There is something much more fearsome about Lincoln High School distance runner James Mwaura this fall.
His feet now glide, not plod.
Translation: If a race comes down to a kick, as was the case Saturday at the 18th annual Fort Steilacoom Invitational, Mwaura has the speed to win a stretch-run sprint.
The talented Abes’ junior set the 5-kilometer boys meet record by winning the gold (elite) division race in 15 minutes, 7.7 seconds at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood.
The previous top boys mark of 15:09.6 was set by Central Kitsap’s Shane Moskowitz in 2009.
On the girls side, Eisenhower’s Erica Simison captured her biggest cross country title to date, winning in 18:13.9.
The Tahoma boys defended their meet team title. They are the reigning Class 4A state champions.
To say that the 5K course at Fort Steilacoom Park was playing out fast with firm footing and cooler temperatures would be an understatement. Many in the boys and girls races set personal-best times Saturday.
Mwaura was one of them, explaining he “felt great after the first mile, so I kept up the pace.”
He tried shaking free from Richland’s Riley Moore on the first hill midway through the race — to no avail.
“I pushed up the pace and I was trying to attack down the hill — and (Moore) was right there with me,” Mwaura said.
Finally with 700 meters to go, Mwaura quickly charged up one final hill. It worked as he was able to create some space between him and his pursuers, Moore and Tahoma’s Dawson Besst.
Mwaura sprinted down the home stretch for a five-second triumph over Moore. He covered the final mile of the race in 4:43.
That is two early-season victories for Mwaura, who captured the Bellarmine Invitational title last week in Tacoma.
“He’s fit — man, he’s fit,” Lincoln boys coach Duane Lee said. “He is a smart runner, and he knows how to race. It was great to see him come out and execute a race plan today.”
Lee said Mwaura’s improved foot speed is noticeable.
“The previous two years, he had been a plodder,” Lee said. “Now he has that speed.”
It was difficult to figure out what surprised Simison more — the girls race result or her time.
She defeated Mount Vernon’s Savanna Craig by 15.1 seconds.
And her 18:13.9 was a personal-best 5K time by 24 seconds (18:37).
“My coach told me to stick behind the lead pack, but I took it out in mile No. 2, and I had never done that,” Simison said. “You can run so much faster when you believe you can.”
With 54 points, Tahoma easily outpaced Timberline of Idaho (90) and Richland (105) to repeat as boys meet champion.
Paced by Besst’s third-place showing (15:15.50), the Bears had four finishers in the top 15.
“After graduating four really solid guys … and to watch this team reload, I am ecstatic,” Bears coach Jeff Brady said. “They’ve had that example of kids over the last few years. They know what it takes to train hard, perform — and win.”