An unprecedented eight mid-Michigan cross country runners ran a 5-kilometer time faster than 15 minutes, 45 seconds in the fall of 2012.
But Mason senior Tanner Hinkle’s fastest regular season 3.1-mile clocking of 15:05 and state finals time of 15:09 were more than 20 seconds faster than any of his area competitors. Hinkle also repeated as Greater Lansing Cross Country Championships meet winner and therefore repeats as Lansing State Journal runner of the year as well.
“He kind of predicted it would be a fast year, because he said we weren’t getting enough snow last winter and more people would train,” Mason coach Charles Miller said. “Tanner just goes out there every day, he’s committed, he’s tough as nails, and it’s all paid off.”
Miller said Hinkle’s goals were to repeat as Greater Lansing meet champion and capture a Division 2 state title. He met the first goal and missed the second by just 5 seconds.
“My best race was probably the state meet,” said Hinkle, who finished second to Connor Mora of Cedar Springs’ 15:04. “It wasn’t a PR (personal record), but I think I competed with confidence, I can say I gave it all I had, and it just didn’t quite work out.”
Hinkle won every other race except the Spartan Invitational, where he ran 15:23 to the 15:21 by Nathan Burnand of Waterford Mott. (Mora took 15th place at MSU on Sept. 14, and Burnand eventually came in third at the Division 1 state final in 15:14.)
Hinkle also led his team to second, first and fifth-place finishes in the Division 2 state finals the past three years as well as a runner-up finish and then back-to-back Greater Lansing meet team titles.
And all of that after a freshman year where his fastest time was 17:29, and he missed joining teammate Alex Whitmer as an individual state meet qualifier when the Bulldogs missed advancing as a team with a fourth-place finish at regionals.
In 2010, Hinkle’s fastest time was 16:09 and he earned all-state with a 28th-place finish in Division 2. As a junior, he ran as fast as 15:23 and took fourth at the state meet.
“Over four years, this kid has trained nonstop, only missed a couple of days, and trained harder than anybody I have ever had and probably will have,” Miller said. “He’s lucky he has stayed fairly injury free.”
Hinkle hopes to continue that trend when he runs at Furman University of Greenville, S.C., under two-time Olympian and former Ohio State coach Robert Gary.
“I was looking at Big Ten schools, and got a phone call from the new coach there who is a former Olympian trying to start a powerhouse program,” Hinkle said.
“I decided I wanted to be a part of it.”
Hinkle was a huge part of the resurgence of the Mason boys cross country program, which had finished 32nd in 2007 and 22nd in 2008 at the Greater Lansing meet before he arrived.
“I want to thank my family, the coaching staff, and my teammates,” Hinkle said. “I have had a lot of great support.”