I have known about and thought about attending the Manhattan Cross Country Invitational for quite a few years. The annual meet is held at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx in New York. It is the second largest high school cross country meet in the country (behind only the Mt. Sac Invitational in Southern California) and it is the largest one-day high school cross country meet.
After taking the SHC team to the Mt. Sac Invitational in 2011 and the Woodbridge Invitational (the third largest meet in the country) in 2012, it was natural to think about making a trip to New York for the Manhattan Invitational. In fact several members of the class of 2015 asked me if we could go in 2014, so that over their four year career they would attend the three largest meets in the country. In between this year and the two trips to Southern California, in 2013, our overnight trip was to perhaps the most unique cross country meet in the country, the Three Course Challenge in Seaside, Oregon. I have taken the team to this meet every third year since 2004 and the last two times, we travelled by train.
The conversation about going to New York became more serious on the train ride home from Oregon in September 2013. Before I knew it, I was talking to the SHC choir director about how he plans the choir trips to New York and Europe. Before I knew it, I was e-mailing back and forth with a travel agent to put together a potential itinerary and get an approximate idea of the price.
It would be a five day, four night trip and cost in the neighborhood of $1,200-$1,400 per athlete. For this to happen I wanted at least twenty athletes to commit to going. The trip was approved by the administration in the spring of 2014. In May I began polling people to see if there really was interest. The interest was there. Now I had to see if people were going to back up their interest with a financial commitment. The “no turning back” deposit day came and I had checks from twenty-two families. A few weeks later, I was able to add three more travelers but those three had to pay an additional $100 to cover the late fees. In total we had 29 people going, 25 athletes and four coaches.
My assistant coaches that were going, Tomas Palermo, Rachel Giovannetti, and Sherie Lo Giudice, were critical to ensuring a safe and successful trip. They are all experienced coaches in our program. To have them with me was invaluable, as the four of us work seamlessly in terms of always seeing what needs to be done and thinking about everyone’s safety and well-being.
Even as I filled out rooming lists, made decisions about the itinerary, and filled out purchase orders to pay the travel agent, the trip seemed far far away. In September we had a team meeting to go over some of the team policies for the trip. That’s when it hit me, “we really are going to New York.” We were down to a group of 28 because of illness. We were about to fly 2,560 miles, to attend a meet with more than 5,000 runners, and we would be spending 107 straight hours together.
It was amazing how calm and at ease I was. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do and how I planned to handle certain situations like study hall, free time around New York, and getting the team around on the subway. But I also trusted my own experience in that I would have to wait until I got there to make some of these decisions. Thanks to the high usage of smartphones, I didn’t even feel the need to print out maps for the kids. I knew they would be able to use their phones to figure things out.
I did go out of my way to explain to the teachers at school why I was taking students out of class for such a lengthy amount of time right at the end of the grading period. I also felt it was important that we attend Sunday Mass and that the kids dress nicely for the plane ride and church. We had a long debate during a meeting, and in the end, the kids voted and decided to dress up in more than their polos and khakis for the plane ride to New York and church, if in exchange, I would let them change into “more comfortable” clothes for the plane ride home and the sightseeing on Sunday after Mass. When I was the team manager at UCLA we always dressed up for plane rides, so it warmed my heart and reminded me of my college days when I arrived at the airport to leave San Francisco and the boys were in dress shirts and ties and the girls were in dresses or blouses.
One moment that will stay with me forever was in the bus that brought us from the Newark airport to our hotel in Manhattan. The kids started playing music on a speaker, and while I usually require them to use headphones, it was a special occasion so I let it go. As we drove through the streets of Manhattan, the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song, “Empire State of Mind” came on and everyone cheered. We were here!
We had some challenges throughout the trip, but each time the kids stepped up to meet my expectations. Everyone was focused and followed directions when we had only 33 minutes in Detroit to get off our first flight and board and be seated on our second flight. When we had to move quickly to and from subways and keep the group together, everyone stayed within earshot and was ready to do what we told them. It was an impressive showing. As we lined up for a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, the security guard, who heard me give instructions to the kids and then saw the kids immediately go do what they were told, said to me, “nice job.”
Meet morning, my heart was racing. We gathered in the lobby and then started walking to the subway. It would be our first subway ride of the trip. What a rush to get on the NYC subway to go to a meet. Unfortunately, it was raining and we had no tent and no tarp. When we got to Van Cortlandt Park there were thousands of people everywhere and we didn’t really know where to go. Finally I found the check-in tent and then we found a tree that would at least provide us with a little shelter. The kids put their bags into the garbage bags we had bought at Walgreen’s the night before.
I gave each of the kids four Sacred Heart Cathedral rubber bracelets and told the kids to give them to people they met during the meet. I also cancelled our usual no phone policy for the meet, because I knew kids would want their phones to take pictures to remember the experience and share with others. We even had our own hashtag for the trip (#SHCXCinNY). Thanks to the bracelets, Carolyn made friends with Kellenberg Memorial High School, which was the team near us. They offered for us to put our bags under their tent.
My next unforgettable moment occurred as I was getting ready to take the starting line photo of our first race, the JV Boys. Blossom took the camera from me and said that she thought that I should be in all the starting line photos today because this was New York. It also warmed my heart to see the kids running the race with their bracelets and then taking it off in the finish chute and giving it to a runner next to them.
