Monday, May 28, 2012

Catching up with University HS senior runner, Bridget Blum...

Today we chat with University HS senior, Bridget Blum (photo courtesy of Margaret Gallagher).  This past Saturday, Blum won the 1600m. at the NCS MOC Track and Field meet at UC Berkeley with a wire to wire victory in 5:00.66.  She also finished in 9th place in the 3200m.  She qualified for her first state Track and Field meet  last year in the 1600m. with a 4th place finish at the NCS meet.  This past cross country season, Bridget helped lead University to their 3rd straight state team championship (9th overall) with a 2nd place individual finish in the Division V race.  That was an improvement from her 3rd place finish as a junior and 17th place finish as a sophomore.  As a junior and senior, Bridget finished in 3rd and 2nd place respectively at the NCS MOC XC meet losing both times to the eventual state champion.

1) How did you get your start in running? What other sports have you played besides cross country and track and field?
I do not have the typical running pedigree.  Neither of my parents nor my older sister were competitive runners.  When I was younger, like many of my friends, I enjoyed playing soccer and being part of a team but, looking back, I don’t think I contributed much.  I was fast and had good endurance but did not have the greatest skills.  I also was a figure skater but very much missed the team camaraderie of fun-loving, competitive athletes all working together towards a common goal.  With my mother’s encouragement, I started running in middle school.  Those were great times and I loved our team spirit even though I am not sure the other teams were all too concerned about competing against us.  When I arrived at University High School, it was immediately clear to me that I wanted to be part of the well known winning traditions in distance running. I was proud (and a little intimidated) to join the team and be surrounded by such demanding and knowledgeable coaches and also to line up with such impressive student athletes. University is a very rigorous academic school and our running programs offer a release in some ways but we also bring “aim high” attitudes to our training and racing.  I knew from the first day that I was in the right place at University.

2) What were your freshman highlights in both cross country and track and field?  
There really weren’t any highlights frankly.  I ran cross country and track but I believe that I was just getting acclimated to performing at the next level.  In cross country, I don’t think I really was in great running condition yet, physically or mentally, and I did not make the top 7.  In track, my coaches weren’t exactly sure even what to do with me. They had me run some sprints but I guess I had not yet stepped up to earn my spot on the distance squad.  I was not yet fully engaged and maybe not as dedicated to my training as I should have been.  I was redefining what running was about for me and what it meant to be a contributor to a high school running program.  In retrospect, my adjustment to high school was challenging.  The workload in the classroom required a major adjustment and things did not come easily for me.  I struggled more than most of my friends and I had to learn to learn study skills and how to better manage my time and preparations.  Interestingly, when things began to click for me academically, they also came together for me in my athletics.  That’s one of the best things about being a student athlete at University.  We are all there helping one another adapt and grow in life, at school and in our athletics.  I guess you could say that my freshman year was one for getting my running legs, as well as my academic bearings, and getting pointed in the right direction in both cases.

3) What about highlights from your sophomore seasons in both sports?
Again, I wish I could highlight something more interesting.  My Fall cross country season was a good one but not a great one.  I ran hard and gained strength and conditioning.  More importantly, I was fortunate that my teammates ran harder and performed even better.  Holland Reynolds, Jennie Callan and Margaret Wehner all had great seasons that year and led us to a team victory in Fresno.  I had a few top 10 finishes in League meets and was a top 20 finisher at State.  My times were improving and I was happy with my progress.  I learned the value of finishing strong and also that it takes a full team, all performing at peak levels, to win. Unfortunately, I got injured early in my Spring track season just at the time that I was getting to a point to contribute more to our team performance.  I was disappointed because I remember thinking I was at a place physically, and mentally, that I could return the favor and step up for my team. I think sitting out that season was the hardest thing of all and gave me that much more motivation to rededicate to my training that summer and come back at top shape for my next cross country season.  I realized then that running had become an essential part of my life and I was determined to get back into proper shape.

