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Charlie Wetzel action photo

Normal West High School junior Charlie Wetzel (415) heads to Saturday's Class 3A state cross country meet in Peoria hoping to lower his school-record 3-mile time of 14 minutes, 34 seconds at Detweiller Park. 

NORMAL — When a little work produces positive results, distance runners often fall for the trap that increasing workloads will lead to faster times indefinitely.

So far, Charlie Wetzel has avoided that injury-filled trap while becoming a champion of rest days as well as an actual champion.

The Normal West High School junior heads to Saturday’s 73rd annual state meet with high hopes for the 2 p.m. Class 3A boys race at Peoria’s Detweiller Park. 

During a season that brought him Intercity, Big 12 Conference, regional and sectional titles, Wetzel found time to lower West’s 3-mile school record at Detweiller Park to 14 minutes, 34 seconds. In last year's 3A state race, 14:34 took fifth.

“He does a great job of working hard when he needs to and then relaxing and recovering when he needs to,” said third-year Coach Chad Aubin. “That’s what has helped him stay healthy and be fresh for workouts and races.”

Avoiding overuse injuries also has allowed the 6-foot-1, 145-pound Wetzel to produce a steady string of breakthroughs that have surprised more than just his fans and coaches.

“Coming in freshman year, I was just hoping to go sub-17:00 by the end of senior year,” Wetzel remembers. “Being where I am right now caught me totally by surprise.”

Wetzel didn’t start running until the summer before his freshman year when his older brother, Billy, was using cross country to stay in shape for baseball.

“Charlie came out for our summer stuff and did the minimum amount,” Aubin recalls. “He’d run for like 25 minutes. We did our time trial and he was in the middle of the pack, not standing out in any way.”

In Wetzel’s first race, he clocked 18:13, which was notable to Aubin, who'd run 18:30 in his freshman debut. By season’s end, Wetzel had sped 16:06 despite never training more than 40 miles a week. 

During his freshman track season, Wetzel got down to 10:14.68 in the 3,200-meter run. By last fall, he was 16th in 2A state cross country in 15:10. 

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Last spring, Wetzel’s highlights included a 9:27.46 in the 3,200, which made him the third fastest sophomore in Pantagraph area history behind Bloomington’s Clint Kaeb (9:17.38 in 1994) and Metamora’s John Weigel (9:27.44 in 1990). Aubin estimates Wetzel is now in 9:10-to-9:20 shape.

The youngest of four siblings, Wetzel said his parents, Dawn and Bill, have been as surprised by his success as he “just because there haven’t really been super great runners in our family.”

Aubin believes getting bumped to 3A this fall will speed Wetzel’s development because more runners are at his level. 

“There are 18 kids who have run under 14:40 this year in 3A,” Aubin said. “It’s always easier to run in a pack than by yourself or with a couple guys. I think it’s going to definitely help him keep improving.”

Wetzel appreciates 3A has helped him individually, but being a team-oriented sport, he laments West coming up two places and 67 points short of advancing from its 3A sectional. He credits teammates for making running fun.

“It’s really those rest days that you can have fun with teammates,” Wetzel notes. “If it’s a little bit slower of a recovery run, you can talk to them more and just do more enjoyable things than you can on a workout.” 

Wetzel never worries about workouts. 

“I just trust my coaches and hope that they know what they are doing, and set up some workout that will benefit not just me but the entire team,” he said.

“It’s been a pleasure to be able to have (Aubin) as my coach. He has definitely shaped me into the runner that has achieved what I have been able to. He’s got a positive mindset on the sport, and doesn’t really get that discouraged if we have a negative race as a team.”

Looking ahead, Wetzel expects to run for a college where he will study accounting. Before then, look for him to work hard while giving rest days the importance they deserve.

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Contact Randy Sharer at (309) 820-3405. Follow him on Twitter: @PG_sharer

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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