First stop Buckley, next stop New York City

Marcus Dickson of White River (Wash.) leaves the competition behind during an 800 meters race on March 30. Adam Leahy

There are just three stop lights in Buckley, Wash., the small town located in the foothills halfway between the city of Seattle and the summit of Mt. Rainier. There’s just one restaurant, Wally’s, a drive-in that’s popular with the high school kids.

It’s the kind of place where the high school’s sports are a big deal.

Last week, word spread like wildfire that Marcus Dickson was going after the White River High School record in the 1,600 meters in a dual meet against Sumner, right there in Buckley.

Dickson encouraged the buzz in town and then put on a show for the people who came to watch him run in his final home meet. He ran a US#1 4:05.83, helped by a teammate willing to run the first 800 in 2:02 and coaches positioned strategically around the track to keep him up to date on his split times.

“It was my last meet ever in a small town where people always ask me how I’m doing,” Dickson said. “A lot of people came out. We’d spread the word, ‘Come watch the mile.’ A lot of classmates and community members showed up. I knew it was going to be hard to run 4:05 in a league meet, but I also knew I had it in me.”

The school record was not soft. Andy Maris ran 4:06.61 in 1989. Dickson could see the name and time on a wall at the school every day and had long ago decided he wanted to take it down.

He got into position to do it with an ambitious 50-mile per week training regimen logged during a very wet Northwest winter and early spring. Dickson was the last athlete invited to join the field for the mile at the Brooks PR Invitational on Feb. 26 and then he ran 4:07.18 for the win in his only indoor meet.

“That broke me out of my shell a little bit,” Dickson said. “I had never run in a major race before. I’d read about those guys and found out when I met them that they were all regular kids like me. It told me I can run with anyone right now.”

In mid-March, when a late winter blast of snow and ice made the track at White River unusable, Dickson drove to nearby schools at lower elevations to scout for a track that was clear. He found one at Auburn-Riverside, waited until the school’s track teams were done using it, and then completed his workout under the cloak of darkness.

When the weather is at its worst – and the rain is colder at Buckley’s 700 feet – Dickson turns it to his advantage.

“No one else is running right now, so let’s run,” he said.

Dickson escaped the drizzle to run at the Arcadia Invitational on April 7 in California, finishing second in the mile to Brad Nye (Kaysville, Utah) in 4:09.41.

“Brad’s an amazing runner and it’s hard to beat him,” Dickson said of his future BYU teammate. “I was happy with what I did, it was an outdoor PR at the time, but I hate losing. I think (Arcadia) was a turning point for me. After Brooks I felt invincible. At Arcadia, I was expecting to win that race. It was a little wake-up.”

Motivation comes easy to Dickson, the youngest of five kids. He grew up wanting to surpass the achievements of his two older brothers, who both ran at Auburn High, one of the big Class 4A schools downhill from Buckley. Even within Washington, Dickson didn't gain widespread recognition until this year because of the exploits of runners like Andrew Gardner, Nathan Weitz and Anthony Armstrong.

"Those guys are the real deal, in track and cross," Dickson said. "They always beat me in cross country. I was hoping for a big year in track but wasn’t always sure because they always beat me. They motivated me to work harder. I thought of each one of those guys and wanted to be with them in track."

On April 26, at Buckley, there was a burst of hail at the track 20 minutes before the 1,600. But the people who came to watch had just enough time to close their umbrellas and find a good place to stand or sit. The sun came out. And Dickson got ready to run.

“He had a plan,” White River coach Jerry Scheidt said. “He wanted to break that record. He’s been chasing that thing for four years.”

Teammate Kody Gould, a 4:16 1,600-meter runner, helped him get to 2:02 for two laps.

By the end, Dickson was lapping runners, which caused a brief mix-up for the timing system. But the hand times all confirmed that it was under 4:06 and the automatic timing verified it. The townspeople cheered. Classmates greeted him with hugs.

With the months of May and June still to go, Dickson has a lot to look forward to on the track. He’d like to help White River win the Class 2A championship, running as many races as he needs to make that happen.

He certainly feels like he’s got a shot at the state record in the 800 (1:49.41 by John Cote of Lindbergh in 1997), mostly likely when he runs at the Oregon-Washington BorderDuel in Portland on June 2 against Nick Boersma (1:51.78) and Izaic Yorks (1:51.75). Two days after the 4:05, at the Shoreline Invitational, he just missed that 800 mark, running US#2 1:49.45.

And he’ll get another shot at Nye and the rest of the nation’s top milers when he makes his first trip to New York City for the June 9 Jim Ryun Dream Mile.

“I’m excited,” Dickson said. “There’s a lot left to do.”