The whole trip was filled with moments that brought a smile to my face. We had a nice balance between time all together (bus tour of New York, team dinner at Angelo’s Pizza, Sunday Mass), activities we did as a group but where people could break into smaller groups for certain parts (sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial Museum), and free time when the kids were on their own and had to meet me at a specific time and place (a somewhat nerve racking time period for me). The kids had earned my trust by working with me, not against me, throughout the trip. They deserved some time on their own to explore and make their own decisions. That’s when they really learn some life lessons. I reminded them to stay in groups and to make good decisions. Then I crossed my fingers. Fortunately, they did not disappoint. Ironically, I kept getting lost around New York such that I was the one a little tardy to the meet up spots.
One thing about these trips that always brings a smile to my face is when I see two people, who I didn’t think were particularly close, have a long conversation or joke around about something. During a trip of this length, the coaches really get to learn more about each student on a more personal level, too. And the beauty of a group this size, it was small enough to be manageable for the coaches but large enough that if someone started to get on your nerves you could easily just go hang out with someone else for a few hours.
All in all, I really enjoyed this trip. Before dismissing the kids when we got back to SFO, I told them: “I enjoyed this trip a lot. And without all of you there would be no trip. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for coming to New York with me.”
When the World Cup began a month ago, my main interest in the event was how well Brazil could host an international sporting event. Whether Brazil could successfully put on the World Cup safely for the spectators would go a long ways towards Malinda and me deciding to go to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Over the last four weeks, however, my interest in soccer (futbol) has grown tremendously. I’ve loved following the games and reading up on the nuances and intricacies of this “beautiful” game.
Being just four time zones from Brazil made viewing games very easy – one game at 9:00 A.M. and a second one at 1:00 P.M. Our maintenance staff had all the games on the plasma screen in the school dining hall. I even met friends at a sports bar to watch a game and watched another in a hotel lobby with family. The convenience and social aspect of following the World Cup were winning me over.
Of course I was cheering for the USA team but all the pre-World Cup hype of being in the “group of death” made me think it was going to be a short lived run at this year’s World Cup for the Americans. That all changed after watching the Portugal game. It was an exciting game and as a soccer rube, I have to admit, the increased scoring at this year’s World Cup (thanks to the new ball, the Brazuca) has helped keep me interested. The agony of Portugal’s tying goal in the fourth minute of injury time only increased my passion.
Soon I was downloading the IAAF and Watch ESPN apps. I was studying up on the Group Play tie-breaking rules (goal differential BEFORE head-to-head). I watched more “I Believe That We Will Win” videos than I care to admit. I participated in social media, using the hashtag #USMNT and posting things in anticipation of the Germany game.
Even the loss to Germany did not dampen my excitement. The USA was on to the knockout stage! I started reading futbol websites in between my visits to LetsRun and the USATF Rewards page. The Five Thirty Eight website is chalk full of statistical analysis. Stats and numbers? Like track? I believe that you should sign me up! I was not and still am not an expert on the sport, but I was enjoying pretending to be one.
The USA-Belgium game was such a rollercoaster. The drama reminded me of the Olympic Trials 5000 meter race when Kim Conley came from behind to grab the last qualifying spot to London. And that Tim Howard guy?! Sixteen saves! I didn’t need a website to tell me it was a performance for the ages. Then reading more about Tim Howard and how he’s battled Tourette’s syndrome made me respect him and his performance even more.
Although the USA was eliminated, my interest did not wane. With each passing game bringing us closer to crowning the champion, the tension for the teams grew as did my excitement for the drama that was about to unfold.
The quarterfinal game between the Netherlands and Costa Rica was a great battle between two teams that didn’t want to lose. In the final minute of extra time, the Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal replaced his goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. It seemed like a strange substitution to me. The announcers said that Krul was two inches taller than Cillessen and thus had a larger arm span to block penalty kicks. This fascinated me. What a great idea…if it works. And it did!
I have grown up following baseball, where the “closer” is the relief pitcher specialist used only to protect a lead in the ninth inning. World, meet Tim Krul, the first penalty kick goalie specialist. Maybe in a few years, every team will have a goalie specialist for penalty kicks. I can see how it is a slightly different skill set to defend the goal in the course of the game when you have to track multiple players (including your own team) and the ball; versus defending the goal against a single player taking a penalty kick from a known location. The fact that Krul “talked a little trash” to get in the heads of his opponents only made this more interesting. Yes, my Google searches for Tim Krul approached my Google searches for “I Believe That We Will Win” videos.
The semi-final games were certainly a contrast. One history making blowout and one scoreless draw that came down to penalty kicks. All I can say about the Germany-Brazil game is this graphic sums it up pretty well (and humorously, too).
As for the Argentina-Netherlands game, I don’t understand why van Gaal didn’t save a substitution so he could put in Krul. I’ve been looking for the message board on WhoScored so I can post a critical comment about this (anonymously, of course).
But now it’s all over (congratulations, Germany!). And I am left wondering, what to do with myself? What will I do with the this extra time now that I’m not watching games in the middle of the day? Not listening to podcasts and reading blogs about the World Cup? Fortunately, cross country season is right around the corner and there’s a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday.
