By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Eric McDonald doesn’t want to say he’s shocked to learn he’s run the fastest mile in the nation among Division 2 college track athletes this season.
Still, the word ‘shocked’ finds its way into just about every sentence the UMass Lowell senior speaks as he reflects on the mile that put him on the national stage early in the indoor season.
“I wouldn’t say I’m shocked, but it’s surprising that I’m running this fast this early in the season,” said McDonald, a 2009 Pentucket Regional High alumnus. “This whole journey has been kind of a shock. At the same time, it’s right where I saw myself in my senior year.”
McDonald, a Groveland resident, struggled through an injury-plagued junior season when he had stress-related bone injuries to his hip and femur. He was sidelined from October to February, wiping out much of his cross-country and indoor seasons, and leaving him shy of peak condition for the outdoor season.
He returned this fall for his senior cross-country season, and delivered his best three-month stretch of running in his college career. He qualified for the NCAA Division 2 cross-country nationals at Missouri Southern University, where he capped the season by finishing 46th out of 245 competitors.
The winter season couldn’t have started any better for McDonald. On Saturday, he won the mile and posted the fastest time in the country this year at the Tufts University Jumbo Invitational at the Gantcher Center. McDonald finished in 4:16.09 on a 200-meter flat track, which translates to a time of 4:12.86 on a banked track, which will be used at the NCAA Championship.
Earlier this season, McDonald posted the second-fastest time in the 3K this season to date, finishing in 8:15.00 at an invitational at Boston University.
“A lot of the guys out west haven’t had a meet yet, so we’ll see the list of top results build up in the next few weeks,” McDonald said. “At the same time, I’ve put myself in a good position. The shape I’m in right now, it’s exactly where I want to be.”
Typically, the top indoor track athletes in Division 2 are on teams west of the Mississippi River, but McDonald believes he has established himself as a potential national-championship contender in both the 3K and mile. His goal is to run the mile between 4:05 and 4:08 by the end of the season. His best time in high school was a 4:19.
“I see myself competing with the top guys at nationals,” McDonald said. “I’m on the list in both the 3K and mile. Now, I’m focusing on improving, getting stronger, and competing with those guys out west. Pretty soon, they’ll start running their fast times, and I want to see where I match up.”