BY ANDREW GARDA
For many track runners, the last stretch of the race is where champions are made. Either you have that little extra something to kick in or you don’t.
Recent Montclair High School graduate Jessie Legister absolutely has it. The MHS track star finished his senior year in grand fashion at the Meet of Champions in South Plainfield on Saturday, June 19 as he took first in the 400-meter dash finals as well as third place in the 200.
In the 400, the key for Legister was maintaining an even pace no matter what was happening around him.
“I’ve run many 400s and I’m aware that most people, like, I would say 90 out of 100 runners … die at the end,” he said. “Roughly 100 meters [from] the end, like at the 300-meter [mark]. So for me, I stayed calm when I saw the competition passing me around the 100, 120 mark.”
While the 400 isn’t exactly a distance race like the 1,600 or 3.200, it’s also not just a sprint in the same vein as the 100 or 200. Legister said he approaches the race a lot like a distance runner would, making sure not to burn his energy early, and keeping reserves ready for the last 100 meters or so, in the way a distance runner would hold some reserve and maintain an even pace early so they can explode late.
“Then going into the 200, at this point, I was maintaining my speed,” he said. “I was just staying behind the competition. And I’m glancing over just making sure that I’m within, I would say, about 2 to 3 meters of everyone.”
At that 200-meter mark, Legister started to notice the energy level of the runners around him begin to flag.
“As I felt the competition begin to slow down, that’s when I begin to speed up,” he said. “I want to even out with everyone by the time I hit the 300-meter mark. At this point I’m still not using 100% of my energy, so I still have a reserve. And then, the last 100, it’s literally just form.”
Legister said maintaining proper form is crucial, and breaking it can slow a sprinter down, so he is very conscious of it the entire race — but it is especially important in the last 100 meters.
“So I maintain my form and I also push as hard as I can. The reserves that I have come out right there,” Legister said. “And in that last 100, I’m not aware of the competition. I’m just focused on myself, getting the best time possible. And as you can see, [that] brought me in the first place this time.”
This is a method and strategy Legister said he uses in every race, including relays, adjusting a little depending on who the runners he is facing are.
He’ll continue to do that next season while attending Northeastern University as well.
Each year he was with the Mounties, Legister and the team raised the bar for expectations, and he’ll be aiming to do that at the collegiate level as well.
“I have a goal set in mind,” he said. “By the end of college … I want to be within like the 45, 44 [second] range for the 400. And then for the 200, I want to cut at least a second off. So I’m at 21.3 right now, so down to 20. I think I will make those goals, then after college, I’d want to go pro. But as of right now, I’m focused on NCAA titles.”
Legister credits his teammates and the MHS coaching staff, especially head coach Daryl Washington, with helping him achieve what he did with the Mounties.
“I would say freshman year, I was looking towards seniors and older upperclassmen to set the tone,” he said. “Naturally they created a vibe and an atmosphere that was all about hard work, dedication, and leaving a mark. In a sense, it’s not just about you. It’s more so about the team. It’s a collective.”
That team mentality allowed the Mounties and Legister to push each other hard, and also drove each individual to work hard because they were not just competing for themselves, but the team as a whole.
Legister said that this year, it meant even more, and he and the other seniors wanted to make sure they showed the younger athletes what they needed to do to succeed.
“Even though I was focused on myself and where I would be at the end of the season, I was also leaving an impression on the underclassmen since they missed a year and a half due to COVID,” he said. “I know they’re shaken up by it. They were in a new environment, and they were looking for motivation. So as an upperclassman, me, Truman [Williams], and Oscar [Counsell], we all had to set the tone and make sure that Montclair’s team is good for years to come.”