By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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Ryan Clarke, Port Townsend — MVP
Peter Butler, Port Angeles
Mikey Cobb, Sequim
Peter Ohnstad, Sequim
Brendon Despain, Sequim
Coach: Harold Huff, Sequim
Elizabeth Stevenson, Port Angeles
Willow Suess, Port Angeles
Annika Pederson, Port Angeles
Erin Vig, Sequim
Kari Larsen, Forks
Coach: Cheryl Gerardi, Port Angeles
He was running alone.
“I started looking back and wondering where everybody went,” Clarke said.
Clarke ended up placing second at the Port Angeles-hosted 3-mile event.
That was just a start of a spectacular season for Clarke, a junior who has been selected by North Olympic Peninsula cross country coaches and the sports staff of the Peninsula Daily News as the All-Peninsula Cross Country MVP.
“I kept surprising myself,” he said.
After Salt Creek, Clarke had four first-place finishes and one more second-place showing.
He improved his 5,000-meter time by a minute and five seconds from his sophomore year, to 16:11.56.
He won the Olympic League championship and took fifth at the district and state meets, achieving his second-best 5K time of the season at the latter.
Not surprisingly, a lot of preparation went into Clarke's spectacular season.
“He works really hard,” Port Townsend cross country coach Jeni Little said.
“He's an athlete who works year-round. I don't think he has an offseason.”
Clarke said he runs 6 or 7 miles nearly every day, which takes him about 50 minutes.
“I love running,” Clarke said.
“I like being out. You get to know the town better than you ever would driving in a car.”
“And I like the competition. We have a lot of good competition in the Olympic League.”
Clarke trains alone and he doesn't have a set route for his daily runs.
“I go wherever the road happens to take me,” he said.
“That's one of the things I like about running, you can go wherever.”
Clarke trains alone, and at meets such as Salt Creek Invite he finds himself running alone, but keeping up with other top runners helps him achieve faster times.
Then comes a strong finish.
“He has an amazing ability to pace himself and kick in the last 300 to 500 meters,” Little said.
Maybe that knack is in his blood. His parents, dad Art and mom Kim, were both distance runners at Central Washington University.
“They give me a lot of support,” Clarke said of his parents.
“They played a big part of getting me into it in middle school, because when you think about running in middle school, it's only 1.5 miles, but that still seems like a lot. Being able to hear them talk about what they did makes it easier to think about.”
Clarke has continued running since the state cross country meet in November and is currently competing for the Port Townsend track and field team.
After track season ends, Clarke plans to continue training with a simple goal for his senior year of cross country.
“I just want to race guys from the district and state and see if I can beat them,” he said.
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.