Thursday, January 28, 2016

Catching up with Mission (SF) senior runner, Salem Bouhassoun

Today we chat with Mission high school senior runner, Salem Bouhassoun. He ran PRs of 1:59.27, 4:20.88 and 9:14.67 during his junior track and field season. This past cross country, Salem had top 5 finishes at the Hoka One One Earlybird, De La Salle/Carondelet and Stanford Invitationals. Following his victory at the San Francisco Section meet (photo to the left courtesy of Thomas Benjamin), Salem finished in 19th place in the Division III race at the California State Cross Country meet. Salem's twin sister, Nour, was featured in an article titled "The Chilling Rise of Islamophobia in Our Schools." which you can read at this LINK that details the hardships of Syrian refugees.

1) Where were you born and when did you come to United States? How much of an adjustment was it coming to a new country?
I was born in Syria, in a small city named Swieda. I lived there for 14 years and immigrated here the summer right before my freshman year in high school. The biggest adjustment I had to go through was learning English so I can make new friends, meet new people, and figure out what I want to do with my life. It felt hard in the first couple months because I missed my friends, relatives, and country. But that motivated me even more to learn English faster so I can create a new social life for myself. I am glad I was able to overcome that quickly and adapt to my new environment within a year.

2) What sports have you played aside from cross country and track and field? When and how did you start running?
I played a lot of soccer as a little kid at school during PE classes or in front if my house. Sometimes my friends and I  would play with water bottles or soccer balls made out of socks just because we used to play all the time and sometimes we couldn't find soccer balls available. In 7th grade I found my talent in swimming after I learned how to swim in one day. I became so good at it and had the dream of coming here to the U.S to become a famous swimmer. But my parents couldn't spend money on me swimming and my school did not have a team so I had to choose a different sport. As a freshman I played soccer and then wrestling. The soccer coach used to make us go to some of the XC races so we can get more fitness that will help us in soccer, and thats is how I was introduced to XC. When I became a Sophomore, I decided to focus on one sport so I chose running to be active throughout the whole year since there are two seasons with cross country and track and field.

3) What were some of your highlights from your sophomore seasons in XC and TF?
It was very motivational for me to place 6th place at the all-city finals and make it to the State meet in Cross country even though it was my first year and I had only been running for about 2 months at that time. That was my biggest highlight in the sport and my teammates were so excited for me that they threw me in a mud puddle after the race. That proved to me that I have a lot of potential in the sport.

4) What about from your junior seasons in both sports?
As a junior, I saw a tremendous improvement after I learned that off season mileage makes a big difference on your season performance. I improved by 2 minutes and 18 seconds in XC, and went from placing 186th as a sophomore to 45th at state finals. In Track, I was even more fitter, and I was much more experienced when it came to racing. I also improved by a minute and 4 seconds when I went down from running 10:18 as sophomore to running 9:14 as a Junior. I was also the the city section champion in the 1600m and the 3200m which I consider a big accomplishment. I was very happy that I also got the chance to go to some very competitive meets and get the chance to race at state finals and against fast guys throughout the whole season.

5) What do you feel was your breakout race that put you on the running map in Northern California?
I think my breakout race was at the Arcadia invitational when I ran an unexpected 9:15. My previous personal record before that race was only a 9:29 so I was not really expecting to shave off that many seconds two weeks later.

6) How has your training changed from your sophomore year to now?
My sophomore year, I was only running about 20 miles a week with one workout, and sometimes only training 3 days a week. I used to come into my season out of shape. I also still did wrestling in between XC and Track during that year. But now, I average about 60 miles a week and I am always fit and ready early in the season from the miles I run in the off season.

7) Who coaches you and how has he helped you develop in the runner you are today?
My school never had a history with running. I was the only serious runner on the team as a junior with only a couple other runners who used to show up once a week for fun. I met Coach Octaviano Romero through my old teammate when I was a sophomore. He works for a sales company that is an hour a way from the city but is really into running and loves to coach. After his nephew graduated, he noticed my talent and decided to stay with me to coach me. He is working right now as volunteer coach for our school coaching me and one other sophomore named Mateo who has recently been stepping up.

