Eager runners often acheive tunnel vision as they reach the final stages of a race.
Approaching the closing 200 meters of the Class 2A girls cross country state meet, Kaneland sophomore Victoria Clinton was no different. Still, she had to pick out that pine tree before fully homing in.
A subtle landmark at Peoria’s Detweiller Park brought Clinton home to an individual state title on Nov. 3. Once she had passed it, crossed the finish line before anyone else and greeted a throng of well-wishers, the Kane County Chronicle Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year began gaining her wits.
“I remember at the point I reached the tree, I couldn’t feel my legs,” Clinton said. “It was just mind over matter, pushing it. That’s pretty engraved in my mind.”
Clinton trimmed 30 seconds from her previous personal best and ran 45 seconds better than her 11th-place state time in 2011. The Knights’ sophomore from Elburn traversed what long has been regarded as a fast course in 16:56, turning in Kaneland’s best overall finish since Kerry Rink took third in the 1986 one-class finals.
Packed with a front-running field that included Galesburg’s Stephanie Seay, Peoria Notre Dame’s Maryjeanne Gilbert and Crystal Lake Central’s Sami Staples, Clinton shifted into attack mode slightly before the pine tree to pull away.
Her nearest pursuers, Seay and Gilbert, finished 11 seconds off her pace.
“At the two-mile mark, I got this urge that I needed separation,” Clinton said. “I needed to start picking it up a little bit because I knew my competitors were really good runners. My body just told me it’s time to go, to start taking action with my strategy.”
Clinton’s parents, Larry and Debbie, are recreational runners, but never pressured any of their four children into the sport.
Larry Clinton recalls when Victoria would tag along on runs before breaking into Harter Middle School cross country in sixth grade. She always seemed to have stamina in reserve, taking an extra lap or two around the block before returning to the house.
Fueled by an accelerated drive, his daughter certainly kept going in Peoria.
“It’s kind of neat when you have a love and a passion for something,” Larry Clinton said. “I think that goes a long way.”
Victoria Clinton latched on to more than just distance running in that regard. She was playing youth travel soccer for the Kaneland program when she first learned of youth triathlons, a curiosity that quickly steered her toward Tri-Cities-based Multisport Madness.
Already confident in her running and swimming background, Clinton figured if she could merely “wing it” on the bike phase, she could be competitive.
Through two-plus seasons with the program, her instincts haven’t been wrong. Clinton’s accomplishments include a runner-up finish at the USA Triathlon Youth Elite Nationals in August in West Chester, Ohio.
Clinton trained with the Elite Triathlon Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., during the late summer before joining Kaneland’s cross country workouts, and her seasoning and experience showed throughout the season. Before her breakthrough at state, she finished third at the Northern Illinois Big 12 meet (18:13), first at regionals (18:05 at the Knights’ home course at Elburn Woods Forest Preserve) and second at sectionals (17:38).
“She was very consistent, but she still was waiting to have the right race at the right time,” Knights coach Doug Ecker said. “She just kind of learned how to race with the better runners and pretty much every Saturday was there with the best kids at the invitationals.”
Earlier this month, Clinton stood alone in 2A. Competing with freshman teammate Brianna Bower, her season has continued with national runs that include the Nov. 24 Foot Locker Midwest Regional in Kenosha, Wis.
“I’m grateful that it was a good season,” Clinton said. “I want to keep it going.”