T-M-B’s Tholen has won all five races this seasonTRACY — Five years ago, Ryan Tholen made an unpopular decision.
By: Aaron Hagen, Worthington Daily Globe
TRACY — Five years ago, Ryan Tholen made an unpopular decision.
As a seventh-grader, the current Tracy-Milroy-Balaton senior decided to turn down football and go out for cross country.
“Back then we both kind of wanted to go out for football, but it was our parents that steered us towards this,” Tholen said. “Cross country wasn’t very popular. All the football guys were like, ‘Oh, are you afraid to get hit and go out for football?’ It wasn’t the most popular thing, and people didn’t take any notice of it. Half the people didn’t even know the program existed.”
While there was no boys program before Tholen and Jones took the reigns, people are taking notice now.
“I’ve actually gotten quite a bit of support from the school that we really didn’t have before,” Tholen said. “It helps that our team is good this year and that we’re starting to win.”
The T-M-B boys’ team won its first meet in school history last week, but for Tholen, winning has been a habit this season.
Entering today’s meet in Slayton, Tholen has competed in five races.
He has five victories.
“I wouldn’t say that I expected (to be undefeated),” Tholen said. “Last year, I did win most of these smaller meets, and people always graduate, so I figured it was a possibility. But winning Mountain Lake in the first meet, I didn’t expect that. That kind of was a big thing for me and a confidence builder in the beginning of the season.”
The road to perfection started at the Mountain Lake meet this season.
Having never won the race before, Tholen ran a time of 16:49, giving him the start he needed.
“I was a little shocked,” T-M-B head coach Marie Hanson said. “At Mountain Lake, he ran a 16:49, and he only ran under 17 minutes at the state cross country meet last season.”
After Mountain Lake, Tholen and the Panthers hosted their own meet.
However, not even illness could stop the senior phenom that day.
“I was actually sick that morning and that made me a little nervous, too,” Tholen said of the T-M-B meet. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a weird kind of sickness. I was fine, then all of a sudden I was sick. I’m sitting here in the afternoon before the race starts, and I’m thinking, ‘Shoot, is this going to come back, am I going to have to drop out of the race?’ So that was kind of stressful. It went OK, but I didn’t try to go too hard.”
Tholen finished a minute slower than he had the meet before, but the result was the same — another victory.
“He was really sick that day, so to come out and run a 17:49 on a really hilly course was impressive,” Hanson said. “I was a little worried during the day. I had him in class in the morning that day, and he left class and looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel very good.’”
Tholen went on to a 200-meter victory later that afternoon at his home meet, and then won his third meet at Marshall before a tough meet in Worthington.
“At Worthington, he ran a 17:10,” Hanson said. “It was a good race, but we had a hard workout that week. Everybody just seemed a little sluggish. Even Ryan, even with a 17:10, was a little sluggish and just didn’t look quite right. He still ran a great race, and it’s just amazing to me that he can do that when he’s so sick and then when we have a pretty hard track workout.”
Tholen then led the Panthers to their first-ever team victory in Windom.
He will put his perfect record on the line today in Slayton, and then Saturday at the Roy Griak race in Minneapolis.
“Honestly, (finishing undefeated is) definitely a goal,” Tholen said. “My goal right now is to win the Griak road race. Other than state, that’s the biggest hurdle, I think. If I could win the Griak, that’s the most competitive race I have on my schedule until state. Sections are going to be tough, but I did win sections last year, so I think I have a little bit of a cushion, but you never know. There are always people that are going to be fast.”
While Tholen is a favorite to make a repeat trip back to state, he is a high-profile runner to shed light on a young program.
“The team started back when I was in seventh grade,” Tholen said. “Alex Jones and I were the only two kids out for cross country as seventh-graders, so we only had two kids on the team. From there, it’s grown and it’s made a name for itself.
“Now, we have 14 kids on the team and we’ve actually gotten pretty competitive. Everyone’s into it. People at school hear about it and that we won, so that’s always nice. It’s been really fun.”
As the program has grown, so has Tholen.
“He’s always been a very successful runner because he puts in so many miles in the summer,” Hanson said. “He’s always had success, but the difference is the change in his intensity and that he’s getting so much stronger. I have pictures of the team when he was in eighth grade, and he was scrawny and little.”
Searching for his fourth consecutive trip to state, Tholen is fresh off a fourth-place finish last year at the state meet.
“Until last year, I had never had a good race at state,” Tholen said. “Something would go wrong, or I would be injured. So last year, having the experience of being up closer to the front and running at that pace, I think that’s going to help me a lot. I’ll have a better strategy in preparing for it.”
With his family into running, Tholen has put in the time and the miles to prepare for this season and the blistering pace he will see at the state meet.
“My secret isn’t much of a secret, I think it’s my running of the summer, running a lot of miles, doing a lot of hill work and doing a lot of weightlifting,” Tholen said. “I think that has taken me to where I am now. I’m a firm believer in that your hard work is going to pay off. The harder the work, the bigger the payoff is going to be.”
The ultimate payoff for Tholen this season would be a state championship.
“I think a long-term goal would be to go undefeated,” Tholen said. “I think that’s something I want to work for. As far as state goes, last time I checked, I was ranked second in state. But the thing is, I view that as meaning nothing. I know it’s going to be a strong, hard pack at state. I’m just going to try to go out there and run my race, run like I should, and wherever that takes me, it takes me. As long as I leave everything out there, I’ll be happy with the result.”