In April 2010 I ran a somewhat surprising 17:10 at the Zippy 5K. I wasn’t really training hard for the race and my recent 5K’s had been in the 17:20-17:40 range. I made it a goal to run sub-17 at the 2011 Zippy race, when I would be forty years old. It was a pretty ambitious goal since the only other time in my life I ran sub-17 was in 2000 when I ran my PR of 16:35 – I was twenty-nine years old. I will always remember that race because it was the Jamba Juice Banana Man 5K and they gave free Jamba Juice for a year to the top twenty-five finishers. Me and my 16:35 came in twenty-sixth.
The sub-17 goal seemed like a reasonable one to make at the time. It was a whole year until I would need to back it up. I raced well during the fall so I stayed optimistic that I could break 17 minutes. Last December I crossed over into the world of masters runners. My first three races of 2011 were all solid. But they were all just a little slower than I had run them in 2010. Did being forty add ten seconds to my time by default? I needed to drop ten seconds, not add ten seconds.
After running an 18:00 5K at the Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders Couples Relay eight weeks ago I realized it was time to actually do some training for my sub-17 goal. My savior was the Tuesday night “Spot Run” attended by many of the Pamakid Runners. For most of the runners at the Spot Run, Tuesday is a tempo run-type workout that supplements their weekend long run and their Thursday night speed workout on the track. Due to my high school track & field coaching responsibilities the Spot Run was my tempo run, my long run, and sometimes my speed workout all rolled into one hour between 6:30 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. on Tuesday. Thanks to the camaraderie of the Spot Run group I ran three mile tempos, two mile repeats, fartleks, and other workouts that improved my fitness and confidence.
I supplemented my training by going to the weight room with my track & field team once a week. I jumped on the track and ran 200’s with the kids a couple of times, and I even went out and ran 4 X 1200 meters on the track alone once. I ran a tough 3 X 1 mile workout on the Zippy course two weeks ago to prepare my legs to run 5:30’s per mile. Just as importantly I followed some of my own coaching advice – I started talking about my goal. Talking about it to my Pamakid teammates and posting about it on Facebook made me accountable for the goal.
The weekend of the race I was in the zone. I drank lots of water all day Friday and Saturday. I ran a pre-meet workout with striders on Saturday. I had pasta for dinner. I laid out my race shoes and uniform the night before. I did lots of stretching and went to bed early.
Race morning I made sure I left myself lots of time to eat before the race and to do a long warm-up. The fact that it started to rain during the warm-up didn’t bother me in the least. I kept doing what I needed to do to be ready to race.
Last year when I ran 17:10 I ran 5:37 and 5:36 for the first two miles, then surged a 5:54 for the last 1.1 miles (approximately 5:23 for the third mile and :31 for the last 0.1). My plan this year was to run an aggressive first mile and then try to be at 11:10 or faster at the two mile mark. I decided earlier this week that if I was faster than 5:28 for the first mile I would focus on just holding my position and pace during the second mile around Stow Lake. If it was slower than 5:35 I would focus on picking it up around Stow Lake. If my split was between 5:28 and 5:35, I was going to make an in the moment decision. I hit the first mile in 5:25 so I settled in and tried to keep the same place around Stow Lake. I actually slowed down a bit, but I hit the two mile mark at 11:05 so I was where I wanted to be. But now I needed to run a fast last mile like I did last year. “Run like a bat out of hell” is what I said I would do on Facebook. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it. I wasn’t moving up and passing people like I did last year. With three quarters of a mile to go, I thought about Desiree Davila and her race at last week’s Boston Marathon. “Do it like Desi did,” I said to myself. With a half mile to go Mark Hermano yelled, “This is your mile!” All this was helping me stay on pace for a sub-17.
I looked at my watch at one point and it said 15:27. I had just over ninety seconds to get in. I looked up and could see the finish line… to my oxygen deprived brain it looked about ninety seconds away. It was going to be close. I needed to speed up or I might just miss. I thought of a quote I once read in Runner’s World, “It will be over with soon, and once it’s over, you’ll own it forever.” I wanted to own a sub-17.
