Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catching up with Menlo School runner, Sam Parker...


Today we chat with Menlo School senior, Sam Parker (pictured to the left courtesy of paloaltoonline.com).  Sam has been one of the top runners in the West Bay Athletic League (WBAL) for the past three years but last weekend at the K-Bell Invitational, his double victory in the 800m. (1:55.67) and the 400m. an hour and a half later in 50.58, put him in the mix for the state track championship in either event.  Sam led the Knights the past two season to the league team championship in cross country as well as qualified for the state meet as an individual in Division IV in 2010.  He qualified for the CCS track and field trials as a sophomore (1600m.) and junior (1600m. and 800m.), just narrowly qualifying to the CCS finals last year in the 1600m.

1)  Besides cross country and track and field, what other sports have you participated in during and before high school?
I have played soccer since I was 5.  I actually started track and cross country just to stay in shape for soccer, and it wasn't until my junior cross country season that I realized it was the other way around.

2)  When did you first participate in xc and track and field and who inspired you to get into either or both sports?  What were some of your first recollections in both sports as a freshman?
I started cross country at the insistence of my friend Lowry Yankwich, who has been by teammate for 4 years of cross country and soccer and 2 years of track and field.  I chose to play tennis freshman year, but started track as a sophomore and am certainly glad I switched.  As an underclassman, I remember both teams being very relaxed and easygoing, which was great at practice, but didn't make us very competitive.  It wasn't until my junior season of cross country that we began focusing on results.


3)  When did you first realize that you had the talent to do compete with some of the best runners in both sports?
It's really been a gradual progression.  In track season as a sophomore I was finishing near the front of my races, and realized I could be competitive in our league.  I qualified for CCS in the 1600 and didn't finish last in my heat, which I took to be a great sign.  Since then, as I've improved each season, I keep realizing how far I can push myself.  As a senior I did alright at States in cross country, and now hope to be even better at track.

4)  Looking back at your senior cross country season, what do you feel was your best race of the season?
The Stanford Invitational, which was completely flat this year, was a great race for me.  I ran well tactically and was very happy with my 16:28.  That race gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, and I took it as a challenge to keep running that well in every race afterward.

5)  You ran 20:26 as freshman on the Crystal Springs course in the PAL and 16:05.9 as a senior in the WBAL.  If you can identify a few keys for your improvement over four years, what would those be?
I think that 30% of that improvement can be attributed to a change in mindset.  Firstly, races no longer became a slog but an opportunity to put turn my training into results, and secondly, it wasn't until the summer before my senior year that I started training over the summer.  But honestly, 70% of the change was just physically maturing from 5'6 and skinny to 6'1 and slightly-less-skinny.

6)  Couple more xc questions.  Favorite course?  Favorite race?  Favorite competitor?  Favorite run?  Favorite workout?  Longest run?
Favorite course:  Golden Gate Park at the Lowell Invitational.  Usually great weather, not too much elevation, and a great finish.
Favorite race:  A tie between WBAL #1 at San Bruno Mountain in 2009, the first time I won an xc race, and the 2010 CIF State Championships in Fresno, because it's fun to run against the best competition available.
Favorite run:  A loop from Menlo to Atherton Hill and back.  5 miles with a little elevation that can be used as a recovery or a tempo run.
Favorite workout:  12 400s.  As a speed guy, it's nice to show off sometimes.
Longest run:  12.2 miles around Stanford and through Atherton on a Sunday afternoon in the rain.

7)  Looking back at your three years on the track and field team, what do you feel was your best race and time?
My best race before this season was the 800m in WBAL #2 last season, where I set a PR of 2:01 by kicking past Arnaud Kpchavi of Woodside Priory, an excellent 800 runner.  In the K-Bell Invitational to open this season I ran a 1:55.67 in the 800, shattering my PR, so it's hard to say that hasn't been my best overall.

8)  What would you say is your favorite race distance on the track and why?
The self-preservation part of my brain wants to say the 400 because it's over the most quickly and sprints are just more fun.  But the rest of my mind says the 800, because in addition to it being my best event, I always take a little pleasure in realizing that I have a little more juice in my legs for the final kick than everyone else.  Although if you asked me right after I finished an 800, I would probably rank it behind the 100k.

9)  What are some of your toughest track workouts that you feel best prepare you for your races?
It's hard to tell which specific workouts pay off in races and which don't, but I've found some success in speed work, just 200s and 400s, a couple days before a race to remind my legs how to move quickly.

10)  Who are your coaches and how have they helped you develop in the runner you are today?
I have had the privilege of working with at least six coaches in the context of my Menlo teams, plus a good friend named Richard Morrissey who has provided years of support and suggestions for my running.  Of my official coaches, Donoson Fitzgerald and Jorge Chen have been there for every cross country and track season, and their vast experience has been invaluable to me.

11)  Last week, you were a double victor at K-Bell winning the 800m and 400m.  What were your goals and/or strategy going into both those races?
I had little to no strategy, and a loose goal of running a 2:03 or below in the 800.  I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I PR'd in both races and ran a 1:55.67 in the 800 in the first race of the season.  I will use those results to dictate my strategy for the rest of the year, but coming into those races, I was really just looking to find out what kind of shape I was in.

12)  For someone just starting out as a runner, what would your advice be to them if they have goals to be successful in either sport?
The most important thing is to decide how far you want to go, set some serious goals, and start working towards them on day 1.  As a freshman I had no real motivation, and therefore had no success.  It wasn't until this last September that I really wanted to go to the State meet for cross country, and because it took me so long to come around, I only got the opportunity once.  Meanwhile, we have a freshman this year who has already made it his goal to compete at States as a sophomore (he was upset he didn't make it as a freshman) and win it as a senior.  With his mindset, there's no reason he can't follow through.

Thank you very much for your time Sam!  AJC

Please let me know if you know of any other deserving athletes/coaches that you would like to see interviewed.

2 comments:

Tommy W. said...

I think there is something to be said about racing with no strategy other than a loose goal. Well done Sam.

johnny said...

My nephew Sam is a hard knocker on the track and on the course. He is super brighr and has that killer insinct. He has all the tools for greatness at middle distance.