Breaking through barriers, both literally and figuratively, is an important part of life. My friend Mark Hermano teaches a lesson in his physics class where students literally break through a wood board with their hand. The lesson includes the physics of actually breaking a board with your hand and also the life lesson of how sometimes you can do more than you think and the importance of breaking through figurative barriers. The keys to this are focusing, planning, putting energy into it, following through, and believing. Click on this hyperlink for a video of Mark’s full explanation of the exercise.
For runners, breaking barriers usually involve beating a certain time. Usually, but not always, it’s a time with a zero in it. For example, 5:00 in the mile or 1:30:00 in the half marathon.
For Shannon Rowbury, breaking through the four minute barrier in the 1500 has been a goal of hers since she ran 4:00.33 at the Paris meet in 2008. From 2010 until this past weekend, Shannon had PR’s in the 800, 1500, and 5000 that are remarkably close to time barriers – 2:00.47, 4:00.33, and 15:00.51. That’s a total of 1.34 seconds away from three major barriers — sub-2 in the 800, sub-4 in the 1500, and sub-15 in the 5000.
In the spring of 2012, Mark did the wood breaking exercise with me, Malinda, Shannon, and Pablo (Shannon’s fiancé). It was an opportunity to get together for dinner and have an activity that also related to the mental side of running. Part of Mark’s exercise is that you write a barrier that you want to break through on the piece of wood. Shannon wrote “:00” on her piece of wood, indicating her desire to break through the 2:00, 4:00, and 15:00 barriers. It took some time, some good coaching, and some perseverance but by the end of the evening, Shannon broke through her piece of wood.
Two years after breaking through that board, Shannon took care of breaking the 4:00 barrier in the 1500 at the 2014 Paris meet. Malinda and I watched the race on our computer and Shannon seemed to be perfectly positioned and paced it very well for a shot at breaking four minutes. There were a couple bumps with other runners but Shannon stayed on her feet and the chase was still on. As Shannon raced down the final straightaway, I counted the time off in my head – 3:56, 3:57, 3:58, 3:59, 4:00. The clock stopped for the winner at 3:57 so we would have to wait for the results to flash up on the screen. I knew it was either 3:59 or a real low 4:00. But which was it? It seemed to take forever as the broadcast shifted to the high jump to cover a Blanka Vlasic attempt. Then finally the results popped on the screen. 3:59.49! The barrier was broken. Shannon later told me that, “good things come to those who wait” and they sure did on this day.
Shannon breaking 4:00 for the 1500 got me thinking about her first sub-5 in the 1600 when she was in high school. I must admit I had to dig around to find it. It was March 16, 2001 at the Piedmont Distance Carnival. Shannon ran a negative split race: 78, 77 (2:35), 74 (3:49), 67 (4:56). Really pretty amazing that she went 2:35 for her first 800 and 2:21 for her final 800 including a blistering 67 for her last lap. All this as a high school junior. She needed every second that last lap as she narrowly beat her future Duke teammate Clara Horowitz, 4:56.7 to 4:58.7.
Looking at the results from the above hyperlink, the fifth place finisher in the Boys 1600 was a senior from De La Salle who dabbled in both track & field and soccer. I believe he had a high school PR of 4:15 but chose to focus on soccer after high school. It’s worked out for him pretty well. You may know the name. He plays for the San Jose Earthquakes and played in the World Cup this summer. He’s the one who had the ball on his foot just yards from the goal late in regulation time in the Belgium game and just couldn’t quite convert. He is Chris Wondolowski.
Advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals. Now that would have been a barrier breaker for the US Men’s team! Be patient, USA, good things come to those who wait.
As a passionate track & field fan, I was excited when United States of America Track & Field (USATF), the governing body of the sport in the US, started a fan rewards program in January 2014. The idea was for fans to log-in to their rewards account daily to receive “wings” and to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to promote USATF and also earn wings. With these wings, fans could buy different reward items such as USATF gloves, signed merchandise, and USATF experiences.
When I reached 25,000 wings, I quickly bought a pair of USATF gloves. My wife, Malinda (a.k.a. the Track Widow), also accumulated points but she strategically held on to hers waiting for something “bigger and better” than gloves. As the USA Outdoor Championships, which were taking place in Sacramento, approached a new reward became available for 25,000 wings – the chance to present an award at USA’s. I didn’t have enough wings but Malinda did! By the time we got Malinda logged in and ready to pull the trigger, the reward was sold out. However, the next day, something even better was available – the chance to hold the finish line for one of the races. We logged in and Malinda got it! Woo-hoo! Malinda was the perfect person for this job because three years ago she wrote a blog about the challenges of holding the finish line for a race. (It’s not as easy as you might think.)
We spent the next day strategizing about her options. Should she choose Shannon Rowbury’s race and risk missing getting to watch the race? I suggested a sprint race which increased her likelihood of a close finish and thus some TV time. Malinda put it to her Facebook friends as well as discussing it with her work colleagues. She decided that it was a non-qualifying year (i.e. no Olympics or World Championship qualifying berths were on the line) and thus there was less pressure and it would be okay to hold the finish line for Shannon’s race.
