SPRING VALLEY — The way Garrison Hubka sees it, if he’s going to put in all of this exhausting work, he might as well win.

So the Kingsland junior does, a good chunk of the time. Hubka has turned himself into one of the top cross country runners in southeastern Minnesota and has done it with a mindset that’s pretty simple.

In fact, it's this simple: Run really, really hard.

Hubka said he knows he can handle it, which happens to be one of the biggest keys to his success.

“When you get to the really big races, it’s important to know you can handle the pain of it,” Hubka said. “I live for that competition.”

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There’s no need to convince Kingsland’s head coach of Hubka’s drive. Erin Milz sees it on display every day. Actually, she wishes it weren’t EVERY day for Hubka. She thinks some days off would serve him well.

“Not all athletes have the ability to set a goal and then push as hard as he does,” Milz said. “Garrison runs six to seven days per week. I tell him it would be good to take a day off. But he’s never happy with me when I’m telling him to take a day off.”

Looking for something

Hubka more or less stumbled into distance running, as an eighth-grader.

There are two sports offered in the fall for boys at Kingsland High School: Football and cross country. Hubka knew two things: He was going to pick one of them and that there was no way it was going to be football.

“I hated football and I didn’t have a fall sport,” Hubka said.

So, cross country it was. It didn’t take long for him to be turned on by the sport. That had everything to do with his quick success in it.

By the time he was a freshman, Hubka started doing the math on where he might stack up in the Three Rivers Conference meet, comparing his times to the rest of the field.

The top 21 finishers get medals at that meet. Hubka knew what he wanted — one of those medals.

So he took things up a notch with his training and then went for it at the Three Rivers meet. Hubka wound up finishing in a then-personal best 18:34, more than a minute faster than he’d ever run before. And he got his medal, all right, landing 18th overall.

"I wanted to find a sport that I was able to stand out in, something that I could call ‘my thing,'" Hubka said.

With that medal draped around his neck, he’d no doubt found it.

He’d also found the recipe for having running success: A willingness to grind things out.

Hubka has never yielded from that approach, whether it be in cross country or track and field. His best success — at least so far — has come on the track. Hubka finished as the Section 1A 3,200 meter champion this past spring, timed in 10:03.45. That beat three Section One runners who he sees as currently ahead of him in cross country, seniors Reese Anderson (Lake City), Kevin Turlington (Lourdes) and Tyler Rislov (Rushford-Peterson/Lewiston-Altura/Houston).

High point

That section title in the 3,200 sent Hubka to the state track and field meet and left him feeling as close to ecstasy as he’s experienced.

“When I got home after winning that (3,200), I just felt amazing,” Hubka said. “It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. Ever since, I’ve realized that all of that hard work pays off.”

This summer, Hubka’s preparation had him running six days per week, up to 30 miles each week. There were times when he asked himself why he was doing this.

Any questioning was quickly set aside when he considered his goals.

One was to shave his cross country time to fewer than 18 minutes. He’s already pulled that off once this season.

The other was to do in cross country what he did in track and field last spring — advance to the state meet.

If he can pull it off, it would be a first for the Kingsland junior. The top six individuals in each section meet — in addition to all the runners on the championship team — make it to state, which is scheduled for Nov. 6 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

Hubka has already done the math. He’s a heavy favorite to make it to state, particularly with the state field having expanded from two classes to three.

And he’s also undoubtedly thinking this: As long as he’ll be taking part in that Oct. 28 Section 1A meet at Northern HIlls Golf Course, he might as well win it.