NEGAUNEE - There's been nothing better to do than stay inside the last couple of rain-filled days, right?
Not if you're a cross country runner.
Participants at Tuesday's annual WIN high school meet had no complaints about the cold, dreary and drizzly conditions and were nearly unanimous in enjoying the late-fall-like conditions behind the Negaunee Township Hall just off highway M-35.
Negaunee’s Keenan Gantz finishes first for the boys during the WIN meet with a time of 18:03 in Negaunee on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
The Miners’ Wyleen Kniola finishes first during the girls WIN race with a time of 21:59 in Negaunee on Tuesday. Negaunee won both the boys and girls team titles as well over Westwood and Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Westwood’s Anna Honkala finishes second during the WIN meet with a time of 22:48 in Negaunee on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"I like the rain, it makes the run refreshing," said boys winner Keenan Gantz, a junior at Negaunee, who just missed his goal of breaking 18 minutes in clocking 18:08 on the 3.1-mile course through the woods.
"This may be my best time ever, and I know it's the first win I've had this year."
The meet involved the "WIN" schools - Westwood, Ishpeming and Negaunee - with the Miners sweeping the team and individual titles in both boys and girls races.
Gantz won by 52 seconds over senior teammate Evan Fezatt, while junior Wyleen Kniola clocked 21:59 to beat out runner-up Anna Honkala of Westwood by 49 seconds in the girls race.
The Negaunee girls scored 27 points to 35 for Westwood and 69 for Ishpeming, while the Miners boys had a near-perfect 18 to 55 for the Hematites and 63 for Westwood.
Another of the boys medalists, ninth-place junior Ben Luttinen of Westwood, had an interesting twist on Tuesday's cold rain.
"You almost lose the feeling in your arms and legs, so you don't feel it so much if you're hurting," Luttinen said. "The cold really almost makes you push your muscles harder."
Fellow junior teammates Skyler Dakota, who was third for the boys, and Gabi French, fourth for the girls, agreed. Dakota said that it's "like putting ice on your ankle if you get hurt."
"And you don't have to worry about overheating," Luttinen added, an identical sentiment shared by Ishpeming's Christina Leppanen, a medalist in seventh place despite being the Hematites' only girls entrant.
Another runner was just happy to be on any course this fall.
Negaunee senior Evan Fezatt suffered a concussion during mountain bike training in late June and couldn't run the rest of the summer.
"I'm just happy to get back to where I was at last year," said Fezatt, who improved his finish from third at this meet last season.
"I started cross-country running once I got into mountain biking," he said. "I was told it's good training.
"And you can use some of the same strategies in cross country, like I'll stay behind someone and use them as my focus."
Fezatt has entered a number of bike races in the past, such as Ore to Shore, where in 2011 he completed the 28-mile Soft Rock with plans to move up to the 48-mile Hard Rock.
"I like to race dirt bikes, snowmobiles and jet skis," he said. "Anything with a motor like that, you get a real adrenalin rush."
Another athlete, Leppanen's younger brother Peter Leppanen, knows he has a future eating up the miles on foot.
"Two years ago, I watched my mom and my other sister in a race, and I went out and ran. I wasn't really tired and I figured out I had run 10 miles," said the freshman, who was the Ishpeming boys' top finisher Tuesday in eighth place.
The secret? Run, run, run. He said on Monday, another off-and-on rainy day, he put in three miles, then went for a swim when he reached Cedar Lake.
He's already run a 13.1-mile half marathon in Green Bay, Wis., and says at some point in the future, he definitely wants to tackle a full marathon - and beyond.
"A triathlon? Sure, that sounds good," he said.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.