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Nikki Hiltz breaks state record in Yakima Mile, earns $10,000

SCOTT SPRUILL Yakima Herald-Republic - August 28, 2021

Reaching North First Street, Nikki Hiltz knew it was time to go.

Or very likely lose.

So when the 26-year-old road-mile veteran hit the marker, the hammer fell and so did the state record.

Hiltz pulled away from Eleanor Fulton over the final two blocks to capture the women’s elite race at Saturday’s Downtown Yakima Mile and doubled the payday to $10,000 by breaking the state women’s record with a time of 4 minutes, 21.50 seconds.

Fulton, who was third in the inaugural race in 2019, pushed her friend and rival to the finish and was second in 4:22.8 for a $3,000 runner-up paycheck. Hiltz got $5,000 for the win and doubled it by breaking Washington’s previous mile record of 4:23.68. Another five grand was available if Hiltz had dipped under 4:20.

“I’ve actually done a lot of road miles because I think they’re so fun,” said the 26-year-old Hiltz, a six-time NCAA All-American while at Oregon and Arkansas who runs for Adidas. “I know from experience that who’s ever winning with 300 meters to go, that person wins 90 percent of the time. So I told myself that anywhere from 400 to 200 to go, I’ve got to take the lead no matter how much it hurts.”

Two months ago, Hiltz was in good position to take a shot at making the U.S. Olympic team at 1,500 meters. But after winning the semifinal at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., Hiltz came up flat in the final and finished 13th. Nevertheless, this season’s form has been sharp for the 5-foot-4 racer with track bests of 4:02.94 in the 1,500 and 4:24.45 in the mile.

Hiltz, who won the Boost Boston Games road mile in 4:31 earlier this summer, easily bested Theresa Haiss’ course record of 4:29 from 2019.

“Eleanor had a great race and it’s because of her that I broke the record. She helped me find another gear,” Hiltz said after taking a victory lap of sorts up and down the finish line area. “Not a lot of races have this kind of prize purse for milers, so that’s a real draw. For a lot of us the season’s over, so this was a great chance to make some money. But even if I hadn’t won any, it was still a lot of fun.”

A pair of Washington high school graduates with specialties in other events — Marisa Howard and Amy-Eloise Markovc — dueled to the finish in third and fourth, respectively, in 4:24.3 and 4:24.4.

Howard, who attended Pasco High and Boise State, placed fifth at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 3,000 steeplechase and last week ran a career best of 9:22.69 at the Pre Classic in Eugene.

Markovc loved coming to Yakima as a high school runner and nothing has changed as a pro. The Glacier Peak and University of Washington graduate won back-to-back Sunfair Invitational cross country titles in 2010 and 2011 and her course record at Franklin Park of 17:03 may never be broken. She also owns meet records at Eisenhower's Holder Relays in the 1,600 (4:43.57) and 3,200 (10:26.23).

The 26-year-old Markovc, who was born in Stockport, England, and whose maiden name was Neale, is having the best competitive year of her life, having reached the 5,000-meter semifinals at the Olympics in Tokyo for Great Britian. Two weeks ago at the Pre Classic she ran two miles in 9:21.98.

Skyline freshman Sydney Collier won the Robbie Barany high school girls mile in an unofficial time of 4:57. Eisenhower's Kara Michelson was third.

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