Keranko combines speed, strength, strategy to make state in 800
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Rochester senior R.J. Keranko finished third in the 800 meters in 1:58.86 at the Warsaw regional on May 25 to advance to the IHSAA state finals. He will race at state at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington Friday. The 800 meters is scheduled to start at approximately 7:45 p.m., which means that Keranko will miss the Rochester commencement ceremony. From left – Rochester track coach Ryan Helt, Keranko, Rochester assistant track coach John Wachtmann.
Perhaps no event combines speed and endurance like the 800 meters, and Rochester senior R.J. Keranko’s workout regimen might be evidence of that.
He runs 10 miles a week for endurance, but he also runs repeated 200-meter dashes in practice to improve his speed.
And once an 800-meter runner can combine those traits, then there comes the strategy part. Or simply put, it’s all about track positioning.
Keranko put it all together at the Warsaw regional May 25, running a 1:58.86 to finish third and advance to the IHSAA state finals.
He will be the No. 24 seed out of 27 runners at state, which will start at 3 p.m. Friday at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington. The 800 meters is scheduled to start at approximately 7:45 p.m.
“It feels pretty good,” Keranko said. “It’s pretty cool to see the hard work pay off, I guess, and actually get to state. I never really thought I would make it there, but I guess look at me now.”
Keranko said the regional race unfolded how he planned. He wanted to stay with the top runners for as long as he could – in this case, Northridge’s Jaxon Miller and Penn’s Hudson Kaser – and try and out-kick them at the end.
Keranko finished second at the Three Rivers Conference meet at Wabash on May 5 before winning the sectional at Plymouth in 2:02.18 on May 18. He said his goal at those meets was just run as fast as he could in those races.
But once he got to the regional, he said it was “all strategy.”
“Just stick with the top guy and hope you can beat him at the end,” Keranko said.
Assistant coach John Wachtmann, a six-time NAIA All-American who is in the Taylor University Athletics Hall of Fame, repeated the advice he usually gives Keranko: Don’t get boxed in among the other runners.
“The coaches, especially Wachtmann, always tell me to not get boxed in,” Keranko said. “Because being boxed in, you’re trapped in your position. You’ve got to outmaneuver them, I guess.”
Keranko is known for his finishing kick, which he said he comes by naturally. Wachtmann, however, breaks down the race into four 200-meter segments. He stresses the third 200 meters to Keranko. If he runs a good third 200, then that can set up his kick for the final 200.
“Probably the third 200 is the most important 200,” Keranko said. “He always tells me that. If you die out there, that whole second lap is going to be slow, but if you really push that third 200, then your second lap is not going to be that bad.”
Keranko finished eighth in the 800 at the 2022 regional at Goshen. Of the seven runners who finished ahead of him in that race, six graduated.
“At the start of this season, we pretty much had the goal in mind that I could have a possibility of going to state,” Keranko said. “So I had that going into my head that I should be a pretty big competitor.”
Keranko said he was “pretty happy” with his 1:59.2 at the 2022 regional. He said breaking two minutes is “a pretty big deal” for an 800 runner.
But he had not broken two minutes this season until he arrived at Warsaw.
“A little bit,” Keranko said when asked if he was concerned he had not broken two minutes. “I was getting a little scared towards the end of the season. I was like, ‘Uh oh, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to break two again.’ But I think having the people around me at regionals, running 1:55s, I think that gave me the motivation to break two again.”
In addition to both the endurance work and speed work, Keranko said his time on the swimming team during the winter has helped him stay lean. He said he also spends time in the weight room, though “nothing crazy.”
“You have to find a balance of endurance and speed,” Keranko said. “Because I am right in that middle ground of you’ve got to be able to run for a long time but you also have to run that fast.”
Keranko said he is trying to “decompress” this week so he can peak at 7:45 p.m. Friday.
“Just chill, I guess,” Keranko said. “Not really go crazy. Just take it easy, so I can really explode on Friday.”
Keranko said he was introduced to running in elementary school when he took part in physical education teacher Charlee Schwenk’s running club. Friday’s race, regardless of the outcome, will be his final race. He will attend Purdue University in the fall and will major in physics.
“I’ve always kind of liked running,” Keranko said. “It’s slowly dwindled off throughout the years, but … I’ve been running for such a long time I want to try something new.
“But it’s been fun.”