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RF senior eyeing Illinois distance triple crown

Setting his sights high

For a moment, forget about Brayden Hamblen winning a state title in cross country. With his showing April 8 at the Arcadia Invitational in California in the 3,200-meter run, the Rock Falls senior proved his mettle as one of the elite distance runners in the country.

Will this translate into a record-breaking 2A state title in the 3,200 at the IHSA state meet this May? Hamblen also has his sights on the 1,600 as well.

“Arcadia was unreal in meet quality,” RF coach Eric Bontz said. “It’s a huge step up from the state meet – a whole new level.”

Hamblen ran 9 minutes, 11 seconds to finish in 17th place among 40 runners in his heat. It was 7 seconds better than his PR, and close to the 2A state record of 9:08. The winning time at Arcadia was just under 9 minutes, which is Hamblen’s goal for the season.

He also beat two runners from Illinois powerhouse Neuqua Valley.

As impressive as Hamblen’s time was, Arcadia had another flight of the
3,200 in which 25 runners ran under
9 minutes.

“It was a humbling experience for Brayden,” Bontz said.

But it was important for Hamblen’s development to compete against the best, especially with a D-I college career at Illinois on the horizon. It is difficult for Hamblen to find adequate competition based upon Rock Falls’ schedule.

Locally, he is blessed to have Chris Ahlers of Newman and Jacob Gebhardt and Dewey Landis of Sterling to
challenge him. But for the most part, smaller-school distance running is lacking. 

“It was eye-opening running with 40 guys just as good as you instead of
running by myself after 200 meters,” Hamblen said.

Hamblen ran with Arcadia leaders for the first seven laps, then hit a wall with about 500 meters left. At that point, he had moved up to third and had designs on the win.

“I felt great the whole way,” Hamblen said. “Then my legs gave out. The whole last lap was miserable.”

It was a lesson that will serve Hamblen well as he takes on more top-notch competition back in his home state. Saturday, he will run at the Distance Night in Palatine, where he will see some of the state’s top 2A and 3A distance runners.

Last year, 9:13 was the winning time in the 3,200 at Palatine among the 34 entrants.

“My plan is to go out in 4:30 [for first 1,600] and drop from there,” Hamblen said. “Sub-9 [minutes] is a possibility.”

Hamblen’s training is well ahead of last year when he was plagued by kidney problems. More of his time is being spent on speed work, and he is following drills similar to what the U of I uses. 

“His workouts are insane,” Bontz said. “For instance, he ran 18 reps of 200 meters in less than 30 seconds, with only 30 seconds rest in between them. He’s come a long way in maturity since his freshman year.”

After the state meet is over, Hamblen has qualified to run in the nation’s premier high school meet – the New Balance Invitational in North Carolina.

“Before New Balance, I want to have the triple crown [cross country, 1,600 and 3,200 state titles] of Illinois running,” Hamblen said. “There isn’t that one standout in 2A. It’s for anyone’s taking.”

Hamblen broke Rock Falls’ school record in the 3,200 by Larry Schuldt, and is on target to break Schuldt’s record of 4:17 in the 1,600.

“Brayden should also get our 800 record [1:57] before he’s done. I know he’s gunning for the 3,200 record downstate,” Bontz said.

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