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Benton's Mia McLain is The Southern Illinoisan's Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year for the second year in a row.

Mia McLain and her father/coach Brent McLain are approaching Mia’s prep running career as a cross country race, not a sprint.

The Benton runner burst onto the cross country scene last year, finishing 10th at state to earn all-state honors as a freshman.

This year, the bar was set a bit higher.

McLain won regional and sectional titles. She took 21 seconds off her state meet time, but finished just one notch higher. For her efforts, McLain has been named the Southern Illinoisan’s Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

“I’m happy with the year I had,” McLain said. “I did a lot of things right. My mileage was good. Little things like sleep, nutrition and weights, I think everything was right on point. I think next year we’re just going to add a little more to it.”

And, that is precisely the approach father and daughter, coach and athlete, are taking.

The elder McLain said he is trying to create a training regimen that will stress gradual improvement while minimizing the threat of injury.

“If you can do it smartly and don’t kill yourself and not get injured you have a chance to get bigger and better,” he said. “I see a lot of positives out of that. Everything we did better this year was better than last year.”

That means McLain will be adding mileage incrementally this year and increasing her weight room workouts.

“I was running farther this year, running a little faster just on regular runs,” she said. “We did weight training a lot more than last year. I feel like weight training really helps. I’m not going to go super hard every day, just little things that will make a big difference. I’ve been doing it a lot more and I can tell a big difference in just appearance and how I’m running lately.”

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Benton's Mia McLain leads the pack during the IHSA Class 1A Sectional Cross Country Meet held at Benton Community Park last Saturday.

“She just got so much stronger physically in her shoulders and arms, that helped,” Brent McLain said. “Last year. We introduced a little bit of lower body. I think next year will introduce a lot.”

The physical conditioning augments McLain’s inherent competitive approach to running.

“She is so mentally tough,” Brent said. “I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere she’s in here, we don’t have a lot of girls so she trains with the boys or what. She’s able to go out, she’s just tough. She doesn’t give up. She pushes hard in everything she does. We don’t have to worry about her. If she’s supposed to go out and run a certain amount of miles, she does it.”

McLain also competes in track, but cross country is her first love.

“I just like going out, I like running on trails in the woods,” she said. “In track, you’re always around the crowd. In cross country you go back in the woods, you’re by yourself. You’re just all in your head. I do enjoy track. I get to hang out with my friends. I love them both, but cross country just has something about it that is just amazing.”

And, both father and daughter say the family connection enhances training.

“That’s kind of the good thing,” the elder McLain said. “It’s one of those balancing acts. I think if anything we treated her harder if it wasn’t a dad situation. She’s a smart girl, she understands the position I’m in. I can’t cut her any slack. We’ve learned. It’s been more fun than it has been challenging.”

“I honestly think it’s been getting easier,” Mia said. “I’ve learned what he likes to do. He’s learned what I like to do. The more we’re around each other every practice. We get more comfortable. We can be honest with each other.

“I’m very thankful for him. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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