Monday, October 25, 2010

Catching up with Bellarmine coach Patrick McCrystle...

Since a lot of visitors to this blog are new, I am going to repost some past interviews with coaches and athletes that are still pertinent to this current cross country season.  I will start with the coach of the top ranked boys' NorCal team, Pat McCrystle of Bellarmine HS.  This interview was originally posted on October 6th, 2008.
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Today's interview is with Bellarmine Cross Country coach Patrick McCrystle (pictured here standing far right). Coach McCrystle ran for one of the best coaches in CA, Jesuit's Walt Lange and is now continuing the legacy of another CA coaching icon, Terry Ward. His current Bellarmine team is ranked #1 in CCS and is ready to start league competition in the tough WCAL.

1) How did you get your start in running?I started running track my sophomore year at Jesuit High School Sacramento. I played football, basketball and baseball my first year in HS, and football and basketball my sophomore year, but my PE teacher—Walt Lange—talked me into coming out for track, and I loved it because in football and baseball so many guys on the team didn’t work very hard, and if we didn’t win it seemed very frustrating to have worked hard but have the outcome rest on people who hadn’t worked very hard, but in track you HAD to work hard or it would be pretty clear you were slacking, and at J-High the distance runners were tough. So, I just decided to give cross country a try. My dad had given me a book called The Worlds of Brutus Hamilton when I was in 8th grade, all about the famous Cal distance coach, but of course I wanted to be like the guys on TV…looking back, I wish I had read it and been mature enough to go out for XC my freshmen year, because I could have used those two years of training!

2) You ran for one of the most decorated coaches in California, Jesuit's Walt Lange. From your experience under his tutelage, what are some of the reasons for his successl?
Walt is successful for several reasons, but one of the biggest, I believe, is his understanding of the ‘big picture.’ He looks at each athlete on his team as an opportunity for improvement, and he trains them with that in mind. Of course, many other coaches do that as well, but Walt develops training sessions with the whole season in mind, looking at how he can get the most out of each of his teams near the end of the season. The Sac-Joaquin Section has championships at 4 levels (Frosh, Soph, JV and Varsity; why can’t other sections do that? What a great way to build up interest in the sport!), and if one researches the J-High records at those levels one would find tremendous success for the Marauders, because Walt is not focusing on one level or group of runners.

Walt also understands distance running very well, and neither under or over-trains his teams, in my opinion. Also, Jesuit HS is the sort of school that has tremendous school spirit, and most of the students want to be a part of the athletic program, so he gets a lot of eager and motivated students out for cross country. And, perhaps the secret weapon for J-High is the American River Parkway, endless miles of dirt trails going in both directions away from J-High, running along the banks of the American River, linking up with several big parks that have enormous, flat, well-maintained grass fields. Jesuit runners never have to run on concrete!

3) You started out as a hurdler (I believe) and eventually moved to the 800 recording a 1:50.70 during high school. How did that transition come about?I was a triple jumper and hurdler my sophomore year, but Walt put me in the 400 a few times, and then told me I should run the 800, and that I should come out for cross country, too. So I did, though the actual moment that sold me both on track as well as longer races happened at Arcadia. We had a miler named Pedro Reyes (4:06.01/2nd 1600 1980 state meet…who also started as a 400 man) who was running the 1600 at Arcadia, and Walt asked me to run the 400 on a Distance Medley team, which would be anchored by Pedro (4:17 that night, his third sub-4:20 1600 in 24 hours!) I weighed about 100 pounds and couldn’t have been more than 5’2”, but I got the baton, put my head down and tucked in behind some huge guy from LA and Pr’ed by 2 seconds. We finished 4th and received a medal and Pedro was my hero and all I wanted to do was run after that. I kept running hurdles and triple jumping and running the 400 and 1600 in dual meets, depending on what the other team’s strengths were, but the 800 was my event for the big meets.

4) How long have you been at teaching/coaching at Bellarmine? Any other coaching experiences?
I started teaching English at Bellarmine in 1989. I have been teaching History here since 1990. I also taught at Jesuit High Sacramento from 1986-1988, and at Mitty for one year (1997-98), so 19 years teaching at three Catholic schools. I coached football and track at Jesuit for two years, and soccer at Bellarmine for 9 years and Mitty for 1…I am proud that all 9 years I was in the soccer program at BCP, we won section soccer championships, though I was the JV coach. I coached track at BCP for three years in the early ‘90s, and I am the head track coach as of this year. I do consider myself more of a teacher than a coach; I teach World Cultures, AP European History and Conflict in the Modern World.


