Monday, September 22, 2008

Catching up with Campolindo coach Chuck Woolridge...

Our latest coach interview is with Campolindo cross country and track and field coach Chuck Woolridge, one of the most successful coaches in NCS (see below for achievements). Chuck's teams have also achieved success at the state level with several teams that reached the podium including two state championship xc teams at College Park. Chuck, seen here on the left in the white cap, has also been the meet director of the popular early season meet, the Ed Sias Invitational.

1) How did you get involved in the sport of running?

Funny thing. I actually started my high school athletic career playing football. My father was a big football fan and I played football for the Pleasant Hill Rebels in middle school, so joining the freshman football squad at College Park in 1985 seemed like the natural thing to do. It wasn’t until the following spring that I even realized running was a competitive opportunity.

I was listening to a kid in freshman English talk about running on the track team. I thought to myself, “I’m faster than this guy.” The next day I was out at the track in my crummy Reebok cross trainers asking the coach if I could join. He looked skeptical and told me to go jog 12 laps while he started the other athletes on their workout. When I came back about 18 minutes later asking “what’s next?” he showed a little more interest.

What really got me hooked however, were the girls. I enjoyed not having to stand in a huddle with a bunch of dudes that took pride in how rancid their practice jerseys would become over the course of the season by not washing them, don’t get me wrong. Hanging out with cute girls however, that was priceless. It took all of about 30 seconds for Beth Houghton and Jill Moore to talk me into going with the team to running camp that summer. Then, before the fall season started, I somehow managed to convince our junior varsity football coach, Kevin Macey, to allow me to run cross country while simultaneously playing football. (interesting note: Macey is now the Campolindo head football coach)

It ended up being a horrible season in both sports, but by then I was hooked on running. In 1986 our varsity squad was made up of some great veteran athletes that took me in, and helped to instill in me a passion for the kind of gratification that comes from enduring suffering and pushing one’s limits. It is an experience afforded only to competitive runners.

2) What inspired you to get into teaching and coaching? What do you teach?
After competing in high school and at the junior college level, I wanted to continue to be involved in the sport. I was lucky to be invited by then College Park coach Steve Nesheim to help with the cross country team in 1991. Nesheim was an important guiding figure in my life through high school and college, and it was a thrill to be able to learn from him and see the coaching side of the sport. When I finished my English degree at CAL in 1994, the first thing I did was contact him and ask if I could assist again for the Falcons. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved working with high school kids. I started my credential program in 1995 and began teaching full time in 1997. I taught English at Valley View Middle School from 1997 to 2006. Since then I’ve been teaching English at Campolindo High School.

3) Who do you consider to be your coaching mentors?
Steve Nesheim, who coached at College Park from 1980 to 1996, has been and continues to be my mentor. We are great friends, and although he now lives up North where he’s coach and athletic director at Mt. Shasta High School, we see each other several times a year. No matter what the issue is, he always gives me great advice. Although our conversations are frequently focused on running, no one has taught me more about life and helped me to become the person I am today than Nesheim.

In addition, I’ve had the fortune of being coached by Kevin Searls during my junior college days. Searls, like Nesheim and myself, is a College Park graduate. Incredibly, he still holds the 3200m record (inside joke). He went on to be an All-American at Humboldt State and was coached by the legendary Jim Hunt. Kevin is currently president of the Asics Aggies running club and director of the Humboldt Running Camp. Searls’ passion for the sport is infectious, and he is a great example of how the running community can become a web of friendship and support beyond the athletic arena.

My third mentor is Jonathan Spiros. He has given me most of the technical principles that I use to develop mechanical efficiency in our athletes. Spiros coached track and field with me at College Park for several years before moving to San Louis O’Bispo to work on his graduate degree in kinesiology. His intellectual approach to training applications has been a tremendous influence.

And finally, I must point out how fortunate I’ve been to be a part of such an incredible community of coaches here in the East Bay. It started out back in the old BVAL with Helen Lehman-Winters. I learned a lot from her as a young coach. Chris Walsh, Manny Meyers, Brian Henderson, Tim Bruder welcomed me into the DFAL in 2000 and remain fantastic role models. Tim Hunter, Kevin Selby and Peter Scarpelli continue to inject their passion into the sport and inspire me to strive for higher levels of achievement. And of course, we have coaching icons like Peter Brewer and Doyle O’Regan that foster an incredibly positive atmosphere for coaches. They have all been vital parts of my coaching career.

4) How many years did you spend coaching at College Park and what year is this for you at Campolindo?
I coached as an assistant in 1991 at College Park during the cross country season. Then I returned and coached as an assistant from 1994 through 1996. I became head coach in the fall of 1996. My final season at College Park was the spring track season of 2006. I have been at Campolindo since the fall of 2006.

5) How difficult was it leaving College Park for Campolindo?
It was the most difficult decision I’ve made in my life. I am a College Park alumnus. Taking over the program from Steve Nesheim was a supreme honor for me. Over the course of my tenure at College Park we accomplished so many things for which I am immensely proud, not the least of which was the establishment of a running culture that transcended the school and continues to thrive in the Pleasant Hill community.

