Thursday, June 05, 2008

Catching up with Livermore's Diana George...

Our next interview is with Livermore's Diana George who once again scored a double victory (1600 and 3200) at this past NCS Meet of Champions following her two wins the previous season as a sophomore. George is the latest star for coach Eddie Salazar at Livermore HS (both pictured to the left courtesy of the Livermore Granada boosters website) who has had his fair share of individual and team champions during his time at the school.

1) How did you get started in distance running?
Way back in middle school, I had a friend named Rebecca who's parents forced her to run the offered extra credit laps in P.E. to keep her in shape. Since it seemed like a torturous thing to have to do alone, my other friend Amanda and I offered to run them with her. We'd get in, with P.E. included, anywhere from one to three miles a day. At the time, that seemed like a lot. Because we'd run all the time, rain or shine, before class, one of my teachers suggested that we go out for the track team. I didn't come out until 8th grade, and even then we did not run very much (no more than four miles a day, two times a week). We had three meets all season, only one of which was on a track. I tended to high jump and run the mile the most, but a few times I ran the 400 and the 100. The only time that I actually remember was a 64 in the 400m at Amador. I got second to a super buff girl with fancy spikes--shoes I hadn't even heard of at the time. That was the beginning. I decided to run cross country to keep in shape for soccer and track the next year. It just took off from there.

2) What other sports have you played besides cross country and track and field?
When I was 6 or 7 I started playing house soccer. By age ten I had started playing AC III and indoor soccer, and when I hit middle school I played AC I on a team of which I got along with no one, not even the coach. Because of this I was eager to start a different sport in high school, even though I liked soccer itself. I liked how the workouts were challenging and the conditioning was tough--hard days felt like great accomplishments. Simultaneously I took acrobatics from Carol Jean, who is quite well-known in Livermore and has taught just about every other dance teacher around here. My parents got me into this at age 3 as something to do and to give me self-confidence. Looking back on it, I think the strength and flexibility I gained from flips and handstands helped ease me through the transition into distance running. I also swam for the local swim team, Rhonewood, for four summers from age 7-10. I was very bad at swimming and became frustrated when, after four years of hard work and early mornings, I not once made it to the championship meet when most of my friends did.

3) When did you first start realize you had talent and achieving success in distance running?
I remember one time in middle school, my soccer coach got really mad at the team for making too many mistakes during our drills. As punishment, he made us run around the soccer complex (about half a mile) and told us that all but the first three girls back would have to run it again. It was the end of a super hot summer practice, so it was a given that running it again would be torture. We all started running, and I realized quite soon that there was no one running close to me. This was really startling, since I was by far not the best player on the team. In fact, I often had to run laps by myself for missing goals or for letting balls by me during practice. I ended up being the first person around the field, with no one else close to me. I could tell even my soccer coach was surprised to see me back first. I just thought it was a fluke incident and only realized later that I had a great potential as a runner.

4) Did you have any mentors or runners that you looked up to as a 9th/10th grader (or before that)?
Starting cross country in the spring was a bit awkward at first. My friends and I never really knew that running had so much to it. There was a junior on our team, Melissa Gutierrez, who was the type of person can instantly be looked up to. She went out of her way to make sure the freshmen understood what was going on all the time. At the meets, she would lead us through warm-up and tell us all about how the meet worked and was scored. Melissa had such a bubbly personality that she put everyone around her in a good mood. She was so knowledgeable in both running and academics that stood out as a role model to all of the underclassmen. Besides Melissa, I also looked up to our guys team when I was a freshmen. They would always run in a pack. Some days there was a group of six, other days after hard workouts there would only be a group of three, but there was always a pack. They ran races together as well. At EBAL championships, 2005, they won the league title by running in a pack. Four of the top 7 were our guys. This was amazing to me. I looked up to how they worked together to get each other through the workouts. Every once in a while I pictured how great it would be to have a girls team like that, where everyone ran together. As far as famous runners go, I didn't have any "big-name" running role models. When I started running, I didn't follow the sport really well. Mainly I learned from the upperclassmen on our team.

