For a guy who runs so fast, Sean Dolan took his sweet time plodding to his niche in track.
Once he arrived, however, Dolan knew he was in the right place.
During his first two years at Hopewell Valley Central High School, Dolan mightily resisted running the 1600, preferring the 200, 400 and eventually the 800 as a freshman. He became mostly an 800 man as a sophomore but “dabbled a little in the mile” according to coach Aaron Oldfield. As a junior he increased his workout with the 1600 and this year Dolan exploded.
He took first in the 1600 at the Holmdel Twilight Series, the NJSIAA Group III Central meet, the Group III State Championships and finally, the Meet of Champions. It was his first individual MOC gold medal after winning two indoor with the 4×800 relay team, and he became the first male athlete to win an individual outdoor MOC gold since pole vaulter Dave Jackson in 2001.
“It really means a lot,” Dolan said. “It was kind of the last thing I was missing from my high school career. It was just the cherry on top, I was happy to get that one.”
And if he hadn’t gotten it?
“Honestly, it would have been a little frustrating,” Dolan said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life right now, I feel like I’ve been running so well. It would have been a little bit heartbreaking not to get the gold there.”
Dolan got it with a time of 4:09, just one second shy of his personal best (run last May in the Adidas Boston Games). He did go on set a new personal record on June 15, however, when he ran in the prestigious Brooks PR Invitational at the University of Washington. There he finished fourth, with a time of 4:05.
The obvious question is, what took Dolan so long to discover the 1600?
“He wasn’t really committed to it mentally,” Oldfield said. “Obviously a lot of kids want to run something shorter and get done with it.”
Dolan chalked it up to good old fashioned stubbornness. “It took me ’til about the end of last year to realize I actually am a miler,” he said. “It was me being stubborn and not wanting to race the long distances. It took me a while to get up to the 800 and took me even longer to get up to the 1600 and 3200. I’m not a fan of cross country, but I’m sure that’s gonna grow on me pretty soon.”
The epiphany came at the Penn Relays during Dolan’s junior year. After running a good time during the indoor season, he cut his PR by five seconds at Franklin Field. “I realized I had a lot of potential and I just figured I might as well go and chase after that potential. So this year pretty much was dedicated to working toward Meet of Champs and trying to win it,” he said.
Dolan’s workout regimen slightly backfired at the start of the school year. After deciding to train for longer distances, he put in a heavy workload over the summer. When he returned for his second season of cross country, he became sick and struggled with injuries.
“It didn’t go as I hoped,” Dolan said. “I’ve never been at that high mileage that I did in the summer. It didn’t burn me out but I might have jumped into it a little too quickly. I should have built up to it a little more. I have no regret about anything I did, based on how the year has gone. But I was initially a little frustrated because I think I might have jumped on the mileage train a little too quickly.”
Dolan was coming off a junior season in which he finished second in the 800 at the Brooks Invitational and the Meet of Champions after winning counties, sectionals and states in that event. The Meet of Champions effort came one day after he ran at Brooks — in Seattle.
“Last year’s Meet of Champions was the last time I remember him losing in New Jersey,” Oldfield said. “And that was when he had to fly home from Seattle and run that day.”
Despite such great success in the 800, Dolan gave the mile his full focus this year. After his tough cross country season, he won the 1500 meters and took second in the mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. This spring he won counties, sectionals and states in the 800 and 1600, opting not to run the 800 in the MOC.
Dolan’s time of 1:50 in the 800 is fastest in the state this year, and his 9:02 in the 3200 is second fastest.
“He’s a special creature,” Oldfield said. “He’s got a range where he can run the fastest 800 and second fastest two-mile in the state. If you’re gonna run him in the mile, I don’t know how the hell you’re gonna beat him. He’s got the speed, he’s got the endurance and he has the competitive fire that I’ve not really seen in too many people.”
That fire burned brightly in the MOC, when Dolan overcame a race that was “paced kind of weird” by keeping his composure and winning by more than two seconds.
“We kind of played with the pace and it was pretty interesting,” he said. “I feel like I’m a much more mature racer now. I’m not making any more stupid moves in races. I’m running smart, staying on the outside, and just rolling with the punches. I think it comes with me becoming more and more used to the event. Last year I would always find myself fumbling around, making pointless moves, getting stuck in places where I shouldn’t have been. This year I’ve been watching track videos, critiquing myself and working on it in races. My strategy has gotten a lot better.”
He must continue to hone that strategy next year as Dolan will run for Villanova. The decision was a no-brainer after he hit the Main Line in October.
“I just got on the campus on my official visit, and I knew right away this is where I wanted to be,” he said. “A light bulb went off and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna go here next year.’ I’m really, really excited for that.”
One would think the ’Nova coaches are just as excited.