CONNEAUT — Matt McBride ran one of the fastest 400s in Ohio during the state track and field meet in 2018, his junior year at Conneaut.
Seeded seventh entering the race, McBride put together a 49.22 for third place. Conneaut coach Denny Distelrath was there to watch and expressed immediate excitement for McBride’s senior season following the race. He told the Star Beacon that McBride’s performance was “great, because next year his only goal is to win.”
Distelrath waited a little longer to say that to McBride, though.
“I waited about a week and then gave him a call,” Distelrath said on Sunday, reflecting back to June 2018. “I told him every time he runs from now until next year’s state meet, ‘You need to run as if it’s your last time running. Do not coast and do not be comfortable in just winning. Run every race like it’s the state meet.’
“Well, he did just that.”
McBride took first place in every meet during the regular season of his senior year at Conneaut and he only got better as the stages became bigger. He was the only competitor to break 50 seconds in the 400 at districts, then shaved nearly a full second off his time at regionals the following week.
McBride capped off his undefeated senior season with a 47.91 in the state meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus to earn Conneaut’s first state championship since 1993.
“The first thing he said to me when I saw him after winning was, ‘I still remember your phone call, coach. I thought about it every step in every race I ran this year,’” Distelrath said. “[It] still gives me chills just thinking about it. Matt will be successful in whatever he does in life, because he wants to succeed in academics as well as track and field. Not to mention, as good as a runner as he is, he’s an even better person.”
McBride showed off his abilities on a collegiate track this past winter at Mount Union. He said they had a preseason-like indoor meet in December at Mount Union, but the former Spartan really hit the ground running during a meet at Wittenberg University in the end of January.
In his first time ever running the 500-meter dash in a college meet, McBride took fourth place with a 1:06.09 — just 1.28 seconds behind the winner. He also helped Mount Union’s 4x800 relay team to second place.
“That was definitely really interesting because the 500 is a race that I’ve never ran before and it’s definitely not an easy one,” McBride said Sunday. “It’s just kind of like an even longer 400 and that first time, I didn’t really like it, but as the season grew and I learned how to run it right, I really enjoyed that race.”
McBride, who saved his best for last in the state-winning run in Columbus last year, said one of the biggest differences between the 400 and 500 is the start.
“What my coaches are really trying to get me to do is to go out faster,” he said. “Because when you go out faster, it makes it a lot easier to maintain that speed through the rest of the race and it helps you build mental toughness and endurance. A lot of races this year, [my coaches] said, like for some of the smaller meets, it was OK if I died out at the end, as long as I pushed in the beginning.
“That first meet was definitely a learning experience. It’s a race you can’t take lightly. You gotta go after that one.”
Over the next month, McBride began to do exactly that, and his work culminated with an Ohio Athletic Conference championship in late February. McBride led a 1-2-3 Mount Union finish during the race at Marietta College, edging teammate A.J. Digby by one-tenth of a second for the conference title.
McBride also helped the 4x200 relay team to a first-place finish and the Raiders won the team championship.
His season did not end there.
McBride clinched a spot in the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships one week after earning his first conference title.
“At that time, I was feeling really good,” he said. “I felt like I was going to go out and run a really good time, as best as I could, and go out and place at national level and I was very excited to do that with my teammates … I was just really excited to go out there and show what I can do and contribute to our potential win.”
McBride never received that opportunity. He will not get the chance to even qualify for nationals in the spring, as the OAC canceled all 2020 spring sports through the remainder of the academic year two weeks ago due to the coronavirus.
“I was just heartbroken, I mean we all were,” McBride said of his immediate reaction to learning the national meet and spring season were both canceled. “The team was awesome and a lot of the seniors, they’re all such good guys, such great leaders, and I was just really upset that the rest of the season that we were supposed to have was getting cut short and I wasn’t able to run with them anymore.
“Those were some people that I just originally met this year and I was supposed to have a whole other season with them and I couldn’t, and that was just kind of heartbreaking to me.
“And also, freshman year, that’s the year you want to go out and show what you can do, and to have a lot of that cut out, I was just heartbroken.”
Unlike his senior teammates, this year is not the end of the road for McBride. He has at least three more years left to make it back to nationals and is already getting a head start on his sophomore season, spending his days of social distancing running down the road, using the treadmill or lifting weights to stay in shape.
He said his future goals include qualifying for nationals again and winning a national championship as a team. To get there, he will continue to prepare the same way he learned to at Conneaut.
“I think the main thing that Conneaut taught me was we had limited resources, so we had to make the most of them,” he said. “So whenever we had bad weather, we went outside and ran and we always ran a lot, we always ran very hard and I think there was this expectation of you go out and you give your best.
“I think that’s what’s prepared me the best. That mentality to show up and do the best you can do. That really helped me this year because going to practices, I didn’t show up just to be there. I was there to improve and get better.”
Maintaining that attitude should be no problem, according to Distelrath.
“Matt is the most humble athlete I have ever coached,” Distelrath said. “He had no issue going the extra mile or putting in extra work. He is the definition of integrity.”