4) What was the first race that you remember which gave you the confidence that you could run with some of the top runners in your league, section and state?
In my Junior year cross country season, I placed third at State.  I was honored to anchor our team to the Division 5 victory.  Unfortunately, my teammate Holland Reynolds collapsed from dehydration in that race and did not have her best day, despite her inspiring and courageous finish. In prior races leading up to State, I had been running 3rd behind her and Lucy McCullough.  I had been running better and better throughout the Fall and put together a string of top 3 finishes against stiff competition and with times that were big improvements on my prior year on the same courses.  I had always admired some of the great Northern CA D-5 high school girl runners like Holland and Lucy and others.  I had been previously happy to be running with them and to learn from them.  That day in Fresno I was fortunate to run well and I gained confidence in my ability to run my own race and lead my team.  Later that school year, in Spring track, I was fortunate to run a PR in the 3200 and again against Lucy.  I realized then that every day is a new day to run hard and compete and I had earned my own opportunity to compete at the highest level with the girls I most admired.   I attribute my development in my running to good coaching and training, inspiring competitors, supportive teammates and a strong will to improve and finish strong.  Now, there are newer runners like Julia Maxwell that inspire me to be my best.

5) The University HS girls' cross country team have had an incredible run of success at the CA state cross country meet. To date, the team has won 9 state championships and 4 second place finishes. Tell us a little about what it means to be part of that success. 
I consider it one of my greatest privileges to be part of that winning tradition.  University’s excellence in distance running is known around the country and my teammates and I are proud to have contributed to extending that reputation with our team victories in recent years. Few people realize that we have achieved what we have without the kinds of facilities that most other teams take for granted.  We have no track of our own and have to carpool to various tracks around San Francisco to get time to train. Sometimes, we share it with other teams and the general public.  We do not have the weight rooms or whirlpools, nutrition counseling or other support systems when we are injured.  We go to school in the heart of San Francisco and must do with what we can running down city sidewalks and over paved hills while weaving in and out of parked cars.  I guess one of the reasons for our many successes is that we do it all ourselves.  Our student athletes expect a lot from one another and provide support to make sure everyone is pulling together in the same direction and helping one another succeed.  We want to perform well in sports and we learn to rely on our training and conditioning when it matters most.  That’s where our coaches have made a huge difference.  Our very systematic training has us peaking just when we need in order to maintain our excellence.

6) You made the state meet last year in the 1600m at the NCS MOC. How do you think that experience at state will help you this year? What did you learn from that experience?
Last year, at the NCS Meet of Champions, I qualified for State by placing 4th in the 1600.  I ran my Season Best that day and had to run that race from behind the leaders.  I was able to run stronger by racing harder against the others.  I learned some tactical lessons about positioning down the stretch, shifting gears and running my race.  In many of my races last year, I had led much of the way so it was helpful to me to learn to race from an alternative spot.  Running gets so much more mental as the season progresses and I definitely learned that at State last year.  Last year, I was focused more to getting to State and I achieved my goal.  My season did not end on its best note last year and I have been thinking about that race at Clovis a lot lately.  I watch the video and remember what was going through my mind that day.  I let the other runners dictate my race.  I am excited to go back.  This time around, I know more what to expect.  I know I won’t be able to prevent the adrenalin from flowing but I hope I can exploit it much more to my advantage.

7) What are your current personal records in 400m., 800m., 1600m., and 3200m.? What about your times in cross country on the courses you raced on the most?
My PR’s are 2:18 in the 800, 4:57 in the 1600 and 10:56 in the 3200. I don’t think I have run the 400 in a few years.  Last year, in cross country, I ran 18:22 at Woodward Park and 18:12 for the 3 mile course and 19:11 for the 5K course at Mt. Sac.

8) Tell us a little about your toughest workouts that you do during track season. Include the paces and amount of rest.
We do so many different workouts at different times during the seasons.  Coach Tracy has it all down to an exact science.  They all seem pretty tough to me actually.  I guess the speed intervals that we do are the most demanding.  We will sometimes do 800:600:400:200 under mile pace and then repeat the series or we will do a long series of repeat 800’s, all under mile pace.  We don’t get much rest in between, maybe 30 seconds I suppose.  Our training also must take into consideration when we have access to the track so we often have to improvise and will run in the Presidio in San Francisco.

