Cross country: Robert Dillon tough to beat

Living in Shelton provides runners with some steep-terrain training, and Shelton High standout cross country competitor Robert Dillon has made the most of it.

Dillon, a senior, had an outstanding fall season, including a Southern Connecticut Conference championship, third-place Class LL finish, 12th place State Open run and gained New England championship race experience.

“Hills make a course interesting,” said Dillon, who started running cross country when he was in seventh grade and has been going strong ever since. “Hills can make or break a runner, which makes me like hills. Many of the trails and road loops I run on are very hilly and that helps me with my training and get ready for hillier courses.”

Dillon has also made his mark in indoor and outdoor track at SHS.

He holds the home 5K cross country course record, which he set last year, with a time of 16:25. In outdoor track, he holds the school record in the 3200 meter and 5000 meter runs and is also part of the 4x100 mile relay record.

“Robert ranks number one as the most accomplished cross country and track and field distance runner at Shelton High,” said Michael Gambardella, who coaches Dillon on the cross country team and is also the head coach for the spring outdoor track season.

“In addition to having natural ability, what makes Robert so good is his willingness to put in the extra training needed in order to be an outstanding runner,” Gambardella said.

Dillon ran about 580 miles during cross country season, following up a summer of running that saw him put 650 on the running odometer.

“I did a lot of mileage and that kept me in shape. I also try to keep myself healthy, which was a little rough this year,” Dillon said of keys to his success this fall. “At SCCs the competition was pretty tough, but I knew LL and Opens would be harder. I had tough races at LL, Opens and New Englands and I think as the season went on I began to wear down my body.”

He managed some impressive performances nonetheless.

In the SCC championship race, Dillon and Xavier’s Will Curran both came across the finish line in a time of 16:05, with Dillon edging his counterpart by a few hundredths of a second for the victory.

In the Class LL state championship meet at Manchester’s Wickham Park, Dillon’s time was 16:00 and he was three seconds out of first. In the State Open, also at Wickham, he finished in 16:33.

From Manchester, CT to Manchester, N.H. Dillon kept running hard.

He placed 45 in the New England race at Derryfield Park (N.H.), clocking in at 16:48.

Although he may benefit from training on those hills, Dillon’s favorite course is Wilton High’s Allen Meadow Park, which he competes on during the Wilton Invitational.

Dillon said the course is mostly flat, making it a very fast course. Runners can encounter a wide range of challenges and train in a variety of conditions.

“The hardest part for me is the severe weather changes. This is because it takes me some time to get used to it,” Dillon said.

Rain, heat, cold — you name it — Dillon sets the pace at Shelton High. Being the fastest runner on the team has made training an independent experience for Dillon, who has been a varsity cross country and track team member since his freshman year.

“In his four years at SHS, Robert has had to train on his own. His pace for distance, tempo and interval runs has been very challenging for most runners,” Gambardella said.

Dillon has been an All SCC selection three times, All State twice, and All New England once.

He has been recruited by and is considering the University of Connecticut, UMass Lowell and Fairfield University.

“Robert has unlimited potential at the next level if he puts his mind to it,” Gambardella said.

Dillon, who plans to study environmental science or environmental engineering in college, takes a break from running and, in his spare time, enjoys drawing.

But there is no question, lacing up the running shoes is a huge part of Dillon’s life, and he anticipates that being the case for many years to come.

“I like that it can be part of your life no matter where you are or how old you are,” Dillon said. “Running at Shelton High has been really fun and a great experience. I will miss cross country a lot because of how tight-knit the team is.”

Dillon has plenty more competition to look forward to with the winter indoor and spring outdoor track campaigns.

“Over the past for years it has been an honor and a pleasure to coach Robert,” Gambardella said. “His dedication to running has been a positive influence on his teammates. He has been a great captain always inspiring his teammates to work hard and excel. I’m excited to see what he can accomplish on the track.”