Sunday, July 12, 2020

Catching up with Santa Rosa HS coach, Carrie Joseph

Today we catch up with Santa Rosa High School Cross Country and Track and Field head coach, Carrie Joseph. She has been coaching the very successful cross country and track and field teams at Santa Rosa HS along with Doug Courtemarche since 1997 until she took over the reins of both programs in the last few seasons.  Joseph competed at the University of Michigan and is a mighty proud Wolverine alumnus. Her twin sister Tricia who also caught the coaching bug is an outstanding assistant coach at Menlo School. Over the past three years, Joseph has also coached her daughter Lael in both sports and will be joined by younger brother Adam in the fall. Thank you to Carrie for answering my questions below. I know many of you will enjoy reading what she had to say as much as me.

1) What was your own running experience? How did you get your start into running? Highlights and proudest achievements during your competitive period? Did you participate in any other sports?
I had your average 1970s/80s suburban midwestern childhood -- a lot of untethered free time biking around, dabbling in sports (tennis, soccer, swimming, basketball).

A very observant 4th-grade teacher (shout out to Mr. Seidenkranz) noticed that my twin sister and I were faster than most of the boys (even older ones) in the school, and he encouraged us to give age-group track a try.  We ran unattached at summer meets and were introduced to the world of marathon multi-day meets (without sunscreen or understanding "hydration").  When we moved from Minnesota to Ohio in middle school, we joined a very well-known age-group club called the Kettering Striders (future Olympic LJer Joe Greene was a member. I watched him do 20 ft "pop up" jumps -- plus he was ridiculously nice too... too bad he chose Ohio State though...).

I really hit the jackpot at Centerville High School though. Our high school coaches, Rita and Criss Somerlot, are Hall of Fame coaching legends in Ohio, and they have also managed or coached many US teams (including the US Olympic team in Athens).  CHS regularly fielded teams of 200+ (and they still do, now coached by their son), and the Somerlots created a culture of excellence and commitment that I had never really experienced before.

Highlights --
April of 9th grade -- Breaking 60 seconds in the 400m (well, it was a relay split, so...) and jumping 17'11 1/2" (quickly followed by the lowlight of blowing out my ACL the next week...).  

2nd place as a team at the Ohio HS State Champs (Class AAA, now Div 1) and having to book it from Columbus to Centerville in time to graduate!

4th place in the 4 x 800m relay in the Championship Race at Penn Relays for the University of Michigan.

Indoor Big 10 Champion and 7th place at NCAA Championships 4 x 800m relay member and also school record holder (fun fact -- the school record has been retired and will never be broken because they now run the DMR indoors)

Scoring member (#4) of 13th place team at NCAA Cross Country Championships in 1991 (hosted in Tucson, AZ).  Very proud of that contribution as I'd never run cross country in high school.

2) You have a twin sister (Tricia on the left in photo) that participated in different track events than you (I believe?). How did both of you end up competing in the events you chose and how competitive were you two against each other?
We were both jumper/sprinter/hurdlers on the age-group scene until I blew out my knee in 9th grade.  I think it's fair to say that we were competitive with each other but not in an unhealthy way (but let's just say I was a tad faster...).  We certainly made each other better athletes ("iron sharpens iron" as they say). My injury was particularly bad, and I needed 4 surgeries over the course of 2 years (including a then ground-breaking cadaver ligament replacement -- this was 1985).  So Tricia kept hurdling and jumping and I transitioned to being a long sprinter. I really didn't come back to full strength until my senior year in high school, and we were able to race on the same relay teams. Tricia placed in 4 events at the Ohio State meet (the only girl in any division to earn that distinction that year).

She went on to become a top heptathlete in the ACC at the University of Virginia (3rd place one season if I recall) and also long jumping and doing both hurdles. I gravitated eventually to the 800m (well, when I walked on at the University of Michigan, they told me that was really my only chance of staying on the team).  Trish and I now have some very spirited debates about which event is tougher: the 400m hurdles or the 800m.  It's OBVIOUSLY the 800m. DUH.

3) Who were the coaches that had the biggest impact on you as an athlete and what did you learn from them? 
Rita Somerlot by far. She was my high school coach at Centerville and later coached at Ohio State (I have forgiven her for that ...).  I still don't know how she organized practices with over 100 girls.  She was a master motivator who made everyone feel special.  I still have handwritten notes from her that would arrive via an office TA during the school day.  She would have typed up split sheets (even 4 x 100m splits!)  and motivational re-caps the day after every meet. She was tireless, devoted, and deeply knowledgeable in every single event. She taught me to believe in myself.

Current Michigan Head Coach James Henry saw my potential in the 800m (thanks?), but Sue Foster was my event coach at Michigan. She was a multiple All-American at Michigan and only about 10 years older than most of the team. She captured that "approachable authority" coaching style that really resonated with me (and a style I try to cultivate too). We are still connected via social media and I hold many, many dear memories of her (especially kicking our butts during workouts). I was a lowly walk-on but she never made me feel like it. She taught me that I mattered.

When Sue got pregnant with her 2nd child, Mike McGuire stepped in and took over the program and is still in charge of the Women's distance squad. He had a very different coaching style that was initially hard to transition to, but ultimately easy to accept and adjust to because his results speak for themselves. I challenge anyone to find a more consistent and dominant mid-distance team than Michigan over the past 25 years. Mike is able to identify "blue-collar" grinders and elevate them to national prominence.  (Classic example, my teammate Jessica Kluge was a 5:10/2:17 high school runner who eventually ran 2:03 and was also a XC All-American... fun fact: her daughter Anne Forsyth was Big 10 Freshman of the Year in XC for Michigan). Mike taught me that hard work and commitment to a methodical process are how an athlete reaches her potential.

4) What led you to coaching and what was your first experience? What else do you do aside from coaching? What are some of your biggest challenges as a coach?
After college, I discovered that I liked being in the orbit of teenagers and earned my Masters of Art in Teaching at Duke, where I helped out a local high school track team during my student teaching. I also felt like my love of track and field was still untapped.  Coaching seemed to be a natural extension from my role as a high school English teacher. (Plus there was all that extra $$ as a high school coach!!).

I moved to Cleveland with my husband who was in medical school, and I landed my first real job as a teacher/coach at Olmsted Falls High School. I had wonderful mentors there, especially Rae Alexander (mother of current pro/Oregon Duck Colby Alexander, who was just a toddler back then!). I also took careful note of how she managed life as a coach/mom.

Aside from coaching, I spent nearly 20 years teaching HS English, and I retired from teaching 4 years ago.  In addition to coaching, I currently help kids with the college recruiting and admissions process.

Biggest challenges as a coach .... every year and season presents new and unique challenges. Recently, the biggest challenge has simply been trying to complete a full season. The last 3 cross country seasons have been impacted by a series of devastating fires, forcing us to suspend our training right in the middle of our competition phase.  We lost 26 instructional days.

The 2017 Tubbs Fire, which destroyed over 6,000 structures in Santa Rosa, also took the homes of 10 athletes on our team at the time (and on our current team, at least 6 more). It's hard not to get emotional thinking about the challenges these kids have faced, especially knowing we will face the same threat every fall. I will never forget tracking down our athletes in those early chaotic days after the Tubbs Fire -- I was trying to figure out where they had found refuge, what resources they needed, and if they needed a new uniform.  Every athlete who had lost their home had miraculously grabbed their uniform as they fled their homes that terrible awful night.  What a testament to their commitment to our team.

And now it looks like this season will be at the mercy of not just the winds, but COVID-19. Rising seniors on my team have also dealt with two active shooter lockdowns as well.  These kids have learned to take things in stride (pun definitely intended) and I have no doubt that whatever Mother Nature or human nature throws at them, they'll rise above it all and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

5) You have coached with Doug Courtemarche (my interview with him HERE) for many (23!!) years. How would you describe Doug to somebody that doesn't know him and why do you feel you both worked so well together as coaches?
To the uninitiated, I usually explain Doug like this: He is 1/3 Gandalf, 1/3 Dumbledore, 1/3 Yoda ("YoDumbleDalf" or "GanDumbleYo"?). Doug is the guiding light for not just Santa Rosa HS track/cross country, but the North Bay region. First and foremost, he is a relentless optimist. He sees the best in people and finds ways to bring out that "best."  In a sport that requires athletes to endure pain and embrace suffering, a sport that requires a long-term outlook and incremental progress, who doesn't want to be around someone with a smile, a sunny disposition, and an unwavering belief in you?

I started coaching with Doug in 1997 right after Julia Stamps graduated and Danny Aldridge left to start up the Maria Carrillo HS program.  Even though our numbers were small (maybe 20 kids total...), I could tell that the kids on the team loved Doug and would run through a brick wall for him if he asked them to.  So as a young coach, I paid attention.  His guiding philosophy is "It's all about the kids." And fortunately, Doug was not territorial about his coaching boundaries and basically started letting me (and a volunteer assistant, Sean Fitzpatrick, who later coached at Sonoma State and was extraordinarily helpful when my coaching focus was blurred by having two children) design our training plans very early on. I think Doug and I worked so well together because I valued and appreciated his intangible qualities: Doug's lack of ego, his flexibility, and energy, his meet management wizardry, his treatment of the kids, I could go on and on. In turn, he valued and appreciated me.

Side note: I am currently pushing through a proposal with Santa Rosa City Schools to name the SRHS track the Courtemarche Track.

6) Looking back at your time at Santa Rosa, what have been some of your biggest highlights and proudest achievements for your athletes and teams? 
In a general/abstract sense, I am proud of our program every time I see growth and progress, whether it's on a macro level (the growth of our team numbers over the years or winning team pennants) or on the micro-level (individual PRs or mastering hurdle mobility drills lol).  In cross country, I love seeing athletes make that transition from runner to racer.  I'm proud whenever kids make the connection between commitment/persistence and personal achievement.  I'm also proud when I see alumni out on the local trails, still putting one foot in front of the other, or connecting with them on social media and seeing what amazing people they've grown into.

Besides team championships (most recently the 2019 NBL and Redwood Empire Girls Track and Field Champions), the biggest highlights for me are when school records get broken or kids break into our Top 10 List for Track and Field or the Top 50 List for Cross Country. When I look at the years of the performances on these lists, there are fewer and fewer marks from before the year 2000. What better concrete proof of growth and progress can there be?

7) What are your expectations for your runners during the summer? Any running camps? Any fun traditions at camp?
Our typical Slurpee Runs, Pancake Runs, and other summer shenanigans have given way to checklists, temperature guns, masks, and social distancing. We were allowed to start meeting with our team under very limited circumstances in mid-June, and the turnout has been excellent (60 different kids, with 40-45 usually showing up). We typically use the summer to establish not just an aerobic base, but to establish routines, traditions, and team bonding. This has been really challenging given our new limitations, but I think we are making headway and the new runners are starting to buy into what our team is about.

