We already knew Ben Blankenship was ridiculously fast. The ex-Gopher and Stillwater native came into Thursday evening’s Medtronic TC 1 Mile race having established a reputation as an elite runner. Blankenship, 27, was the first Gophers runner to break the coveted 4-minute mile mark, and he still holds the school record at 3 minutes, 57.87 seconds.
What we also can confirm after Blankenship not only won Thursday night’s race but set a course record in the process — running it in 3:55.8, breaking Nick Willis’ mark of 3:56.1 set in 2013 — is that Blankenship also projects a healthy amount of honesty and confidence.
I gave Blankenship a call after reading the quote he offered in the postrace news release. Said Blankenship after the race: “I feel great about it. I wanted to come out here and dominate from the front. I was able to execute on the plan. I could kind of ‘guesstimate’ where I was based on the course record. At 1,200 meters I knew I had a little bit of leeway, but not enough. I didn’t want to break it by too much, if I come back again next year.”
That last part is the bit that stuck out. He earned $5,000 as the race winner and an extra $10,000 by breaking the course record. And the implication from the quote was that Blankenship A) believes he has another gear and perhaps could run faster and B) left himself some room to bring home another $10,000 next year if he races again and breaks his own record.
He confirmed both of those things, though of the course record he admitted, “I didn’t know I was that close to it.” I asked him if he was particularly motivated by the chance at a $15,000 payday.
“Of course,” he said. “Who’s not motivated by a little bit of money? You put 10 grand on top of 5 grand and that’s a pretty good payday for any athlete.”
Beautiful. That’s what every professional athlete should say.
It should be noted, of course, that money wasn’t the only — or even the primary — motivation for Blankenship competing Thursday. He said the chance to decompress a little and spend two nights with his parents (who still live in Stillwater) while still being able to compete in a major event made the decision a no-brainer.
And when it was an all-Minnesotan finish in the men’s race, it made things even sweeter. Defending champion Garrett Heath, a Winona native, finished second in 3:59.7 while Apple Valley native Travis Burkstrand was third at 4:01.4. Blankenship has been competing against Heath for countless years, while Burkstrand is a former Gophers teammate. Heather Kampf, another ex-Gophers standout, won the women’s race in 4:34.2.
“That was an absolute blast,” Blankenship said.
Next up is the prestigious Prefontaine Classic in Oregon in two weeks. How much better can it get for Blankenship?
“Hopefully, it can get really good,” he said. “We’ll see in two weeks. Hopefully, we can run really fast.”