running 3:45.93.
Now, at the age of 31, Avila has his first national title, and he won it in impressive fashion. The men’s race started with a quick opening split of 54.69 from Jeff Thies, who got out to an early two-second lead after the first lap. Thies remained at the front of the race for the next two laps, and although he extended his lead to five seconds after the 800m mark, he faded significantly in the latter half of the race, and his lead was cut to two and a half seconds with one lap to go. Thies closed the race with a 66-second 400m, opening the door for Avila and the rest of the field.
Avila had the fastest last lap of the race, closing in 55.72 seconds to just edge out Craig Engels for the win. Engels finished in second in 3:59.24, and Clayton Murphy rounded out the podium in 3:59.52. Despite his early-race heroics, Thies faded to 10th place.
Schneider’s national crown
Wednesday’s race was also the first USATF championship of Schneider’s career, but she had gotten closer than Avila did to a national title in years past. In 2015, she placed fifth in the 1,500m at the national championships in Oregon, and in 2018, again in Des Moines, she finished fourth in the 1,500m and second in the 5,000m. A year later, she returned to Drake University to race the 5,000m once more, finishing in fourth and earning a spot on the American world championship team. She competed in Doha, Qatar, at the world championships, where she finished in eighth in her heat.
Schneider has had a good career, but a national crown had always eluded her. That changed on Wednesday when she ran an impressive and dominant race in the mile. After the first lap, she was in second place, but only one second behind early leader Anna Shields. By the halfway mark, Schneider had grabbed the lead, and she didn’t let it go, opening up a one-second gap between her and eventual second-place finisher Shannon Osika. Schneider crossed the line in 4:30.26, with Osika just behind her and Heather Kampf in third.
posted Friday April 23rd
by Ben Snider-McGrath