It was a crushing blow to cancel our annual cross country camp at Humboldt Redwoods State Park -- a camp that has been ongoing for 30 years, a camp that nearly all team members will say is one of the highlights of their high school life.  We usually have 45-55 athletes, plus 10 or so alumni counselors, and we are in tents and cooking for ourselves. We follow the same training schedule every camp, so seasoned veterans know how to handle the balance between work time and playtime.  The main event is the Grasshopper Climb, a 7 mile, 3000 ft ascent that about 1/2 of the kids run and 1/2 "mule" (power hike carrying food and water to the top). The school record last year was toppled by our mountain goat Andrew McKamey.  I truly believe he was going to crack the 60-minute barrier this summer... but perhaps he will get a chance at it as an alumni counselor.  Our Camp "Talent" Show is also a highlight; being an arts magnet school, we have some truly talented kids (singers, dancers, actors) who strut their stuff... but more often than not the acts are short on talent and long on confidence (Doug is still King of the Snorting Contest... don't ask...).

COVID-willing, we will be offering a "camp simulation" in a few weeks that will cover the 3 main efforts of camp: a drop-off run, a mountain climb, and a 2-mile time trial.

8) Who have been your coaching mentors during your own coaching career? 
So many to choose from... Besides Doug, we are lucky to have a deep well of coaching knowledge up here in Sonoma County:  Danny Aldridge (Sonoma Academy), Luis Rosales (Piner), Greg Fogg (Maria Carrillo), John Anderson (Rancho Cotate) to name just a few of the long-timers whom I've gone to for advice over the years. I bug younger coaches like Melody Karpinski at Montgomery, who has a more "millennial" handle on things like team communications and newer trends. I love picking the brain of Peter Brewer (I call him the "Doug of the East Bay") and of course you, Albert!  Your website and commitment to our sport are so inspiring! Other mentors...My sister and I talk track ALL. THE. TIME. (ask our children... they know it's true...). My fellow SRHS track coaches are also amazing resources: Paul Troppy is the go-to guy for all things throwing, and Jim Veilleux is the godfather of girls pole vault in California (the USATF even honored him as a "trailblazer"). My new assistant cross country coach, Eric Bohn, actually coached with Doug for a couple of seasons in the mid-90s and was the top road racer in the area for a while (a sub 2:30 marathoner). I value his input and perspective tremendously. And last but not least, the late great Bob Shor -- starter extraordinaire, old school curmudgeon, dedicated track nut, and champion of age-group youth track.

9) What does a typical week look like for your runners? Any morning runs? Typical weekly mileage? The distance of longest run for your experienced runners? How often do they do strength work? 
Getting the training groups calibrated by experience, training age, and fitness level takes a few weeks.  Like most big teams, we've got kids who can compete in college and kids who can only run a few minutes at a time. Every run or workout is scaled/modified in a way that (knock on wood) doesn't discourage or injure the newer runners but is also challenging enough to make them see the value of a hard effort.

Our week usually incorporates one hill-oriented workout, one tempo effort (or fartlek for the newer kids), and one long run -- with the intermediate days being recovery or moderate runs.  Older runners who want to bump mileage will incorporate morning runs 2x/week.  Weekly mileage will vary from 15-20 miles/week for the rookies to 40-45 miles/week for the most experienced. I am not a huge proponent of really high mileage for high school kids due to their developing bodies, etc., but every once in a while I have an athlete who is ready for more.  I have rarely had a girl regularly run 40+ miles/week.  I understand the physiological reasons for this high risk/high reward approach but also encourage cross-training as a way to get more miles in.  Distance runners typically carry very heavy academic/extracurricular loads, and I would MUCH rather have my athletes sleep more and focus on self-care than run an extra 5-10 miles/week. I have had some pretty great runners thrive on a moderate-to-high dosage of mileage with minimal injuries (Luca Mazzanti, 4:15 1600m, 5th place at the D2 State Meet in XC and current Captain of West Point's XC team, comes to mind...).

Our long runs for the most experienced runners usually range from 8-12 miles, but I will allow kids to go longer if they communicate with me about their plans and it makes sense with their current level of fitness and experience.  We are fortunate to have Annadel State Park in our city limits, with over 50 miles of trails and a lot of elevation gain.  I also live adjacent to the park, so my house is often ground zero for these forays.

Strength work usually takes place in the form of bodyweight routines.  I've been focusing more on hip mobility and yoga routines in recent years too.  We want to encourage kids to be athletes, not just runners.


10) You have coached your daughter Lael (showing off juggling skills to the left) for the past three years. What have been some of your highlights and/or funny moments from getting to coach your daughter? Any advice for other coaches who may be coaching their children in the near future?
My daughter Lael will be a senior this year, and my son Adam will be joining us as a freshman this year, so I get to coach both kids now! Coaching your own child has its difficulties, but the rewards easily make up for them. I knew early on that I would have to draw a pretty firm line between being in "coach mode" at practice and "mom mode" at home.  My kids are both very insistent on making sure there is no sign of special treatment, and I probably go even further to make sure that doesn't happen. I can also pick their brains about practice logistics and use their input. I feel so lucky and privileged to have a front-row seat to watch their development not just as athletes, but as people too.  I'm sure I'm not the only coach who tells their team that what they learn from cross country can be applied to all other facets of their lives.  I've got proof -- I see it every day.

In terms of funny moments or highlights... My kids have been going to our annual cross country camp since they were babies, and they have been roped into more "talent" show acts than they can probably count (When Adam was 7 he tried to dethrone Doug as King of the Snorting Contest-photo to the right... bad idea). Then there is the Joseph Family "Four-Headed Alien" act (not going to divulge the secret to that act though...).  I have also always juggled while reciting original Haikus as my "talent", and starting about 4 years ago, Lael started joining me in my juggling act.  We had big plans for this year's act, but we will just have to keep sharpening it for next summer's camp.

Advice for other parent/coaches? I say embrace both roles if both you and your child feel comfortable doing so. Keep the lines of communication open and understand your child's perspective and feelings too.

My children have grown up in the world of high school track and cross country, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better group of teenagers for them to be around and observe. Coaching them has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

11) Your teams repeat several workouts during the season. Can you explain the logistics of those workouts and how often do you do them during the cross country and track and field seasons?
We repeat 2 different "benchmark" workouts: Cobblestone and Michigan.

Cobblestone (named because of the trailhead parking lot we use) is the brainchild of the great Danny Aldridge, and it involves 3 parts: a fast 800 (on a service road in the state park); 4-9 hill repeats (~250m gravel climb and challenging); and a mile time trial back on the road. I have run this workout many times, and I can attest to how hard it is.  But it's designed to be a confidence-builder.  Some of the times these kids run on the mile TT are just incredible -- and it's AFTER the hill repeats!  It provides them with proof that they can push that "final mile" of any race they run. We keep track of all the kid's times and # of hill reps so they can map their progress over the course of 4 years.  We do it once in mid-September and a 2nd time in late October.

The Michigan is a staple workout from my college days, and it was created by Michigan coaching legend Ron Warhurst. It has been adopted and modified by many other college teams over the years, and I introduced a watered-down "high school" version to the team shortly after I began coaching at SRHS. It is designed to mimic the ebb and flow of a cross country race: aggressive start; settle in; surge; settle in; kick. We start with a 1600m on the track faster than 5k pace;; ~ 1 mile off-campus @ tempo pace; 800m on track very fast (the goal is to hit the same pace as the mile); ~ 1 mile off-campus @ tempo pace; 400m all out. The rest between all intervals is a 300m jog (mainly determined by the entry/exit locations of the track) so there should not really be any stopping. We also modify the volume for newer/rookie runners (shorter track volume or shorter off-track loops). Note: the college version has considerably more volume. Like Cobblestone, we record all the times and archive them. We run the Michigan in early October and then usually during the 2-week break between league finals and the NCS meet.

12) What would your advice be for a new coach taking over a team especially during these uncertain times?
Be patient and methodical as you build your program. It's ok to start small. You don't need huge numbers to have an impactful program.  Find the local "Doug" in the area (someone experienced, knowledgeable, and willing to share ideas) and pick his/her brain about practice logistics, communication methods, and training locations. Soak in as much wisdom as you can from your fellow coaches. Develop a good working relationship with your Athletic Director so he/she sees your commitment and value.

Stay positive and upbeat with your kids. Cross country and track are not sports for the weak. Remember that kids who have chosen to come out for your team are taking a courageous step.  As opposed to sports where athletes could theoretically run around on a field, never touch the ball, and still take credit for a win (or loss), cross country/track forces athletes to be front and center with their effort and performance. There is no hiding place. It takes courage and guts to run (jump, throw, vault, hurdle, etc.). In cross country, every day (even the "easy" or "recovery" days) might be really challenging and hard for some of the kids on your team. Believe in your athletes and make them feel like their efforts matter. Make them feel like they matter.

Coaching is both art and science.  Find a happy medium as you develop your training philosophy. It is important for athletes to know the "why" of your methods, and you can explain the science behind a threshold workout to a captive audience. Some will eat this science up, but most of your athletes will be recreational-level runners just seeking a way to test themselves.  Crafting a training regimen that attracts kids who willingly put themselves in discomfort and distress, writing a workout that tests them physically and mentally but leaves them with a self-satisfied smile and more confidence -- that's more of an art.  When all is said and done, build a program that creates athletes who will see running as a valuable pursuit and a rewarding source of joy as they move through the phases of their lives.

Anything else you would like to add. 
I want to give a shout out to my parents, Vern and Patty. I think they initially found age-group track bewildering but devoted many, many hours to supporting our development as track athletes (even though they had 3 other kids too!). My mom even missed her college graduation to take me and Tricia to a track meet in Iowa! They will be the first to tell you that they became track nuts and eventually attended every Olympics from 1984 - 2004.  I see them in every parent who volunteers to help run the finish line, who brings popsicles for end-of-practice fun, who makes sure their kid doesn't miss the team bus, who brings coaches easy-to-eat food at meets we host because they know we don't have time to eat, who returns long after their kids have graduated to work our meets, who endures the tremendous ups and downs that kids experience in a practice/week/month/season of track or cross country. Parents are the super glue to every team I've coached, and my parents were (and still are) my super glue.

Side note: Vern recently turned 85, and he has been a top-ranked US track age-group athlete since his early 70s (He is very excited to be in a new age group this year!)

Thank you very much for your time, Carrie.

Santa Cruz’s Raymond Brookman running down a dream | Men’s cross country

The CCS D-IV cross country champion came from a low-income household; he was accepted into prestigious MIT and will run for Engineers.

You can check out this awesome article at this LINK. Best wishes to Raymond.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Catching up with Coach Thomas "Tinman" Schwartz

Today we catch up with one of the premier distance coaches in the United States as well as the head coach of the Tinman Elite, Thomas "Tinman" Schwartz (photo courtesy of team website). I have enjoyed listening to him sharing his knowledge with many coaches on our weekly coach's meeting online. You can read more about Tinman on his bio on his team's website at this LINK. You can also check out his website at https://runfastcoach.com/Thank you to Tinman for taking the time to fully answer my questions. The following is reserved intellectual property and should not be copied, transmitted, or used in any way that limits author rights.

1) For those of us that don't know, how did you get your Tinman moniker? 
I was born in Menomonie, WI, which (for many years) had the Tinman Triathlon…a shorter version of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. Thus, my nickname is associated with my birthplace, which, to me, still has many positive memories from my younger years.

