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St. Charles North’s Gray discovers same intensity in running as swimming

St. Charles North senior Spencer Gray is the Kane County Chronicle's Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
St. Charles North senior Spencer Gray is the Kane County Chronicle's Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

Spencer Gray alternates between high- and low-impact training during most days as a multi sport St. Charles North athlete.

Through it all, the standout distance runner and swimmer always seems to keep his stamina.

“He’s an aerobic machine,” North boys cross country coach Kevin Harrington said. “He can go and go and go. Certainly no one works harder than he does.”

Gray is accustomed to that refrain around the pool, but hadn’t found the same intensity in his running workouts until recently. Sparked by a sense of urgency entering what might have been his final fall of competitive cross country racing, the Kane County Chronicle Boys Runner of the Year rolled with the change of attitude.

“I don’t think I could be too much happier with the season,” Gray said. “We won conference for the third year in a row, and that was a pretty big deal for us. We trained really hard all year and accomplished more than we thought we might.”

North added to its string of Upstate Eight Conference River Division titles with runner-up team races at regionals and sectionals before a 20th-place team finish at the 3A state meet.

The North Stars aspired to place several notches better at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, and Gray was among those trying to assign perspective to the season on the bus ride home. That task has been easier in the days since the Nov. 3 state meet, when Gray finished 45th in 15:02. While that time marked a steady climb from his first two state runs – 16:04 in 2010 and 15:33 last season – it still fell on the wrong end of an important benchmark.

“It’s always every runners dream to run that 15 double-zero,” Gray said. “To come that close, I know it hurts, because it’s something you shoot for, but I have to know I came close and deal with that. It was tough. I had to be real happy with it, but I still wanted to get under the 15 minutes.”

Harrington marvels at Gray’s recent physical development while reminiscing about an athletic career that still could have a milestone or two left.

Gray is eyeing his third state appearance in swimming, and if he elects to compete in track during the spring, a rare state meet triple crown could be in his crosshairs.

Given the demands of the swimming season, Gray isn’t always afforded the most time to train for his top track event, the 3,200 meters. Regardless of Gray’s plan in the spring – and his yet-to-be-decided college athletic path – Harrington sees a determined, versatile athlete brimming with possibility.

Swimming “always was more important” during Gray’s developmental years, he said. He first competed in cross country in sixth grade, and kept a similar nonchalant attitude until he suddenly began racing better midway through his sophomore year at North.

“I’m not really sure,” Gray said. “I just got to a point where I started dropping time every meet. It didn’t really make sense to me at the time, but it made me just want to keep trying.”

The North Stars’ sixth runner at state as a sophomore, Gray climbed to third on the team in 2011, as North placed ninth in 3A.

Before his senior state series, Gray captured the overall UEC River Division title. He placed sixth at regionals and second at sectionals, flanked by fellow upperclassmen Nick Borger and Nathan Klair.

Entering the season, Gray said he was “pretty certain” it would be his final time running cross country, although Harrington doesn’t rule out a change of heart.

Either way, Gray knows one thing about the past 2 1/2 months:

“I couldn’t have really asked for much more than this,” he said.

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