2023 NewsTribune Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year

Mendota’s Anthony Kelson improved, returned to state, ran personal-best time

Mendota's Anthony Kelson is the NewsTribune boys cross county runner of the year on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2023 in Mendota.

When Anthony Kelson was in COVID-19 quarantine during junior high, his mom suggested he try running on their treadmill.

“She told me to run a mile, and I thought that was insane, like, a mile is so long,” Kelson said. “But I started doing it, and it became easy. One time I ran it really fast just to see how quickly I could do it, and I ran a 6-minute mile. I came out and my mom asked if I even ran it. I said I did, and she told me to do it again.

“That’s where my distance running started. I started running more and more miles during COVID.”

So when Kelson got to Mendota High School as a freshman, he joined the cross country team and fell in love with the sport.

“Cross country has been a really amazing thing for me and a lot of others,” Kelson said. “It’s very healthy. It immerses you in a very good environment. There’s a lot of camaraderie. Everyone supports each other. At the end of the race, you all pick each other up. It hurts, but you do it together.

“Cross country has kind of made a family for me, and I really thing it’s something special.”

“It hurts, but you do it together. Cross country has kind of made a family for me, and I really thing it’s something special.”

—  Anthony Kelson, 2023 NewsTribune Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year

While falling in love with cross country, Kelson has become a very talented runner.

After qualifying for the IHSA Class 1A State Meet as a sophomore last year, Kelson had an even better season this fall.

Kelson won the Princeton, Kewanee and La Salle County invitationals, placed third in the Three Rivers Conference Meet and returned to the state meet, placing 57th as he ran under 16 minutes for the first time, clocking a 15:53.9.

“After his successful sophomore season which concluded with running at the state meet, there were inherent plans to return,” Mendota coach Kevin Wohrley said. “Of course, for that to happen one has to assume training commitment and the essential piece of avoiding injury. Anthony established early in the season that he had accomplished both. With each race, Anthony learned about the challenges of being the lead runner.”

Kelson focused on improving his running technique this season.

“I worked at lengthening my strides,” Kelson said. “It’s a delicate balance of energy expenditure. Bigger strides use more energy, but they also cut down on the amount of steps you take. If you take a lot of small steps, you’re wasting energy. You want to try to find a balance there trying to figure out what works best for you. This year I’ve lengthened my stride more, which comes in really handy for someone who’s shorter like me.”

He also took care of his body better.

“I feel like I watched what what I ate and tried to pay more attention to stuff to help increase my endurance,” Kelson said. “I definitely hydrated more. It’s really been a balance of listening to my body and pushing myself.”

Even with improved running technique and better nutrition, Kelson expected to stay in the 16- to 17-minute range this fall.

“I didn’t really have any set goals,” Kelson said. “I wanted to get out there and push myself to what I thought was my best. I did not anticipate what actually happened this year with my times or overall improvement.”

Kelson showed improvement early in the season.

He won Princeton’s Gary Coates Invitational in 16:50, which was 20 seconds better than he ran the course the year before.

“The Gary Coates Invitational was an early test against runners who’d be running at state,” Wohrley said. “Kelson committed to the lead and made a real statement run, start to finish.”

Kelson placed eighth at Bureau Valley’s Dale Donner Invitational and third at the Three Rivers meet, cutting 8 seconds off the time he ran at the same course just three days prior.

In the postseason, Kelson placed fourth at the Class 1A Seneca Regional and 10th at the Oregon Sectional to return to state where he ran his personal best.

“Anthony kept his goals in focus and monitored himself through the race,” Wohrley said. “He measured the tank pretty well and was able to charge in the last 600 meters.”

After back-to-back individual state berths, Kelson is focused on the team next season.

“With Dagen (Setchell) gone, he was a very crucial leader. He really held us all together. He wanted to take that position,” Kelson said. “So I’m going to do my best to try to be a good leader for then team, set a good example, organize practices and see what every runner can do to better themselves.

“I want to see if we can make it to state as a team next year. I believe if everybody pushes themselves and really works hard, we could get low enough times to where our score could decrease maybe enough to actually make it.