2) What led you into running and what other sports did you participate in aside from XC and TF?
I participated in many ball sports as a kid and through high school. For many years of my youth, baseball was my favorite sport.  My second favorite was basketball; third was track and field, and cross-country and the fourth was football. Success as a 7th-grade cross-country runner motivated me to become a good (fast) runner, yet I did not stop playing other sports until after graduating from high school. I fell in love with running because it was such a positive sport.  The coaches, athletes, and even their parents, were upbeat, supportive, and interested in the pure simplicity of running.   Early, it was clear to me that the more I worked to improve, the more success I had, as measured by the time it took to run the race distances. The dedication factor was the central tenet of improvement; not referees, not whether coaches would put you in the game; not how big you were or to whom you were related! Not your last name, how much money your parents made, or whether you were in the popular group. It did not matter in the sports of cross-country or track and field.  Faster is faster, and there is no way around that point!

3) Looking back at your own running career, what are some of your proudest achievements and in hindsight, learning situations that have made you a better coach?
The proudest moment of all was my high school team qualifying for the state championship in cross-country. No previous team from my school (Forreston High School in IL) ever went to state. We placed 7th in the state meet, but we were 10 points out of 2nd place. It was a close one!  And, I think we might have placed 2nd or 1st had it not been for some unfortunate circumstances. One was my best friend Loren, who was running with cancer in his leg. A week after the state cross-country meet, his leg was amputated. Imagine how much better he could have run with a healthy body.  Loren suffered greatly through numerous chemotherapy treatments and surgeries and took his last breath at age 21, which was devastating to me. I still miss him. He was my buddy, and I will always recall his sense of humor and his positive way of framing the difficulties of life. The learning I gained from running was how important it is to be passionate about your sport, the value of inspiring others to greatness, and do your part to helping the team succeed or bond.  Loren did that for my teammates and me, and so I try to do that for runners, coaches, and their support cast. If I do nothing in the sport but help others, I will be satisfied. I learned that I do not have to be an Olympic champion to inspire others to greatness.

4) Who were the coaches that inspired you as an athlete and what lessons did you take away from them?
Mr. McMorris was my first great coach. He was smart, passionate about helping kids achieve success, and related well to people. He was the one who told me that I was one of the more passionate kids he had ever coached and that I would run through a brick wall if that would make me a better runner. I saw him just two years ago when I went back home with my brother to clean out the home of my (deceased) parents before selling it. Mr. Mick, as we all called him, age 86, walking with a cane up his driveway, turned when he heard my voice, a voice he had not heard in 30 years, and exclaimed, "Schwartzeeee!" (he always added the letter "e" to my name in an exaggerated way.  I greeted him and asked how he was doing, and he said he was struggling to move like he used to, but that is how it goes. Then, he paused and said, "You were always one of the greats! You had the stuff champions are made of! I never saw anyone fight harder for a win than you did!"  Honestly, I still cannot believe he remembered my name, voice, or face. He coached hundreds of kids over the decades. The critical point I am making is that Mr. Mick made people feel important. He recognized what made them personally tremendous and made sure to tell them.  I also learned from him that nothing replaces distance runs for building fitness as a runner. He taught me that intervals could shape a runner quickly, but the key to success is to build endurance, which is not a quick fix. He also taught me that trying hard is not enough in sports; you need to have an optimal technique for transferring your fitness to high levels of performance. Since my adolescent days, I have centered my focus on two main areas: better methods of building endurance and better means of generating improved technical efficiency that leads to lower energy costs.

The other coach who greatly influenced me was Dr. Phil Esten, who coached and taught at The University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. Right away, Coach Esten recognized that I might be able to contribute to the team in ways other than running. He saw that I had a passion for reading research and for questioning conventional training approaches. He was an unconstrained man: he would change his strategies when a person provided a good rationale for making changes to the standard practice. Coach Esten let me write training in the team's preparation by the time I was a junior in college.  As a senior, he allowed me to coach the team's steeplechase runners. At the conference meet, they placed 1st, 3rd, and 8th place in the conference meet - and it may be worth noting that our conference has the most NCAA DIII qualifiers in the nation. To me, Coach Esten's encouragement to pursue my passion for the sport through coaching altered my life for the better.

5) What led you into coaching and what did you do to prepare yourself for your first coaching experience? What else have you done aside from coaching? 
As mentioned above, Mr. McMorris and Dr. Phil Esten, who were my coaches, motivated me to become a coach.  To prepare myself, I dove into coaching in 1989 and never looked back.  Extensively, I studied exercise science via formal education (undergraduate and graduate, and all three levels of USATF coach education and certification program, as well as the IAAF Level 5). I have made it a point to read a lot of books on running and exercise physiology. I have talked to a plethora of coaches whom I respect, for they have great insights from which to learn.  In the last four and a half years, I have worked on a Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance (an old-school term for Exercise Physiology or Exercise Science). Once the COVID dissipates and our country returns to normalcy, I'll be allowed to collect data for my dissertation research.  Then, I can analyze the data and write conclusions to answer my hypotheses related to aerobic and anaerobic differences in human running performance, as demonstrated by changes in power and speed over time and distance, as well as gender and experiential differences.  Aside from coaching, I worked for many years as a radiology technologist and public-school physical education teacher.

6) You have a fairly unique training philosophy. How did you arrive at that philosophy? Was there a eureka moment or was that as a result of years of experience and research?
No one moment magically generated the basis of my philosophy. The main facet of my philosophy is to keep the ball rolling (KTBR).  I suggest, look at any sport, and it is noticeable how teams that do well in the championship portions of their post-season have momentum on their side.  Organizations that do well in the early part of the season - winning every game or every race using maximal effort - can lose momentum and have little success in the latter parts of their regular season. In some ways, the fable of the Turtle and the Hare represent sports.  The Turtle, who is slower but steadier in the early going of the race, tends to do better at the end of the competition by not burning up all the energy too quickly. 

In terms of training, I am a believer in the idea of multi-dimensional training with a lean toward aerobic development and skill acquisition, at least for runners competing in events lasting more than 3-minutes. I also believe that it is nonsense and erroneous to think people can develop only one form of fitness at a time.  Conventional phasic training models, as described in standardized (formalized) coaching education programs, need to be adjusted to match the reality of how people generate better performance capacity.  In my view, the main flaw in sports pedagogy relates to the model of multiple energy systems. The model is false because muscle contraction occurs strictly from the catabolism of ATP.  Thus, we have an ATP system. Accepting this to be accurate, we then must come to terms with the reality that it is nonsense to train various "energy systems" separately. Therefore, single workouts can integrate different intensity levels. The basis of my Integrated Training System (philosophy) explains how we have just one energy system. Thus, blending various intensities into single workouts is not only possible quite useful. Furthermore, the practice of integrating multiple work intensities into one training session simulates the demands of racing in which runners go out fast, settle back, surge, put in long sustained efforts, and then kick. Additionally, it boosts motivation for variety is the (mental) spice of life.

7) You are certainly passionate about the history of the sport of distance running. Where did that love of the sport begin? 
I think my love of the history of distance running formed through my interest in knowing about how our sport evolved in terms of performance (times over distances). I wanted to understand why we adopted specific methods and how they changed over the years. To me, the evolution of knowledge is formed layer upon layer.  If we know where we came from, know the gains we have made, and know the sticking points in our progress, we can formulate better ideas about how to move forward to make improvements. To me, this is the basis of development in both social and scientific domains.  I am fortunate to have been in the right place and the right time to see great people compete, read about the ideas of great coaches, and to have read research articles of great exercise physiologists. The latter people took the science route to examine phenomena and uncover the truth. In that regard, and from their inspiring work, I have made it a point to keep learning.  I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is to want to know more, want to understand why, and have a desire to develop better strategies. When I read about famous coaches and what they learned in their situations, I imagined being in their location and facing their specific challenges. Imagination is the foundation of all great discoveries; it seems to me.  Imagine what could be. Imagine how to travel to that place in space or time. Let us think about the rope to which we hold tightly.  Question: Is it possible that we are in a stalemate of no progress?  Indeed, we feel secure, and from that, security develops complacency. Letting go of the fear that we could drown, we instead navigate the oceans of life and discover the beauty of far off lands.

8) Aside from your own coaches, who are the coaches that you have studied and collaborated with that have had the biggest impact on you?
I have studied the writings of several legendary coaches of the sport. Arthur Lydiard, Percy Cerutty, Gosta Holmer, Franz Stampfl, Dr. Herbert Reindel, Dr. Woldemar Gerschler, Ernest Van Aaken, Mihály Iglói, Bill Bowerman, Bill Dellinger, Harry Groves, Frank Horwill, Harry Wilson, George Gandy, and Pat Clohessy. I have studied the works of great sprint coaches in track and field. I have studied the works of great cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, and speedskating coaches. I have read thousands of research articles written by brilliant exercise scientists, sports psychologists, and biomechanists. I have read the works of great thinkers outside of sport to acquire different perspectives and question my thinking of how to solve problems. I have studied the works of great philosophers, for example, and found some of their insights to spot-on to what humans think, feel, know, and understand (or do not understand). It is clear to me that we have much to learn. It is clear to me that we have so little that we know. It is clear to me that questioning the doctrines we accept so quickly is the best, and perhaps only, way forward to greener pastures where life, vitality, and renewal are possible.  We must not allow limitations. We must not be afraid to fall. We must accept that life in our world is not constant and that the law of entropy encompasses our days and ways always.  All "things" decay without the input of new energy. Stay comfortable, and you will be left behind!!

9) When you put a training plan together, what are the key components that have to be present? How do you break up the blocks of training? 7 days? 10 days? Another length of time? How far back must you start from your goal race? What are the key nonrunning components that have to also be present?
I need to know the history of an athlete, the race schedule, vacation times, constraints such as no running on Sundays or working a part-time or full-time job, and so on before forming a training plan. The fitness and experience level of the runner/athlete is an important consideration.  I use cycles of training, rather than phases. Typically, I create two or three-week cycles that include the various components needed to build layer upon layer of fitness. I "buildup" a runner toward the goal event rather than assign isolated training in phases. Most runners (1500m to the marathon) should train for the 3k to 5k event most of the year.  It does not take much specific training to sharpen a runner for the 1500m when they have high fitness in the 3k-5k. In my view, it only takes about six workouts to be ready for a 1500m/1mile race if you have solid 3k-5k fitness. The same goes for the 10k - if you are fit for the 3k-5k, it takes about six workouts to be ready for the 10k.  A marathon runner should train for the 5k-10k most of the year and then switch (about 12-weeks before their event) to longer runs with quality that prepares them for the marathon race.  It is a bad idea, in my opinion, to train for the marathon year-round. You lose too much power if you only prepare for the marathon.  Nonrunning components include strength training, flexibility training, rolling out tight muscles, and any other therapies that facilitate the KTBR philosophy. Much depends upon how much the runner can afford. Epsom salt baths, elevating legs, and rubbing in Arnica gel can be low-cost therapeutic interventions if your $ resources are low.

