Now that track is over and I have some free time, I will post interviews with Northern California track athletes who I think have an interesting story to tell.
I will start with Petaluma's Bjorn Griepenburg (pictured to the left, courtesy of Cameron Potter and dyestatcal.com) who gained some notoriety on the dyestatcal.com message boards following his run at the NCS Redwood Empire meet as he placed 7th in a new PR of 9:48.55. According to NCS rules, an athlete (in this case it was Santa Rosa's Rory McLeod) may claim hardship and challenge the last qualifier in his or her race to qualify for the Meet of Champions. Bjorn ended up not having to run in that challenge race and compete at the NCS MOC. In a short span of time, Bjorn has enjoyed success on hill and dale and the track and is looking forward to continue his running in college.
1) How did you get your start in distance running?
I had played baseball my entire life and had never done anything else. I was always decent at running in PE and my dad was pretty good in college. I remember hearing about our school cross country team in the morning announcements after they had won NCS and taken 13th at state. I decided that it would be fun to be apart of a program like that and decided to give things a shot. I signed up for cross country my junior year.
2) Can you tell us a little about your dad and his coaching background and success?
My dad was very athletic in high school and ran track and cross country in college for SF State, where he ran 1:54 and 4:17. He coached at SF State for a year then switched to Burlingame High School, where he had some great teams (one of which was second in the nation in XC). Surprisingly enough, he never even pushed me into running. He did sign me up for one road race during my sophomore year and gave me a two week training plan, something that got my feet wet and made me feel more comfortable about signing up for XC.
3) What other sports did you do before you made the switch to being a full time runner?
As I mentioned earlier, I played baseball.
4) What convinced you to make that switch?
After my junior cross country season, I was still thinking that I would train on my own and play baseball. I went to baseball workouts during the two weeks I had off after cross country, then when the time came I decided that track would be a necessity. I wanted to put myself in a position to help the team my senior year and decided that I had to fully commit myself to running. I don't regret the decision one bit.
5) Reflecting back to Cross Country season, what do you consider was your own highlight? Team highlight?
The team highlight, without a doubt, was making the podium at state. None of us felt like we ran to our potential that day, but then again Loyola was an untouchable team. Standing on the podium down there is something I will never forget.
My personal highlight probably came at the Mariner Invite. We came in for a big battle against Jesuit and were without one of our top guys, Brandon Felipe. I had been the fifth-sixth runner all year, so I knew things would likely come down to me. I remember hurting badly about halfway through that race and just gritting it out and holding on for dear life. I believe I was close to the top ten coming into the last mile and ended up hitting the wall and getting passed by about 15 guys. I still managed to outkick Jesuit's fourth or fifth and we won the meet. I remember feeling like I had finally arrived as a runner, not just physically, but more importantly, mentally. It was the first race ever where I felt like I couldn't have done anything more.
6) Are there any runner(s) that you look up to in terms of teammates, runners from other schools or professional runners?
I have nothing but respect for our entire varsity boys team. Everyone works hard and we are like a family. If I had to point to someone on the team who has taught me a lot through his hardships, it would be Ben Stern. He has incredible talent but gets freak injuries over and over. Last cross country season he was doing well and became anemic, then this track season got a stress fracture when he was coming back. He has taught me that running is a privilege and that it is not something I can take for granted. Everyday I am healthy is a day that I can work to get better, and I cannot throw this away.
7) What workouts do you consider were key to your success during track season?
Early on in track, we had two really tough workouts, one of which was 16x400 (1 min. rest), the other being 8x800 (2 min. rest). At the end of the season we had some solid mile pace workouts with 3x300 at 800 pace afterwards. I felt like these helped tremendously and were an excellent tune-up for the post season.
8) Tell us a little about your xc and track and field coach (Coach Lynch) and how he has helped you achieve your running success.
Jim is an amazing man and we have become great friends these past two seasons. He is very communicative and asks for nothing more than a good work ethic. The moment that stands out for me with Jim and is representative of his coaching style came immediately after the Stanford Invite seeded race, in which we ran terribly. We came together before our cool down and he told us that things needed to change and we needed to each reevaluate our goals for the season if we didn't step things up to the next level. He challenged us, tweaked some things in our training, and essentially told us that we were in control of our own destiny. Everything started clicking after that.
9) Why has Petaluma been so successful in xc and track the past few seasons?
I've heard it said many times that "Success breeds success." Quite frankly, it comes down to this. Jim inherited a program that was in shambles and was able to find some people that were willing to put in the work and become decent runners. He built an entire program around a few guys, and each year we are able to find some new talent. It is really a matter of what we all demand out of each other on a day-to-day basis. The expectations rise for everyone. We have JV guys trying to get permission to do extra mileage this summer. Once this kind of stuff begins happening, it is easy to create a winning environment.
10) What are your college plans in terms of running and any thoughts to coaching in the future?
I am going to try to walk-on for XC and track at UCSB. I believe I have some great years of running lying ahead of me because of my late start. I would definitely love to coach a high school team in the future. Seeing the positive impact that a coach can have on his athletes has really inspired me. There are lots of life lessons one can learn from a sport that he will never learn in the classroom, as Jim has said quite often.
11) What advice would you give to up and coming runners?
Last week, I spoke at the cross country meeting to the members of next year's team. Looking out at the young faces, I realized that they were coming into an experience that I had just finished. I told them that they need to decide what they want to take out of this and not leave anything to regret. Like I said earlier, running is a privilege. Every high school runner who wants to be successful must make each and every day count.
12) Anything else you would like to add.
Thank you very much for your time Bjorn!