8) What does a typical training week look like for you? Any double runs? Longest run? Typical pace per mile for most of your "easier" runs? 
A typical week in the middle of the season for me would look like this:
Monday: Tempo run
Tuesday: 8-10 easy miles at 7:00 min pace
Wednesday: Track Workout ( mile repeats, or 800m repeats etc..)
Thursday: easy 8-10 miles
Friday: day off or or easy 4-5 miles
Saturday: a race or another workout.
Sunday: Long run that ranges between 12-15 miles at a recovery pace.
Total miles would be about 55-65 miles.

9) Favorite XC course? Favorite XC meet? Favorite XC workout? Favorite long run? Favorite opponent(s)? Favorite track event? Favorite track invite? Favorite track workout? Favorite free time activity?
My favorite Cross Country course is the Stanford golf course. I love the grass there and the course is very flat and nice. Favorite XC meet is the State finals just because I always have fun going down to Fresno to see my fiends from other schools and race the day after, although I really hate the Woodward Park course. My favorite XC workout is long hill repeats, I feel that I was supposed to do more of those the past season. My favorite long run is running around Lake Merced then through Golden Gate Park. There are some nice trails and good trees to run by. I always meet a lot of runners on my way. My favorite Track workout is 400 repeats and we would usually do 18-20 of those at target 3200m race pace. My main event is the 3200m. My favorite track invitational is Dan Gabor. I love the feeling I get there and the weather, plus it is  the first Invitational of the year so I'm always excited for it. My favorite opponent is Eduardo Herrera (Madera South) even though I don't race him a lot or know him that well, but just because of how respectful and humble he is. I love my first opponent and section competitor Luis Aragon. He's very chill and our competition has made us great friends. Although I am looking forward to getting to know more elite runners that I will be running against more often this season like Sean Kurdy, Michael Vernau, Cooper Teare, and others. During my free time I love to swim. It brings a lot of memories to me. I also love bowling and I am really good at Yoga.

10) I believe you are in the midst of making your college decision. How much will running be a factor? What else do you feel is important for you when it comes to choosing your next school?
Running is going to be a big but not the only factor in terms of choosing my future school. I believe that I still have a lot of potential left in me and I want to make sure that I am picking the right program that will help me develop as a runner and help me achieve my future goals such as running and representing my country Syria in the Olympics. At the same time, I am looking at other factors like the academics, location, class size, cost and diversity. In the end, running will be a second priority for me as I want to focus on getting a degree at a medical school after excelling in a kinesiology or biology major during my 4-5 years at an undergraduate school. Therefore, I am looking at the best combination between all of these factors.

11) What are you most looking forward to this upcoming Track & Field season? What are some of your goals?
I am looking forward to staying healthy and injury free throughout the upcoming Track and Field season. Other than that, I think it would be nice and achievable for me to break the San Francisco section 3200m and 1600m records before I graduate, and maybe run a sub 9:00 for the 3200m and place top 10 at state finals if possible.

12) Anything else you would like to add.
I am really thankful for my Coach Octaviano Romero who got me to be where I am today. I also want to thank you for reaching out to me. I love reading about other dedicated runners on this wonderful website and learn about their stories.
Thank you very much for your time Salem! AJC


Anonymous said...

Salem sounds like a hard working and determined young man. Good luck to him in all his endeavors. I hope to see him in the Olympics representing Syria someday.

Murr said...

Always interesting to hear that the athletes read these interviews and get something from each other. No different from sharing workouts and encouragement before a meet and on the starting line. Love our sport and the kids who participate.

Anonymous said...

Lovely article about an outstanding young man. My son met him at cross country camp two summers ago and has been friends with him ever since. This sport has fostered so many friendships between kids from all over. It is a very special gift. It was so heartwarming to watch the hugs between the competitors at today's All Comers Meet. These kids have competed against each other in some instances for four years and the spirit of friendship and respect for each other's hard work and talent is obvious and inspirational.

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