5) Can you tell us a little about your coach and how he has helped you become the runner you are today.
I feel so lucky that I've had the opportunity to run for our coach. He's coached so many amazing runners in the past (such as Michael Jones and Steve Immel). Our team has come to realize that Ed (Salazar) has some sort of gift when it comes to coaching. He knows so much. Sometimes it feels like he even knows what we're thinking. When it comes to racing, he knows each of our strengths/weaknesses and tells us how to use them to our advantage. He's such a short person, but he somehow manages to throw his voice all over the cross country course. We can hear him from miles around and can usually look to the top of the tallest hill in the area if we need to find him at a meet. When it comes to inspiration, he can always pull up a story from the past that relates to what kind of course we are facing. He's really good at motivating us in the workouts too. One workout in particular pops into my head from freshman year. It was a rainy day in mid-track season, and the distance runners were the only ones on the team not huddled up inside the gym. Our coach had us running 400m repeats at 1600m pace. We did about ten of them, still having to hit our splits in the rain. When it came time to run the last one, he told us that if we ran a faster time than all the previous repeats, he would give us a penny. Almost everyone on the team got one; I still have that penny in my shoe today. He has this important attitude towards dedication at practice that rubs off on us. It's never too cold, too hot, too windy, too dusty, too early, or too late to have practice, and he very rarely cancels it. On many occasions, he has us run mind-challenging workouts just to show us what we are physically capable of. This is what gives us our confidence; he makes sure not to sugar-coat things or praise us until our heads get big. At practice, he doesn't tells us the entire workout, only one section at a time, so we never know what to expect. We like to guess the workouts for fun sometimes and have rarely ever been right. Ever since the beginning I have had really bad race anxiety. Ed can tell when I start to get nervous, and he knows just what to say to calm me down and help me focus on the matter at hand. He even picks out good spots at the meets where I can throw-up without being noticed. I don't think I could have ever accomplished as much as I have if it weren't for him. There's just something about him that can't be explained. He's a great coach.

6) What do you consider the primary workouts during track that give you the most confidence before you step on the track to compete? What is your typical weekly mileage?When it comes to confidence, it always seems to disappear right before I race. I catch a glimpse of it after some of our crazy workouts, so I guess that's better than nothing. One particular workout we do up in the hills is a loop we call kilo (which is, conveniently, an oval exactly one kilo long). It's a nice loop, starting out with a 600m gradual downhill, then a sharp dip down and up, and then another gradual downhill until the steep uphill at the end. The wind comes through a lot, but it's always on your face when you're going downhill and on your back going up. Sometimes we do reps of one loop, other times we do two consecutive loops, but they're always really fast. When we do one kilo, my coach has me come through in the 3:20s. Occasionally I've been sub-3:20. For the two-lap reps, I'm supposed to be around 7:10. Sometimes he'll have us do a combination of ones and twos, but we usually end up doing about seven or eight kilos total. I really enjoy running those--the pace clicks well, so after a successful days of kilos I'm in pretty good spirits. They're much better than 2000m repeats on the track, of which I hate and even dread often.
Right next to kilo there's a hill we call tower loop (because of the electrical tower we always have to hit at the top). It's more like four hills, or a small mountain, because it's over half a mile to the top. In the summer we run these a lot, five or six at practice. They suck pretty bad. It's a major confidence booster, though, to be able to look down the hill after reaching the top and look over the entire trivalley. At the end of the workout, it's funny to reach the top because you can see everyone's sweaty handprints all over the electrical tower.

