Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Catching up with former Redwood HS runner, Rod Berry...

Today we chat with former Redwood HS runner, Rod Berry (picture to the left courtesy of http://runningentertainment.com/runningshots7.html).  For the current crop of runners, Rod might be best known for being the Sir Francis Drake HS boys' distance coach.    His boys' xc team has qualified for the last two state meets finishing in the top 10 both years.  His star runner, junior John Lawson, turned the trifecta in 2011 (accomplished during the previous season by Tamalpais HS runner Daniel Milechman) by winning MCAL, NCS and the XC State meet in Division IV.  For the older running enthusiasts, Rod is quite simply one of the best runners to come out of the North Coast Section.  His PRs (1600m. of 4:12 and 3200m. 8:50.4-converted from 2 miles) hold up against any of the best runners in any generation.  In fact his 3200m. time only trails one runner, Richard Kimball on the NCS all-time Track and Field list.  Rod was recently inducted into the Redwood HS Hall of Fame.  You can view many of his high school highlights at this link.

1)  How did you get your start in running?  What other sports did you play besides xc and tf?
There were three things that greatly influenced my decision to become a runner.  First: I was growing more disenchanted with the fact that a coach could have so much control over my playing time in baseball (my first love).  Running offered an outlet where I could largely influence my own future success in a very tangible way.  Second: Our family vacationed at Stinson Beach every summer, so I was exposed to the Dipsea race at a very young age.  Of course, seeing kids my age having success on a large stage made an impression.  Third:  Cool shoes!  Adidas and Pumas equalled status on the middle school playground.

2)  What was the first running success that you remember?
Every year after watching the Dipsea, I immediately began training for the next year.  That enthusiasm would generally last a week or two.  In 7th grade I finally made it to the starting line and finished in about 65th place.  After that, my Dad and I sat down to plan my progression toward the logical next step -- a marathon.  Neither of us knew anything about running and my dream of a marathon was rudely interupted by reality.  I built up to the point of running the Pepsi 20-miler in Sacramento, but bonked so hard that I was reduced to knocking on doors to ask for food just so that I could finish the race.  That was the end of any marathon dreams.

3)  Tell us a little about some of your accomplishments during your freshman and sophomore years in high school in both xc and tf.
I was fortunate to enter the Redwood High School cross country program just a couple of years removed from its first NCS title.  There were a number of very good juniors including Hal Schulz that were on the team when i showed up.  Not knowing any better, I began running with Hal and his buddies from day one.  It damn near killed me, but I was able to survive.  To this day, I credit my survival to the fact that I missed every Friday's workout due to my weekly banjo lesson.  By the end of that first XC season, I was moved up to the varsity team to improve our chances of winning the NCS (this was before school-size divisions).  We took the team title and I was our third man in 14th place.  Shortly after that race our self-appointed team statitsticion, Chuck McMillan, began talking about my chances for breaking the three-mile world record for 14 year olds.  With the help of my teammates, I ran 15:03.8 at a College of San Mateo all-comers meet, breaking the record by about seven-seconds.  A few weeks later I tore up my left knee playing basketball and missed my entire freshman track season.  These are the things that haunt me now as a coach!
We entered my sophomore cross country season as the overwhelming favorite to win the NCS championship and we did not disappoint.  Hal Schulz won, I was second and Dave Mihailoff was 5th.  As a team, we ended up scoring a record low point total for the meet.  During the spring, I ran 9:09 to finish 3rd in the NCS two-mile and earn a trip to the State Meet.  I believe I finished 14th at the State Meet in roughly 9:15.  At that point, I began my summer 100% hooked on the sport.

4)  What do you remember about your training in high school?  Mileage?  Workouts?  Length of long runs?
We were very fortunate to have the trails of the Mt. Tamalpais watershed to run on.  I was also very fortunate to have a large group of very dedicated teammates.  Our training during the fall was very unstructured with most runs ending up being 8-10 mile fartlek runs.  We were also running on a lot of hills.  Although we did not know the science of the sport, our instincts led us to a training regiment that is fairly consistent with current thinking.  My mileage progressed from roughly 40 miles a week as a freshman to roughly 70-miles a week as a senior.  Our long day was generally 12-miles, but my teammate, Hal Schulz, was experimenting with some very high mileage during the summers and he was able to rope me into the occasional 15-miler.

5)  What were your highlights during your junior and senior years in both sports?  What were your HS prs in 880, mile and 2 mile?
When I returned my junior year most of my teammates had graduated, but we had a new group of young runners that were progressing rapidly.  I entered my junior year pretty fit and went undefeated during the cross country season.  At the end of the XC season I finished 10th in the trials for the Junior World Championship team, giving me a new goal to shoot for.  During track season, I recorded PRs of 4:12 for the mile and 8:53.4 for two-miles.  My two-mile PR came at the State Meet where I finished second in a close race.
Early in my senior year, I came down with a bad case of mononucleosis and missed almost the entire XC season.  I made it back for the end of the season and finished second in the NCS to Dave Coulman of San Marin High School.  In the winter of my senior year I finished second in the national junior cross country championships, earning a place on the U.S. team for the world championship in Glasgow, Scotland.  I finished 10th at the world championships, but our team failed to place for the first time.  My fortunes did not get much better during track season when my coach, Don Zile, moved to Des Moines, Iowa. The track season ended on a disappointing note with another runner-up finish in the State Meet two-mile in 8:59.

