Pictured: Eamon Burke, left, with Xavier coach Chris Stonier at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, site of July’s Outdoor Nationals.

By Paul Augeri

Eamon Burke, a rising senior at Xavier and formidable figure in the Falcons’ cross country and track programs, is usually preoccupied by his chosen sport. Even when his feet are up.

“I think about it more than I would like to,” Burke said. “It kind of does consume my mind a lot. I am always trying to pursue new personal records, all that stuff. I’m always trying to better myself. It never ends.”

Xavier’s running programs (fall, winter and spring) have a rich history. Burke, of Wallingford, is still writing his own chapter for the archives.

In July, at the Outdoor Nationals at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, he attained All-America status with a fourth-place finish in the 5,000 meters. His time: 14 minutes, 39.88 seconds. It was the first time he ran the 5,000 on a track.

“Being as invested as I am in the sport,” he said, “going out to Hayward Field was like a dream come true. The moment they announced that the nationals would be held there, I was dead set on ‘I have to qualify.’”

Burke will be right in the thick of the Falcons’ pursuit of their third straight Class L championship in cross country this fall (the CIAC did not allow divisional and State Open meets in 2020 because of COVID restrictions). The Falcons also have the talent and depth to chase another state championship, which it last won in 2018.

It will be a busy school year for Burke, who spoke about his experience at Nationals, competing against Conard great Gavin Sherry, his goals for his final year at Xavier, and more

Middlesex County Sports: The aura of Hayward Field is not lost on those who compete there for the first time. What was going through your mind at the starting line?

Eamon Burke: It was crazy. We were down in the area below the track and they kind of rushed us out there, so the contributed to my nerves. Everyone around me was really anxious. I could tell, you could really feel it, but my mindset was to stay as amped as possible. I thought I was less nervous that most guys.

MCS: What was your mental preparation all about?

EB: It was the first 5,000 on the track that I’d ever done, so there was a learning curve. One of the biggest pieces of advice I got from (former teammate) Robbie Cozean was ‘conserve energy and match every move’ and I just followed that. It was a nice packed-up race throughout. I would look around me and see the field, that Heyward magic, and it’s real! It really helped me out.

MCS: What did you pick up on in the first few minutes of the race?

EB: One kid broke out from the pack and that kind of scared me, but I’d seen that in a couple of other 5,000 races. We reeled him back in. The race was pretty physical. That was another thing that came into play. On one occasion I stumbled really hard, I was so focused on conserving energy.

MCS: Was there a turning point for you, good or not, as the race proceeded?

EB: Around the 10-minute mark I started feeling doubts. It’s a long race — I’m used to 2 miles and getting done in 9 minutes and 10 seconds. We’re running an extra 5 minutes in this, so it was weird. It was hard. But I just stuck with it. That’s kind of how I looked at things: sticking with everything and seeing it out.

MCS: At what point did an All-America finish (top 6) cross your mind?

EB: It was a pretty tight race. Until the last mile everyone was pushing each other for a while. The winner (Sam Saia of Colorado in 14:30.66) took the lead with probably a mile left and that’s when everyone started stringing out. It was kind of tough because I was in that position (of potentially a top-6 finish) and I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this. I knew wanted to be an All-American coming into it and halfway through I didn’t know if I’d have a shot.

MCS: And then the pack started to open up in that final mile?

EB: In that last homestretch I was just seeing everything open up. I passed a few more guys and took a look behind me, and I didn’t see anybody who’d be able to catch me. I crossed the line and it was relief. I was really excited. Coach (Chris) Stonier was out there, which was a big help. He guided me through it. He has a really loud voice, he cut through the crowd noise, and just kept encouraging me and keeping me grounded so my mind wasn’t wandering too much.

MCS: Only 1.82 seconds separated you from a second-place finish.

EB: We’ll be seeing the New Hampshire kid (Aidan Cox, third in 14:38.75) in New Englands. I’ll be gunning for him.

MCS: In the spring, you were second behind Gavin Sherry in the Class L 3,200 meters. He established a new state record (9:03.29). Your run (9:08.48) was excellent in its own right – only .48 off the previous record.

EB: It was a beautiful night, the weather was perfect, it was a great night to go for something. Actually, I was surprised to be leading for a little bit of the race. He took it over, we separated ourselves. He made it honest for me. I was glad to be as close to him as I was. It was a big personal record for me.

MCS: You went 9:08(.53) again at the State Open. Sherry’s winning 8:59.80 broke a 14-year-old record held by another Xavier runner, Adam Vess.

EB: If anything, it’s motivation, being as much of a nerd as I am about this sport, it’s always exciting to see someone run as fast as he is. I was trying to stick with him longer at the State Open, but it was tough. Things creep up on you. That day, I had a cold and wasn’t feeling my best. There are no regrets. I wish I could have done better. It’s motivation for cross country and next track season.

MCS: What are your expectations for the 2021 cross country season?

EB: I’m excited, just kind of focusing on training, getting the mileage up and getting strong for the season. We have a big freshman class coming in. We didn’t really have much of a state (experience) last year, so we will make up for lost time. It’s just about making the best of it.

MCS: Let’s not forget you won the Citizens 5K Fun Run in July and several of your teammates finished in the top 10.

EB: Brody (Santagata, second), Conor (Selfors, sixth), Mason Jordan (seventh), and there were other guys like Jack Ouellette near the 18-minute spot. Our incoming freshman are looking pretty promising. Our coach puts a big emphasis on running in it, kind of just to see where everybody is halfway through summer training. It’s good to get everyone together and pushing each other.

MCS: Knowing you’re a full-time runner, what’s another activity you spend time on?

EB: In the winter, I snowboard. It’s my escape from running. I try to keep it a secret, but I love being outdoors.

MCS: Will competition be a part of your college experience?

EB: I have a hard time with decisions like that, ones that seem permanent. I’m trying to weed out all the possibilities. But competing in both (fall/spring) is something I hope to do.

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