Unfortunately, I felt compelled by the “difficulties” I was experiencing as a teacher in the Mt. Diablo School District to seek a teaching position elsewhere. When the opportunity to become a teacher in the Acalanes District presented itself, I, quite literally, could not afford to pass it up.

I remember that lunch time team meeting at College Park, just a day after I had accepted the job at Campolindo, and it still gives me chills. Kids were crying, some were angry, and I had to hold it together and keep my emotions in check as I explained to them what was happening and why I had to leave. I’m a pretty stoic person, but by the end I was crying too. I love those kids.

I will always be a Falcon, and I still do whatever I can to help their program. Fortunately, they now have a great young coach, Vince Sturgis, that I believe will continue the tradition for College Park. Their girls’ team is going to be amazing this year, and they have a boys’ squad with some exciting young talent.

6) What was the biggest transition for you and the team when you took over the Campolindo program?

How do you follow a legend? Taking over for Chris Walsh at Campolindo was bound to be a tough transition. I suppose it didn’t help that I have a different style and am extremely passionate about my own coaching philosophy.

Initially, the biggest issue was trying to establish a culture of expectations that included every athlete. In that first season there seemed to be an attitude among the kids that only the varsity athletes were accountable, and only the varsity athletes mattered. So, I got a lot of, “We have to come to practice? Really?” and “I don’t need to work hard because I’m not Varsity” those first few weeks. I realized then that I had taken for granted the environment that had developed at College Park during the time that Steve Nesheim and I had been coaching.

I was lucky though, to have some veteran athletes that had open minds about a new direction for the team and a new style of training. Without Joey Kochlacs, Chris Harlan-Dunaway, Sparky Murrillo and Laurie Finnegan, I never would have survived that first year. They showed a lot of faith in what I was introducing to the team. They have all since graduated, but each of them is responsible in their own way, for the current success our squads are now enjoying.

7) Between College Park and Campolindo, how many NCS cross country titles have you won (boys and girls)?
Girls’ NCS Titles: 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007
Boys’ NCS Titles: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007
Total: 11

8) During your coaching tenure, can you look back to an AHA moment (as in something really clicked that you were doing with your kids)?
My “aha” moment came during the winter between the 2003 cross country season and the 2004 track season. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the USATF Level II School at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. What I came away with was a reaffirmation of the mechanical principles that Jonathan Spiros and I had been introducing to our athletes, and a new attitude about the importance that the cross country and track experience plays in the lives of athletes.

It was refreshing to hear elite coaches talk unapologetically about the role of high school athletics in the overall scheme of the United States Track & Field development system. For the first time I listened to people talk about the running lifestyle as an end goal rather than a temporary diversion for student-athletes. I began to realize that we too often shortchange running and the running culture by calling it “recreation” or an “extracurricular activity” rather than treating it as a legitimate career path.

I am frustrated with the number of kids that are unwilling to allow running to become something more important in their lives because they have been conditioned to believe that athletics is somehow less gratifying, less noble, and less viable as a career path than the so called “academic” options.

As Matt Ridenour would say, the greatest relationships in our lives and many of our most important opportunities have come from being a part of this running culture. Why do we keep treating it like a hobby?

9) Tell us a little about the Humboldt running camp. Why do you feel like that camp is so important to the success of your teams?
Jim Hunt, Kevin Searls, Steve Nesheim, Jonathan Spiros, Peter Scarpelli, Mary Ann Grubb… it’s a great time.

The greatest running trails in the world. Fantastic facilities for putting on a camp. I’ve been to a few camps, and nothing comes close.

Obviously, the teams that attend each year are pretty good proof of the success: Carondelet, Campolindo, College Park, Amador Valley, Monte Vista…

10) Can you share some of your key workouts during the season?
Well, anyone can check out our workouts. We have them posted for the whole season on

Right now, I’m really big on a workout we’ve been doing the last 2 seasons at Campo. 4-5 x 2000m @10k pace with 2 minutes rest between each. Then 4 x 200m @ 3200m pace. It’s a nice multi-velocity workout that has helped develop aerobic threshold and some mental toughness in our athletes.

However, I really hate talking about “key” workouts, because there really are no “key” workouts. It’s about the long term. A couple of workouts during the fall are not going to make up for what didn't get done the other 9 months of the year.

11) When it comes to your athletes peaking for the section and state meets, what do you feel are the key points?
I’m convinced that most high school programs race way too much. I try to manage the frequency of the high school cross country schedule by placing emphasis on only about three meets each season. For instance, this year our first “all-in” team effort will be at Stanford.

Emotional fatigue can be just as debilitating as physical fatigue. We try to limit the number of competitions in which our athletes fully invest themselves emotionally for a team performance. In other races we try to emphasize certain tactical points, like a particular third of the race, pack time, or running tangents. We also keep our kids out of racing flats for some competitions.

Other than that, I like to think we do a good job of managing arousal levels and setting up a pattern of behavior that allows athletes to perform well consistently. I do not believe that there is some magical formula for amazing improvement at the end of the season.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
Thanks Albert! You continue to do a great service to our sport!

Thank you very much Chuck for your time. AJC

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