7) Tell us a little about your races at NCS. Did you have a basic strategy before each race or did you just react to what went on during the races?
Going into NCS I didn't know exactly what to expect. My times had been nowhere near last year--I hadn't broken 5mn in the 1600 or 11mn in the 3200, which had come easy as a sophomore. My main focus was simply to advance (of course I didn't mention that to my coach, since he was set on another double-victory). For the 1600m, I was planning on hanging on to Jackie for the first two and a half laps. Then I wanted to start a long, gradual kick. That didn't work at all since she didn't go out nearly as hard as I thought she would. I knew coming around at the 800m that if I didn't take off then, there was a chance that the Marilla Carillo girl would kick by me at the end. On that third lap I just went all-out, in hopes that I would gap them enough that there would be a safety cushion waiting for me if I died at the end. That ended up working good enough. As far as races go, the 1600 m is my favorite. After that one was over, I was a lot less stressed. Going into the 32, my plan was to just stay with the pack as long as possible. My coach said he didn't care if I won with 10 flat or with 14mn, he just wanted me to win. So, I stayed with the group at a pace that felt painfully slow compared to the 16. I kept elbowing people and kicking people on accident as I was getting impatient. Somewhere along lap 6, I wasn't feeling tired at all and noticed the girls around me were breathing pretty hard. I snuck a look back and saw a pack of 10-15 with only two laps to go. This scared me right away, so I took off and kicked as hard as I could for the last 800m. One of the worst feelings ever is getting passed at the end, and I was not willing to lose that way. By the time I actually realized I could win the race, I was coming down the last stretch and I could hear the announcer calling my name over the announci ng thing. That was a pretty good feeling.

8) This year's state meet had some of the fastest times ever accomplished in the distance races. What was it like to be involved in 2 of those races? What went well for you? What did you learn? Favorite races of the year? Most satisfying race(s)?Going into the 1600m in the finals at state, I was quite excited knowing that after Christine, there wasn't really anyone else way up there. Having her in the race was nice because it took stress off trying to compete for first place. I was actually really frustrated with the way the race played out and was kicking myself for about five days afterwards. The first mistake I made was positioning in the beginning. I was in last place for awhile, which I could tell because there was no breathing behind me. To get around girls I had to go way out in lane 3 around a turn, which my coach later picked at me for doing. On the last lap I was in a good position, but we had gone out harder than I was used to, so I didn't have the kick I would have liked. With 50m to go I was in 3rd, but then I got passed by four girls on the line. I'm usually good about running through the line, but I let my guard down on Saturday, which is why I was mad at myself. My coach even warned me the night before about the importance of running through the line. He was happy with the race, though, and I ran a season PR, so it wasn't horrible... just frustrating. I was satisfied with the 3200m. I just wanted to get through it alive and with a PR. For the first mile I was aiming for 5:20, and I ended up being just below it. For the second mile I was shooting for a little bit faster of a time than I ran, but overall the race ended up also being a season PR. I almost got hit by a pole vault pole around lap 3, which was pretty exciting. Other than that, it was an okay race. I wish I could have gotten to watch it, though. I would have loved to see the girl from Davis try to out-kick Hasay.

One of my favorite races of the year would have to be the 800m at EBAL Championships. I'm not a strong 800m runner, so it felt amazing to win that race at league. Going into the race, my coach told me that I had to either run the first lap hard (64) or the second one. I picked the first one, but it didn't at all play out that way. The majority of the girls were 400m runners, who tend to go out hard and then slowly die. Being a distance runner I tend to run more even splits. So, they went out hard and I got boxed in. At first I started to panic, but then I decided to waste a few steps and surge around them before the turn at the 200m. I took the lead but only came through at 67, which made me realize that I had to haul the last lap or there was no chance. The last few steps before the finish my legs locked up and I was sure I was going to get fatally passed at the line. I could hear the girl coming up, but instead of kicking it in, I slowed to a jog for the last few meters in order to stay on my feet. I was having trouble picking up my legs, so to try to kick in could have caused me to trip right before the line. I was really lucky that day that she didn't catch me. In the end I ran a PR and threw up all over the place. Then I went and ran the 3200 and the 4x400 after running the 1600 at the beginning. That day showed me that, even in extreme heat, with barely any resting time between races, and on a completely empty stomach, I could still race competitively. Our 4x400m team ended up making it to MOC, and if I had chickened out and not run it that day or the next week, chances are we would never have made it out of NCS.

