The Hometown Heroes
Four Quakers reflect on their path to victory & history at the Penn Relays.
Keaton Naff, Leadoff Leg (4:08.0)
The best part of running the 4xMile at the Penn Relays back in 2016 was being part of the group of teammates I ran with it. When I think back to it, my memories begin before the race — stretching, prepping, and joking around with Chris, Nick and Tom in the locker room.
No doubt, we each felt a bit anxious to get out onto the track — I certainly did.
From the beginning, there was a sense that we could win if we each did our parts and things came together. There was some pressure too. How will I feel out there? How will it go?
These were typical pre-race uncertainties, amplified a bit by running in front of the home crowd. Joking with Chris, Nick and Tom as we usually did — in this case I think we joked about intentionally wearing our new singlets backwards during the race — helped keep a sense of calm and positivity.
Thinking back to race itself, I remember watching Chris, Nick and Tom run their legs more clearly than I remember experiencing my own. Over the first three laps, I heard the crowd maybe once or twice, but I was mostly in my own head. A few times I looked for our coaches — Dolan, Martin, Claire — on the infield.
I didn’t quite have the positioning along the rail I had wanted, but I tried not to worry about it – I was feeling pretty good. As we came around the final bend, the front of the race had started to pull away by about 5-10 meters.
I remember seeing Tom and thinking “just finish strong.”
I spent the first moments after finishing my leg catching my breath and wondering if I had done well enough. To my delight, when I looked up, I saw Chris in the lead on the other end of the track! In my memory, Chris and Tuck ran their legs perfectly. They led looking comfortable and controlled. I spent most of their legs running up and down the infield excitedly because
I knew that if Tom got the baton with the leaders, we would be the team to beat.
And that’s exactly what happened. Tom got the baton right with the leaders and the race was on! The most exciting moment of the race for me came during the last 200 meters. Three runners in Tom’s pack of four had started to kick, but Tom had hesitated.
As the leaders began to pull away a flicker of doubt entered my mind as I sprinted up the infield — was Tom okay?
Then I saw him start his kick.
Even though he was still a few meters back, I suddenly knew we were going to win. Coach Dolan grabbed me and shouted the same. Tommy was going to do it! It was exhilarating – still is whenever I think about it.
Chris Hatler, 2nd Leg (4:06.7)
Tommy and I were both feeling extra hungry the morning we woke up for Saturday of the 2016 Penn Relays. The evening before we had come up a few places short of winning the Championship of America Distance Medley behind Penn State and Georgetown.
We broke our school record in the process and each of us that day ran to the 100% of our abilities — big shout out to Jeff Wiseman for his unreal 46.x split on the 400 meter leg. After that race, our coach Steve Dolan took us aside and said with the way we competed, there’s no reason we shouldn’t come back with more fire inside us to take the 4xMile crown the next day.
We brought two studs into the fold for the longer distance relay.
Nick Tuck was our defending Ivy League steeplechase champion, and Keaton Naff was a 3:48 1500 meter runner and top-6 miler at the indoor conference championships. I specifically remember walking to Wawa with Keaton that morning, getting a roast beef hoagie to eat 4 hours before our scheduled race start of 1:15 PM.
Keaton was astounded that I could gobble up a 10-inch hoagie that close to being on the track, as he himself chose to eat an earlier light breakfast and nothing else till after competing.
After that, it’s a bit of a blur.
Our usual warmup spots were much harder to get to and took extra amounts of time thanks to the heightened security around Franklin Field to ensure no one sneaks in without a ticket or authorized pass. The last thing you want to do before a big race is get shuffled through the crowd and miss the corral time — even if we had special passes that let us get into Franklin wherever and whenever we wanted… the perk of being a Penn athlete.
I assume we did the same route as the DMR warmup, trotting over to the nearby Chestnut Street and up to 40th Street, crossing over to Locust Walk and taking that main drag back down to the Engineering Quad that was situated adjacent to the stadium.
There was an unspoken confidence in all of us that day as we did our drills. We came close the day before, so there was no reason to not give our all on the busiest and loudest day of the Relays. We were the home team, and everyone would subconsciously be rooting for us to keep the wheel in Philadelphia.
Coach Dolan escorted us out of our locker room onto the infield for final strides. Again, the perks of being a Penn athlete cannot be overstated. We were eventually called to line up next to our respective legs to prepare for the start. Penn’s track is uniquely shaped, and as such the leadoff leg starts way back by the top of the home stretch. I watched Keaton snap off the line after the gun and butterflies filled my stomach.
It was go time.
I couldn’t watch too closely as I was too nervous myself. I just took glances to see what position I was getting the stick in.
I was pulled to the exchange zone after the current racers had 400 meters to go. As positions shifted, I remember getting the baton from Keaton just in the back of a pack of five or six. He had raced to a mile PR and handed the baton off in a perfect position for me to strike.
Funny enough, the leader of that pack was my high school teammate Nick Bertoline who ran for UConn. Bertoline had a crazy kick that I was afraid of, but I knew I could maintain a faster pace than him. I decided to not play around and went straight to the lead by the start of the curve.