10) What are the biggest errors that you see high school coaches make when it comes to coaching distance runners?
(1) Reducing training volume (mileage or minutes) during the race competitive season. The conventional model taught by organizations such as USATF is to build a base of miles before the race season, then reduce mileage while increasing the training intensity. The model is often not practical for most runners who compete in the 5,000m event. In contrast, the model works well for sprinters (100-200m runners) and long-sprinters (400-800m runners) who need an extremely high level of anaerobic capacity and speed. The model is generally ineffective for helping distance runners perform well at the end of the competition season.  Remember, the 5,000m race is highly aerobic - 94-97% depending on the duration of completion (the greater time to complete the distance, the higher percentage of aerobic energy contributes to the overall performance).
(2) The second major mistake of coaches it failing to individualize training volume, pace, and intensity of runners.  Consider the five main factors, as follows: (1) years of running experience, (2) year of sports participation experience, (3) prior training experience (think mileage/minutes and intensity), and (4) fiber type profile of the runner, and (5) maturation of the runner (both biological and emotion/cognitive age). Chronological age is not nearly as relevant as how physically mature a runner is and how mentally (problem-solving) and emotionally mature the runner is in terms of how well they handle the training, instruction, and pressure.

11) What do you feel has been the biggest change in training in the past 20 years and can you predict a trend that elite distance coaches seem to be headed toward that could revolutionize the sport?
A reduced amount of racing is the trend I have seen over the years. When I was in high school, we raced at least twice per week. That was a recipe for limiting the development of runners. Mainly, the way to have team success back then was to build a bi aerobic endurance "base" in the summer.  Once the cross-country season started, it was challenging to increase the amount of distance running kids could do.  They were too tired from racing frequently. Now, primarily due to budgetary constraints, the number of races is about one per week at most high schools. Fewer scheduled competitions help runners improve to a higher performance level.  They can build aerobic fitness throughout the competitive cross-country season more quickly than they could if they were racing twice or three times per week.

The use of critical velocity (CV) training (about half-hour race speed) as a regular tool for developing aerobic fitness is another significant change (for the better) in the sport.  In my view, CV training has revolutionized physical preparation training, especially at the lower developmental levels (middle school and high school years).  The introduction and of CV as a central training method was my focus on the internet starting in the year 2002/03.  Since those early years, the acceptance of the CV idea has worked its way into the conventional thinking of many high school coaches who are committed to developing their athletes to be state champions and NXN team qualifiers/contenders. It is noteworthy that some university coaches are using CV training as an integral tool, although not the only means, for developing their runners to high levels of aerobic fitness. Examples of programs that use CV include Northern Arizona University and the University of Portland.  The impressive coaches of these programs are committed to integrating any effective training method that makes their teams successful at the NCAA Championship level.  The coaches do not sit on their laurels and stagnate.  They adopt effective practices without concern for what the critics think. They care more about their athletes and programs than they do about the naysayers who find fault and ruin the image of the sport.

The relevance of CV-type training in the development of aerobic stamina - as measured by the speed at which lactate threshold occurs – is fundamental to my theoretical construct that emphasizes aerobic fitness development. My model stands on the shoulders of Arthur Lydiard, the long-ago great coach who constantly talked about the importance of developing cardiovascular fitness. While his method centered on running lots of distance/mileage, my approach emphasizes CV training as a time-efficient conjugate that improves aerobic fitness but takes it one step further.  In my theoretical model of aerobic fitness training, the issue with the distance running model is it is too general, and it falls short of developing bundles of fast intermediate (Type IIa) muscle fibers (motor units).  The power required of steady-paced distance running is insufficient to activate the Type IIa muscle fibers unless a runner goes far and thereby depletes the glycogen (store carbohydrate) levels of Type I (slow-twitch) fibers. That is, only when the glycogen levels are low will the Type IIa fibers be activated at a slow or moderate pace or power.
In contrast, running at roughly half-hour race speed or power activates the Type IIa motor units immediately.  Thus, the Type IIa fibers become trained to use available oxygen to generate ATP (the energy currency of muscle contraction).  The better the ability of the Type IIa fibers to use available oxygen, the better the strength of the runner to sustain a medium-fast to fast speed. The above is central to my CV theoretical model, but there is more. This brief description is merely an introduction to the model. The underlying phenomena of how energy reforms (ADP to ATP), how the motor units are activated and engaged, and how fitness develops, is both complex and fascinating.

While VO2max training (think 2-3k race speed) plays a role in the training plan design, the use of CV-type training is more longitudinally impactful.  The intense nature of VO2max work tends to limit how many weeks in a row it can be performed in practice before exhaustion halts progress or causes performance decline.  It is my observation that about 5-6 weeks of VO2max training is all athletes can handle. In contrast, CV training has far less fatigue, and therefore this workout can be run most weeks of the year.

Sadly, a significant change in the sport over the last 20 years is the immense amount of negativity on the internet by individuals who are jealous of others or individuals who are mad that they cannot experience success like others.  In either case, the negative individuals ruin the sport by maligning other runners or coaches. The internet and social media critics on the internet degrade running by belittling coaches and athletes who are trying to make the sport great – like the top-tier sports of football, basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, and rugby.  As a sport, running will never compete with the top-tier sports until the critics are washed out by the people who care about the running becoming great.  We need the public to perceive running as a professional sport, one that has parents encourage their kids to participate because the sport has a great image; has high standards of excellence and quality people.  We will never acquire large amounts of money in our sport until the image of it improves. Right now, running is perceived by the public as an amateur sport. Also, the public does not see running as relevant because it is not a team sport, or at least it is not imagined as a team sport by the public.  We must make the sport of running viewed as a team sport if we are to make our sport top-tier. The money will flow into the sport if we find ways to make running more team-oriented. Once cash flows into the sport, more people will join, and more opportunities will become available for athletes and coaches. It is necessary to get rid of jealous critics!

We can make our sport more publicly recognized in the USA if we put on events like the Ekiden relay (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekiden) or add more distance relays to track events – especially open events that are beyond the university level.  For example, the Prefontaine Classic could have the distance medley relay, the 4 x 800m relay, or the 4 x 1-mile relay.  We certainly can have cross-country relays too. For example, we can have 5 x 1-mile cross-country relays or 3 x 2-mile relays.  Maybe we make the cross-country scoring system better understood by the public?  We show how cross-country is a team sport. Why not innovate? Why not be in the 21st century?

Thank you very much for your time, Tom! Albert

Moh Ahmed and Shelby Houlihan set North American 5k Records! || Portland Intrasquad Meet II

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Longtime coach Borg to pass reins of YHS cross country, track program

One of the most successful coaches in Northern California is stepping down from her positions at Yreka HS. Pam ran for the Cindergals in the 1970s and her boys' XC teams won two state XC titles in 2011 and 2013.
https://www.siskiyoudaily.com/news/20200707/longtime-coach-borg-to-pass-reins-of-yhs-cross-country-track-program

Here is an interview I did with Pam in 2011.
http://www.crosscountryexpress.com/2011/10/catching-up-with-yreka-hs-coach-pam.html

Monday, July 06, 2020

Catching up with Dougherty Valley coach, Stephanie Bambury

Today we chat with Dougherty Valley coach, Stephanie Bambury. She has been the Cross Country and Track and Field coach for Dougherty Valley ever since the school first opened in 2007. During her 3rd XC season, Bambury led her girls' team to their first section title by winning the North Coast Section Division IV race. Since then, DV has won 3 additional section titles in Division I (2 boys and 1 girls) and has qualified to the state meet consistently since that first section title in 2007. They have also done well on the track with the likes of Lucas Badcock (1:57.79/4:12.77/9:18.08), Neil Braganza (1:59.22/4:13.17/9:15.72) and Helen Guo (2:20.70/5:07.38/10:55.38). Bambury also ran at Lynbrook HS and qualified to the state meet in the 1600 in 1991 as she helped lead Lynbrook to the team title. You can check out a video of that race HERE.

1) What was your own running experience? How did you get your start into running? Highlights and proudest achievements during your competitive period? Did you participate in any other sports?
 I was originally a competitive swimmer and state cup winning soccer player. My first season of cross country was my senior year because girls swimming was a fall sport at the same time as cross country. I attended Lynbrook High School and there was no cross country coach so my parents asked a friend to coach me. Mark Frise was the Homestead HS coach but was not coaching at the time. In my first year of cross country, I won our league meet and took 4th in CCS Div 3 to go to State. I was 47th in the state that season (photo below to the right). Mark Frise was my assistant coach for several seasons at Dougherty Valley. I ran track all 4 years of high school. I was 2nd in CCS in the mile my freshman year with a 5:07.0. I was a 4x400 runner as well as a state meet qualifier. My Track team my freshman year won CCS with 7 girls on our team.

2) Who were the coaches that had the biggest impact on you as an athlete and what did you learn from them? 
I did not have a distance coach while in high school. Mark Frise was the first running coach I ever had and he was amazing. His knowledge of distance running was excellent. I was lucky to have him coach me to the state meet in my 1st season. Unfortunately, I broke my collar bone in the last soccer season of my high school career so my senior year track season was not so great. Mark taught me to have patience in my races and to know the course so I would be able to make my move at the right time. He taught me that it was supposed to hurt and how to mentally push through the pain. I credit him with helping me get my scholarship to St Mary's and being a D1 athlete.

3) What led you to coach and what was your first experience? What did you learn from that experience? 
I have been coaching my whole life! In high school, I recruited 4 basketball players to the cross country team so I could have a team of 5 and score at meets. I coached them on the days I was not running with Mark. In college, I was a youth swim coach. My St Mary's Coach resigned mid-season and I helped coach the other runners through the season. My first high school coaching job was at Wilcox High School with Walter VanZant. He was a great role model, completely dedicated to his runners. That season I learned Hank Lawson was coaching at my alumni Lynbrook and needed an Asst. Coach. I coached alongside him for 3 amazing seasons. Hank was my biggest coaching influence. He showed me how to set up a successful season, how to connect with athletes, and how to be an amazing coach. I am the coach I am today because of him. He continues to be my biggest coaching mentor. In 2015 I was awarded NCS's Coach of the Year award, I credit that to Hank and how much he has taught me about coaching.

4) How did you end up at Dougherty Valley? What else do you do at the school besides coaching?
When my husband and I relocated to the East Bay from the South Bay, I spent 3 years coaching at Foothill HS and Amador HS before Dougherty was opened. I was hired by Denise Hibbard as the first cross country coach at Dougherty. Our first season we had 15 runners on the team (photo below). It was a very new experience for me. I was just happy to have all 7 runners in a race cross the finish line! As the years went by our program grew and so did the talent on our team.

5) What was your experience during the first year? Who were the athletes that really bought in and helped you establish your program during that time?
There were many athletes who have helped shape our program. One of the earliest was Jonathan Javier. He was one of my first highly dedicated and focused athletes. His love for his team and the sport was new and different for our program. He was a huge influence on the younger generation on how to be a "real team". The girls on my 2009 team that won NCS were all great influencers for the girl's side. They were very team-oriented and great supporters of each other. Neil Braganza put DVHS on the map at the higher levels by placing in the top 10 of State D1. His dedication and hard work showed our team how to push through injuries and that hard work and focus really pays off. Jake Echner has been the biggest team influencer so far for our boy's team. His ability to bring the team together under a common goal was life-changing for our program.
6) Looking back at your time at Dougherty Valley, what have been some of your biggest highlights and proudest achievements for your athletes and teams? 
There are a few biggest achievements I am most proud of. Winning NCS Girls Div 4 in 2009 when the school was less than 5 years old was one of the biggest. Being named Coach of the year in 2015 was another. But I think most of all starting a program from scratch with a school full of kids who were relatively unhappy to be there and turning it into what it is now is my crowning achievement. (If you include track: winning DFAL 2 years in a row was pretty cool too).

