CLINTON — Clinton senior Ethan Black has a secret training location that has helped him prepare for his senior cross country season.
It isn't a tough hilly trail or a state of the art indoor facility — it is the cornfields of Central Illinois.
Along with his usual running training, Black worked in the Syngenta cornfields around Clinton this summer with some friends and the work kept him in shape.
"I was out in the sun all day working and doing manual labor and that really helped. I was detasseling corn and that has helped me along with my training," Black said. "I was mainly working on my distance and I really focused on the paces and the quality of the work I put in, not just miles. Even running the most miles isn't what will necessarily make you better. I focused on really hard training and that has really paid off."
Black dominated Saturday's Shelbyville Invite cross country meet with a time of 16:19, winning by 28 seconds. The summer work on pacing was evident as he ran each of the three miles in 5:23.
"The plan was all about running a consistent race and his milesplits were completely consistent today. It was exciting to see him run so well on much hillier terrain today (at General Dacey Trail)," Clinton co-cross country coach Rachel Lyons said.
As Black emerged from the forest trail on his way to the finish line, he had a big lead, but he felt challenged by the course and conditions.
"It feels really good to win but I really didn't feel the greatest — it was a little humid out and it was my first time running here and it's pretty hilly," Black said. "My goal today was really just to get the win and at this point in the season I don't really care about times too much. I ran a pretty good time last week at my home course and I ran a 15:35. I was way off that, but I was happy to win."
Black has battled injuries in his sophomore and junior seasons and Lyons is delighted to see her team's No. 1 runner get a chance to shine.
"Ethan was injured his sophomore year for track and he was injured for fall junior year cross-country, so it has been a long time since he has been healthy and able to race," Lyons said. "We are just overjoyed at whatever we can get for opportunities for him to race. I do mourn the loss of an official state series for him but we are thankful that he gets to race and be healthy.
"He came back and raced for us at regionals last season even though he knew he wasn't really fully ready to go and he was the reason that our team was able to advance to sectionals. He is super team-centered and a great motivator of all our underclassmen too."
Black has his younger squad pushing for a third consecutive Central Illinois Conference championship.
"The team is doing really well and we are coming off two straight conference championships and I had a lot of seniors leave and so it is sort of a rebuilding year, but a lot of the younger guys are doing really well," he said. "The main goal is obviously to win the conference championship and hopefully as a team we can go back-to-back-to-back and hopefully get all-state for cross-country if there is a state meet."
The IHSA modified schedule has allowed two Maroons football players — wide receiver/cornerback Trevor Willis and wide receiver/safety Justyn West — with open fall sports schedules to join the team and both have shown rapid improvement.
"They have been amazing additions and we have loved having them — they were our No. 3 and No. 4 runners (on Saturday)," Lyons said. "I think that they are embracing it and I told the kids that our motto was (a Steve Prefontaine quote) 'We don't run to see who was the fastest, we run to see who has the most guts.' Those two specifically showed me that at the finish line and they both really embraced that mentality which I'm sure is partially from being football players."
Although Black's skill puts him in a different level than his teammates, he is all about the team's success.
"In our tempo mile workouts (Ethan) is running them a little different than the rest of our team because he has advanced to (running) continuously so he doesn't get any breaks and he is done a little earlier than everyone else," Lyons said. "Last week, he saw a teammate who was running by himself and Ethan jumped back in voluntarily and helped him and paced him to his best mile of his life."
Said Black: "It is not really a challenge (leading this team) because these guys are sort of laid back and easy to work with and they listen to me as well, so it is easy for me to embrace the role. It is a little bittersweet but I am just happy to have a season this year and get to be a leader of this team."
PHOTOS: Mount Zion cross country meet at Fort Daniel Conservation Area
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten
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