FREEMAN — Titus Roesler ran all winter wherever he could find a spot without snow.
Five degrees. Howling wind. The South Dakota combination of cold and wind — It didn’t matter. The senior at Freeman Academy crunched along for hundreds of miles and showed a dedication to achieve goals he set as an eighth-grader by working toward four-decade-old school records.
In 1980, James Unruh set the Freeman Academy record in the 3,200 meters of 9 minutes, 58.3 seconds. Roesler’s best time to date is eight seconds off.
Unruh also set the 1,600-meter school record (4 minutes, 28 seconds) that year and Roesler is 11 seconds off the mark.
Roesler spent hours running all winter long, averaging 50 miles per week and climbing as high as 60 miles. Now, he’s seconds from glory.
“It’s sort of the ultimate goal in running,” said Roesler, who is headed to M.I.T. to study mathematics in the fall. “To be able to set an impossible, unrealistic goal and have it become realistic and achievable. … I really enjoy running and getting a goal is just part of the journey.”
Roesler set his lofty goals around the time he started to fall in love with running. It produced a runner’s high and he said, “Even a hard pace seemed easy and manageable and you’re flying across the roads.”
After track season was canceled last season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Freeman Academy/Marion coach Suzanne Koerner sent workouts to those who wanted to stay active. Roesler began to increase the amount of miles he ran daily.
“In the summer, I give him some stuff and he kind of adapts it to his needs at that point,” Koerner said. “The last couple years, he’s done a lot of research on his own and he’s able to do that pretty well. … He’s smart enough to know what’s right for him and he hasn’t really been injured his whole high school career.”
As a freshman, Roesler ran between 35-40 miles per week — increasing about 5 miles per year — and he began running 50 during the summer through cross country season, culminating with a fourth-place finish at the Class B state meet.
After running time trials on the track during the fall, Roesler realized he was not far from the goal he set years before. Since he last competed in a high school track meet — the Region 5B meet in 2019 — Roesler’s 3,200 time has dropped more than a minute from his prior time of 11 minutes, 17.16 seconds and his 1,600 time has dropped more than 90 seconds from 5 minutes, 13.18 seconds.
For runners to improve times, many feel the best way to increase performance is to train longer and more frequently. So, Roesler increased his weekly mileage to 60 during the winter, but was forced to scale back due to injury.
“I had been running 60 miles per week for about a month,” Roesler said, “and every day I was feeling more soreness. I had no flexibility, I was pretty stiff and then I started getting a limp, so I decided I better stop. Like Ben Franklin says, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’”
With a month left in his high school career, the most difficult stretch will be shaving the last few seconds off his times. Competing in races with a faster pace will help as the season reaches the region and state meets, but narrowing a gap of 11 seconds in the 1,600, especially, is a difficult task.
“Sometimes as a younger athlete, you improve a lot quickly and then you get to a point where shaving off some seconds doesn’t come as easy,” Koerner said. “You have to have the right day, you have to feel good that day, the weather has to cooperate — all of those different things. You can see in a year he has really brought (his times) down and you can attribute that to really smart training and consistent training).”
Roesler is aware of the difficulty in finishing off his goals, but he is not thinking about it much at this point in the season. Koerner also knows, but with a month left, there is still plenty of time to take down the records.
“It would be a bit disappointing, but I try to stay positive,” Roesler said. “Every race is a new attempt at the records.”