BRUNSWICK – Everything seemed to be falling into place for Riley Masters on Friday night for his attempt to become the first Maine runner to break the four-minute barrier in a mile race on a Maine track.

The light rain that had fallen on the first race of the inaugural Maine Distance Gala stopped. An appreciative crowd of about 200 spectators cheered from underneath the covered grandstand at historic Whittier Field on the campus of Bowdoin College.

Not one but two rabbits — a current teammate at the University of Maine and a former teammate from Bangor High — led Masters and five other milers through the first two of four laps.

“It was kind of a special feeling,” Masters said of having Alex Moser of York and Casey Quaglia of Bangor pace half the race. “Maybe a little sentimental.”

Masters needed more than sentiment, however. He came up short of his goal and placed second to Dom Channon, a junior at Providence College who hails from New Zealand.

Channon, passed by Masters on the first corner of the final lap, regained the lead in the backstretch and won the featured mile race in 4 minutes, 2.59 seconds. Masters was second in 4:03.47.

“I was here to break four,” said Masters, who took a red-shirt season this spring instead of running outdoor track. “I wasn’t here to win. I wanted to make sure I gave it my best effort. Maybe that move cost me, but no regrets.”

The men’s open mile was the last of eight races run Friday night at Magee-Samuelson track, which has been resurfaced since the days of the Maine Distance Festival. Organizers weren’t sure what to expect with their attempt to capture some of the feeling of the MDF, last held in 2003.

“I think it went off better than planned,” said Chris Mazzurco, cross country and track coach at North Yarmouth Academy. “We had a lot of people show that didn’t have people running, which was really exciting to see. We were afraid that the majority of our fan base would be families of people running. But there were a lot of people here who had no relation to anybody in the field.”

By combining fields, organizers cut the number of races from 12 to eight, all at either 800 meters, one mile or two miles. High schoolers ran with masters. Cheverus senior Jack Terwilliger ran the open mile with Masters and other collegians, achieved a personal-best time of 4:14.88 and didn’t finish last.

“I just wanted to run with a competitive field and see what I would do,” said Terwilliger, who will run for Dartmouth College in the fall. “We went out a lot harder than I wanted to go out, but it worked out all right.”

The high school girls who won their races Friday night: Waterville sophomore Bethanie Brown (800 meters), Greely freshman Kirsten Sandreuter (mile) and Falmouth junior Catherine Hebson (two-mile).

The high school boys who won: George Stevens Academy junior Ben Plohr (800), Deerfield Academy senior Sam Belcher (mile) and Gorham junior Jesse Orach (two-mile).

Former Scarborough High standout and recent University of New Hampshire graduate Erica Jesseman won the women’s open two-mile race by nearly a minute and, in one of the most competitive races of the event, 25-year-old Josh Zolla of Freeport pulled away from former Western Maine Conference runners Henry Sterling of NYA (now a Dartmouth freshman) and Jon Wilson of Falmouth (a recent graduate of the University of Richmond) to win the men’s two-mile in 9:27.53.

“I knew they would both have kicks at the end,” said Zolla, whose high school fielded no track team. “My advantage was going to be outlasting them, so I took off with a couple laps to go and tried to hold on.”

Pacing Jesseman through the first half of her race was reigning Beach to Beacon champion Kristin Barry of Scarborough, the only entrant in the women’s open mile.

“I hadn’t run a mile on the track in eight years,” said Barry, 37, who underwent knee surgery 10 weeks ago and hadn’t raced since last fall’s New York City Marathon. Even so, she managed a mile time of 5:06.20.

“It’s great to run here,” she said. “I used to watch (the Distance Festival).”

Michael Payson, 48, of Falmouth won the masters mile in 4:43.57, a time nine seconds slower than that of his son, Maxwell, who placed fourth in the high school mile.

“I was hoping to be a little tighter to his time, but I’ll get him back at the Sea Dogs 5K on Sunday,” the elder Payson said. “That’s my game plan.”

Winners of each race received whoopie pies the size (and nearly the heft) of shot puts. Prizes for second and third place were cookie-sized whoopie pies. There were also gift certificates to a Brunswick ice cream shop.

Although the four-minute barrier remains intact for Maine tracks, Masters hasn’t given up hope.

“The event is terrific,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for more. There’s a big history here. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this thing keeps going. Maybe later on I’ll even try to host it myself. We’ll see.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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