Friday, January 19, 2024

Catching up with NorCal Runner of the year, Albany senior Lucas Cohen

Today we catch up with Albany senior, Lucas Cohen. Following his successful 2023 senior cross country season, Lucas was selected as the NorCal Runner of the Year. You can view the entire NorCal team at this LINK. Lucas was also impressive last spring during the track and field season as he recorded personal bests of 1:58.37, 4:09.97, and 9:00.24, won the uber-competitive Sacramento Meet of Champions 1600 where he set his PR, and qualified for the state final in the 1600 finishing in 9th place.

1) Reflecting on this past cross country season, what do you feel was your best race of the year? What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
My best race was definitely the state meet. At the Clovis Invitational a month before, I left feeling a little disappointed. I started strong and took an early lead, but I died on the hill and dropped to sixth place. I knew I had more in me, so I was eager to return and tackle that course again. I started the state race similarly, going out fast and taking the lead, and when the other runners started trying to pass me, I actually put up a fight. Manny and Eli eventually did pass me, but I held on and kicked to a close second place at the end. It was a big PR, and I was especially proud of how I was able to learn from and build on my performance at Clovis.

I was also proud of my role as captain this season. It was definitely a rebuilding year after several of our top runners graduated, but I felt that our team maintained a lot of its strength. Although we narrowly missed fielding a team at state, we had three individual qualifiers on the boys' side, so I still had the opportunity to lead two of my teammates.

2) Training-wise, what did you do differently this year than previous years that you feel helped you run faster this past fall?
My training stayed mostly the same this year. I increased my mileage a little and I felt that I had to take things into my own hands more as one of the oldest members of my team, but I mostly continued doing the same workouts and following the same training plan. The success that I saw was more a culmination of all the work I have put in over the past few years.

3) How did you get your start in running? What other sports did you play before high school? 
My parents like to joke about how, as I was growing up, they had little hope of me becoming any kind of an athlete. I was born a large baby and I stayed chubby for a long while, and I was especially clumsy compared to other kids my age. Fortunately, their misgivings didn’t stop them from throwing me into all kinds of physical activities. Soon after I started walking, I was following my parents around on hikes, and a few years after that I could ride a bike and maneuver a pair of skis. I took swim lessons, my dad taught me some gymnastics, and I played HORSE with my friends on the basketball hoop in our driveway. I wasn’t particularly good at any of these activities, but I stuck with them nonetheless.

Then, when I got old enough to do an organized sport, I joined a soccer team, and I soon fell in love with it. More than that, I saw myself improve, and for the first time, I actually got good at a sport. I didn’t have a lot of technical skills, but I could outrun the other boys and I could stay on the field for the entire game.

Once I got to middle school, my dad, who ran a little in high school, suggested I try out for the school’s cross country team. The only racing I had done up until this point was a 400-meter race in which I had come in fourth place out of five runners, so I was pretty shocked to find myself pulling to the lead at the tryouts. It was also pretty shocking to find myself place in the top 10 at every meet I had that season.

Aside from a season on the sixth grade basketball team, I stayed true to soccer and running throughout middle school, juggling my time between the two. When lockdown restrictions came at the end of eighth grade, I continued playing as much soccer as I could, but running increasingly became the easier option for me to pursue. At the beginning of high school, my soccer team was forced to stop having practices, and I switched my focus entirely to running.

4) Your freshman season took place during covid. What did your team do to keep runners motivated to continue to train until races returned in the spring?
Our coach broke the team up into groups of four, and we would meet in our small groups a few times a week for a run. It was pretty simple, but it was a good transition to high school training that allowed me to thrive during my freshman year.

5) Albany qualified for their first state meet with you as a sophomore and won a state championship. At what point in the season did your team realize they had a shot at a state team championship and what was the reaction of the team when that became a reality?
Being new to high school cross country and relatively unfamiliar with the sport, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead for most of the season. I don’t think I realized we had a shot at state until NCS came and our chance was pretty much staring us in the eyes. I think my teammates were a bit more aware of our situation, especially Sean who made it to state as an individual his freshman year and was eager to lead a team there, and while I’m not completely sure if this is true, I remember our coach telling us that he knew we had something special way back at our overnight training camp the summer before.

Regardless of how conscious each of us was of our chance at state, we were all ecstatic after winning NCS and learning that we would be heading back to Woodward Park the following weekend. Over the next week, we took turns bringing the NCS plaque home and posing for pictures with it, and no matter what would happen at state, we were all just happy to have made it as far as we did.

