COLUMBIA — Ben Keown has been a part of the Rock Bridge cross country team since he was in sixth grade. He wasn’t doing any running, but he went to meets to cheer for his older brother Jimmy.
Outside of the meets, Keown participated in the team’s pasta party that his family hosted, and often spent free time with his brother and the other runners.
“I was just kind of the team’s little brother,” Keown said. “I’d always be at the meets, I was always taken along. I’d always talk with the team and joke around with them.”
Six years later Keown is one of most important parts of the Bruins’ team. His strict work ethic led to a summer practice routine that had him running 20 miles a week more than any other team member and elevated him from the junior varsity level to one of the top spots on the varsity team.
At the end of the 2007 track season, Keown was not fast enough to qualify for the postseason in the 3200 meter run. He continued to practice with the faster runners, hoping to improve enough to make the postseason team in 2008. After the track season ended, Keown met with his coach and planned a practice schedule for the summer to help him improve for the fall cross country season.
“I think he just kind of decided after track season was over this past spring that he was just going to completely dedicate himself to getting better,” said Neal Blackburn, the cross country and track coach at Rock Bridge.
Starting at the end of the track season and continuing throughout the summer, Keown ran an average of 75 to 80 miles each week. He ran a minimum of six days per week and covered at least 10 miles on each run. Sometimes he was joined by teammates, but most of the long runs were done on his own.
Keown thought that the high mileage would work the best for his body.
“I don’t really work that well with low mileage,” Keown said. “Some guys can max out at 50 miles and do fine, but I’m different. I do better if I do a lot of mileage, that’s just how I am.”
All of the extra miles really paid off for Keown when the team reported to cross country practice in early August. On the first day, the Bruins ran a time trial, and Keown finished second.
The time trial was a sign of things to come for the senior in the 2007 season. He has run in five meets this season and has been one of the top two finishers for the Bruins in all of them.
Even more important, he is outrunning all of his old bests. Before this season, his personal best 5K time was 16:56 and his highest finish was sixth.
In the five races of 2007, Keown has broken that time in every race, achieving a new personal best time of 16:32 at the Parkway West Invitational and a best finish of third at the Parkway Central Invitational.
Also, Keown has placed in the top 15 of every race, highlighted by placing 15th out of more than 250 runners at the Forest Park Invitational, the most competitive regular-season meet on the Bruins’ schedule.
Keown’s offseason commitment to both personal and team improvement has been a bit of a rallying point for Rock Bridge this year.
“It’s just a tribute to his work ethic to get where he’s gotten,” Blackburn said. “It’s been awesome for the whole team to see what hard work really does for you.”
“Hard work” only starts to summarize what Keown did in the offseason. All of the miles this summer have changed his whole attitude about running.
“I used to get all caught up in what time I was going to run and how good I was going to do,” Keown said. “But now I go into it thinking I’m just going to run and not worry about anything else.”
Keown spent most of his junior year running at the junior varsity level because of injuries, but he says he feels like the maturity that he gained during that season is valuable now. Even though he didn’t set any personal records that year, he learned a lot about the sport and how to be successful at it.
Keown has been around cross country long enough to know what he and other runners are capable of, and says that every runner should push himself hard enough to get the best results.
“I expect myself to do the best that I can with what I’ve got. That’s what I want out of everyone else.” Keown said. “I don’t want anyone cutting corners or trying to slack off, since I’m out there doing my best. Anything is possible. You can always improve.”