Joel Allen still remembers the response he gave in preschool when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.
?I said I wanted to be as fast as a speeding bullet.?
The Hillsboro High School senior has proven to be prophetic as well. Allen hasn?t achieved Superman speed just yet, but he recently capped the best cross-country season in school history with a silver medal at the state meet in Wamego.
It was the highest individual finish and fastest time?16 minutes, 33 seconds?ever recorded by a Trojan on the course?s challenging hills.
Prior to state, Allen won six of eight races during the season, including a regional championship, and set a new school record for a 5-kilometer course with a time of 15:52 at the Berean Invitational?which was 24 seconds faster than the mark Aaron Yoder set on the same course in 2003.
It?s probably no coincidence that before his breakthrough season began, Allen experienced a breakthrough of another sort.
?I kind of rediscovered the love of running,? he said.
That includes the pain that comes with pushing a body to its limits over long distances.
?I like that pain as long as it gets me to the end result of faster times,? Allen said. ?I love those faster times, and I want to run faster. I feel elation in that last 100-meter sprint when I?m able to put everything I have into it. It?s pure adrenalin.?
Development over time
It wasn?t always that way. Allen has had his share of achievements and challenges during his years as a runner.
His first high came in fourth grade, when he, decked out in ?big old huge basketball shoes,? finished second in a mile run at school in a time of 6:07.
Even then Allen was competitive.
?It was pretty serious to me?I wanted to run a good time,? he said. ?To this day I don?t know how I ran that fast.?
Allen said he didn?t run that fast again until eighth grade. But he kept participating in track and ultimately cross country each year through middle school and high school.
Cross country became his first love.
?Cross country and track are a lot different,? Allen said. ?I definitely like cross country more. It makes it more personal to me when I run cross country. It?s just a different kind of sport.?
Allen said he likes the more informal atmosphere of cross country.
?In my opinion, it?s not possible to have as much fun in track as you can in cross country because of the rigidity of the culture that surrounds track,? he said.
?It?s no more work, but there?s a lot less play involved,? he added. ?I have fun during track, but it?s not comparable to the fun I have in cross country.?
Allen said cross country has an edge in the close relationships that develop among athletes who are committed to the same event.
?The team atmosphere is what really draws me to cross country,? he said. ?Also, in cross country the race itself is fun. The terrain is different every time, there?s more variables and it?s longer. So it suits me better.
?It?s just more interesting than running on a track.?
Committed to team
It was because of his commitment to his teammates that Allen decided to run cross country last season at his former high school in Minnesota after his family moved to Hills?boro in summer when his father accepted a pastoral call to a local church.
?I said I really like the idea (of moving), but I feel I have a responsibility to my team,? Allen said. ?We had taken fourth in sectionals the year before, and the top two teams qualify for state.?
Qualifying for state is a big deal in Minnesota, where schools are divided into only two classes and only 16 teams qualify for state in each class.
In the end, Allen and his teammates accomplished their goal of qualifying for state, although Allen came two seconds short of his personal goal to break the 17-minute barrier.
New start at Hillsboro
Transferring to Hillsboro in November, Allen began preparing for track in spring. It was frustrating for him early in the season as he struggled to run the times he had achieved in Minne?sota.
?In the middle of the season, I was able to start doing some things that helped me toward the end of the season,? he said. ?Coach (Dennis) Boldt knows how to get your speed up.?
Allen?s breakthrough race came at regionals, where he won the 3,200-meter race in 10:26. He topped that a week later by placing third at the state meet in 10:06.
?That was very exciting for me,? Allen said. ?I came in maybe ranked sixth or seventh in the state and my goal was just to place. But the race was really fast.?
His success fueled his determination to train harder.
?It really helped me embrace more running,? he said.
Over the summer, Allen logged some 350 miles, varying both the length and pace of his runs over the course of the week.
?The first 150 to 200 miles I really struggled to maintain that discipline,? he admitted. ?I needed my family to help me. My mom and my dad would bike with me so I wouldn?t slow down or slack off?that is so easy to do when you?re running.?
Late in summer, he went back to Minnesota for three weeks and trained with his former high school teammates.
?I kind of rediscovered my love for running when I was up there with those guys,? he said. ?I was able to remember what it?s like to run with guys like that, with my team. And I really started to get into it.?
New team ties
Allen?s commitment to team carried into this fall?s season at HHS, where the Trojans exceeded most expectations by placing sixth at state.
?Justin (King), Bret (Mueller), (Clay) Avery and (Josh Richert)?all of them are great runners,? Allen said. ?They have talent, they work hard, and what they did this season was a byproduct of how much they worked over the course of the season.?
As a senior in his first season at Hillsboro, Allen said he tried to lead the team by example as well as vocally. Beyond team workouts, being relatively unknown had some benefits in competition.
?I felt I was more like a dark horse than anyone else,? he said. ?I went into (the season) thinking I have a really good chance to surprise some people and be a contender without people really even knowing it during the preseason.?
Fast times ahead
Allen said he?s looking to continue his success this spring in track. His eye is focused on his marquee race, the 3,200, where he intends to break Cody McMillen?s school record of 9:51 and challenge for the gold medal at state. He thinks he has the potential to run that race in the 9:30s or even 9:20s by the end of the season.
?I feel that after the vast improvement I had this past cross-country season, anything is possible. I don?t know how good I?ll be in track, but I have to set high goals so I can go out and meet those goals.?
Beyond high school, Allen intends to run in college and is being recruited by several small colleges and a few NCAA Division II schools. But as he looks longer into his future he sees much longer races.
?I want by 10 years from now to say that I?ve completed both an Iron Man and an ultra-marathon,? he said. ?That?s going to be a tall order, but I feel I?m up to the task.?