Dawson Smith likely got a few funny looks this past winter.
After all, the Rock Falls sophomore spent a good chunk of it running in the streets of his hometown, dodging snow, ice, potholes and whatever else was in his path.
After placing 15th at the Class 2A state cross country meet this past November, Smith took 1 day off before getting back to work. There were a few days that he didn’t get his training in due to extreme weather conditions, but other than that, we was out pounding the pavement for about 40 miles a week.
The early returns from that work have been positive. At the Batavia Distance Madness meet this past Friday, Smith finished eighth in the 3,200 with a time of 9 minutes, 46.77 seconds. That time is below the 2A state qualifying standard of 9:47.82.
“It was definitely harder because I had to race against 3A schools,” Smith said. “It pushed me to go fast.”
Smith’s previous best in the 3,200 had been 9:54.23, a time he posted to win the Big Northern Conference Meet last May 11 in Oregon. He is already well ahead of that that pace.
“I went out a little hard, but I think that was just the adrenaline,” Smith said. “After that and the adrenaline wore off, I just decided to hang in there and finish.”
As a freshman, Smith had the ultimate role model to follow in Brayden Hamblen, who is now competing at Illinois.
“It feels different, not having Brayden here,” Smith said. “It’s harder. I don’t have someone to chase after.”
Now Smith is the leader of the Rock Falls running pack. It’s a role he’s comfortable with, and head coach Eric Bontz is as well.
“He’s definitely a leader,” Bontz said. “Right now, I’d say he’s leading that distance crew every day, if not by voice, then by example. The kid’s very motivated, and I see a bright future for him. We’ve been trying to get him in extra competitions, some more elite competitions, and every time we do, he seems to surprise us.
“I’ve got high hopes for him the same way I had high hopes for Brayden, so we’ll see how it all shakes out.”
Hamblen evolved into an elite distance runner by incorporating speed work into his workouts, especially as an upperclassman as his body matured. If a race was close, he could sprint away from just about any foe he faced.
That will be part of the plan for Smith as time goes on.
“It would definitely be nice to be able to sprint like Brayden and be able to out-kick people at the end,” Smith said. “That will be hard to do, but I’ll do some speed work to be faster at the end.”
Smith’s specialty will be in the 3,200 – eight laps around a standard track. He’ll also run the 1,600, but feels better suited for the longer distance as it gives him more of a chance to wear down the competition. By the end of May, he hopes to be running both at the IHSA state finals in Charleston.
“I feel like the 2-mile is better for me because I’m more of a pace guy instead of a sprint guy,” Smith said. “If I qualify in the mile, I’ll go for that, too.”