A couple days later a new reward came up on the USATF rewards page – for 25,000 wings you could co-host The Cool Down show on USATFtv. Now that is something I would love to do… but I didn’t have enough wings. A few days went by and I noticed that the reward was still available. I decided to go for it. I started tweeting with the USATF hashtag to get extra wings. Finally one night at 1:00 A.M. I had 25,000 wings and I bought the reward. I was in heaven! The chance to go on internet and talk about my favorite subject – track & field!
The week leading up to USAs was full of excitement. We communicated with Caleb Bailey, the strategic programs manager with USATF. He set things up for us and confirmed that Malinda would hold the finish line for the women’s 5000 and I would do The Cool-Down show Friday night after the women’s 5000. I was beyond excited. I was going to get to talk to Dan O’Brien and tell him how he gave up his seat on the train one night on the way home from the London Olympic Stadium, which allowed Malinda and me to sit together. I rehearsed in my mind what questions I would ask the 5000 meter race winner, preparing for both Shannon and the other favorite, Molly Huddle. Every night, I would say to Malinda, “Pretend you’re Dan O’Brien; ask me a question!”
When we got to Sacramento, Caleb had a couple more surprises for us. I was going to get to join Malinda and hold the finish line and we would both get to be down on the track to watch the race.
About thirty minutes before the women’s 5000 we were taken down to the finish line area. We got to see behind the scenes for the men’s and women’s 100 meters. Then we were taken onto the track where we watched the women’s 5000 meter race unfold. We were given instructions to stay out of the camera sight lines and to not block any of the sponsor’s signs. We cheered quietly for Shannon, not wanting to create a scene. At one point, some of my friends sitting on the backstretch in the ‘Aggies section’ saw me and started heckling and yelling at me. To their delight, I took their picture as they all waved and cheered. On the track, as expected, Molly was leading and Shannon was right behind her. Being on the track, instead of in my usual seat in the stands, I had a hard time getting a sense of what kind of time they were on pace to run. As the race reached the final laps the small pack of runners who had initially stayed with Molly and Shannon fell back. It became a two woman race.
By this point we were near the finish line and receivinga tutorial about what to do. “Make sure you don’t block the finish line timing camera,” we were reminded. Malinda would be on the infield holding one end of the finish line. She was to let go as soon as the runner hit it. I would be in lane three holding the rolled up end of the finish line and I was not supposed to let go. I remember hearing someone tell me, “After Treniere comes by go on to the track.” It was something I would say at Kezar Stadium at the Tuesday night track workout, “after the guy in the black shorts comes by, let’s get on,” only we were at the USA Championships, not Kezar!
After I got situated on the track I looked up and Shannon had taken the lead with about 200 to go. I felt myself jumping up and down despite knowing I should stay calm. A runner was close to getting lapped so we had to wait until she passed before we handed the end of the finish line to Malinda. Once that was done I looked up and Molly was moving up on Shannon. They were both drifting out. For a split second, Molly was running right towards me. I instinctively backed up into lane four but had the foresight to know that I needed to unspool the finish line tape from the roll or else I would rip it out of Malinda’s hands. Just in time I backed out of the way and Molly crossed the finish line and broke the tape, just 0.15 seconds ahead of Shannon.
It was a great race and a dramatic finish between two of the US’s top runners (they were 6th and 7th place at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow). It would have been a dream situation for me and Malinda had Shannon won, but that’s the drama of sports… you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
We waited awhile for Shannon and then got to give her a hug before she went for interviews and drug testing. Then we were whisked off to the set of The Cool Down show. We got to talk to Dan O’Brien and told him our London train story. I quickly changed into the red USATF polo shirt they wanted me to wear for the show and the next thing I knew I was sitting on the set with a microphone in my hand. The producers were all very nice as they made some small talk to put me at ease. Running friends and fellow coaches saw me and started gathering around the set hooting and hollering and taking my picture. Molly Huddle sat down next to me and put on a headset. We had to wait thirteen minutes for a segment on Kirani James to finish and then the red light went on… we were on the air. After some introductions and opening questions by Paul Swangard, I got to ask Molly a question, and then to close the segment I got asked a question. And then it was all over. Molly and I came off the stage and in our place came Dan O’Brien and Bernard Lagat.
All in all it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at a track meet… and I’ve been to a lot of meets. At one point last week, Malinda had remarked, “I hope this lives up to our expectations.” Not only did it live up to expectations, it exceeded them. Thanks #USATFrewards!
When Shannon Rowbury graduated from high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral in 2002, she already had an impressive resume. She had won two state championships (800 and 1600), one national title (800), four consecutive Central Coast Section (CCS) championships in the 800 and seven total CCS individual championships (800-4, 1600-1, cross country-2).
From 2002-2007, she achieved more success as a collegiate runner at Duke. She won an NCAA championship in the Indoor Mile and she was a 6-time All-American.
Since 2007, Shannon has been a professional athlete, sponsored by Nike. 2014 is her seventh year of competing at the highest levels of national and international track and field competition. She is a two-time Olympian, three-time Outdoor World Championships qualifier, and two-time Indoor World Championship qualifier. She has placed 7th and 6th at the Olympics in the 1500 and earned a bronze medal at the 2009 World Championships in the 1500. She is a 4-time USA Champion (1500-2, indoor 3000-1, road mile-1).
