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Mentally tough Maple Grove runner keeps pushing himself

10/22/2016, 7:40pm CDT
By MATTHEW DAVIS, Special to the Star Tribune

Crimson senior Alex Miley is the state’s top-ranked runner among Class 2A boys.


Alex Miley right set the pace for junior varsity runners at Maple Grove during a cross-country meet at Central Park Tuesday October 18, 2016 in Brooklyn Park, MN. ] Jerry Holt / jerry. Holt@Startribune.com

Top-ranked boys’ cross-country runner Alex Miley will keep a lesson in mind as he seeks a third consecutive state meet appearance.

A senior at Maple Grove, Miley credits former teammate Mitchell Dickerson for inspiration. Dickerson advanced to the state meet in 2012 and 2013 but not in 2014, when Miley made his debut as a sophomore.

“He was actually pushing me and said ‘Keep going, I’ve just lost the fire,’ ” Miley said. “He was a great mentor.”

Miley can keep that fire going for the Class 2A, Section 5 meet on Thursday in Anoka for a spot in the state meet on Nov. 5 in Northfield. Ranked No. 1 in 2A, Miley placed seventh at state last year.

“There’s some great competitors out there, a lot of top guys in the state that have great kicks, and they’re excellent runners,” Miley said.

Miley approaches his races with mental toughness, according to Crimson cross-country coach Matthew Gifford. Miley credits Gifford for instilling that.

“He’s hardened my mental strength for all races,” Miley said.

It paid off as Miley dropped his time at every course this fall from previous years, according to Gifford.

“If you go out [and] put your heart out there, usually improvement happens,” Miley said. “It’s just great to see that, especially with my confidence going into the big races towards the end of the year.”

That’s when Miley gets to face rivals more often, such as Centennial senior Reed Kurak, ranked No. 7 in 2A. Miley defeated Kurak for the Northwest Suburban Conference title on Oct. 13, winning with a time of 15 minutes, 46.2 seconds. Kurak ran 16 minutes flat.

“[When] it was probably a mile [or] 800 meters left, it was him and I,” Miley said.

Eighth-ranked Kevin Dado of Totino-Grace took third in the meet. Both Dado and Kurak will challenge Miley again in the section meet.

“Those guys push me just as much as my team does,” Miley said.

Miley and his Crimson teammates captured the conference team title. Gifford wants his runners to keep pace behind Miley, a tactic that worked in Elk River. Senior Justin Brako finished in 16:45.7 for sixth and junior Blake Iverson ran 16:59.6 for ninth.

“I’ve always wanted them to go out and try to stay with me because I don’t want to be the guy that kind of separates myself from them and says, ‘I’m just by myself,’ ” Miley said.

Miley hopes for a team section victory and another trip to the St. Olaf College course in Northfield next month. He anticipates his familiarity with the course will help him either way.

“There’s certain parts that mentally get me, but I got to stay strong and prepare beforehand,” Miley said. “It’s a great race, and it should be fun.”

Miley considers endurance racing fun. He runs track in the spring and took eighth in the Class 2A 1,600-meter run last June. In the winter, he dons skis for the Crimson Nordic team.

“I may be a little better at cross,” Miley said. “For track, it’s just the same thing, very intense, but it’s fun to compete with the top guys once again.”

An NCAA Division I running prospect, Miley doesn’t compete all summer. Instead of AAU, he runs in the Crimson captains practices and spends time with friends.

“In between, I hang out with my backyard baseball buddies,” Miley said. “We just play football and stuff. I know that’s not great for cross-country runners, but it’s just fun to go out and enjoy life.”

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