Then the state meet came, and we surpassed all of our expectations. This was my first actual season of high school cross country, on a team that had never even advanced out of NCS, and we had just won the biggest competition in the state. It was unreal.
6) Track wise, what do you feel was the race that gave you the confidence that you can race against elite competition?
Running the 1600 at the Sacramento Meet of Champions gave me a lot of confidence. I had led for parts of other races before then, but this was the first big race where I set the pace and stayed in the lead. I ended up winning and running a big PR, and I also pulled three or four other runners along with me. I felt in control of the race, and this feeling is ultimately what gave me confidence for the future.

7) What does a typical week look like for you? How many workouts? Length of long run? Strength workouts? 
In season, a typical week is between 30 and 40 miles. I usually run two workouts, and at least one of them will be on a track. Track workouts mostly consist of repeats and ladders, and the length and intensity will vary depending on what event I’m training for. For example, I’ll do 400 repeats if I’m training for the mile, and I’ll do 2k repeats if I’m training for the two-mile. My off-track workouts are mostly tempo, progression, and steady runs. My long runs are typically between 10 and 13 miles, and I’ll sometimes do some kind of tempo or progression in the middle of the long run. I also like to take an off day every ten days or so.

8) Favorite cross country course? Favorite cross country invitational? Favorite cross country workout? Favorite long run? Favorite track event? Favorite track invitational? Favorite track workout? Favorite nonrunning activity?
My favorite cross country course is definitely Woodward Park, and Clovis is my favorite invitational. With its rolling hills, the course is a good blend of challenging and fun, and there is a lot of competition pushing me to run a good time.

My favorite cross country workouts are progression runs. There is something really satisfying about their slow build-up in intensity.

My favorite long runs are on the Bear Valley trail at Point Reyes. The fog and tree cover keep the temperature mild and the ground is the perfect level of soft. The forests, creeks, and ocean also make for some good scenery.

Last track season, my favorite event was probably the 1600. I ran it a lot, and it allowed me to showcase my speed and kick. However, after last cross country season, I’m more excited to see what I can do in the 3200, as I think my strengths might align more with the longer distance.

My favorite track invitational is the Dublin Distance Fiesta. I love its iconic theme, and it’s really fun to have music playing during my races. Great vibes all around. I’m hoping to come away with a sombrero this year.

My favorite track workout is mile repeats, which I will typically run three or four of at 3200 pace. It’s a difficult workout, but it feels great when it’s over.

My favorite non-running activity at the moment is snowboarding. It actually makes winter training kind of difficult because I spend a lot of my weekends up in Tahoe, but it’s worth it.

9) Can you tell us about your teammate Sean Morello and what he has meant to your running career? What did you learn most from him?
Sean has probably been the biggest factor that influenced my running career. I’ve been running on his heels since middle school, and having someone to chase has helped me improve a lot. He also led me and my teammates during COVID-19 and in the off-seasons, keeping us focused year-round. Sean taught me a lot about running, but the most important thing I gained from him was probably his work ethic. He is incredibly invested in the sport and he trains exceptionally hard, and I am still trying to emulate his wholehearted commitment to running.

10) You will be attending Yale in the fall. What other schools were also considered and how did you end up choosing Yale?
Besides Yale, I took official visits to Boston University and Georgetown, and I was also considering UC San Diego. All of these schools emphasize academics, which was my main consideration in my initial college search, but after my visits, I quickly realized that Yale was the right fit for me. I was in awe of the campus, I liked the residential college system, and everyone there had a lot of pride for the school. I also really liked the team atmosphere, and I felt at home with the other runners because many of them were from California. On top of this, I felt that I could branch out at Yale and pursue interests other than running.

11) Tell us about your coaches and how they have helped you during your high school running career.
Like any athlete, I attribute a lot of my success to my coaches. They plan my workouts, help me with race strategy, and scope out competition at important meets. They keep me focused and committed to the sport. I owe a lot to them.

12) What advice would you give a young talented runner with goals of competing at the highest level and potentially running in college?
Listen to your body. Doing this has helped me avoid major injuries for my entire running career, and staying healthy has contributed a lot to my success. If I feel any weird pains during a run, I’ll stop to stretch or even end the run there. If this pain persists, I’ll take more days off until I’m better. If I’m not fully recovering from a hard training block, I’ll lower my mileage or take an earlier off day. There are a lot of other factors that influence your health, many of which that are out of your control, but listening to my body has worked well for me so far.

Thank you very much for your time, Lucas! AC 

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