Ever since Isaac Hietanen started running cross country at DeKalb, he’s had older runners to push him.
Hietanen followed one year behind last year’s talented senior class that was headlined by Marc Dubrick, who now is running for the University of Missouri. In races, Hietanen would battle with Colin and Patrick Martin, often running together in a secondary group.
But now as a senior, Hietanen is expected to be the lead runner and pace-setter for the first time in his high school career.
“I have to remember to push myself in ways that they would normally push me to make myself uncomfortable,” Hietanen said. “I still feel Patrick right next to me when we’re doing 800s. I can still feel that pack of guys around me. I have to live up to their standards, it’s a tough goal but I’ll get there.”
Last year’s cross country season served as a breakthrough for Hietanen. He consistently ran around 16 minutes for three miles, but set a personal record at the sectional by crossing in 15:40, placing him 35th.
“Physically, he’s a lot stronger than he was two years ago,” DeKalb coach Mike Wolf said. “He’s really worked on his core strength this year. He’s really coming along. He’s able to handle more mileage and longer workouts.”
Hietanen’s development as a runner started later than most. Even as a freshman, he considered playing soccer over cross country, but chose running because of the people he knew. He also felt he had a better future in the sport.
After a year with the frosh / soph team, Hietanen ran varsity as a sophomore and has since gained a stronger hold over the non-physical aspects of running as well.
“I came into track in middle school. I wasn’t an athletic person,” Hietanen said. “I have a lot more personal self-confidence and that helps the mental endurance during cross country races.”
DeKalb moves back down to Class 2A this season and the Barbs should benefit from competing against smaller schools.
Historically, Hietanen’s time from last year’s sectional has been good enough to qualify for the state meet in 2A, but he’s eyeing another time drop as a senior.
“He’s staying healthy and his mind’s in the right spot,” Wolf said. “He’s excited to get running and get racing.”