7) What are your expectations for your runners during the summer? Any running camps? 
This summer has been challenging for everyone. Yes, I really hope all my athletes are running every day, but I am unable to check in with them or meet with them. We do not know if or when we will have a season. Everyone is waiting for CIF to make their announcement on July 20! Holding our breath is exhausting! I really do not want my seniors to miss out on their last season!

8) Who have been your coaching mentors during your own coaching career? 
Hank Lawson has been my biggest coaching mentor. He showed me how to push kids to their limits while having fun and making everything challenging and interesting. I love his funny hats at races and how much he cares about his runners. He is an amazing person! I would not be the coach I am today without his influence.

9) What does a typical week look like for your runners? Any morning runs? Typical weekly mileage? The distance of the longest run for your experienced runners? How often do they do strength work? 
In a typical week, my runners are doing 40-45 miles. I do not believe in higher mileage for HS athletes, their bodies are not developed for it yet. Let them ramp up in college. In the past few seasons, some of my most talented athletes have tried to increase mileage and it has resulted in injuries and peaking too early in the season. We do double days on Mondays with speed on the track at 5:45am and distance in the afternoon. We try to do all road runs on some or all dirt to save on knee and shin injuries. DVHS is lucky to have so many trails right outside our doorstep. We do hills every week and more speed towards the end of the season. Our longest runs are 10-12 miles and we try to incorporate strength and core 3-4x a week.

10) Since your running days to now, what are the biggest changes that you have seen in cross country and track and field (positive and negative)? 
I think the biggest challenges kids face these days is the balance of running and school in their lives. I do not remember being as stressed in school as my athletes seem to be. I wish they would stop and realize this is the best part of their lives and savor the moment. I want running to be a life long sport for my runners. I want them to be healthy and well balanced.

11) What would your advice be for a new coach taking over a team especially during these uncertain times?
To new coaches: remember to focus on the kids who want to be coached, and don't let the negativity of those who want to complain get you down. Take pride in watching your athletes improve and always look for ways to reach your kids. No one is perfect.

12) Anything else you would like to add. 
I sure hope we get a season this year!!

Thank you very much for your time, Stephanie!

Podcast featuring former St. Joseph Notre Dame runner Cooper Teare

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Results of Independence Day Show Down Sub-4



John Lester now has 1:48.26/4:05.46 PRs. Here is a comparison to some of the all-time greats in California as far as their 800 and 1600 PRs.

Jon Stevens Mission SJ 1:48.56/4:07.19
Dennis Carr Lowell, Whittier 1:48.6c/4:07.3c
Michael Stember Jesuit 1:49.29/4:04.00
Isaac Cortes Great Oak 1:50.20/4:04.01
Brian Wilkinson Merced 1:49.50/4:08.13
Jantzen Oshier Trabuco Hills 1:51.3/4:00.83
Louie Quintana Arroyo Grande 1:50.2/4:06.1
Coley Candaele Carpenteria 1:50.87/4:06.26
Mac Fleet University City, S.D. 1:50.31/4:02.90y
David Mack Locke, L.A. 1:50.2y/3:50.8i (1500)
Jeff West Crenshaw, L.A. 1:48.2/3:50.9i (1500)

Friday, July 03, 2020

Last Workout Before Sub-4 Mile Attempt


MileSplit will cover the race which will start on Saturday, July 4th at 8pm at this LINK.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Most iconic cross country courses in Northern California and California?

Please share in the comment section below, the cross country courses that you believe are the most iconic in Northern California as well as in the entire state. We are looking for 3 mile and 5k courses.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Ask Me Anything...

I enjoyed the first two rounds of questions so moving this back to the front and I am open to answering any questions you may have.

Ok, I might regret this (kidding!) but if you have any questions for me, go ahead. I am enjoying answering all the questions so keep them coming.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

John Lester 1:48.93 tonight at Amador Valley HS

Jim Hume (1938-2020)

As shared on Facebook by several friends...

Long time Pacific Association coach, mentor, master official plus certification chair Jim Hume passed last night.

Jim was one of the original nationally acclaimed Millbrae Lions coaches with Ed Parker and Dick Connors while coaching XC-TF at Hillsdale HS (San Mateo) for decades.

Jim's was inducted into the Pacific Assoc Hall of Fame in 2019 for his countless hours of service to our association and the thousands of athletes and colleagues whom he mentored and are better for having known Jim.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Catching up with SF University coach, Carin Marrs

I am bumping this back to the front page. We are very fortunate to have some awesome female coaches in Northern California and want to highlight their journeys as well as accomplishments. First up, SF University coach Carin Marrs in an interview from the 2017 XC season.
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Today we chat with SF University coach, Carin Marrs (top left). This past season, University completed a highly successful season that included two varsity league championships (BCL West) and a section title (boys) and 2nd place section finish (girls). At the CA state meet, the University girls finished in 2nd place and recorded their first boys' state championship in school history. 

1) What was your own running experience? How did you get your start into running? Highlights and proudest achievements during your competitive period? Did you play any other sports?
I started running in 8th grade after doing a lot of other sports before that time. I especially loved basketball and played in some pretty competitive leagues, but my freshman year I quit to focus on cross country and track. My proudest high school race was my senior year at the state XC meet when I won the individual state title and my team took first.  I went on to run in college and was lucky enough to be a part of a great program.  But it was a difficult transition for me and I had an average college career. Although I did have some great races during that time, they were pretty sporadic.

2) Who were the coaches that had the biggest impact on you and what did you learn from them? 
I went to high school in central Virginia, where I was fortunate to be coached by the absolute best wife-husband team, Cherie and Chuck Witt. They were focused on making distance running fun- we played games every single week- but were also highly competitive. Our cross country team won state titles 3 of my 4 years, once with a score of 23 points! And while our team was nationally ranked for most of my high school career- a tribute to our incredibly tight pack- all of my teammates were incredibly humble people. In my coach's’ words, each race was just “a tempo run with uniforms on” which took meant we could relax and just do what we did in practice every day- push each other hard without unnecessary stress. They taught me that I was a teammate first and that my individual race was important mainly because it was part of a bigger picture. One of my coaches was also my math teacher who taught me how to analyze race statistics and the importance of mental math for running. He could spout off 400 splits for a 5k or add up finishers for a team score in about 2 seconds. Probably the biggest thing I learned in high school XC was the importance of pushing during “bad” races- when you know you’re not having a great day. If you throw in the towel on a “bad” day, 40 people might pass you. But can you keep fighting and only let 5 people pass you because your team needs those points? That kind of team-centered thinking was central to my high school coaches’ philosophy.

3) What led you to coaching and what was your first experience? What did you learn from that experience? 
I worked a bunch of little jobs the year after college and asked my old high school coach if I could volunteer as an assistant.  I was immediately hooked on coaching and after one year of being an assistant, I took over as head coach of that program. The biggest thing I learned was that I was passionate about coaching and working with high schoolers. I remember dealing with some tough interpersonal issues affecting our team chemistry and celebrating the day a girl broke 8:00 for the mile just as powerfully as I remember the days we won state championships during those years.  I was in law school three of those four years but I may have spent more time and energy on that team than I did studying- I know I arranged my class schedule to be able to get to practice every day which was not easy to do.

4) How did you hear about the University coaching job? Was there any hesitation on your part before you accepted the job? 
I did legal and social work in the bay area for 7+ years before having my first son in 2012. I was dying to get back into coaching and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start over so I google searched “cross country high school San Francisco.” I came across the Jim Tracy ESPN clip and was intrigued. I thought the program looked competitive, so I cold-called the athletics office and asked if they needed a volunteer assistant. At that poin, I found out that the school’s long-time head coach, Jim Tracy, was dying of ALS and I was hired as a deputy head coach to work with him. Being a co-head coach sounded complicated, especially in a program with 10 girls’ state titles and many years of tradition that I knew nothing about. I knew my coaching style would be radically different than Jim’s and I’d only worked in larger public schools, so I was somewhat concerned.

5) What was your experience during the first year? How difficult was it for you taking over for Jim Tracy? 
I had the privilege of working with Jim for about 7 months before he passed away in April 2014. I learned his quirky but effective methods and inserted some of my philosophy into the team that year. But the cross country team struggled big time with the coaching transition and from a competitive standpoint it was a rough season. Our boys didn’t make it to the state meet and our girls’ performance there was lackluster compared to the many podium finishes of the past. Jim passed away early in track season of the following year which was devastating for the families who had known him as the team’s iconic leader for many years. It was really hard taking over for Jim, we have very different personalities  I didn’t have the credibility with the kids or program that comes with year-after-year state championships and rebuilding trust took a few years.

6) Looking back at this past season, what were some of your biggest highlights? 
We had the highest combined finishes at the state meet of any teams in our school history, so that was huge. Early in the season we were shooting for 3rd/5th, but as I saw kids progressing throughout the season I thought it was 1st and 2nd were possible if we ran smart races but it would take a day when all the stars aligned. The boys were in 13th place at the mile- and then took off. My 3rd and 4th guys passed a total of 142 guys in those last 2 miles. I was super proud to see the guys execute our season-long race plan so well on the biggest stage when nerves can take over. On the girls’ side, our team captains- Christina Howard and Claire Jackson- each had remarkable seasons and truly led the team in every sense of the word. If I had done cuts, Christina would not have made the team her sophomore year. She was running 25 minutes for 5k. She was our critical 4th girl at the state meet in a time 5 minutes faster than 2 years ago! Claire (9th at CIF) has battled so many serious injuries and setbacks for 3 years and it was awesome to see what she could do when she got some uninterupted training under her belt this year. Consistency was a theme for our teams this year and those girls were great models for that.

7) What are your expectations for your runners during the summer? Any running camps? 
I have three levels of running programs for the summer months- returning varsity, 2nd year runners, and new runners. They are all minutes-based, and are purely aerobic runs that get pretty long towards the end of the summer. We meet 3 mornings/week for kids who are in town. My goal is to create our own team camp at some point, but we don’t have one right now.

8) Who have been your coaching mentors during your coaching career? 
I have so many. Like I mentioned, my high school coaches are my biggest mentors and I still see them and pick their brains whenever I’m back in Virginia. Juli Henner Benson (1996 Olympian in the 1500) coached me for 2 years in college and she showed me what it meant to care about your athletes as humans first. She also taught me that running 9 minute miles on recovery days works for Olympians-  no one cares if you win the easy run! Finally, the coaches in our league have supported and inspired me in my work at UHS. My assistant coach, Kevin Cruikshank has a wealth of experience in this program and can draw on his memories of the legendary Jim Tracy days whenever the kids need humor or inspiration. Jeff Gardiner at Lick-Wilmerding and Mike Buckley at Convent/Stuart Hall have supported me when I was a new coach in the league and have been motivators for me and my athletes from a competitive standpoint in both cross country and track with their perennially strong programs.

