If this decade has been a golden era for distance running, 2015 was platinum. Six of the top 12 milers in Delaware history competed this spring, five of them graduating last month.
In this elite field, Kieran Tuntivate dominated. The Harvard-bound senior broke the state records in the mile and 1,600 meters both indoors and out, became Delaware’s third-fastest ever at 3,200 meters, set a school record in the 800 to clinch the Blue Hen Conference championship for Charter School of Wilmington and earned national notice at major invitational races.
In a year when Mykele Young-Sanders of Dover overcame mid-season injury to complete an unprecedented three-year sweep of the hurdles events and Jarod Wilson of Newark became Delaware’s fastest half-miler in 30 years, Tuntivate earned the Tom Fort Award as the state’s top male track athlete.
Tuntivate developed a combination of speed and stamina typically seen once in a Delaware generation. He spent his winter pounding through Brandywine Creek State Park, concluding with an ascent up Mount Lebanon Road. Last August, he cross-trained, developing muscles that would otherwise be neglected. In spring, his practice focused on repeat sprints, 200 meters under 24 seconds.
Above all, he slept, in bed by 9 every night during a school year with up to seven courses.
“I played soccer as a kid. That’s all about quick bursts of speed and changes in direction. Once I started running, I really only ever did long runs for a long time. I didn’t know there was any other way to train,” Tuntivate said.
In his freshman and sophomore years, his potential was evident but often “I just couldn’t hang at the end of a race,” said Tuntivate, who altered his training at the direction of Rick Schuder, his coach and freshman chemistry teacher, to develop speed.
“It just came down to Coach Schuder,” Tuntivate said. “I just made sure I got enough sleep that I could maximize his training.”
He came of age as a junior, improving by 30 seconds in cross country to earn first-team All-State. He then established himself in the state’s showcase, the New Castle County 1,600 meters. The state’s best distance runners flock to the race, sometimes ignoring their specialties, to create spectacular drama and a flurry of school records at Baynard Stadium, the state’s most storied venue.
Tuntivate catapulted past a deep field in 4:14.6, an eight-second improvement in one year, with a dramatic kick that would intimidate every opponent’s strategy thereafter.
By June, he ran a 4:13.16 mile. As a cross country senior, he was undefeated in Delaware.
A distance runner improves only by facing his betters. In February at the Millrose (N.Y.) Mile, he set the indoor state record of 4:16.42. In April, Tuntivate ran the state’s third-best 3,200 ever (9:06.3) at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational, and his Penn Relays mile (4:12.58) broke the metric and yard records set in 2006 by Tatnall’s Brian Sklodowski and Salesianum’s Dom DellaPelle.
At this spring’s New Castle County Meet, he set his state record (4:11.71), with a 56-second final lap that pulled Wilson, Brandywine’s Eamon McCoy, Tatnall’s Ben Boswell and Salesianum’s Andrew Hally under 4:15. “The greatest middle-distance race in the history of Delaware interscholastic competition,” observed Jim McNichol, who won the race as a Salesianum senior in 1979 and noted that the five sub-4:15 finishers were more than what was produced in 42 states by mid-May.
“In my freshman and sophomore year, my brother [Chanon, 2010 Blue Hen Conference champion] would tell me, ‘You have to be mentally prepared for every scenario in a race. If it’s fast and you’re being beaten down early on, you have to be prepared to just hang on. If it’s really slow, you have to be patient and wait for the final lap or last 100,’ ” Tuntivate said.
“Learning that early on was beneficial because I started to race pretty efficiently and make the most of my ability.”
He ended his high school career by winning when it wasn’t his primary mission. After repeating as 1,600 titlist at the Meet of Champions, he joined the 3,200, expecting to be a rabbit for teammate Kevin Murray or Tatnall’s Steven Garrett to break 9 minutes.
“I was doing everything I could do run keep hitting 67’s for each lap,” Tuntivate said. “I told Stephen and Kevin to sit on me. After four laps, Stephen said to me, ‘I’ll take it so the pace doesn’t drop.’ “
Garrett and Tuntivate traded the lead three times in the final lap, Tuntivate prevailing in the evening’s dramatic highlight.
“There was a lot of teamwork out there,” Tuntivate said. “It was a special moment.”
In June, Tuntivate ran a 4:11.58 mile. Had he the opportunity to run the 400, “in the right race, I think he could have broken 50 flat,” Schuder said.
“It’s a friendly competition, especially in Delaware, where everyone knows everyone and everyone’s friends with everyone,” Tuntivate said. “You know everyone’s going to compete and run their own race and win in their own way. During the race you go into your own self. After the race everyone’s still friends. Everyone’s still laughing. It’s fun.”