Whenever Alec Kostelnik is fighting the urge to put his head back down on the pillow rather than get up for his 5:30 morning run, all the Morgan Township junior has to do is look at his wall.
Adorning his room are a calendar with Oct. 29, the date of the state meet, circled, a map of the Lavern Gibson Championship race course and pictures of all-state medals that he found on Google.
"I definitely need all the motivation I can get," Kostelnik said.
Around Christmas, Kostelnik decided to turn his training up a notch -- or five. He began training twice a week with the Northwest Indiana Ridge Runners. That, followed by a significant spike in miles over the summer, helped Kostelnik develop into one of the region's top runners this season.
"I didn't want to be just an average runner anymore," Kostelnik said. "I started having people to run with and it became a lot more fun. I really started enjoying running a lot more. I stepped it up a lot. I put more effort into workouts, races, everything. I've definitely taken it a lot more seriously."
The light went on back in the spring for Kostelnik, who qualified for the state track meet in both the 1,600 and 3,200.
"I basically started believing in myself more, in what I can do," he said. "It was a totally different season. I knew I could get in there and actually compete."
As the results would attest. Kostelnik was 39th in the New Prairie Regional as a sophomore. Last Saturday, he was third, slicing almost 90 seconds off his time.
"He's made huge progress," Morgan coach Mike Grennes said. "Track season definitely built his confidence. It goes back to summer, all the hard work he put in. Workouts for him were more intense. They have to be, to get to the next level. He embraced that. He enjoys putting in the extra time. He couldn't wait to get to practice this year. He was excited and it's carried through the whole season."
Kostelnik won the Porter County Conference meet and the Rensselaer Sectional. But the regional finish was even more impressive, considering the competition, a field filled with the area's top teams and individuals.
"He feels he's earned his way to that spot," Grennes said. "He's not fazed by it. You have to learn how to run against the bigger schools, the better runners, and he enjoys it. You don't do that overnight. He's become a very intelligent runner, which is a big part of it, too."
The showing also silenced some skeptics who questioned how good Kostelnik really was, because of his school and his competition.
"That's definitely one of the most motivating things I have, listening to all the people say a small school kid can't do it," he said. "I look forward to running in high-pressure races, showing everybody what I'm made of."
It's back this morning to New Prairie, where a top 15 finish would get Kostelnik to Terre Haute next Saturday, checking off two of his biggest goals for the season.
"He's really put to use what he's learned all year," Grennes said. "The focus this year has been getting to state and we've worked the schedule around that. That's been the whole mindset for him from Day One."