When most people think of serious runners, they picture small, even scrawny workout fiends who count miles as meticulously as they count calories.
Keaton Long and his muscle-bound upper torso don’t fit the mold. The Duluth East senior is 6-foot-2 and a chiseled 180 pounds. To be sure, Long is a runner - and a fast one - but dabbling in a multitude of sports over the years has added definition to what once was a decidedly bony build.
“In 10th grade, I weighed 145 and all I did was run,” Long said Wednesday. “Very little muscle.”
Long since has turned himself into one of the area’s best Nordic skiers. He was the top boys finisher from the Northland at last winter’s state meet, his time of 33 minutes, 55.7 seconds good for an 11th-place finish. Less than two weeks later, Long fended off all comers to claim the 23-kilometer Kortelopet Classic at the 41st American Birkebeiner. His time on the Hayward course was 1:14:11.1.
Last spring, Long participated in track and field for the first time, competing in the mile, 2-mile and 1,600 relay. That gave way to a new pursuit over the summer: rowing.
Long spent many a summer day at the Duluth Rowing Club, which, among other things, prepared him for his debut in the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival at Barker’s Island in August.
None of those diversions, though, have hindered Long in his final cross country campaign.
“I think the rowing and the skiing have contributed to the strength, and he likes the strength stuff,” Dave Wicker, East’s boys coach, said. “He has tremendous endurance to go along with his strength.”
Long set a personal best at last weekend’s Milaca Mega Meet, where he covered the 5K course in 16:22.1 to finish second in the Class AAAA race (there are just two classes in cross country, A and AA, but because of the sheer numbers at the Milaca event, it is divided into four).
The Greyhounds were fifth as a team.
“On Saturday, he was totally in a different gear than he’d been all year,” Wicker said. “The rest of the races, he’d run with the pack for the first half of the race and just cruise from there. Saturday, he went out with the lead group and stayed there.”
Long, who believes rowing and training year-round for skiing have made him a stronger runner, hopes to break 16:15 this fall. He says the Greyhounds have an excellent chance to finish in the top two at the Section 7AA meet, which would qualify them for state.
His coach thinks Long is capable of winning the section.
“He’s got unlimited potential,” Wicker said. “Part of it is he’s doing so many different things, and I think that these next few weeks, if he just focuses on running, he can be pretty good.”
After joining East’s cross country team as a seventh-grader, Long opted to go out for football each of the next two years. And he played rugby in grades 8-10. But he always came back to running.
Long was asked Wednesday if he ever wonders what would have happened if he had focused on just one sport.
“I do wonder if I was completely dedicated to one sport, what I could do,” he said. “I think that, even though it’d be exciting to look at all those possibilities, right now in high school I like the fact that I can go and do all of them.”
The Section 7AA meet is Oct. 23 in Princeton, with the state meet Nov. 1 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
Prep Newsmaker: Keaton Long Prep status: Duluth East senior
Sports: Cross country, Nordic skiing, track and field
Family: Dad, Steve; mom, Catherine; sister, Sonja; brother, Simon
Pets: Rainy, a black Labrador/Husky mix
College plans: Attend a four-year school and study either sports medicine or exercise science
Face-to-face with Keaton Long If I could meet one person - dead or alive - who would it be? Petter Northug, an Olympic cross country skier from Norway
If school were closed today, I would: Go roller-skiing
One thing people don’t know about me: I lived in New Zealand for three months in seventh grade (his dad worked there as a doctor)
Favorite actor: Johnny Depp
My ideal vacation: The Pacific Ocean and a sandy beach
Pet peeve: People leaning back on their chairs and making noises
Pre-race superstition: I always crack my shoulders
Vehicle I drive: A Yamaha moped
Favorite home-cooked meal: Grandma’s mac ‘n’ cheese
At the top of my bucket list is: Travel the world