9) Now that the state meet is over, are you thinking about XC yet? What are your plans for the summer?
It still feels unreal that the state meet is over. Working all year towards one day takes a lot out of me mentally. I'm running Golden West on Saturday, but just the 800m. I think this is a good choice on my coach's part since I don't know if I have the mental strength left to run another 3200. XC's starting to slowly creep up on me. As far as running camps go, I don't think I'm going to go to one this summer. Two of my teammates and I went before sophomore year, and it was a major let-down, after which all three of us ended up getting injured (hip, shin, and foot). So I don't want to do that again. In the middle of July I'm going to Japan with two of my friends. My friend Erica's family owns a rice plantation out in the middle of nowhere--really scenic. My other friend Abigail is on the team (she had the shin injury), so we'll go running a bit while we're there.&nbs p; I will probably continue to run up until we leave, then take some time off while we are there, and then resume training right when we come back. Summer running is really intense on my team, so I'll have to be in pretty good shape when I start if I want to have any chance of keeping up. We do these runs ("Christensen Runs") from the middle school on the outskirts of town that just about kill my brain. Starting in the early morning due to heat, we run five or six miles down a straight road in the middle of hay fields until our coach tells us to turn around and go back. There are only about three 90-degree turns in the whole run, so we can basically see the path that we will be running ahead of us for the next hour. In a day's run, we see about five dead animals ranging from birds to squirrels and house pets. To make it that much better, he wants us running just under 7mn pace for the whole thing. As crazy as it sounds, I'm actually looking forward to those runs.

10) How are the Livermore girls looking like for next year's XC season?
Wow, I don't want to be too premature, but I'm REALLY excited for our team next year. Hopefully I won't get my hopes up so high that I'm never satisfied with our places, but I sure do have high hopes. Not one of our varsity girls is graduating this year, so we basically have a full team and then some coming back. The other two of our core three, Robin and Abigail, ran amazing this last track season. Abigail got down to the 11:20s in the 3200, and Robin got down to 2:21 in the 800/5:12 in the 1600/mid 11s in the 3200. They are looking really promising. Next in line is Megan Chamberlain, who made it to NCS this year in the 400m as only a freshman and her first year running. She almost broke 60 numerous times this season, so she's going to be really strong up the hills in XC. Hayley is right behind her running 63s and sub-2:30 800s. They were our top five last year. We also have Natalie Dimits coming to our school next year. As an eight-grader she's already run times comparable to our varsity girls. She's just at 5:20 in the 1600m, she's set records on the local swim team, and she's run amazingly in the Junior Olympics the last two years. To top it off she's even interested in the same subjects in school as us. We're really excited to start training with her this summer. Who knows if we will get any other talented freshmen. All in all, I think we have a great chance to make it to state once more this year, but again, I'm being quite premature (seeing as track isn't even over yet).

11) What advice would you give to other distance runners who are just starting out in the sport and want to get better?
Even after three years of running, there are times when I still feel like a complete beginner. To runners just starting out, I would have to tell them to keep running. Don't give up too soon, basically. Run a lot gradually, not too much at first (to prevent injury), but definitely keep running. It seems that, overall, running is a simple sport. You don't need hand-eye coordination, huge bulky muscles, or expensive equiptment. To get better, you just have to get your body used to running longer and faster. The body has to have time to grow and adjust to the workouts. After a few weeks of running, it will start to hurt less and be more enjoyable. A bit of advice would be to have patience. A new runner is not going to have success right away. It will take a weeks of practice before you can feel comfortable with yourself and can start to challenge the pa ce a little bit at a time. It is also good to not get too caught up with the future. I've found that focusing on each workout, one day at a time, makes the miles seem a lot more manageable and a lot less overwhelming. Dwelling on championships during the first days of the season is bound to eat away at your mind.
12) Anything else you would like to add.Nope, I think I've covered plenty. If there's anything else you'd like me to say or answer, just let me know. If I wake up in the middle of the night with an amazing realization to add to your interview, I won't hesitate to send it. Thanks again for making me feel important to someone.

Thank you very much for your time Diana!


Anonymous said...

She's thorough

Albert Caruana said...

Very much so. Hope you enjoyed the interview.

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