5) Tell us a little about Terry Ward and what he has meant to Bellarmine HS.
Well, for over 30 years Terry is and has been an ambassador both for the sport of distance running as well as Ignatian education (he is a graduate of SI in San Francisco and taught and coached at SI before coming to BCP.) In my experience, one of Terry’s finest qualities is his wonderful kindness and acceptance of all people. I always marvel at Terry when we are at meets together; everybody—EVERYBODY—knows Terry, and he knows everyone, and more than that he always has something kind to say and remembers something personal about the person. I have tried—and largely failed—to emulate that. As a coach, Terry was extremely flexible in how he coached his charges. He understood that some athletes require more miles while some need periodic breaks. I learned a lot from him in that regard, and having coached under both Terry and Walt Lange, I think it says something about me that my teams have never come close to their success…perhaps I am a poor student!

6) How do you attract so many runners to run cross country? What is the size of this year's team?This year we have 134 runners on the team. Obviously the size of Bellarmine contributes to that; we have somewhere around 1600 students, all boys of course, one of the biggest schools in the CCS, so how could we NOT have a huge team? But, beyond that, I think our numbers are a result of the three other coaches on staff: Dave Barone, Casey McCullough, and Richard Nevle. All three are truly excellent, and popular, teachers here at Bellarmine, so we are in constant contact with the student body, encouraging students to come out for the team. The average Bellarmine student is a fairly motivated young man, looking to get involved, and at Bellarmine there is a least one sport each season that is ‘no-cut’ so that any student who wants to compete in athletics can have the chance. Cross Country is that sport in the Fall, though we call it ‘self-cut’ because anyone who comes to practice every day can be on the team, but they have to come to practice every day. That policy has worked out for us well; Kyle Tuttle ’07 ran a 9:48 1600 time trial his freshman cross country season, and a 9:48 3200 in the WCAL track finals his senior year. He just showed up to practice every day and did what he was asked.

We also try to make the sport fun, especially by running off campus as much as possible, including yearly ‘mystery runs’—the athletes don’t know where we are going, and we run somewhere we have never run before. Our next mystery run is October 15th. This year we have relied on Senior and Junior leadership to interact even more with the young runners, hoping to inspire them to become leaders themselves, while also making them feel more a part of the team. On some recovery days this year we have played ultimate Frisbee, and we always have the beginning of the season pot luck, during which we encourage parents to come to as many events—including practices—as they can, which increases the amount of food that shows up at meets and workouts, which makes the runners happy too! Maybe not the most inspiring list, but I think it all adds up to a big roster every year.

7) Tell us a little about what you want your runners to accomplish during the summer.
Summer running is a real conundrum for me. Chad Evans, the outstanding coach at SI, gave me a line I use all the time: the three most important words in cross country are June, July, and August. And I agree with that; no runner will maximize his or her potential without putting in the miles over the summer. But, at Bellarmine, like at all schools, I have many student-athletes who have varied interests, and during the summer they have opportunities to explore those interests in ways they cannot during the school year because of academic responsibilities. So, I encourage them to go to music camp and space camp and Boy Scout Camp and everything else that will enrich their lives. At Bellarmine, we are blessed to have immersion trips that take students to El Salvador and Guatemala during the summer, and many of our students travel with Amigos de las Americas, and this summer one of our better runners actually worked with the Sisters of Charity (Mother Theresa’s order) in India…how am I going to say no to opportunities like that? I WANT them to do those things! So, I say run when you are here. As far as the running goes, we take it easy in general. 40+ mile weeks for our better runners, though if their bodies can handle more, then I encourage them to add in long runs when possible. We do absolutely zero quality work, nothing until late August. In the end, I wish our guys ran more during the summer but I am happy with the sorts of things most of them do in lieu of running, so on balance it all works out.

8) What training areas do you primarily use for your practices?Running around Bellarmine is horrible. We are bound by the Alameda, I-880, the SJ airport, the Cal train tracks and Taylor Street…nothing but pavement and traffic in every direction. We do have two city parks close by, and we use them quite often. But we go to Rancho San Antonio once a week, Alum Rock once a week, and the Los Gatos Creek Trail once a week. We also use Quicksilver Park during the season. The highlights of the season, though, are the weekend runs we do at the Forest of Nicene Marks State Park in Aptos, Rio Del Mar beach and my personal favorite, Waddell Creek State Beach, where we run up into Big Basin State Park. Of course, this means buses 4 days a week, so thank heavens for our outstanding AD’s office and maintenance crew.

