He's a math whiz, but even Ben Tholen needed a break from numbers.
Meticulous to a fault, the Yorkville junior cross-country runner used to be consumed by the minutes and seconds ticking away in his head. As a freshman and sophomore, Tholen wore a watch practically every race. He checked it every 100 yards.
"The numbers in my head, they held me back," Tholen said. "Now it's more of a feel thing. Rather than just the numbers, I go out with a plan."
Tholen could be a big part of the Foxes' plans this fall.
Yorkville's No. 8 runner last year, he didn't make the state team that finished 24th in its Class 3A debut in Peoria. Tholen was one of two extra runners the Foxes brought for the experience.
In his first trip back to Peoria, Tholen opened eyes in a big way. At the Detweiller at Dark meet in late July, Tholen ran the course in 16 minutes, 16 seconds – shaving nearly 20 seconds off his previous best time at Detweiller.
"It was a huge surprise to our coaches," Yorkville coach Brian Long said. "It's a testament to all the work he's put in."
Indeed, Tholen didn't arrive at Yorkville High School with a huge running pedigree. He ran a 14-minute two-mile in middle school, part of a group that reached state.
He didn't improve as much as he hoped his sophomore year, either, but the light came on this summer.
He did it through hard work and dedication.
Tholen estimated that he's logging close to 70 miles a week now, an increase from 55-60 before.
"Doing a lot of higher mileage, it hones in on my strength," Tholen said. "I think I PR'd by about 16 seconds (at Detweiller at Dark). I felt like I had a good race in me, and wasn't really nervous. I just told myself I wasn't going to settle."
"With Ben, he is such a perfectionist in every area," Long said. "When he sees he is not breaking 10 minutes in the two-mile in track or not making a state team, that makes him work that much harder. Some kids would deflate. That's not Ben."
If Tholen holds high expectations for himself, it's with good reason.
He holds a 4.8 grade point average, and will be taking AP Calculus, Chemistry and U.S. History. He's considering pursuing a degree in college related to engineering, math or science.
A member of the math team at Yorkville, Tholen also plays bass in the symthony orchestra, and is taking private lessons for the violin.
It's a busy schedule, but Tholen knows how to manage.
"I go with the flow, try to plan stuff out," Tholen said. "I don't waste any time. I just do things."
Tholen could do big things this fall.
Long expects him to round out Yorkville's top five consistently for a team that has aspirations to return to Peoria for state.
"He's seen the great leaders that have come through this program like the Hoffert twins, Alexx Nauman, and I think he has always wanted to be part of that," Long said. "He has pushed himself and he's going out now with some of the tough guys. He is somebody that will definitely be running under 16 minutes. His stretch goal is to get to that 15:30. I have no doubt that he will get there."