Cross country: One more hill to climb for KV’s Travis Conley
By Dave Melton Post-Tribune correspondent October 23, 2013 11:56PM
Kankakee Valley's Travis Conley makes a turn just ahead of Wheeler's Kyle Nurse during the Bob Thomas invite on Saturday, September 10, 2011, in Lowell. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 25, 2013 1:27PM
WHEATFIELD — It’s called “Agony Hill,” a ruthless portion of the terrain that rises in the middle of the course at New Prairie High School — the site of this weekend’s New Prairie Semistate. It’s a hill that challenges the will and the reserves of every runner competing in the race.
“The biggest key to that course is how much you have left after going up Agony Hill,” said Kankakee Valley senior Travis Conley, one of many local runners preparing to face the hill this weekend. “If you can go up in pace after that hill, you’ll probably go to state.”
While Agony Hill is far from your average course impediment, Conley has had his share of experience in dealing with obstacles.
It goes back to his freshman year, after Conley completed what he called his best cross country season, earning first-team All-NCC honors. But during that basketball season, Conley tore the meniscus in his knee and missed the entire following track season.
Two races into his sophomore track season, Conley was diagnosed with a stress fracture that kept him out for seven months — including his junior cross country season. One final medical setback cost Conley his junior track season as well, before he was finally able to get back to running this July in preparation for his final cross country season.
“I didn’t start getting back into form until the middle of September,” Conley said. “I was still probably just 75 or 80 percent endurance-wise. It took me a long time to get back to where I was.”
Because of that slower start, KV head coach Tim Adams formulated a plan to make sure Conley was at his best in time for the postseason.
“We just were going to look at his late start as an opportunity that we weren’t going to over train or do too much, too soon, and that we’d aim to peak later,” Adams said.
Just over a month into the season, on Sept. 14, Conley ran what he called his best race of the season, finishing in eighth place with a time of 16:19 at the Bob Thomas Invitational in Lowell. “That was when I knew I’d got back to where I wanted to be,” he said.
Finally at full health, Conley continued to race through the regular season without harboring any regrets from the injury-plagued portions of his high school years.
“There were times when I just wanted to stop (running), but I’m glad I had these injures because I’m a better runner and a better person because of it.”
Conley’s coach sees a difference in the senior as well.
“I think he’s running more mechanically correct than he was two years ago,” said Adams. “I think that’s why he’s able to accomplish more. He’s a little bit more mature as a competitor; a little more savvy.”
With his focus pointed forward, Conley is preparing for his first semistate appearance after posting a time of 16:43 and an 11th-place finish at last weekend’s New Prairie Regional. He won’t be alone, either, as fellow KV runner Bryce Gawronski also qualified for Saturday’s New Prairie Semistate with a time of 17:14 and a 19th-place finish.
The races at the New Prairie Semistate — with Agony Hill in the middle — begin at 10:30 a.m. (Central) on Saturday morning.