Enjoying one of the best seasons ever for a Cal middle distance runner, Cal’s Thomas Joyce leads a contingent of Bears into the Pac-12 championships this weekend in Los Angeles.
Lightly recruited out of high school, Joyce this year set a school record in the 1,500 meters (3:39.43 at the Big Meet), ran the second fastest 5,000 meters in school history (13:34.42 at the Payton Jordan Invitational) and broke four minutes (3:58.69 at the Brutus Hamilton Meet) in the mile, a distance rarely run in these metric dominated days. All of that was done in the space of a month.
“I think Thomas has really emerged this year as one of the best collegiate distance runners,” Cal coach Tony Sandoval said. “Starting with outdoors he has been undefeated in the 1,500 and the mile. He did win the 5,000 at the Payton Jordan meet and I believe the second or third best collegiately in the country this year and it’s the second best in our history.”
Joyce, who was battling what he called an allergy cough last week, was hoping to double in the 5,000 and the 1,500 this week. Then the Bears and Joyce will have a better idea what Joyce should do in the NCAA meet.
“We’re not sure..we are not sure if he should run the 1,500 or the 5,000 at the NCAA Regional May 28-30 in Austin, Texas.
Joyce, who was an NCAA finalist in the 1,500 last year, believes the 5,000 might be his best race. His style is to lag behind the leaders until late in the race, then turn on the speed.
“I guess I might be better suited for the 5K,” he said. “My finishing has been better than most 5K guys, where as in the 1,500 there are a couple people who can finish like that on any given day.”
Joyce said his goal in every race was to beat the field and not necessarily the clock. “Actually before the 5K (in the Jordan Meet) we had a rabbit and he came out and started telling us (other 5K entrants) how fast he was going to run,” Joyce said. “I jogged away at that time because I didn’t really want to know.”
He found out soon enough. “I think he started running low 4:20 miles,” he said. “I was back in the pack.”
But with the finish in sight Joyce out-ran the field, and got the fast time to boot.
“I was just trying to win the race, but I figured if I placed well in that race, I would come out with a really fast time,” he said.
His motivation in the Don Bowden Mile (named after the first American to break four minutes) at the Brutus Hamilton Meet was a little different.
“Actually my goal was (to beat) Anthony Rotich, the 2014 mile champion and to win the race,” he said. “And I thought that if you win the race you’ll probably break four minutes.”
And in the Big Meet Joyce wanted to show Stanford (which had no interest in recruiting him) what they missed. He not only did the school record 1,500, but came back to win the 3,000.
“The Big Meet is always going to be special for me because I did want to go there, and they didn’t want me as badly,” he said. “This year I doubt they thought I could beat their guys in the 1,500, and I’m sure they didn’t think I could come back and beat their guys in the 3,000. I got the school record in the 1,500 and then had less than two hours between the races.”
Despite his success this year, Joyce still has something of a low profile.
“In many ways this is the year of the mile, the 1,500,” Sandoval said.
“Everybody’s got great milers. I think he is still a bit of a surprise, but he is not a household name. He was not a superstar in high school so he is kind of overlooked.”
It was in high school that Joyce developed his interest in running. And in a reason that has been a familiar refrain for centuries, he did it because his mother made him.
“When I was a freshman in high school I wasn’t doing too much and my mom told me I had to go out for the cross country team,” he said. “And so I did that, and I wound up really liking it and stuck with it. And I kept getting better and got recruited to Cal.”