Quite a resume! But on May 31, 2014, almost twelve years to the day after winning the state championship in her final high school race, , Shannon added something new to her resume. She is now an American Record holder!
At the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, she ran the two mile race in 9:20.25 to better Amy Rudolph’s previous American record of 9:21.35 set in 1998. Rudolph placed second when she set the record in Cork, Ireland on June 27, 1998, trailing Sonia O’Sullivan of Ireland who ran a then world record of 9:18.56.
The morning before the Prefontaine race Shannon and I exchanged some text messages where I teased her that in high school, when I put her in the two mile (or 3200 meters) it was almost considered punishment. And now she was going to race that distance and go for a record!
I watched Shannon’s race on the NBC Sports live stream on my iPhone at Sports Basement. It took me awhile to get the app going and to get logged in with the proper password. By the time I got it going, the race had begun. The coverage was on the men’s shot put but it quickly went back to the women’s two mile. The race was about four minutes in. There was a lead pack of three (Mercy Cherono, Viola Kibiwott, Mimi Belete), with Sally Kipyego back a ways in fourth. It took a moment before Shannon was on the screen. She was in a pack that included Jordan Hasay, in about eighth place.
I knew an American record was a possibility and strained my neck to see Shannon and try to get an idea of what pace she was on. With around three laps to go, Shannon came through at 5:55. She would need to run the last three laps in 3:26 to get the record. Shannon started to pull away from the pack she had been running with and was moving up. I started seeing Shannon behind the leaders and with two laps to go. I estimated her split at 7:05. She needed a 2:16 last 800 to get the record. Even as the camera stayed on the front three, I could see that Shannon was moving up. It reminded me of some 3200 meter races she ran in high school when she closed amazingly fast. She went by Kipyego and now it was a race against the clock. My best guess was she split 8:14 or 8:15 with a lap to go. She needed a 66-67 last lap. As the top three finished, I started counting in my head 9:14, 9:15, 9:16, …I could see Shannon approaching the finish line…9:17, 9:18, 9:19, 9:20…as she crossed the line, ….or was it 9:21? The announcers said it was going to be close. I could hear a big cheer from the crowd. I was pretty sure she had it but I wanted to wait for confirmation before getting too excited. I looked around Sports Basement. Despite me banging my hand on the table and talking into my phone, no one seemed to be paying me any attention. I looked back at my phone and suddenly they were interviewing Shannon and congratulating her on the record. I started taking screen shots.
The next few minutes were a blur. I was posting to my social media and responding to some messages that had already come in to me (one from Galen Rupp’s high school head coach). I called Malinda to give her the great news!
Shannon’s running resume just got another addition. Her first American record. I am proud of Shannon for lots of things (both running and non-running related things). But I must say, American record holder does have a real nice ring to it. Congratulations!
You can watch the NBC coverage of her race (with a few minutes of men’s shot put re-cap in the middle) on usatf TV here:
Pre-race interview with LetsRun:
Post-race interview with LetsRun:
Since getting into running and coaching, I have been less fanatical about the typical professional sports (and teams) that dominated my attention growing up. More LetsRun. Less Sports Illustrated. But the Seattle Seahawks recent run to the Super Bowl re-kindled the sports fan buried deep inside me.
I became a Seahawk fan back in 1978. I must have liked the logo on their helmet. There was also something special about the lefthanded quarterback, Jim Zorn, and his favorite receiver, Steve Largent. During that 1978 season the Seahawks beat the local Oakland Raiders two times to finish with a record of 9-7. It was not spectacular, nor was it enough to make the playoffs. But for an expansion team in just their third year of existence, it was a solid season. They finished with more wins than losses for the first time and were the first team to beat the Raiders twice in a season in 13 years. The Seahawks of this era were known for their trick plays such as fake field goals and fake punts, onside kicks and scrambles by their quarterback. I was hooked – a fan for life! Little did I know that cheering for the Seahawks would lead to many sad days. When it wasn’t football season and the Seahawks weren’t disappointing me, I had the Houston Astros to step in and break my heart instead. Let’s just say, there haven’t been a lot of championship days for me and my sports teams.
In 2013 on Super Bowl Sunday, I was home sick in bed with pneumonia. For the first time in many many years, I missed the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon. It was heartbreaking to stay home on what most of us in Pamakids consider the biggest day of the year. In the afternoon, I watched Super Bowl XLVII from my bed.
This year was a totally different experience. I have been inspired by my Pamakid teammates and I’ve been training consistently to build back the base that I lost during my two bouts with pneumonia last year. I’ve been giddy with excitement for the Seahawks and Super Bowl XLVIII, reading every article and story that I can get my hands on and watching video after video in preparation for the big game. “I’ve been waiting for this game since 1978,” I told my wife Malinda, every night when she implored that I turn off the device and go to sleep.
I see a little bit of Pete Carroll in my coaching style. I like my teams to have fun but I also hold them to a high level of expectations. If you are on my team, you are expected to commit and work hard. Watching Carroll run up and down the sidelines, cheering on his team and constantly handing out pats on the backside and high fives reminds me of what I do at meets. His post-game speeches have given me new material for my post-meet huddles. And his mantras!? “Tell the Truth Monday.” “Competition Wednesday.” “Turnover Thursday.” “Each game is a championship opportunity.” I love that cheesy stuff!
