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Aim high.

Those two words sum up Alleman runner Spencer Smith’s entire philosophy about running, and just about anything, really.

His goal this season is to win an individual Illinois Class 2A state title. Since his freshman year at Alleman, his goal was to break the cross country school record.

“Like he always says, 'You set these big, big goals and even if you come up short, you still accomplish a lot,’” Alleman coach Scott Stoll said. “He’s not afraid to think big. That’s why I love him as an athlete and a person. He’s just completely dedicated with what he’s doing right now.”

Smith has been running cross country since sixth grade when the former soccer, basketball and baseball player noticed he was pretty good at distance running. He enjoyed it, too.

“I loved the competitiveness of it,” Smith said. “And now, it’s just become part of my lifestyle.”

That lifestyle is running 6 to 10 miles a day. So does thinking big, aiming high.

Smith won the 3,000 meters at the USATF Junior Olympics in Lawrence, Kansas, this summer with a time of 8 minutes, 50.08 seconds.

Second-seeded going in, Smith was not really surprised at the win as he had competed well with the top seed in a regional meet earlier this summer.  

“I did not expect to go that far under 9 minutes,” Smith said. “That was a 10-second PR. I was only expecting to go five seconds faster (than a 9-flat.)”

A strained quadricep, once thought to be a stress fracture, derailed him last cross country season. 

Still, Smith won the Western Big Six title. However, he had to take time off after that and simply didn't have what it took to qualify for state at sectionals.

“I was really disappointed,” Smith said.

He's used it as a positive motivator for this season.

“It fueled me to train really hard over that between cross country and track season,” he said. “I’ve learned that sometimes downfalls are good because they can pick you up higher than you’ve ever been before.”

As part of an effort to stay away from injuries, Stoll -- his coach his entire career -- has Smith and the Pioneers doing more core and weight training.

“I think it’s definitely important for injury prevention,” Smith said.

About the only problem Stoll has with his best runner is getting him to ease up at times. 

“He ran with us on the cross country team all summer and, at the same time, competing with the Mississippi Valley Track Club,” Stoll said. “Kind of doing his version of two-a-days in a way.”

Stoll believes Smith would have qualified for state last season had he been healthy. To that end, they are slowing him down a bit at the start of the season.

“He had a really good summer,” Stoll said. “When he came back, we forced him to take a rest and have his body recharge. He’s so strong and fast right now the (injury) risk is there.”

Zach Hird holds Alleman's cross country school record for three miles at 14:35, a time Stoll once believed he would not see broken until he was an old man. 

Now four years later, it could be taken down.

“He’s just so driven,” Stoll said of Smith. “He takes it so seriously. He’s very meticulous about the details.”

The 5-foot-10, 120-pound senior believes he will break it on a Peoria course later this season, “because that’s a really fast course and there’s a lot of really good competition to push me.”

Based on past success and his “aim high” philosophy, it would be unwise to doubt Smith.

In case you do, Smith aims high in the classroom, too. He has a 4.55 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.