Just as Bailey Roth looked as if he'd finally reversed his senior-season curse of illnesses, a swirling wind whipped through his lungs and his legs began to shake below him in the final 100 meters of the 1,600-meter run.
"Just hold on," he recounted saying to himself.
The Coronado senior did, just barely.
Despite stumbling to the finish in dizzying fashion, Roth crossed the line at Garry Berry Stadium in 4 minutes, 23 seconds Friday, beating a loaded distance field at the Cougar Classic Invitational.
Cheyenne Mountain standout William Mayhew (4:25.87) and 3A's fastest miler, Conner Wilburn (4:26.66) of The Classical Academy, closed in on the Roth in the final 200 meters, but didn't have enough track to pass the 4A defending mile champion at the end.
"He just, yeah, took off from the beginning. He got too big of a lead for us to catch him. I mean, no one was even near him from the start," said Mayhew, who later held off Roth in the 800-meter race, clocking a time of 1:54.46. "But at the end, Conner and I saw him ahead of us, and we went for him. I didn't see it, but my teammates told me (Roth) kind of died near the end."
They saw right. With his arms pointing at every turn of the track afterward, explaining where the wind hit him, and where it "eerily stopped completely", Roth said it was the most exhausted he's felt after a race.
"You can't plan for everything that is going to happen to you," said Roth, who has battled one virus after another since the start of cross country season. "I was running twice a day and then I had to take 18 days off about a month ago. It's been tough, but I'm trying to time it right for state. I think I'm on the right track."
Roth has the fourth-fastest 1,600 time in the state and the third-best one in 4A at 4:19.90. Only Summit's Liam Meirow (4:15.88) and Broomfield's Ethan Gonzales (4:16.73) have better 4A times than the future University of Arizona runner.
After his run Friday (and after quite a few minutes hunched over), Roth was still trying to catch his breath as he walked around the infield shoulder-to-shoulder with girlfriend Lauren Hamilton, who won the girls' mile in 5:11.34 for the Titans.
Despite the post-run lag, both seniors said they are ready to defend the six state titles between them at next month's finale in Lakewood. Roth won the 1,600, the 3,200 and anchored the Cougars' 3,200 relay to a win in 4A, while Hamilton won the 800, 1,600 and anchored her 3,200 relay in 3A.
They aren't the types to slow down.
"Some people were telling me to go for a state record this year in the mile," said Roth, referring to Colorado's high school record of 4:10, held by Widefield's Rich Martinez since 1981. "But that might not happen, we'll see though. I'm always going to give my best no matter how I feel."