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson’s leadership and dedication has been truly inspiring. He went to last year’s Super Bowl just to get a feel for what the experience would be like because he planned to make it to the Super Bowl this year. I read story after story about Wilson’s upbringing, how his grandfather instilled a work ethic in his father and how his father passed it down to him. “Why not us?” Wilson told his Seahawk teammates back in training camp, as he planted the seed that the Seahawks’ goal should be to win the Super Bowl.
On the morning of February 2, 2014, I awoke to the sound of raindrops. As we are in the midst of a drought, it was welcome news for us Californians. But not exactly great news for the runners at the 31st annual Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon and 5K. Before the race I tried to keep everyone positive and upbeat. In our team huddle before the race I reminded the team that while every day was a great day to be a Pamakid, that today was an especially great day to be a Pamakid. Then I looked people in the eyes and told them stick to their race plan despite the rain. “Be patient early. The race still starts at the Great Highway and I’ll be there to remind you of that,” I yelled, “Go Green on three!” I felt like I was leading the Seahawks huddle before they took the field for Super Bowl XLVIII.
The race unfolded beautifully. At the seven mile mark on the Great Highway, I saw most every Pamakid. I then ran over to the mile to go mark and waited for the return of the runners. In particular, I remember seeing Zack Hedling approach. I checked my watch. It read 1 hour, 14 minutes. If he wanted to achieve his goal of running a sub-1:20, he had six minutes to get in. Yelling like Pete Carroll, or like I do when coaching the Sacred Heart Cathedral team, I got in Zack’s face, “You can break 1:20 but you need to go now! Six minutes to glory!”
It was a glorious day for the Pamakids. In 2009, Zack was out top finisher in 99th place with a time of 1:24. In 2008, Adam Lucas was our top finisher in 59th place with a time of 1:22. This year, we had 5 runners in the top 59, all with times of 1:20 or faster. We’ve come a long way. Steve Lloyd was our first top 10 finisher in a long time, running an unbelievable 1:12:13.
Reading on Facebook (isn’t that the now official way of finding out if someone is pleased with their race or not) I read several excited status updates. Yes, it was a good day for the Pamakids:
- As mentioned already, Steve in 7th place (1:12) and Zack, sub-1:20.
- Matt H with a one minute PR of 1:18.
- Denis with yet another small PR as he inches closer and closer to 1:20 flat.
- Fiona pleased with her 1:40.
- Danielle H very pleased to run 8 minutes faster than last year with a 1:40.
- Marlyss and Catrine both pleased to be close to their PR’s despite the wind and rain.
- Akemi, shooting for a 1:53 and running 1:49.
- Jodi, not only breaking 2 hours, but also kicking in to break 1:59.
- Jim, running 6 minutes faster than in 2011.
- Karen, with a six minute course PR and knocking on the door of the 2 hour mark.
- Keith, Jeannie, and Theo all placing first in their respective age divisions.
- Marcia with a big last mile in the 5K.
As I settled in to watch Super Bowl XLVIII I was already excited from all the great race performances I had just witnessed. It turns out, there was one more grand performance left on this memorable day.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer David Nemhauser posted a blog the morning before the game. In the final paragraph, he eloquently expressed what Seahawk fans were feeling and showed his confidence that the Seahawks would win the championship:
The climb to get to this point has been long and treacherous. Fans deserve to savor every moment. Our shared history is marked by a collection of near-misses and nearly hopeless mediocrity. In a world permeated by equivocation and murkiness, we gather today to celebrate the opportunity for crystal clarity. One team will win. One franchise will walk away with an accomplishment that can never be undone. Seahawks fans know which team that will be. The rest of the world finds out tonight.
The Seahawks journey, much like the half marathoners’, was long and treacherous. I am trying to savor every moment from the race and the Super Bowl. February 2, 2014 was a Championship Day like no other!
In cross country, a team’s score is based on the finishing places of its first five runners. Runners number six and seven are called displacers – they have the opportunity to displace other teams’ runners by placing ahead of other teams’ scorers (i.e. their top five runners). The sixth runner also has important value in the event of a tie between teams, as in most competitions, the tie is broken by which team has the higher placing sixth runner.
If all of this seems pretty hypothetical and “not likely” to happen, guess again. More times than you might imagine, the sixth runner can make a big difference in the final results.
Last year at the Pacific Association Cross Country Race at the Presidio, the Pamakids and West Valley Joggers and Striders (WVJ&S) were in a tight battle in the masters race.
The results went like this:
1. Jose Pina, WVJ&S
2. Anthony McGrath, Pamakids
3. Jorn Jensen, WVJ&S
4. Other team
5. Andrew Chan, Pamakids
6. Adam Lucas, Pamakids
7. Adam Prince, WVJ&S
8. Robert Palos, WVJ&S
9 & 10. Other team
11. Jerry Flanagan, Pamakids
12. Other team
13. Richard Martinez, Pamakids
14. Other team
15. Denis Glenn, Pamakids
16-17. Other team
18. Andy Williams, WVJ&S
19-21. Other team
22. Tomas Palermo, Pamakids
23. Other team
24. Tom Fahey, WVJ&S
25. Jimmy Forbis, WVJ&S
Pamakids 2 5 6 11 13 (15) (22) = 37
WVJ&S 1 3 7 8 18 (24) (25) = 37
The Pamakids took 1st place in this race because Denis, as the Pamakid sixth runner, displaced the WVJ&S fifth runner, Williams, a crucial one point. Without Denis, Williams places one spot higher (17th) and WVJ&S would beat Pamakids 36-37. Instead, Denis displaces Williams one place, thus creating a 37-37 tie that is broken by the higher placing sixth runner. Denis won the tie-breaker placing 15th as compared to the WVJ&S sixth runner, who placed 24th.
