Minooka senior cross country runner Joey Santillo knows the ropes of running. He knows when there is slack and when it needs to go taut.
After years of dedication to the sport, Santillo's reward was a personal-best time in his final high school race ever and a second consecutive All-State recognition. The PR came down at the state final meet (14:41) in Detweiller Park in Peoria.
Still, even in the aftermath of a very good high school career, Santillo is left seeing room for improvement. Those improvements will come at the next level after graduating MCHS.
In the mean time, Santillo can reflect on his season and career — one that places him as the Morris Daily Herald Runner of the Year again this season.
Picking apart Detweiller
Santillo finished 14th overall at the Class 3A State race down in Peoria to join Minooka's Tom Clennon (1975 and 1976) and a two-time All-State runner for the Indians.
"It hasn't sunk in yet, but it's an honor. It's something I am certainly prideful of. I love running for Minooka. It hasn't sank in yet," Santillo said of being a part of school history. "There has been a lot of focus on the meet coming up (Illinois Best) and I've been looking forward to track season. I think after that, I think I'll have time to reflect on it and that's when it will sink in."
While the lasting effects of his participation in the sport may take some time, Santillo said that he knows the memories will always remain.
"I have a lot of really good memories and I even smile now at the low moments," he said.
Considering how strong an athlete Santillo is in the sport of running, the question had to be asked: "What low moments?"
"For instance, the last race of the year. How do I put this? The chips didn't fall where they could have," he said. "I was seeded seventh and I know I have that in me. I just didn't run the way I should have. But I finished 14th and that's still very good and I still made All-State. No, I didn't get what I wanted to, but that's still a good race."
It is a final race many in the sport would crave.
"Santillo is one of the all-time greats," Minooka coach Kevin Gummerson said. "Joey has put in countless hours of work to make sure that he was ready to go this season. It is great to see him benefit from the work he did to make himself a great distance runner."
The road to improvement
One of the things Santillo has admitted to over the years is taking ice baths for recovery. This past year, he says he has done much less of that and simply put in more miles prior to the season.
"This year my training has been more run-oriented," he said. "I'd wake up at 5, 5:30 and get my running in."
And just how much running did he put in a day?
"Mondays I'd like to get about five miles in. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I'd run after I'd get in from workouts," he said. "If I did, it would be three miles. On Wednesdays and Fridays I get around three to five, but most of the times it was five. Unless I had a meet on Saturday and then it was three because I didn't want to be burned out on Saturday."
Santillo says that he is fortunate to live on one of the routes the Indians practice on as a team and that he keeps track of his miles in two ways. One if by using mapmyrun.com and the other is the Nike products that he uses which his shoes and watch work as one.
"The watch I wear communicates with my shoes and tells me how long I'm going and what my pace is," Santillo said.
Santillo said that he does mix up his running routine from time to time to break up any monotony.
"I do a combination of the routes we run. Coach was always seemingly calling for us to run the deer path, which is not one of my favorites. It's one of our routes. It's one of the street names. It's three miles on limestone," he said. "It's an oval route behind the school. I do like running it a little because I know how long it is, but if I'm running five miles, I like to go different directions."
According to Gummerson, Santillo's legacy at MCHS will likely be felt for generations to come.
"Joey continued to work hard and set new goals after his outstanding junior season. One of the biggest areas of improvement that was seen in Joey was his realization on the impact he can have on this program for the long haul," Gummerson said.
"He has been focused on the team; however, this year he wanted to make sure he helped out the younger runners and make sure they were doing the things that they need to do to become great."
Santillo said that he learned to do that his freshman year when some of the upper-classmen took him under their wings.
"I have a lot of phenomenal seniors to thank over the years," Santillo said. "My freshman year they looked out for me. I had so much fun from the beginning that I was excited to race. I wanted to race in the state meet."
Gummerson said that Santillo specifically made an impact on one up and coming runner for the Indians.
"I know he took freshman Michael Bozue under his wing, and really helped him out with handling the varsity workouts and higher level of competition," Gummerson said. "He realized that he had benefitted from great senior leadership in his earlier days, and he was going to share his knowledge."
Down the road
Santillo said that he is definitely interested in running at the next level but is still focused on the upcoming track and field season in the spring for the Indians. The other thing he said he plans to bring to the table in the spring is a desire to go out in the way he thinks he is capable of.
"I'll definitely be more determined. I'll be looking at all of the things I did wrong from cross country season and use it," Santillo said. "I'll use that as motivation to run better during the track season. I need to prove to myself that I can be the runner I know I am."