Macedo, Pierce ran each other ragged

Coach Patrick Castagno, of The Tatnall School in Delaware, said he's never seen anything like it.

On Saturday at the New Castle County Championships , two of the best high school runners in the country competed so fiercely, and bravely, that they drove each other to the brink of exhaustion.

"I've been involved in this for 40 years," Castagno said. "It was like a 15-round heavyweight boxing bout. From the sound of the gun, each runner would not let the other get ahead by half a step."

Certainly, the state of Delaware has never seen anything like it. Macedo, of Charter School of Wilmington, recovered from a broken leg suffered last spring and turned herself into the top-ranked individual in the U.S. this fall. Pierce, the preseason No. 4, was injured through September and spent the month running in a pool. But she has been returning to form. She has also committed to University of Florida.

In the one matchup between them already on the books, Macedo beat Pierce by 42 seconds.

"I was feeling pretty confident at the starting line," Macedo said of Saturday's race.

The two of them dashed off together. They went through the mile in 5:18. They went through two miles at 10:58.

Two and a half miles in, Macedo could feel Pierce beginning to pull away slightly, to maybe 20 yards. But they were both slowing.

And Pierce paid a price for her decision to try and run away from Macedo -- she was already spent before the uphill climb to the finish. With about 300 meters to go, Pierce's legs began to buckle and she fell down. She got back up to her feet, made it another shaky 10 meters, and fell again.

"She was zero'd out," Castagno said.

Macedo was also exhausted, but passed Pierce and had a clear path to the finish line. She labored with each step. Her legs, also, began to look slow and unsteady. She didn't fall, but her energy was gone.

And then from out of nowhere, Tatnall's No. 2, Reagan Anderson, emerged on the horizon, full of energy and kick. She caught Macedo before the finish line and won the race by four seconds. Macedo cross the finish line and fell to her hands and knees. Pierce and Macedo both left the course with pounding headaches and burning, tired legs. Early this week, they both felt fine.

Anderson was 40 seconds back at the two-mile mark and finished in 18:04.

The crowd, numbering about 1,500, took in something special.

"I think everyone was impressed," Castagno said. "How could high school girls do this? They pushed each other to failure."

Somewhere out on the course, beyond the two-mile marker, Pierce and Macedo believed that no matter what, no matter how hard they pushed or how badly they hurt, they would find enough to beat the other.

"We both really wanted to win and were determined not to let the other one get away," Macedo said. "We basically ran each other into the ground."

The natural rivalry was born out of proximity -- they attend schools in Wilmington, Del. -- and desire for the same thing. Both want to be the best runner in the state, and perhaps the country as well. And yet, they don't have a personal relationship.

"I have respect for her. She's that girl who used to beat me every time -- until this year," Macedo said. "We're just very competitive."

Yet they both found out there is a limit to how far you can push.

They will find out again at Nike's Southeast Regional. (They will both compete on Saturday in the Delaware state meet, but in different classes).