9) What does a typical week look like for your runners? Any morning runs? Typical weekly mileage? Distance of longest run for your experienced runners? How often do they do strength work? 
We usually do a tough strength workout and an easy run on Mondays. Tuesday are a hard/faster workout- sometimes a tempo run, intervals, hills. Wednesdays we do our long run- I stole this non-traditional day idea from Chris Williams at Dublin HS and it made all the difference this year. Thursday is a longer recovery day and Friday is usually a pre-meet easy run with strides. Saturday is either a meet or another hard workout- tempo/intervals/fartlek/hills. Sundays are always off. I firmly believe that high schoolers don’t need to run 7 days a week and it makes the other 6 days higher quality. I think most serious runners can continue to improve in college if they are not run into the ground in high school. We usually do minutes-based long runs with 80 minutes being a standard for the top group. This can mean anywhere from 9 to 12 miles depending on how fast the group is going and where we are running. The Presidio has a ton of hills and we do incorporate those trails into most of our long runs. We do a focused, hour-long strength session on Mondays and strength and mobility work every day after running. The top guys were at about 50 mpw at the end of the summer and the girls were around 40. Their mileage varied during the season but it was never quite that high after August. The strength work and focus on quality were a big reason I think we had zero serious injuries this year.

10) Since your running days to now, what are the biggest changes that you have seen in cross country and track and field (positive and negative)? 
I think that the internet and specifically social media and has impacted the sport in negative ways for sure. It’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole of comparison when you see a competitor or even elite athlete posting a workout or a race time (and the cute accompanying photo that makes it seem like the workout/race was a breeze) and start feeling discouraged without really knowing anything about their circumstances. It was easier 20 years ago to focus on improving yourself rather than becoming consumed with what others say they are doing (it’s very likely fake!). However, the internet has positively impacted the sport by bringing athletes, coaches and fans together to uplift each other on sites like yours.
Another positive change is that I see a lot more strong, powerful, well-fueled high school girls than when I was in high school. There are still many young people suffering from disordered eating and it is still one of my biggest concerns in the high school distance running world. But I believe that now there are fewer coaches emphasizing “thin = fast” and more awareness around the long-term destructive nature of restrictive eating.

11) What would your advice be for a new coach taking over a team? 
Take nothing for granted. Just because you have a great experience one season doesn’t mean everything will stay the same next year so celebrate the highs in real time! On the flip side, it only takes a couple of athletes making  positive changes to turn a mediocre team into a group of incredible athletes, even though “rebuilding” seasons can seem so disheartening.  Finally, believe in every athlete who is willing to work hard. I know that consistency and passion trump talent when it comes to improvement and when the stakes are high, you can rely on the gritty kids.

12) Anything else you would like to add. 
Thank you, Albert, for all you’ve given to bring recognition and respect to a sport that doesn’t get enough press!

Thank you very much for your time Carin! AJC

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

LA84 Clinics online

For those of you familiar with the LA84 clinics, the clinics this year will take place online. They will take place on Zoom every Wednesday (save for one week) starting at 6pm and ending at 7:30pm. You can check out all the sessions and speakers at the following link. For this week, Ken Reeves, Foothill Technology and JT Ayers (Trabuco Hills) will be the speakers.
https://la84.org/coaching-clinics/

If you missed last week's session and would like to check it out, here is the LINK. The speaker was Dr. Fernando Frias who is the Coordinator of Sport Psychology Services at Oregon State. As a side note, our coaching group that has been meeting every Saturday morning was mentioned during the talk.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Catching up with Amador Valley HS coach, Jason Oswalt

Today, I caught up with Amador Valley HS coach Jason Oswalt (Ozzie). This past weekend, his runner John Lester just casually ran the 3rd fastest 800m for a high school junior with a 1:48.26. Aside from Lester, Ozzie has done a great job at AV as well as host the Scott Bauhs Invitational in XC and the Dan Gabor Invitational in TF. I think you will get a lot out of the following interview so thanks again to Ozzie for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can also check out my interview with Lester at this LINK.

1) What were your own running experiences in high school and college? Highlights?
I spent my younger years in upstate New York playing team sports. I played soccer, basketball, and baseball with local leagues, and lots of sandlot football. I think from early on though, I knew that I would end up being a runner. No matter what sport we were playing, my asset was my speed and I used that and a good work ethic to cover up other deficiencies. I moved to Pleasanton before fifth grade and kept playing all of the sports. I started running the spring of my 8th grade year because I was tired of hitting .200 and leading my baseball team in stolen bases. I had run a 5:58 mile in PE before I started training, which was a good start. With all that, I would have never guessed at that time how many cool things I would get to do in this sport. In 8th grade, we ran 4 days per week and never farther than 4 miles. I remember in my first day of training, I showed up to practice and we were doing a four mile "long run". We all went out for two miles behind the coach and then we ran back at the pace we wanted. I ran back trying to pace myself, but trying to get back first (not what I would recommend, but that was me). On the final stretch, I put my head down, ran as hard as I could, and passed the leader with a few steps left. Got it. The leader had been Elizabeth Lowry. She was in 5th grade at the time. I don't think she was running that hard. By the end of that season though I had run a 4:55 mile, so something worked. I was coached in 8th grade by Jim Poss. Then before I started high school at Amador Valley, he was hired as the coach there.

I was fortunate in both high school and college to be on teams that valued being teams, During summer training before my first cross country season at Amador Valley, seniors Ron Selvey and Donald Zimmerman made sure our team did the work we needed to do to accomplish our goals. Donald drove a mini-van and would pick up half the team on the way to training every day. Ron had the confidence to make sure we always believe we could. I didn't know much about the history of the program. I hadn't known that cross country was even a sport until my 8th-grade coach told me that I would be doing it and that I was going to make the varsity team. I asked the guys during a run one day if we were any good. They pronounced that we were the best team in the league and that we would be winning the EBAL that year. It was close, but we did. They pronounced it with so much confidence in the summer like it happened every year. I only found out later that the team hadn't won in something like eighteen years. That was not the most talented team that I was a part of in high school, but I think we got the more out of our ability than any other team I was on. It was a testament to leadership. The story repeated itself on the track. We hadn't won in a long time, but we did that year. I contributed 8 points finishing 5th in the 1600m and 3rd in the 3200m. My goal that year was to run under 4:35 in the 1600m. People thought that was crazy. I ran 4:34.7 at EBAL finals. It was my first time under 4:40. From there, I got to run in all the fun invitationals. Going to Arcadia was always a highlight. We broke our school DMR record at the Stanford Invitational my senior year. We won that race beating Long Beach Poly and Bellarmine. I can remember Pete Dolan screaming "Hard core! Hard core!" as I came down the back stretch of the last lap, even though he wasn't my coach. I can also remember Neil Davis' face when I passed him, probably wondering where that second wind came from. We won another EBAL title in cross country my senior year, beating Granada and San Ramon Valley. To this day I enjoy beating Granada and San Ramon Valley. It's not always easy to do. The thing that brought the whole experience came together though were my teammates in the distance group. Besides the guys I mentioned, Travis Weisbrod, Ben Wolf, Matt See, David Piekarski, Kyle Monez, Ryan Stifter, Rehan Tahir, Chris Grigsby, Justin Tunberg, and Stephen Lowry just to name a few. Like every high school cross country team, we were ridiculous. But we went through it all together. Our parents were dumb enough to trust us to go camping for a week every summer with no adult supervision. We did some running and we were lucky we didn't burn down all the forest around Lake Tahoe. But we brought everybody back, so we were allowed to go again the next year. 

I went to college at Cornell University. As I said earlier, I spent a long time in upstate New York, so although it was far away from Pleasanton, my grandparents lived a couple of hours away and I knew what to expect when it came to winter. The head coach at Cornell at the time was the great Nathan Taylor. Coach Taylor led an amazing jumps program and I was teammates with two NCAA triple jump champions, Rayon Taylor and Muhammad Halim, although they both won after I had graduated. My freshman year, I was coached by Jerry Smith and after that, by Robert Johnson. I appreciate the work I did with both men. They were very different personalities and had very different philosophies. Jerry only wanted to coach the toughest guys in the world. I thought I was when I went to college, but he quickly disproved that. With Jerry, he didn't even care if you won the race if it didn't hurt enough and it didn't matter how much it hurt if you didn't win. So Jerry set about to make us the toughest team in the world by giving us the hardest workouts ever created, and just when we were done, he added a finisher so we could "find out where [we] lived". Jerry was the inventor of the infamous 200 pride workout, where runners run a set of 4x200m at 45 with 100m jog recovery, then a set of 4x200m at 44, then 4x200m at 43, and so on until you get to 4x200m at 30. From there you do as many sets of 4x200m at 30 as you can until you can't run anymore. Everyone on my team remembers during my freshman year when Jerry stopped Max King and Dan "Danimal" Dombrowski after running 108x200m with the last 44 of them at 30. I think Max actually ran the last one in 27. Jerry loved Max. After a year of the hardest workouts ever with Jerry, Robert came in and changed the program. He slowed down our easy runs and told us to use our easy days to recover. If we came back and told him that it felt too easy, he told us to go add on 15 minutes. Rather than destroy us in workouts, he would have a plan to do just enough. Rather than have us run through walls to reach a surprise finisher, Robert would tell us to err on the side of caution. But we still had that experience with Jerry that helped us when the situation called for it. I think that it was a great combination of different styles of coaching and I use things I learned from both coaches as well as Coach Poss in what we do today at Amador Valley. We also had a great group of guys who I am lucky to call my friends today. I just talked to Zeb Lang today, who eventually took over as cross country coach at Cornell and is now coaching at Colorado State, and since the shelter in place started I have been able to connect with Oliver Tassinari, Mike Sinkevich, Daryn Johnson, Galen Reeves, and John Castilhos. I have gotten some good information that I have used in coaching from Doug Krisch as well. And wherever you are John Goldsmith, I still love you too. Bruce, we know where you are, but well, ya know. Cornell was another program that hadn't had success in a while when we got there, but we went on a run starting my sophomore year. After not having won a conference championship, we won the indoor meet my sophomore and senior year (we blew it my junior year), and my sophomore year began a run of eight consecutive outdoor championships. I didn't score a single point in any of those meets, but I hated Princeton as much as all of us did. I did improve in college, but not by much. Although I always wanted to, I never got close to the point where I was going to be a major contributor at that level. I loved being a part of that team though, and everyone there knew that.

2) What led you to teaching and coaching? 
I finished at Cornell with a degree in economics, but somewhere in the process of getting that degree determined that I didn't really like it that much. I think in the back of my mind I knew that if I got a job in economics, there wasn't going to be much room left for track and I wasn't quite ready to leave that world yet. I ended up getting a job in sales back in the Bay Area but didn't like it. I was looking for another job and in a roundabout way ended up leaving that job, substitute teaching, and coaching. By the start of the next school year, I was an intern teacher at Amador Valley and I was coaching. There was a three year period where I was teaching at Hart Middle School but was coaching at Amador Valley the whole time. I have been back teaching at Amador Valley for ten years.