After that my leg must have been excruciatingly boring to watch. I led from that point on until the handoff, squeezing down the pace from 64 to 63 to 61 to a 58 last lap according to my coach yelling splits on the infield.
I gave Tuck the baton in the best position possible, and he battled against fierce competitors like the defending champion Jordy Williamsz of Villanova before handing it off to Tommy to finish up what we started.
I remember seeing the final 200 with Tommy a few meters back of the leaders and thinking, it’s already over, we’ve won. Georgetown, Indiana and Iona took their shot too early. Tommy pushed late to easily take the victory. As he crossed the line and I slammed through multiple officials to get to him, embracing him in a spinning hug from my momentum as Nick and Keaton sprinted towards us shouting and whooping.
We did it. We actually did it.
Nick Tuck, 3rd Leg (4:11.3)
We came into the 2016 Penn Relays 4xMile Championship of America with, I think, a little bit of an underdog mentality. Villanova was the defending champion and returned their anchor leg Jordy Williamsz, the guy that had outkicked Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, from the year before.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the weather was perfect. The crowd was electric. I could barely hear anything that the officials were barking at us in the paddock before the race started. I was on the 3rd leg, so I needed to keep myself relaxed but still ready to go while Keaton and Chris ran their legs.
During that time, I was standing in the final turn with the other guys on my leg, right underneath a huge crowd of Penn fans cheering us on. Keaton ran an awesome first leg handing off to Chris near the front. Chris had really come into his own that season leading up to The Penn Relays and he absolutely dominated his leg, handing off to me in first.
The plan was to stay near the front and hand the baton off to Tom and give him the opportunity to win the race for us.
For whatever reason, no one wanted to take the lead during my leg. We churned out 63-64 second laps until about 300 meters to go, and then the kick began.
Mind you, I’m not a speed guy. I come down from the steeplechase and 5k to run the mile. I was psyched to hand off Tom the baton with the leaders knowing Keaton, Chris and I had done our jobs and set up Tom for the win.
Tom’s leg was interesting to watch. We were all watching from the first turn, and we couldn’t really see much other than that spot and what the cameras showed on the scoreboard.
Liam Dee from Iona took off pretty much immediately when he got the baton, gapping Tom and Ahmed Bile from Georgetown pretty quickly. Tom was running smart, pacing himself off the Georgetown runner in order to bring him back in the race.
Going into the last lap Tom was in 3rd, and from where we were it had looked like Tom had fallen off the pace. We couldn’t see him on the cameras. But as the top 3 runners were entering the final turn, we could start to see Tom enter the frame and slowly he began to shorten the distance between himself and the leader.
Keaton, Chris and I started going ballistic. If I could have any runner in that situation, I know better than to ever doubt Tom.
We knew as Tom came out of that final turn he wasn’t going to lose.
As he crossed the line, championship secured, Chris got to him first and the celebration began. All of the media attention with pictures and interviews were very cool, but I will never forget the victory lap we took around historic Franklin Field — in front of tens of thousands of fans cheering for us for what we had just accomplished.
Winning that Penn Relays Wheel meant so much to us a team and for our university, but also for the four of us. We know we will forever have this as a lifetime bond of achieving what so few had achieved before. Competing in the Penn Relays is an honor I will forever treasure, and that championship was the coolest accomplishment — at least for me — I have ever had.
Tommy Awad (Anchor Leg, 4:00.3)
The day prior to the 4xmile day I raced the Championship of America DMR and we had a school record finish, but I wasn’t able to anchor us for the win. Come the day of the 4xMile relay, and one of the guys who had out-kicked me the day before was anchoring once again.
I knew I had to be better on this day.
I don’t really recall pre-race stuff, but I usually kept the same routine as I always did. When the race started, my teammates did a really great job of putting us in a great spot.
Keaton had a great lead-off leg and Chris and Nick did their job and kept the race at a solid pace for us. I got the baton right in the lead pack giving me another shot at getting a CoA win. Unlike the prior year, the final leg ran honest with the anchor from Iona leading the first 1200 meters almost exactly at on 4:00 mile pace.
We probably ran a bunch of 61-62 second laps, if I had to guess.
Going into the last lap I definitely was not feeling great, but I was still in the lead pack of four. With 250 meters to go, somebody made a move off the front and the all of my fellow competitors responded except myself.
I remember thinking at the time “Damn I don’t feel great, If I kick from here I’ll never make it to the finish.”
So I decided I’d try to keep them close, and give it everything I had with 150 meters to go.
My plan worked. I had another gear that the rest of the field didn’t haveM and I caught up to everyone and quickly moved by. I remember passing the runner from Indiana and looking over at him. It was at that moment I knew I had the win.
I had a nice celebration at the finish and remember putting my hands on my knees before I was jumped by my teammates storming the track.
One of the most memorable parts of that day was going back into our locker room after the interviews and everything.
Our whole team was waiting for us and we just celebrated and had a great time!
This still goes down as one of my most memorable running moments, but what made this moment really special was that it was not just about me.
It was a moment that was really about the team, and how far we had come over my four years at Penn.
THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA 2016 MEN’S 4xMILE TEAM
KEATON NAFF, CHRIS HATLER, NICK TUCK, TOMMY AWAD