BILLINGS — In order to beat the field at the Billings City Meet Thursday, Billings Senior’s Ethan Wilson first had to win the battle in his own head.

That wasn’t going to be easy. The cross country runner has had a tough couple weeks, looking for good races but not getting them, and it’s been affecting his pre-race outlook.

“It’s very easy to doubt yourself,” the Broncs junior said, about 10 minutes after he ran 16:20.31 to win the boys race at Riverfront Park. “If you don’t have the most positive mindset, you’re going to have trouble.”

Wilson didn’t have a whole lot of trouble once the race started. He had a couple seconds lead on a pack of four runners the first time around the 5K course, and as he ran around the east bend of Lake Josephine, he peered over his right shoulder to see how much space he had.

Things only got better from there. He was able to extend his lead, winning by 13 seconds over teammate Jesse Dimich-Louvet. He milled around the finish area, taking gulps of water while accepting congratulations from teammates and foes alike.

Funny, isn’t it, that in a sport that seems so inclusive — all day, from the junior varsity races to the varsity races, words of encouragement and cheers flowed from one color jersey to the other — that a runner’s biggest obstacle would be him or herself?

“One of the things that people take for granted with cross country is we’re dealing with highly motivated kids,” Senior coach Sarah Lord said. “So that self-doubt, I mean, it’s pervasive. They put very high expectations on themselves, a lot of pressure on themselves, and even though they might have all the support in the world, they’re the ones who have to trust their training, trust that they’re ready and trust that they’re capable.”

Wilson finally talked himself into having a good race.

“Basically, I just told myself, ‘you’re feeling OK, you can do it,’ “ he said. “I was just checking my watch, looking at my splits, and feeling good about it.”

Senior’s Tiahna Vladic has shown she’s capable in the past, and she did so again. Vladic won the girls race in a time of 17:41.90, 79 seconds ahead of second-place finisher and teammate Jaylyn Hallgrimson.

“I think she had a great race today,” Lord said. “She’s also dealing with some of those mental struggles, if you will, just working through that. It was fun to see it come together today.”

Both the Senior boys and girls kept hold of the city champion traveling trophy. For the Broncs boys, it was their 10th win since 2002, and their fourth in a row. Senior’s girls have won the trophy every year since 2003. Billings West won in 2002.

“We’re pretty fortunate,” Lord said. “It doesn’t just get handed to us every year. We love coming out here and competing. West is always really strong, Skyview’s gotten so strong, so it’s fun to have that competition right here in town.”

Email Mike Scherting at Mike.Scherting@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsSchert

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