What do you teach?
I teach math. More specifically, I teach intermediate algebra to students who struggle with math and I teach an accelerated program where students learn all of geometry and a chunk of intermediate algebra. That class is a fast track to calculus class. 

Before this track season, what were some of your coaching highlights? Well you asked, so let's go. I think the previous cross country season was a good one. We had three guys, Aidan McCarthy, Jack Gray, and Euan Houston run faster than any Amador Valley athlete had ever run at Woodward Park. Jacob Lawrence was unhappy with his state meet race but was our 5th man that day. His return to running was nothing short of miraculous as he had brain surgery in the summer and it was unknown whether he would run at all. The boys ended up 8th in the state. Despite Hope Bergmark's injury, she returned to lead us at the state meet on the girls' side and Ella McCarthy had a huge race for us. Derica Su won the NCS championship and for the 2nd year in a row the girls went 1-2-3 in that race. And I don't know where Taya Small came from last year, but as the quietest girl on the team, she was the glue that helped us to a 13th place finish. It was only the second time that both our boys and girls had qualified for state in the same year.

I have a lot of pretty good coaching highlights to pick from though. It was pretty exciting when Jena Pianin was 5th in D1 at the state meet. Even better the next year when she was 3rd behind 2 all-time performers. It was my first year as the head track coach when Nate Esparza threw the shot put 69 feet, 8.75 inches. I didn't do much with that but get out of the way of Nate's brother, who was our throws coach, but that was a fun season. Nate broke the NorCal record by 5 feet. Watching Chinyere Okoro progress in the short sprints was a lot of fun. Although she ran faster as a senior, the most exciting might have been when she won the 200m at Arcadia her junior year. Coaching Conner McKinnon to a 3rd place finish in the 800m at the state meet was awesome. Conner could do some things that to this point, even John can't do. That may not last for long though. We won 3 NCS MOC titles on the boys' side when I was an assistant coach and what was fun about that was we did it with athletes from every event group. Ja'maun Charles, Darnell Roberson, Josh Slaton, Michael White, Matt Esparza, Sam Peters, and Conner were all key contributors to those wins. Combinations of those guys ran a 41 second 4x1 and a 3:13 4x4, which was so cool. It was awesome when Aidan Boyle dove to hit the state meet auto time in the 800m two years ago. It was heartbreaking when Melodie Leroudier missed the auto time in the 1600m by .1 seconds, but in the process, she PR'ed by 4 seconds and broke the school record. It was a pleasure to coach athletes like Annaka Green, Madison Perez, and Becky Laurence to MOC Finals and I'd say the same about Zach Beston if his race there didn't end in injury. In My first year as head cross country coach, we had 50 runners at the EBAL championships. 46 ran PR's and 2 of them had never run the course. Of the two runners who didn't PR, one missed by just 1 second. Nina Razavi's senior year was a 20 week long highlight and I will never forget when she qualified for NCS Tri-Valley against a stellar 3200m field at EBAL Finals. She went from running something like 12:45 as a junior to 11:24 as a senior and went on to have a stellar college career at Saint Louis University. In fact, I really enjoy following former Amador Valley athletes move to college and seeing how they do. I love to see someone who never saw themselves as a college athlete and maybe never had the kind of high school success that we think of when we think about college runners, go on to have great college careers. Margaret Duffy was barely a 6:00 miler in high school but ran well for four years at Haverford College. On the other end of it, Garrett Ward was a 9:27 guy who decided that he wanted to walk on at Colorado. The summer between his senior year and when he started at Colorado, we took his training to a different place so that he could make that a reality and ultimately had a successful career at that school. I loved watching Alec Elgood be slow for three and a half years and then run 2:00 in the 800m as a senior (I guess I didn't actually like the 3 and a half years of being slow, but I liked how it ended). Same story with Jordan Rice and Armin Mahini. I loved when Kevin Huey finally ran the 1600m in 4:30. I loved when Smita Nalluri ran 11:37 at EBAL Finals and didn't qualify for NCS Tri-Valley, so instead she led us to victory with a 4 second PR of 2:22 in the MOC 4x800m. And one last one. When Kim Sannajust came off the final hill at Hayward as our 6th runner, passed Monte Vista's 5th and 6th runner to put us into a tie with Monte Vista and give us the 6th runner tiebreaker, sending us to the state meet, that was a good one too.

3) Can you tell us a bit about Lester's progression during his freshman and sophomore years and what sports he participated in during those two years? 
John came to high school as a football player. I think he was a kick returner. He progressed to sprinter during the track season. Our pole vault coach really wanted him there, but he ended up in the sprint group. He wasn't that good in the short sprints. He ran 12.65 in the 100m and 24.98 in the 200m, but he was good at the 400m. John ran 52.09 in the open and either split just over or just under 51 on the relay. John's dad didn't really love him playing football and thought he should do cross country instead and I know some of the guys already on the cross country team wanted him to do cross, but John was pretty adamant about football. As a coach, I never want to take away what someone loves, especially not with a promise of something better that I don't know that I can deliver on. John was a decent football player from what I had heard and there was nothing about his running that guaranteed that he'd be any better at cross country or even sprinting than he would be on a football field. If someone is interested enough to ask, I'll talk about track forever (like you can see in this interview...Albert asked me about track and here I go), but John never asked. So one day in the summer he shows up and says, I'm going to try cross country. And John became a distance runner. He was strong, but he was a first-year guy, so his mileage stayed pretty low. Despite low mileage, he was athletic, so he could keep up with most of the guys anyway, but not the front of our team. I doubt that he ever ran much more than 30 miles that season, but by the end of the year he broke 16 at Hayward and was our #4 runner. The only time John didn't break 2:00 in the 800m was his first time running it. He ran 2:03 his first time running it because he was too tentative, just learning the race. His next attempt at it was a 1:58 and he progressed all the way to 1:52.99 in the state final. He made a tactical error in that race, putting himself in a bad position with 200m to go. If he didn't get bumped around a couple of times in the last part of that race, he probably runs a little bit faster. But rookies make rookie mistakes and as far as things went, that was an awesome season.

Where do you feel like the big jump was made by him? 
I don't know that there was a big jump. I think everyone gets into racing and the initial improvement happens pretty fast. We get that period of time where every race is a PR. It's just that most people don't start as fast as he did and for whatever reason, that improvement hasn't stopped yet. Most people don't have two years of linear improvement and they don't start out running 2:03. John did. 

Was it a specific race or series of workouts? 
I think at the beginning of John's sophomore track season he was fitter than the times he was running. He was just learning to race, so as I said earlier, he was a little tentative. I film all of our races and we would go over his race videos and find things to work on. He very quickly went from running 2:03 to running 1:55. I remember that we were able to point at a lot of things in his Arcadia race to work on from how he positioned himself early to how fast he was running at the end, but made the move too late. I think those things were eye-opening to him. We usually go into a much more heavy speed phase with 800m runners right after Arcadia. Up until then, whatever they are doing, they are doing on aerobic strength. After a couple of weeks of that, John's fitness turned a corner. As we moved into the postseason, I changed a lot of the plans because I could tell that John had become a different dude. We were trying to figure out how he could get under the auto-qual standard in case he didn't finish in the top 3 for most of the season and all of a sudden we were talking about winning MOC, which he did. Going into the last couple weeks of the season, I was coaching a sophomore who I believed could run 1:51. He didn't quite do that, but I thought he could. When Conner McKinnon ran 1:51, he had a better max velocity than John, so John wasn't as good at the really fast stuff, but when we did things where John had to do a few medium-hard reps and then come back with something really fast, he was just so fluid, which you still see in his running today.

4) What about his fall cross country season? Aside from his faster times, where do you feel like John improved during the fall season? 
By the start of this cross country season, we were able to treat John more like a distance runner. He still doesn't run huge mileage, but he was routinely up over 40 miles per week and definitely over 45 at times. He probably never hit 50, but maybe once or twice. But you can do a lot more with that than when you top out at 35 and his body was ready for it. With the added mileage he was more consistent in the tempo runs, although I think he ran them too hard sometimes and he was much stronger running hills. His body was also changing. He was getting taller and stronger naturally, which was leading to gains in the weight room. I think finally, but importantly, he was more emotionally mature. John goofed around too much when he first started doing cross country. He was a sophomore and would act like a sophomore, even when he didn't want to be known that way. Don't mistake this as me saying that John wasn't working hard, because he was, but there were times that he needed to be reminded what we were out there to do. By junior year, John was serious. No reminders necessary.

5) What did he do during the winter to prepare for the track and field season? Any consistent workouts? 
To be honest, John didn't have a very consistent offseason. It was an exciting cross country season for us and we put a lot of energy into it. We were all at the state meet and we went with big goals. We spent a lot of emotional energy, as it should be, and then John, Euan, and Jack went on to Footlocker West. Aidan planned to go too, but felt some tightness in his hamstring midweek and called it off. After that, we were all pretty exhausted. Aidan started to feel his aches and pains before Footlocker, but the other guys all felt a little something or other shortly thereafter. So we had a plan but made sure to emphasize recovery. Throughout the winter, we usually do a hill sprints one day (short sprints with long recovery), tempo miles one day (up to 6 with 1-minute rest, although I don't think John ever did more than 5), a recovery day, a day where we touch race pace, a day where we do circuits, and a long run. Some athletes will go on their own on Sundays and some don't. For the day that we touch race pace, we do 6 weeks where our top guys do 2 sets of 6 200s. I don't give them times to hit, but in the first set they go easy, easy, easy, medium, medium, hard. The second set is easy, easy, medium, medium, hard, hard. They do 200m jog in between each rep and a 10 minute run between sets. The run is not a shuffle and is supposed to be slightly faster than easy run pace. After 6 weeks of that, they do a short VO2 max fartlek, where they do 1 minute on, 1 minute easy, 2 on, 2 easy, 3 on, 3 easy, and back down. They do this out on the creek trail near the school. They are in the weight room on the hill sprint day and the fartlek day. So that is our basic program, but John missed a lot of days with little aches and pains. We weren't too concerned because we knew how much stronger he was than the year before. We knew the only way he wasn't going to run fast is if he got hurt, so we emphasized recovery and to run when he was ready. By the end of the winter he was going through the program with everyone and feeling pretty good. We were ready to start the season. 

6) Aside from Lester's 1:52.06 at the Dan Gabor Invitational, you had other impressive marks. Can you mention a few of those and any surprises? 
I wasn't surprised that people ran fast, but I was surprised at how fast all of them ran so early. I'm glad they did because unbeknownst to all of us, early was all we had. Euan Houston made a huge drop during cross country for us running 15:39 at the state meet. It didn't come out of nowhere but he was faster than I expected. There were some signs in the week leading up to Gabor that he was ready to do something, but 4:18 was a surprise. I expected for him and Aidan to run about 4:23. So when Aidan ran 4:19, that was a surprise too. But if you were to tell me that one of them was going to run under 4:20, it would have been Aidan and it would not have shocked me. Jack's 4:25 wasn't a surprise at all, but certainly nice to see. Jack had pneumonia twice during last year's track season and really struggled. Looking at the longer workouts he was doing, he was going to have a great year in the 3200m. If we knew the season was going to shut down, he would have done it at Gabor, but we were saving everyone to do that at Dublin. We never got the chance. Jacob was a surprise. He did a workout the weekend before that showed he was in shape, but he dropped 4 seconds off of his PR to run 4:25 as well. I thought going into the season that he might run under 4:20 this season, but that race made me really confident that it would happen. Jacob actually went on and did some time trials of his own where he ran about 9:33 for 3200m and 4:23 for 1600m. I know that these questions are related to distance runners, but I was pretty happy with Jad Khansa's shot put too and John's brother, Tim, who actually is a sprinter, ran some really nice races early. We had some girls in the hurdle group who were going to turn some heads as well.

