Nick Christie, Miranda Melville win 35K national titles in Santee

The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” blared on loudspeakers as Chula Vista’s Miranda Melville rolled to the finish line Sunday in Santee. She didn’t disappoint.

In her debut race walk at the 35-kilometer (21.75 miles) distance, the 32-year-old Rio* Olympian set an American record — clocking 3 hours, 18 seconds.

“I was hoping to dip under 3 hours,” she said on a day with temps in the 50s. “I died in that last 5K. But it’s still a record for now, and records are meant to be broken.”

The previous U.S. best in the once rarely contested distance was 3:00:43 by Katie Burnett in 2017. But the Olympics and world championships are moving to a single distance of 35K — from 20K and 50K.

Getting more comfortable at 35K is El Cajon native Nick Christie, who won the men’s title Sunday morning in 2:48:48 — averaging 7:46 per mile — about 10 minutes off his own pending American record of 2:38:16 set a month ago in Dublin, Ireland.

Both won $8,000 and hope they are closer to qualifying for July’s World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon — the first outdoor world track meet ever held in America.

The $50,000 purse was called the largest for any race or endurance event in the San Diego area. It was the ninth consecutive year and 12th time in 14 years the championships have been held in Santee, which labels itself the Race Walk Capital of the United States.

Christie also confided to race announcer Tracy Sundlun that he’s thinking of a 20K and 35K double at the world meet — prompting the veteran race organizer to exclaim: “Oh, oh, greedy sucker.”

The former decathlete deserves whatever he gets, however.

Miranda Melville is overcome with emotion after setting American record.

Several steps after finishing at Santee Trolley Square, Christie vomited.

The 30-year-old kneeled briefly, wiped his face and proceeded to give curbside interviews next to his race-walk champion girlfriend Robyn Stevens of Vacaville.

(A Tokyo Olympian at 20K, Stevens dropped out of Sunday’s race after an hour and 50 minutes with a “tight ass” glute problem, “a sciatic nerve thing,” she said.)

Christie dominated the men’s field, finishing almost 11 minutes ahead of runner-up Daniel Nehnevaj, 24, of Beckley, West Virginia, in his own 35K debut. (See results here.)

“It’s hard to [race] by yourself,” Christie said. “So when I was in Ireland a month ago, I had a good group. It’s totally different when you’re in front the whole time by yourself.”

Women’s champion Melville — related to the “Moby Dick” author Herman — said she knew her last 5K was “going to really hurt.” But she said she surrounded herself “with positivity,” and “no matter (what), I was going to finish this. I didn’t care what place it was. I was going to put my first one in.”

She said she had to make up for a rough two years. Her first-place prize — the most she’s ever won — will help “pay my bills,” she said.

Paul Greer, longtime San Diego Track Club coach and president of the USA Track and Field San Diego Association, watched the races with awe.

“I think the smiles say it all when they cross that finish line,” he said. “35K is not as much as the 50K, but it’s still a brutal distance. … They say it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. And this is no different.”

Christie was happy to make the qualifying standard of 2:49 for the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships this March in Muscat, Oman.

His 2022 begins to make up for 2021, marred by tragedy.

Though he took 50th in the 20K walk at the Tokyo Summer Games, Christie’s father, Dennis, died in April.

He said he thought about his dad during races — including the Dublin one.

As a freshman at Grossmont High School, he played baseball with future major league pitchers Joe Musgrove and Steven Brault (of the Pirates) “And April 9 … was when Joe Musgrove threw the no-hitter for the Padres,” he said. “And my dad and I were going back and forth” about that milestone first.

Christie was in Philadelphia at the time — and it was the last chat he had with his dad.

“And he told me to break a record,” Christie said. “And I stunk in that race in Philly. That was kind of on my mind all year. So going into Ireland, I was really excited.”

Also enthused — Christie’s former coach, two-time Olympic race walker Tim Seaman.

Seaman, who turned Christie into a race walker at Cuyamaca College, sees better things ahead, and soon.

“I think he’s going to go faster later in the year,” Seaman said. “I think he’s going to break the American record again for sure.”

The 20K at Oregon worlds is nine days ahead of the 35K on July 24, and the double is “theoretically doable because of the gap between the two races,” he said. “It depends how well recovery goes in those in-between days.”

Christie, now his own coach, trains sometimes once a week at his alma mater Grossmont High and also on Grossmont College’s new track.

Seaman likes the way he walks: “Form very smooth, low to the ground. You don’t look at Nick’s technique and go: ‘You have to improve on his technique.'”

But yorking at the end of a race?

Not Seaman’s style.

“I haven’t thrown up, but I’ve made people throw up, which is very fun,” he said. “For me as an athlete, it was always my goal: Can I make this person throw up at the end of the race?”

*An earlier version of this report said Miranda Melville was a Tokyo Olympian.