Garrett Heath’s lime-green shoes pounded the pavement toward the finish line in the last 100 meters. But Leo Manzano, the 2012 Olympic 1,500-meter silver medalist, and 2011 USA Indoor mile champion Jeff See stood in the way.
The three ran so close together they looked like a brick wall coming down the open street in the last 50 meters. Overcast skies, cold temperatures and strong winds were unseen hurdles slowing the pace. Heath sought to speed up the pace.
The wall started crumbling with 25 meters remaining. Heath pulled ahead by the slimmest margin. Manzano and See ran inches behind him, but Heath kept sprinting.
“I could feel (Manzano and See) right there on me,” said Heath. “At that point in the race, everyone is trying to gauge their effort to make it to the line first."
The USA 1 Mile Road Championships featured the closest result in race history. Only 12 hundredths of a second separated the top two finishers. Heath, Manzano and See could almost touch the blue tape.
A natural winner
All Garrett Heath knows is winning. The Winona, Minn., native impresses on and off the track. Six times he achieved state titles at Winona High School ranging from cross-country to the 3,200m on the track. He also won a pair of state titles in cross-country skiing
“Cross-country skiing is very similar to cross-country racing,” Heath said. “The ski races go by a little quicker because you’re moving faster on skis than you are running. You have to pay attention more when you’re on skis because one wrong move and you could fall.”
Heath redshirted his first year at Stanford in the fall of 2004, granting him more time to adjust to college life. The coaches felt a veteran team would provide numerous learning opportunities for the freshman. The coaches were correct. The next four years presented epic growth in his running and team leadership. Heath, a nine-time All-American and 2007 distance medley relay NCAA champion, maintained focus throughout his collegiate career.
Heath’s college transcript is just as notable. He garnered academic All-American honors while completing undergraduate and graduate studies in management science and engineering. Now, he is a couple of credits away from receiving his doctorate in the same field.
“I really like entrepreneurial strategies -- which is something my Ph.D. group focuses on,” Heath said. “I picture myself working at a startup technology company for a couple of years [sometime in the future]. One day I want to open up my own business. That is the ultimate dream.”
Heath finished short of the top three to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Instead of reflecting on the disappointment, he realized the training matured his running. The learning experience served as motivation propelling him to pursue competing as a professional.
Victory in Des Moines
With just 25 meters separating victory from defeat on the open streets of Des Moines, Heath understood the urgency of the moment. Gray clouds hovered. He felt the effects of the wind pressing against his green, sweat-soaked uniform. A top three finish was not enough. He had to win.
Heath resorted to his only option: His kick.
Heath, an accomplished distance runner, relished the opportunity to inject speed into any race. This is exactly what he did.
As the finish line neared, Heath summoned every ounce of energy in his body. The group of three quickly faded to two as Heath surged toward the blue ribbon, breaking it at 4:02.79.
He did it. And a new course record. See crossed second followed by Manzano. Heath’s father, Bob Heath, attended along with other close family friends sharing the triumph. The American flag covered his back and shoulders seconds after the race as he stood in front of reporters answering questions.
“This was my first national championship in a road race,” Heath said. “It was a great feeling to do it back in the Midwest, and in front of my family, since we are about four hours away from (Des Moines, Iowa).”
Heath uses personal experiences in his track career to motivate his brother Elliott, who is three years younger and followed in his footsteps running at Stanford. Their communication is non-stop. Especially when Elliot is preparing for a meet his brother ran a couple of years ago.
“Watching Elliot has actually influenced some of my training as well,” Heath said. “Three years does not seem like that long, but it has been awesome having a brother doing the same thing as me. Both of us are trying to achieve the highest level in running.”
When Heath is not competing professionally, he gives back to his alma mater as a volunteer assistant track coach. Heath resides in Palo Alto, Calif., and keeps in shape running with the Bay Area Track Club. He continues a life of service off the track as a student mentor and teaching assistant at Stanford.
Heath’s first place finish earned him 15 points in the 2013 USA Running Circuit (USARC) standings. He is currently in a three-way tie for second-place with Chris Derrick and Ryan Vail. The win qualifies him to run in the season ending meet.
The USA 1 Mile Road Championship is in conjunction with USARC, a series of road races sanctioned by USA Track & Field culminating in the .US National Road Racing Championships later this year.