PEORIA -- The phrase about something being a marathon and not a sprint gets used a lot in various walks of life, but the meaning was quite literally what helped Marion sophomore John Bruce earn a medal in the Class 2A boys race at the IHSA's State Cross Country Championships.
Bruce saw the lead pack get ahead of him faster than he expected in Saturday's race at Detweiller Park, but rather than burn out his energy catching up to them right away he bided his time and caught up gradually before crossing in 14th place with a time of 15:08.
"I just didn't want to get stranded which ended up happening," Bruce said. "I wanted to get in a pack and go. But in the back I was kind of by myself. There were runners about 15 meters ahead of me and there were more 15 meters behind me."
The top three runners ended up well ahead of everyone anyway. Maple Park Kaneland's Matthew Richtman edged Sterling's Jacob Gebhardt at the wire with both clocked at 14:23, while Crystal Lake South's Jack Becker was third in 14:31.
The next wave came in 14 seconds later and Bruce finished two seconds ahead of Charleston's Nick Oakley, the senior who beat him by one-hundredth of a second at the Decatur Sectional. A time 12 seconds slower would've pushed Bruce out of the top 25 but he was well positioned to become Marion's first all-stater in cross country in 17 years.
"He ended up catching himself between two packs," said Marion coach Eli Baker. "He had to use a lot of energy to catch a pack and luckily some of those runners fell off but he did a good job of recovering and catching back up to some of those guys and placing where he was at.
"He was still able to have a little kick at the end and pass some guys. I'm very happy. I know it wasn't the time he wanted but up here time is irrelevant when you're looking at places. He wanted to be top 25 and he did it. For him to be all-state as a sophomore is a really big accomplishment."
Bruce said his ultimate goal of being all-state was reached although being slightly irked by how the strategy didn't go as planned.
"I wanted to get with the pack and stay committed to the race," Bruce said. "I knew adrenaline would bring me home. It's never what you expect though. I'm happy with how the season went but I'm still hungry for more. I'm happy with how it ended."
It was an especially great accomplishment considering the race was held in a gray foggy mist with the muddy track slick and slippery, particularly when making turns.
"Everybody races in the same conditions," Baker said. "It slows things down. But we got through it and nobody fell down. That's all you can ask for."
Marion, running as a team for the second straight year, placed 14th in the 2A team standings.
Michael Rutkowski was 30th (15:26), Levi Bryant was 37th (15:30), Julian McPhail was 152nd (16:39), Joe Sullins was 187nd (17:14), Isaac Donaldson was 208th (18:05) and Tim Surburg was 210th (18:46).
Marion, which won the South Seven Conference title, overcame missing two runners to place fifth at the Highland Regional and was fourth at the Decatur Sectional to qualify for state as a team.
The trophy-winning teams at state were Mahomet-Seymour, Normal University and Sycamore.
"Considering the circumstances of how our season as a whole has been, I feel really good about it," Baker said. "We were hopeful just to get a team in with the injuries and illnesses that we've had. So for us to get through the postseason the way we did, I'm really happy with it."