9) Favorite track distance? Favorite track invitational? Favorite track opponent(s)? Favorite cross country course? Favorite cross country invitational? Favorite long run?
I guess my favorite track distance has become the 1600.  I seem to have been having more successes in that event but I think I am also building more endurance for longer distances and look forward to running them in college. My favorite track invitational is probably the Stanford Invitational.  The electricity there is fantastic and it is great to see all of the leading high school and college athletes coming in from all over the country to compete.  My favorite cross country course and invitational are both at Mt Sac.  I believe I do my very best on harder and hillier courses and I love those steep switch backs.  My favorite longer run is any run with my teammates.  We especially love what we call the Robin Williams run out to Lands End in San Francisco.  We run past the actor’s home in a scenic part of San Francisco near the Golden Gate Bridge.  The views are stunning and we have our best times together there.

10) Tell us a little about your coach Jim Tracy, how he has helped you get to your current level of success and what he means to the team. Any funny stories about Jim?
We have so many funny stories about Coach Tracy, but most of them may not be fit to print.  As you may know, Jim sometimes has no filter.  He tells it the way it is and he can be pretty irreverent.  That’s what we love the most about him.  He lays it all out there, good or bad.  We realize that does not always work for others.  We just know it absolutely works for us.  He can be brutally honest and it does take some getting used to but it is all done in a constructive way to focus us to what we need to hear to achieve our potential.  Jim’s humor is an acquired taste and we are all connoisseurs.  He most admires our hard work and often has no patience for “slackers.” If someone may not be running to their potential, he may remark that he could record their times on a sundial.  If someone is having a bad running day, he might say “Geez, were you walking backwards?” Or he might comment sarcastically on what they did over the weekend.  We know he means well and only wants what is best for us and for the team.  He is our coach and we absolutely love that he is on our side.  As you may know, Jim has been suffering from ALS.  What is the most remarkable thing, however, is that, despite his disease, his athletes remain his #1 focus and he continues to inspire us with his positivity and persistence.  He has given everything he has to us and our program.  Even as he may fatigue more often with his ALS than before, he never ceases to perform his coaching duties the same way he always has.  Jim is an enigma and he is like no other.  We are incredibly blessed to have him and our other coaches (Alex and Kevin) in our lives and we are the best we can be because of him.  No question about it.

11) Where will you be attending college and how much did running contribute to making that decision?
Running played a big part in my decision to attend Claremont McKenna.  My University High School experience has taught me that I am at my best when I am in a demanding environment, both for academics and athletics.  I think I need both.  I was very fortunate to be recruited by several schools, D-1 and D-III, and on both coasts.  At first, I thought I wanted to run back East until I visited several schools on my Official Visits.  I then realized I wanted to stay in a warmer climate for year round outdoor training and go to a school closer to home.  I visited larger schools in California and then fell in love with Claremont McKenna.  Academically and athletically, Claremont seems to fit me very well.  It seems to have all of the advantages of a small school, and with its sister schools, all of the benefits of a larger one too.  In addition, I was excited to train with Coach Goldhammer, who reminded me a lot of Coach Tracy.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
As a final remark, I just want to give a word of advice.  There are many runners who are innately talented; I am not one of them.  I have had to work that much harder for my successes and that has been especially rewarding.  I believe that anyone can be successful at running.  Just keep doing those interval workouts and stay motivated and inspired.  Next, as I approach my graduation and State track meet, both this weekend, I would like to thank my coaches and teammates for teaching me and supporting me.  Together with you, I have grown as a person and as an athlete and I am very grateful for your support.  Also, I would like to thank Susan Lupica for her extraordinary dedication to my training and racing strategy.  Lastly, my final thanks go to you Albert for giving me this opportunity to be profiled on your website.  My teammate and I constantly check your posts for new information about what is going on in the Northern California running scene.  Your dedication to runners is amazing and also is inspiring to us all.

Thank you very much for your time Bridget!  AJC


Anonymous said...

great interview! very well spoken on her behalf.

Anonymous said...

Very articulate young woman. Enjoyed reading such an honest and thoughtfully written interview

Anonymous said...

Bridget, you are a class act. So are all of your Uni teammates.

We here at your rival school, Urban, send a salute your way.

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