If you think that was an isolated incident, you would be mistaken. The sixth runner was the hero again for the Pamakids last weekend at the Empire Open race in Santa Rosa. This time it was a tight battle for third place (and third place in the Open Men’s division does get prize money) between Pamakids and the Wolfpack.
The results went like this:
1-10. Other team
11. Simon Novich, Pamakids
12. Alex Esparza, Wolfpack
13-14. Other team
15. Casey Strange, Wolfpack
16. Other team
17. Joe Tomkins, Wolfpack
18. Matt Herzog, Pamakids
19-21. Other team
22. Zachary Hedling, Pamakids
23. Ryan Pletzke, Pamakids
24. Other team
25. Benjamin Willis, Pamakids
26. Eric Huynh, Wolfpack
27. Other team
28. Merick Dang, Pamakids
29. Bjorn Samson, Wolfpack
Pamakids 11 18 22 23 25 (28) = 99
Wolfpack 12 15 17 26 29 = 99
Merick, like Denis the year before, really was the hero for the Pamakids. By placing 28th, he displaced Samson to 29th place. Without Merick, Samson is 28th and the Wolfpack beat the Pamakids, 98-99. But thanks to Merick beating Samson, the Wolfpack score was pushed up to 99, creating a tie, and Merick broke the tie and gave Pamakids third place by being the faster sixth runner (Wolfpack didn’t have a sixth runner).
I don’t have the exact statistics, but I am quite certain I have been on the winning side of more sixth runner tie breaker situations than the losing side. At one memorable Sacred Heart Cathedral league finals meet in 2005, both our JV Girls and Sophomore Boys beat Mitty on the sixth runner tie-breaker (and the Freshmen Boys beat Mitty by one point).
I like to think that one reason the teams that I am associated with come out ahead in these close scenarios, is that I preach the importance of always running like every place will matter, whether you are in the front, the middle, or the back of the pack. Racing with that mentality is often worth one or two points for the team and more often than you might think, those points make a difference in the final team standings.
Keep these stories in mind when you need motivation to keep pushing in the last half mile of a race. You never know when you might score a valuable point or two for your team and be the hero!
Tonight is our last night in Moscow at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. Just like in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, and London, I have mixed emotions. I am both sad that this current adventure is about to end but also ready to be back home.
There is a little bit of a letdown when a global championship comes to its conclusion. Usually during the last month before an Olympics or World Championships, I spend a lot of time thinking about Shannon Rowbury’s race. I scout the competition, research splits from previous meets, and consider a variety of race strategies and tactics. On Shannon’s race days I feel nervous. And when she’s done competing, I feel pride. But also a little bit of emptiness as this goal race that has been on my mind for at least a month (often longer) is over. “What do I do with myself now?” is what I often end up thinking to myself.
Spending ten days at a global championship for me is like having Christmas ten days in a row. I have almost no concerns each day except what time do we need to get to the track and what event is happening tonight.
I love watching athletes competing in track & field at the highest level. There’s so much excitement, emotion, and drama. Just tonight in the span of one hour, I felt exhilaration for Matthew Centrowitz when he found an opening and sprinted to a silver medal in the 1500, I felt empathy for a courageous Alysia Montano, who just couldn’t hold on in the 800, and I felt frustration when the US women had a bad exchange in the 4X100 meter relay. Taking the kid on Christmas Day analogy one step further, I was a kid on Christmas Day opening presents when Centro saw me waving my US flag as he took his victory lap and he pointed at me. Yes, I am going to miss being at this meet every night.
Today, as often happens at the end of the meet, we got to spend some time with Shannon. We had lunch at Cafe Pushkin and grabbed some pies at Stolle. It’s nice to just spend time with her (and Pablo) and talk a little track, but mostly exchange stories about this current adventure. Like I said on Facebook, it really is a privilege to be at a World Championship meet and feel nervous before a race.
All that being said, I am also ready to get out of town.
Beijing Daegu, and Moscow were particularly challenging trips because of the language barrier (so many Germans speak English that Berlin was nowhere near the same challenge). Every outing, every meal, and every trip to the bathroom required mental thought and that can be draining. We also keep pretty long hours when on the road. The meet tends to be a night meet so we often do not get back to our room until midnight. E-mails and internet surfing tend to occupy another hour or more. Come seven the next morning, I am usually up and ready to do some sightseeting. After all, it’s a limited amount of time we’ll be in this foreign land. No point sleeping the time away. All of this hyperactivity, however, can leave one pretty tired by the end of ten days.
On top of all that, in Moscow, we had to do a lot of walking to get around. The subway was 0.75 miles from the hotel and the subway stop nearest the stadium was a 0.5 mile walk. Just getting from the hotel to the stadium and back required 2.5 miles of walking. Malinda and I estimate that we walked about 55 miles while here in Moscow, so over five miles a day. No wonder I am so tired.