6)  Who were your high school coaches and tell us a little about their impact with your running?
My cross country coach throughout high school was Doug Basham, who continues to help with the Redwood program today.  Doug came through the University of Oregon track program and held the school record for the "big sticks" (high hurdles).  Doug was very knowledgeable of the "Oregon System", but I believe his biggest contribution to our running was developing team camaraderie and a genuine love for the sport.  For track during my sophomore and junior years, Don Zile was our coach.  Don had served as an assistant at San Jose State before he came to Redwood to coach the track distance program, which had largely gone uncoached up to that point.  Don had us on the Bowerman system of date-pace and goal-pace oriented interval workouts.  His workouts helped develop pace judgement and our Vo2 capacity.  Don is now assisting the U.S. womens' gymnatic team in Des Moines, Iowa.  To this day, I am still in touch with my high school coaches at least once a month.

7)  You ran at Stanford University.  What were your highlights there?  Who coached you at Stanford?  College prs?
I was recruited to Stanford by Marshall Clark.  Unfortunately, Marshall took the job at the University of Montana the night before I signed my letter of intent.  Dean Clark (no relation) replaced Marshall for my freshman year and then he was replaced by Brooks Johnson for my last three years.  My years at Stanford were not memorable from a running perspective -- I will leave it at that.  I graduated with PRs of 3:49 for 1500m, and 28:59 for the 10k.

8)  Did you continue to run following college?  Highlights?
I reunited with my high school coach after college and had some very enjoyable years running on the road circuit for the Puma Energizer club.  During the fall after graduating from college, I finished 12th in the National XC Championships.  I went on to business school at Northwestern University and continued to run for Puma while working out wtith Mike Muska and his Northwestern team.  I lowered my 5k PR to 14:06 and my steeplechase PR to 8:49.  Oh, and I did finally run that marathon  -- in 2:21.

9)  How and when did you get into coaching?  How long have you been coaching at Drake HS?
I have been a friend of the Drake High School Head Coach, Bill Taylor, for 30-years and have always tracked the progress of his program.  Through the confluence of a number of events the opportunity to coach emerged three years ago.  As an investment manager, I work New York hours, freeing up my afternoons.  I always knew that I wanted to be involved with the sport again and Bill's willingness to allow me to work with the distance runners opened up the opportunity.  I have just completed my third year of coaching the distance events for the Drake boys.

10)  Tell us a little about coach Bill Taylor and some of the runners at Drake HS.
Bill has been coaching at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo since my senior year in high school in 1977/1978.  Bill was a world class 800m runner himself and ran on some of the national championship teams at USC in the 1950s.  In many ways, Bill is the youngest 79 year-old I know and his connection with the kids is really something to be seen.
I came into the program at the same time as Johnny Lawson and Clayton Hutchins.  At the time, Will Baker-Robinson was starting his sophomore year.  At the time, our goal was to get back to the State XC meet for the first time since 2001.  Although we just missed that first year, we have placed in the top-10 in each of the past two years.
Johnny Lawson has progressed to a national caliber runner with track PRs of 4:18 and 9:12, as well as a State XC Division IV individual title.  Junior Clayton Hutchins has improved his PRs to 4:19.88 and 9:34 this year and our senior, Will Baker-Robinson has progressed from an 11-minute two-miler as a freshman to 9:29 for 5th place at this year's NCS Meet of Champions.  We also have some talented young sophomores in Cole Schwartz (4:50 1600m) and Matt Saunders (4:41 1600m).
It has been a thrill to see these young runners develop a love for the sport as I did at their age.  Their dedication and friendships have been very inspiring for me.  I am also very excited to see a young Drake soccer player join the team next year -- Beatrix Berry and a new freshman boy -- Kent Berry.

11)  Now that you have the perspective of a coach, what would you have done differently in high school in terms of training that you think would have allowed you to run faster?
I don't think there is one thing I would change except perhaps seeking out the help of a coach my senior track season.  It is interesting that despite our lack of scientific knowledge, we seemed to naturally gravitate to a training regimine that is now widely supported by the broader coaching community.  In many ways, the young runner is still the best judge of how hard he should be running on a given day.
College was a different story.  With the benefit of hindsight, I would have cut back on the intensity of my training significantly and I would have gone back to more of the tempo and fartlek oriented work I did in high school.

12)  What are the biggest changes that you have seen in xc and tf since your time in high school to now?
When I was in high school, we really had to work to learn what our competion was doing.  Today's social media has opened up a world of sharing and sources of inspiration.  When I show up for practice on a Monday afternoon, my guys are already talking about the weekend's results. They don't need me to provide motivation.
I also see today's runners as more of a throw-back to our day.  They are passionate and are not afraid to work.  I often watch Johnny and Clayton in a workout and can't help but think they are channeling the spirits of Eric Hulst and Ralph Serna!

13)  Anything else you would like to add.
I would like to thank you Albert for providing the service you provide.  I am sure that you have given back to the sport far more than you have taken and you are helping to inspire a whole new generation of runners.  I am an avid reader of your blog and I would have to say that it has cut my productivity at work by a significant amount!

Thank you very much for your time Rod!  AJC


Ken Grace said...

Great article!

Anonymous said...

In addition to being a great runner and coach, Rod is an all-time great guy/person! Our sports (XC and track) are better because he is involved. Congrats on another GREAT year at Drake, Rod...my mom's alma mater!

pmccrystle said...

Woops, didn't mean that last comment to be anonymous!

Anonymous said...

Truly one of the greatest people all around that I've ever met. GO HOTRODZ! DHXCKTA

Anonymous said...

Rod was one of the All-Time greats in NCS back in the day. Congrats on a fine article!

Anonymous said...

DHXCKTA! I will always be a HOT ROD and remember all the lessons rod has taught me. I wouldn't be the runner I am today without him.

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