MERIDEN — Derek Destefano thought he had the record a week earlier.
Running in Meriden’s Wednesday night Summer Series, the former Platt High School distance standout crossed the finish line on the three-mile course at his alma mater on July 31 in 16:05.
“YES!” Destefano exclaimed.
His running buddy, Pat Seelig, another one-time Platt distance star, had told Destefano he held the summer course record, and he was right about that. He was just wrong about the time. Seelig had said 16:09.
“Oh, no,” Summer Series director Fred Bucchieri informed Destefano. “I have it at 16:03.”
A temporary disappointment. Given a new bar to reach -- or, in this case, go under -- Destefano returned to Platt last Wednesday and eclipsed Seelig’s record and the 16-minute barrier in the process.
Your new Summer Series mark: 15:59.
“When he came to the race last week he said he was going to get it,” reported Bucchieri. “He had fire in his eyes when he showed up. He went out quick.”
“It was kind of bummer,” Destafano said of the July 31 turn of events. “But it was just that little boost: I’m coming for it next week -- and I made sure I got it.”
The Summer Series course follows two loops around the Platt athletic fields, down Coe Avenue and Oregon Road to the Water Department service road (with one circuit going as far as Wilcox Tech’s southernmost driveway) before finishing with 300 meters clockwise on the Platt track.
It’s exactly three miles. Bucchieri, who’s been running the 43-year-old Summer Series since 2003, measured it when he re-calibrated the course five years ago.
“It’s a nice even number,” Bucchieri said of the three-mile circuit, which is one-tenth of a mile shy of the more standard five-kilometer cross country and road race courses. “It’s easy for people to calculate their per-mile pace.”
Destafano was doing just that last Wednesday. He knew the splits he needed if the record was to be his. At one juncture, consulting the watch on his wrist, Destefano noticed he was six seconds faster than the previous week.
“It was promising,” he said. “Those things, as you go along, they build your confidence, and keep your strength up and keep you going.”
He hit the track at 15:12 with 300 meters to go.
“At that point, it was pretty much what do I want to do? There’s always that mental part of a person that can says I don’t need (to push it),” Destafano said. “When you’re chasing a record, you’ve got to. So I went.”
Destefano needed to do the last 100 meters in 15 seconds. His goal was not merely to break Seelig’s 16:03, which had stood since Aug. 25, 2010, but 16 minutes as well. He got both.
The triumph extended quite a hot streak for Destefano. He won last fall’s Fishbein/Wallingford YMCA Community 5K. This year, he won three races at Hubbard Park: the Daffodil Festival 5K in April (18:17), the CHC 5K in May (18:24) and the Humane Society’s Pet Fair 5K in July (17:51).
Destafano, who just turned 24, established his mileage base earlier in the year training with the Nike Plus i-phone application, which tracks distance and speed. Now he’s looking forward to running the New Haven 5K on Labor Day and defending his Wallingford title on Sept. 21, not to mention running in the remaining races in the Summer Series, starting tonight back at Platt.
“I’ve always like the Fun Runs,” as the Summer Series events are informally called. “It’s been a fun couple of weeks. I’ve been able to put a good amount of runs in. Every time I run now it’s like I’m running on new ground because I’ve never run these times before.”
The remarkable thing is, after signing off with All-Conference cross country and track seasons upon graduating Platt in 2008, Destefano took an extended break from competitive running. He returned last July in the Patriots 5K at Foxboro. It had a cool twist, with the finish line at the 50-yard line. Being a Patriots fan, and wanting something unique to rekindle his interest, Destefano found the Patriots 5K to be a perfect portal back.
It would take more than one race, though. Back in Meriden, Destefano’s renewed fire was stoked by Roy Gooding.
The former city Board of Education member and one-time Platt track coach who founded the Summer Series in 1970 became a defacto coach for the ex-Panther.
“I couldn’t really do much of what I’ve been doing if I wasn’t with him,” Destefano said.
“He’s been inspirational; he’s really pushed me along. Full of good words and wisdom.
“Deep inside me, running never left me,” Destefano added. “I’ve always had the burning passion to succeed and do well, no matter what it may be, but running was the one sport that got me going and I could do well in. There was no reason I couldn’t get back to it and run competitively.”