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Kal Lewis, Shelter Island's state cross country champ, is picking up speed

Kal Lewis of Shelter Island cruises to victory in the 1,600 meter run during the Suffolk County varsity boys track and field small schools championship at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. He finished with a time of 4:28.99. / James Escher

Kal Lewis always has been able to run far. Since seventh grade, the Shelter Island strider’s endurance has made him one of the better cross country runners in Class D. Last season, it led him to the top of the mountain – winning the Class D state public school championship in 16 minutes, 44.6 seconds.

But this year, as Lewis defends his title, he’s added speed to his repertoire. Lewis, a junior,...

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Kal Lewis always has been able to run far. Since seventh grade, the Shelter Island strider’s endurance has made him one of the better cross country runners in Class D. Last season, it led him to the top of the mountain – winning the Class D state public school championship in 16 minutes, 44.6 seconds.

But this year, as Lewis defends his title, he’s added speed to his repertoire. Lewis, a junior, has knocked his mile time down by 20 seconds.He won the state Division II 1,600 meter outdoor championship last spring in 4:15.79.  The added quickness makes Lewis even more of a threat to not only repeat as state champion in his class, but become a major force at the top of the powerful Suffolk running scene.

“It’s going to be a breakneck pace and it’s going to be me going as hard as I can,” Lewis said of his general race plan for the season. “I want to at least try to go through the first mile in 4:50 and gradually slow down to get to a five-minute or a 5:10 pace. If I could hold a five-minute pace consecutively throughout the whole race, I’ll be really happy with myself.”

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Lewis is hoping that his increased speed will help him conquer the incredibly tough terrain of Sunken Meadow State Park. Sunken Meadow, Suffolk’s home course, is considered to be among the toughest in the state and is the site of the state public school championships on Nov. 10.   Lewis ran 17:05.79 there at the Suffolk State Qualifier and 16:32.42 at the Suffolk Division Championships - the county’s two main postseason races – last season.

He wants to break 16 minutes this season.

“That’s basically a five-minute-mile pace,” he said. “Having a 4:35, 4:40 mile, like I did last year, it’s pretty hard to hold a five-minute mile pace for that long. I’ve become more accustomed to 4:50 or 5:00 paces, so I’m hoping for a good shot at that.”

Other runners are hoping for a shot at the top, somewhere Lewis currently occupies. This is his first season as a defending state champion and, he hopes, only the beginning of a healthy reign at the top of Class D. He knows that every runner will be keeping tabs on him, watching him as he zigs and zags through another crisp Long Island fall and his times continue to drop.

This causes Lewis no agita. He relishes it.

“That’s amazing,” Lewis said, thinking about other runners coming for his spot at the top. “I love when that happens. I love when younger or older competition tries to take whatever I have away. I think it’s awesome because it just puts another competitive level on my shoulders. I love competitive running. I think it’s a great thing.”

There are still uncharted waters that Lewis intends to dive into. The junior wants to extend his season into December and run at the Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals, scheduled for Dec. 8 in San Diego. To qualify, he will have to finish in the top 10 at the northeast regional, scheduled for Nov. 24 at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Last season, he was outside the top 50 at regionals, running a 16:51.9.

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“I learned not to go out so hard,” Lewis said.  “I went out at a 4:45 mile and just fell off the pace immediately. I didn’t find the greatest position in the beginning. It was going out too fast…Then, I got into the woods and my legs were gassed, I had nothing left in the tank, and everything was going bad. I’m just going to take that into account for this next time and hopefully I’ll execute it.”