9) Your team competes in the WCAL which is an incredibly competitive league for many sports. How does competing in this league prepare your team for CCS and beyond?Well, it prepares me because the other coaches are excellent coaches and even better people; I have to try to keep up with them! And, much of what I have learned has come from them…thanks especially to Al Berran at SI! We know that every year our League is going to be very competitive on all four levels, and that all seven schools will field competitive teams on all four levels, so we will have to be mentally focused at all three of our League meets or we will be beaten soundly. Ironically, I think it may hurt us as much as help us at CCS. Of course it helps in that we have run three intense races, but I also think it can take a lot out of us. Our three League meets happen on three Wednesdays, run every other week over a five week period. We are pretty ‘run out’ by the end of that, and I wish our League would change that so that we could be fresher at the end of the season. Also, in trying to prepare for our League Championship (which counts for ½ the team total), we choose not to go to meets like Mt. Sac, which I think would help us prepare for State.

10) From your experience as a competitor and coach, what does it take to be a successful distance runner?I believe that successful distance running requires many things, but for me the absolute ‘musts’ are consistency and discipline. Runners must run consistently for a long period in order to build the cardio-vascular fitness that can then be fine-tuned. I don’t think four days a week will do it. And, so many intangible items inhibit or boost one’s running that discipline is huge. Runners must live a healthy life, obviously staying away from alcohol and drugs, but also incorporating healthy foods into their diet and getting the hours of sleep that their body—and mind—needs. They must limit the time they spend in front of a video game console or IM screen on the computer; do your homework and go to bed, that’s my coaching credo!! In addition to those two things, I think having like-minded teammates is key, because a season of running long and hard on your own can be emotionally draining, while sharing the challenge of hard training with teammates not only enhances the experience but can push a student-athlete way beyond what they may have perceived as their limits.

11) Rumor is that you are quite adept at figuring out team scores as cross country races progress and before the results are even announced. How does one acquire such a skill?Uhm, you have been talking to Sean Laughlin! Wasting countless hours as a kid calculating baseball stats without a calculator in competition against my brother Timothy; trying to figure out 1600 relay splits in my head; luck.

12) Anything else you would like to add.Thanks to you Albert for running your site. I am a fan, because anything that celebrates the sport of running is a boon. I love coaching these young people, and I truly believe a positive athletic experience can help them to realize their potential as humans, which is why I wish we could attract even more kids away from computers and video games and out on trails…and anything which shines a light on our sport helps that. While simply running on your team should be enough as an intrinsic reward, I feel the sport could use some more positive publicity. I wish we had better places to train and race, or perhaps I should say more places to train and race. And, it is an honor to work with and compete against so many other wonderful people, all these great coaches in Northern California. Other than that, thanks for asking and go Red Sox!!

Thank you very much for your time Patrick! AJC

8 comments:

sterlacious said...

haha. "june july august" good stuff. i'm gonna remember that

Alex said...

Great article Albert. Good to hear different perspectives from coaches on preparation, training, and most important of all, how they want to help develop our young students into great people.

liberaldem said...

Buses to trails 4 days a week?!?! I guess that's the luxury of kids paying ten grand a year to go to Bellarmine.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting look at what makes this powerhouse tick.

By the way, when was this originally posted? Because I noticed he talked about not doing Mt. Sac, and this year they of course got 5th or 6th in the Sweeps, so I am just wondering if anything else has changed in the meantime.

Albert Caruana said...

It was originally posted on October 8th, 2008.

Anonymous said...

As a former runner at Bellarmine and now a runner at Santa Clara, McCrystle definitely prepares his squad as if it were a collegiate team instead of a high school team, in a sense that he doesn't focus on speed work at all through xc and instead works on quality. No track workouts just long tempos and long intervals on the grass, and maybe a few hill repeats. His training definitely made the transition to collegiate running a lot quicker allowing me to compete with a lot of good runners that would crush me in high school but are no longer, and the result seems to be the same with most of his runners going to college, as he has sent 5 runners off to compete collegiately in last 2 years and having 3 of them score consistently for their teams. Thanks pmac!

pmccrystle said...

Thanks Albert! A couple of things about Walt Lange: He was inducted into the Mt. SAC Hall of Fame last week, and this Sunday he will be inducted into the inaugural Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame. Both are well deserved awards recognizing one of the top coaches in the country...thanks Walt!

To liberaldem, the first thing I tell anyone who asks, is that the real question isn't why Bellarmine does so well, but why we don't do better with advantages like the one you mention. And you are right, it is one of the many benefits/luxuries...I only wish every one else had the same opportunity as we do, and I mean that sincerely.

Marcos: good luck this Saturday! I'll be there!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Albert for a great article on Patrick. Patrick is one of those people that comes into your life and makes an everlasting impact. His coaching goes beyond the track and XC trails, by providing life lessons to his athletes. Lessons that the kids can take with them long after they have retired their racers. We at Bellarmine are truly blessed to not only have a great coach like Patrick but a great friend as well. Thank you Patrick for all that you!