7) What were some of the challenges of coaching Lester during the SIP? 
Really the same challenges as coaching everyone else. Our track was closed, we weren't allowed to meet with athletes, for a while everyone thought they might die, the list goes on. At the beginning, we had the benefit of thinking this might only last a couple of weeks, so our serious athletes stayed motivated. As time went on and it became apparent that the season would not resume, we lost a lot of interest. Or maybe interest isn't the right word, but people lost their enthusiasm for what we were doing because without races, what was the point. We held a virtual dual meet with Granada, which was fun. At least for the girls, because they won. Granada's boys scored a stunning upset. We were also a part of the virtual 4xmile, so that was cool too, but none of those things are the same as racing against people on a track. Eventually, some of the guys figured out ways to get onto tracks. It involved some driving, so most kids weren't doing it.I was giving workouts for those running their hard efforts on trails and also workouts for those who were going to tracks. As far as John specifically, there were workouts that I wasn't giving him because I wasn't going to be there. There are a few workouts that I assign, but often change in the middle of the workout if it is going a certain way. I couldn't give those kinds of workouts if I wasn't going to be there to have the option to adjust on the fly. There are also some workouts that I give that are difficult for a person to accurately time and get recovery on their own, so I wasn't giving those. In general, I'd say that at least for a while, the intensity was much lower than normal, but we kept mileage higher. We didn't go back to base training completely, but it looked a lot more like that than what we would have been doing at that time of the season. I'm sure that plays a role in why John is still pretty fresh right now.

What were some of the workouts that he did during March and April? Was the 1:49.36 TT a surprise or within his goal before the effort? 
The 1:49 was an absolute shock to me. As I said, he wasn't really training on the track leading into it. I hadn't seen John since March 14th, where he did a very good workout. On that day, we were still allowed on the track and he did 2 sets of 400, 600, 300. He and Euan did that workout. They got 45 seconds between the 400 and the 600, and 90 seconds before the 300. Then they got 5 minutes between the sets and did it again. I think John went 63, 1:35, 47 and then 62, 1:34, 47. Euan was right there. John walked off the track and asked if it was supposed to be hard, suggesting that it wasn't. Euan managed it well, but he thought it was hard. To everyone reading this, that workout is hard. After that, I didn't see them. John told me about a week in advance that he had this time trial set up and that he wanted to break 1:50. I figured a hard effort is a good idea and I encouraged him, but I looked at what we had been doing and it wasn't conducive to running a huge PR in a time trial. That wasn't really even the point of the training in that moment. I thought that if he ran 1:53, that would be amazing. I couldn't go because I had classes to teach, but on his own, he had found a timer and a pacer. I got a text during one of my classes that he ran 1:49. As soon as that class wrapped up I was on my phone making sure he wasn't lying. There's a video and he wasn't lying. It was pretty cool.
8) The Desert Dream-Last Hurrah Invitational was a very last-minute decision. Can you share how the race became a reality? 
John had originally planned to do another 800m time trial that day, so our training was setting up for a hard effort that day anyway. We got lucky in that regard. I knew nothing about the meet until John told me about it on Tuesday. I don't remember exactly what the exchange was on Tuesday, but somehow we determined that the field wasn't that strong and it wasn't worth flying to Arizona for. We were better off just doing the time trial close to home. Fast forward to Thursday. Since the shelter in place has started, I have been taking part in a weekly Zoom call hosted by some coaches from Portland, Oregon. On this particular evening we were discussing how we trained and delegated responsibilities with our assistant coaches, given the success of the few female coaches in our sport why there aren't more of them, and also which current professional athletes we hate the most.  At 9:15, Jorge Chen, who coaches an incredibly talented group of athletes at Menlo, sends me a text asking if John wants to go to this meet in Arizona. I explain why John had decided not to go. Jorge asks if it would change anything if Cruz Culpepper was in the race. I'm thinking that it might have changed something on Tuesday, but probably not now. But I told him I'd check. John is lukewarm on the idea at first I think mostly because it was going to be tough for the family. Within 15 minutes Jorge texts again that Darius Kipyego would be there and now John is excited. It turns out that John's family was going to be unable to go, so their loss turned into my gain and I got to go. We did a fair amount of coordinating to make sure that we were as safe as could be with flying and the COVID in Arizona. We waited to fly in until Saturday morning and flew out really early on Sunday. We were back in CA less than 24 hours after we left. There were more details discussed, but I have said to others and will say here, that I was never stressed about the race itself, but I was stressed over every move in between just because of the health situation where we were. Walking around in Arizona though, it didn't seem like anyone else was all that stressed. In the end, I was really appreciative of the people that put the meet together to create that opportunity for John and all of the other athletes who stayed disciplined over the last few months.

What were your goal and race plan before the race and what was your reaction after the race was over? 
I don't know what John's goal was exactly, but we were happy with the result. It sounds greedy, but I thought he might run a little faster. As far as the plan, I wanted him to come through 200m in 26 low, then run 26 mid, and 26 mid. I told him that if he could run 53 low to 53 mid from 200m to 600m without too much pace variation, he was going to be in a position to run very fast. Ideally, he was going to be through 600m in a smooth 1:19.5. I thought he could finish off that. He did a workout a couple of weeks ago where he did a 600m in 1:19.1, took 30 seconds rest and ran 29. I was concerned about the 29, but he came back 20 minutes later and ran a 600m in 1:21, so I knew that he could have run that 200m better. There was no 200m after the second 600m. What really iced it for me was the workout he did the Tuesday before the race. This was actually the first workout I had seen him do in person since 3/14. He did 4x200m on the minute, meaning if he ran 30 seconds, he got 30 seconds recovery. If he ran 40 seconds, he got 20 seconds recovery. I asked him to try to run 26.0, 26.0,26.0, and then as fast as he could (I actually told him to run the last one in 18.95, but he knows that just means as fast as he can). I was going to be very pleased if he could run them all in the 26's. I was going to be ecstatic if he could run the last one faster. Well, he blew it from the beginning because he ran the first one in 24.14 (no typo). I figured he'd hold it together for one more, but then fall off on the third and fourth after running a 24. He ended up going 26.65, 26.18, 27.24. Not perfect, but after a 24.14, that's really, really good. I ran with guys in college who could run 1:48 and they couldn't do that, so I knew he could run 1:48. I thought if he ran smart, he could run faster.

9) What is the next race for Lester and what is the training plan leading up that race? 
That is undetermined. I think he is going to run a 400m time trial this weekend. He will do something hard after it, but the focus of that day will be to get a fast 400m in. After that, I think he wants to run a mile on June 27th up in Eugene. We are trying to figure out how to wrap this season up though in a way that he will be happy with and we don't overextend him. After what he has done, the most important thing is that he leaves the season healthy. He is going to have a lot of say in these upcoming decisions though.

10) Who have been your coaching mentors and who do you lean on for advice currently? 
Well all of the guys who have coached me are people who I have learned from. In addition, when I first started coaching, our head coach was Peter Scarpelli. Peter was awesome about letting me learn the administrative side of being a head coach, which is where a lot of the time is spent. By the time he left to become an athletic director, I had already done a lot of the things that head coaches have to do in one way or another, which made the transition much easier. He was also always just a phone call away and although I don't need to lean on him as much, he is still there and I appreciate that. From the side of it where we develop athletes, Chris Puppione was a huge mentor. Pup and I would talk shop before I was ever a coach and I think he was excited when I became a coach. He's been a cheerleader of mine and an educator all the way through. He was the first to call me about John in Arizona. I know this because he messaged me before the race as well as right after and I had to ignore him for a minute. I basically grew up doing track with Tyler Huff and we have done a lot of coaching together. He coached at Texas State for a season and also at Baylor, but he found his way back to the paradise that is Amador Valley and we bounce a lot off each other. I also like to bounce things off of Devin Elizondo. Devin coaches at UCLA, but we have known each other for a long time through the Runner's Workshop running camps and he is great to get perspectives from especially in helping an athlete deal with recruiting. Otherwise, I have enjoyed the USATF and USTFCCCA coaching education programs, the different VS.Superclinics that Peanut Harms puts on in Sacramento, the clinics that Tim Hunter and Chris Williams have put on locally, and of course the NorCal Coach's Roundtable that Pup, you, and I have put on. I have been able to learn from some of the most accomplished people in the sport and as much as I have written here, I am happy to go into those rooms, close my mouth, and listen. 

11) Of all the Corona Indoor Nationals episodes, which one was your personal favorite?  
Ooohhh. I don't know. I liked shooting the gun in the house. That was the one I was worried I might actually get in trouble for. The thrill! I kind of regret throwing a hammer down my hallway, but not really. I think the fan favorite was the high jump. I think that we can all agree though, that race walk sucks, and so does Princeton.

What was the most taxing and any injuries during any of the episodes? 
Running the mile was the most taxing for sure. It was slow, but it was really hard. When the whole thing started, in the first event I talked about a slight calf strain. That was real. And that mile made it much worse. Other than that, when I was testing out the high jump, I was trying to properly do a Fosbury flop. And I did, but the mattress wasn't thick enough and it really hurt. It took me a few minutes to walk that off, which was the reason for the head first attempts.

Will there be more Corona Indoor Nationals events? 
No, we did closing ceremonies after the hammer throw. It was a fitting end. I hope everyone enjoyed it.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
I think part of the reason that you sent me these questions is because you want to get a better sense of what makes John so good. But you never asked that. First, John is good because he was born with some talent. You don't run 1:48 ever, much less as a 17 year old if you don't have some talent. But not everyone who can run 1:48, does. So the most important thing is that I'm his coach. Simple as that. 

After that, John does everything. I give credit to all of these athletes who had their worlds turned upside down in March, but managed to stick to the task and not only stay in shape, but reach heights that they never have before. That's hard and the vast majority did not do that. So John is not alone in doing that, but he is in rare company. 

John not only does the big things like coming to workouts ready to have good days, but he has taken on the challenge of doing all of the little monotonous things. John's mechanics are smooth, but not perfect. He's working on it. John completes his core work without cutting corners. He's serious about what he's doing in the weight room. He told me that the best thing about the shelter in place is that he's able to get more sleep. He's learned about how to properly fuel his body, by eating healthy foods. He has even figured out that on certain days, he needs to deviate from the plan and do a little bit less. Not because he's being lazy, but because that's what his body needs. John has made a decision that he wants to be fast and he has started to do the things that will make him fast now. He is not someone who is going to wait to get to college to start doing those things. 

Alright Albert, after all this, I hope you don't regret asking. Thank you for keeping this site going for so long. You're killing it. See you on Thursday with the Portland group.

Thank you very much for your time Oz! AJC

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