Even if you are not a track and field fan, you should watch the incredible last lap run by Washington’s Brian Fay in the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, California, on April 14.
Fay, a transfer from Dublin (Ireland) University, looked hopelessly beaten with one lap remaining in the 5-kilometer race, trailing by more than 30 meters to Michigan State’s Morgan Beadlescomb.
But somehow, someway, Fay overtook Beadlescomb in the final meters, astonishing the announcers of the race. Fay has watched the video several times, and even he is surprised at what he did.
It took the sixth-fastest 5K time in NCAA history — 13 minutes, 16.52 seconds — to accomplish the feat, but more on that later.
What’s next for Fay is the Pac-12 championships, taking place Friday through Sunday in Eugene. Fay — who is entered in the 1,500, the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 5K — is one reason why Washington has a good chance to finish in the top three, and even has a shot at winning.
Host Oregon is the favorite, with Stanford and UW not far behind.
“The good thing is we’re not too far off from (traditional power) Oregon,” said UW men’s track coach Andy Powell. “We’re going to beat them eventually.”
It was Powell’s reputation for helping long-distance runners that drew Fay to Washington.
Not that Fay would have envisioned that as a youngster growing up as a quadruplet in Ireland.
“I was the youngest (of the quadruplets),” Fay said. “My oldest quad sister was 15 minutes older than me, my next quad sister was five minutes later than her, then came my quad brother and I was the last one.”
Fay, who also has another older sister and younger brother, was the only one of the six kids to take up running — not that it came naturally.
Fay grew up playing Gaelic football, and when the high school team was doing “suicide” running drills, the cross-country coach happened to be there and noticed Fay was the best, and encouraged him to try cross-country.
“But I hated cross-country,” Fay said. “It was in the rain and the muck and you are cold and I always wanted to give up.”
With encouragement from coaches, he didn’t give up and when he turned 17, “I realized I owed it to myself and my coaches to give it my all and try my best.”
A successful runner was born. He was the runner-up in the 2019 Irish Cross Country Championships and was the 2021 Ireland national champion in the steeplechase.
Fay thought it would be good for his running career to move to the United States. The University of Washington had Powell, along with weather and culture that reminded him of Dublin.
He contacted Powell, and it has been a good fit. Fay is in a master’s program in entrepreneurship and is enjoying that and being part of a college team.
“Sometimes you get foreign guys and they don’t get the team aspect, but he’s a really good team guy,” Powell said. “He is super outgoing, just fun and energetic.”
Fay was an All-American in cross-country for UW in the fall, and has made a bigger name for himself in track this spring.
The highlight was his remarkable rally at the Bryan Clay Invitational. He said he did not feel well in the middle of the race.
“I was just trying to grind my teeth and work, and trying to salvage something out of the performance, but I didn’t think I was going to run anything spectacular,” he said.
But when he got to two kilometers remaining, he started feeling better. Beadlescomb was well ahead, but Fay caught the pack behind the leader.
With less than a lap to go, Fay moved into second, but Beadlescomb was so far ahead that Fay “was only trying to win the race with the group I was with.”
With 250 meters to go, UW assistant coach Chris Kwiatkowski started shouting at Fay, “you’ve got to get (Beadlescomb).”
“And at that moment, you almost fall into primal instinct and you’ve just got to win the race,” Fay said. “I just started screaming and running as hard as I could, and I was fortunate to catch him and win the race. To be fair, (Beadlescomb) ran a phenomenal race.”
Said Powell: “I have seen some good kicks and some good wins, but maybe not someone coming from that far back. That was impressive.”
Fay, who has another year of college athletic eligibility left, is now looking forward to the Pac-12 and NCAA championships. Powell said Fay is good enough to run in any event from 800 to 10,000 meters.
“He is good enough to win a national championship,” said Powell, who coached distance runners at Oregon for more than a decade before coming to Washington in 2018. “He is about as good anyone I have coached, and I have coached quite a few NCAA champions.”