Probably the main reason that I look forward to being back in San Francisco is to see the SHC team and start cross country season and to see my Pamakid teammates and tell them stories about Moscow. The official start of the cross country season is August 19. My assistant coaches will be running practice because I’ll spend most of the day in an airplane traveling home. But I’ll be there on August 20. There may or may not be another Shannon Rowbury on this year’s team, but I still plan to put all my heart into coaching this group and making them the best runners that they can be – just like I did with Shannon and everyone else that’s been on the team over the past fifteen years.
Good night and good bye, Moscow. Thanks for a memorable trip!
As everyone who follows my coaching style knows, I hate Trial Days. If you are one of the favorites then nothing real good can happen, only something bad. If you qualify on, it’s no big deal because you were supposed to. If you don’t qualify on, it’s a disaster. I often use the phrase, “live to run again,” when giving instructions to my athletes at trials.
Today (Wednesday, August 14) was a Trials Day.
On most of Shannon’s trials days at global championships in the past I have been quite nervous – usually indicated by me not talking much (so only Malinda really knows that I am nervous). Interestingly, neither Malinda or I were as nervous as usual today. Last night I was super tired from all the walking we’ve been doing and the less than six hours of sleep we’ve been getting. Upon waking this morning, I was more tired than nervous.
There’s also something to be said about the 5000 trials being less stressful than 1500 trials. In the 5000, Shannon could control more variables and there would be more time to deal with problems during the race (getting boxed in, not the pace desired, etc.). I really felt like Shannon should cruise to the 5000 final….and she did.
After a super slow first 800, the pace picked up in such a way that with about six laps to go, it was apparent who the top five would be because there was a sizeable gap back to sixth place. That’s when I started yelling to Shannon that she was clear. In high school, I told Shannon she was never to look back in a race except in a trials race when it was okay to look back to check your position. I think she may still employ this strategy. Over the last lap she checked behind her several times and definitely jogged in the last half lap when she knew she was going to place in the top five and qualify on.
In the end, the times were very slow in Shannon’s heat 1. That led to all the time qualifiers coming from heat 2, where ten out of the eleven runners qualified for the final.
After the race we met up with Shannon, her parents, coach, and boyfriend and went to the Nike House with them for some food and relaxation. With the trials behind us, there was no need to talk track. Instead, we could focus on swapping Russia travel stories. But unspoken throughout the afternoon was the fact that Shannon’s in a great spot. It should be an exciting 5000 meter final and with her speed, if she can hang around with the leaders until it’s time to kick…..well, you just never know.
I’ve been to a lot of track & field meets in my lifetime. Often things happen at meets that stick in my mind – sometimes something big and sometimes something small. Tonight, on the opening night of the fourteenth IAAF World Championships in Moscow, two things, both small, occurred that stuck in out in my mind.
First, after the men’s 10,000 meters, Mo Farah was beginning his celebratory victory lap surrounded by photographers. I noticed some British fans in front of us waving their UK flags. I told Malinda to have her camera ready because Mo might stop in front of our section, because of these UK fans, and do the “Mobot.” Sure enough, he did (photo coming when we can get to a computer with a USB port). After that, Mo motioned to one of the UK fans for his Union Jack flag – Mo needed a flag for the traditional photos and victory lap. The man tossed his flag to a photographer, who was gracious enough to take it to Mo. “Wow!” I thought to myself….what an honor to have Mo take YOUR flag for all these photos and the victory lap! “That guy is going to have a story to tell his running buddies when he gets home,” I told Malinda.
This reminds me of a story from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. We had great seats, right by the finish line in around row fifteen. After the men’s 5000, I was on my feet waving a US flag and cheering for Lagat. Suddenly, “Kip” looked up into the stands. He was looking for a US flag for the victory lap that all three medalists take. I swear Lagat looked at my flag and our eyes locked for a moment. Then someone closer (maybe around row eight) got his attention and Lagat ended up taking that person’s flag. I was THAT close to having my own, “my flag went on a victory lap” story.
But I digress…
The second small thing from tonight happened with Usain Bolt. As Bolt came out for his heat of the 100 meter rounds, the somewhat sparse crowd in Luzhniki Stadium went wild. It was the loudest the crowd was all night. Malinda and I had a short discussion about whether or not track & field has ever had an icon like Usain Bolt. I think the answer is no. Bolt is the first, the current, and possibly the greatest most recognizable athlete that the sport has and will ever see. Bolt is a world record holder, he competes in multiple events and is thus a multiple time champion, and he knows how to play to the crowd.
In the final moments before the race, Bolt removed his sweats and placed them into the sweats basket. I was thinking to myself, will Bolt interact with the volunteer who is in charge of carrying his sweats. In Berlin at the 2009 World Championships, Bolt was always playful with the volunteers. But Russians are known to be quite serious and maybe he would resist the temptation. But luckily, Usain Bolt is Usain Bolt. He fist pumped the volunteer and then made his way to his starting blocks. I loved it! That young volunteer will have a story for the rest of his life about giving Usain Bolt a fist pump before his race.
The first day of ten days at the 2013 World Championships is in the books. It was a great night of small things.