Inspired by some of my SHC runners like Michael Fuerte surging on the third lap of the mile to run a nine second PR in the mile, Juliana Flynn running a 2:42 800 at the end of a tough interval workout, and Carlos Flores who split 5:07 and 5:21 on his way to a 10:28 3200 meters, I started kicking for the finish line. I passed a couple runners in the final stretch and crossed the finish line.
The clock read 16:57!
Assignment: Write something about my running that will be informative, inspirational, motivational, funny, AND 800-950 words. Gee, where do I start? I’ve run 3 marathons, have a 5K PR of 16:35 and a 10K PR of 34:10, have coached track workouts at Kezar since 1994 and coached at the high school and collegiate level. But before all that, there was a skinny (OK, I’m still skinny) teenager who took up running because his friend Eugene Cho said he should. So I have decided to write about some of the experiences at the beginning of my running career, some 20+ years ago. These set the stage for me to be a passionate runner.
Middle School All-City Trials, McAteer High School, 1985. Running for Aptos Middle School and just a novice at running, I ran the 800. My PR was 2:28. The day of All-City Trials we took MUNI to McAteer but were told to go home because of a bomb scare. Later that afternoon I got a call at home telling me to come back to McAteer, the meet was still on. My parents drove me there. It was the first time my Mom saw me run. Unfortunately I did not qualify for All-City Finals. It was a close battle down the homestretch and I fell after crossing the finish line, scrapping up my knee and elbow. My superstitious mother would not come watch me run again until I was a senior in high school.
Lowell Cross Country Practice, Soccer Field, 1985. We were running hill repeats. Coach Lloyd Wilson lined us up by ability and the name of the game was “Catch.” The slower runners started first followed by the faster runners. If you got caught, you had to do another one. If you caught someone, you got to sit out the next repeat. I don’t remember how many hills I ran that afternoon but I do remember I was way at the FRONT of the line. I watched curiously as Coach Wilson joked around with the varsity runners who were all at the back of the line, waiting to chase down us slowpokes. At that moment, I decided I wanted to be a good runner and be at the back of that line someday. 13 years later, when I became head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral, that same Coach Wilson signed on to be an assistant on my staff.
Freshman and Sophomore Years, 1986-1987. A transformation occurred in me. At the beginning, I dreaded practice everyday. Every workout, every race seemed a challenge that I was uncertain I could complete. And if I could complete it, how hard would it be? I remember going to track practice the first day and wondering to myself, “Why am I doing this? It was so nice not running.” But some of the upper classmen were particularly encouraging, giving me a sense that I couldn’t quit now. Gradually I got better so that each practice didn’t seem like an ultimate test of my abilities. James Thomas coached the distance runners my sophomore year and I liked bantering with him as he rode his bike alongside us. The interval workouts at SF State still left me feeling terrible but now there was also a real sense of accomplishment. For the first time in my life I had the confidence to step up and be a leader. I was the team captain of the track team my sophomore year.
Junior Year, 1987-88. There was something very fun and addicting about improving and having success. I won some medals at races. My junior year I was on the last place team at the first California State Cross Country Meet. 19 years later, I have attended every State Meet as either an athlete or a coach. Going to all day track meets with your closest friends and competing was a highlight. I loved relays, when I was sick to my stomach with nerves and floating on cloud 9 because of the sense of responsibility I felt for the team. That was before I even got the baton. Every week, I looked forward to the upcoming weekend’s meet. During my junior year, I was invited to travel to Germany to run in the Munich New Year’s Eve race. It was a real eye opener to meet other runners from the state. I was pretty intimidated because as we compared our PR’s, I felt I was the slowest one there. But when it came to the race, I summoned up the strength to be the first Californian.
Cross Country All-City, Polo Fields, 1988 (Senior Year). It was raining. The team outcome for the meet was not in doubt. Lowell would win all three division and as the SF Champions, we would advance to the State Meet. What was in doubt was the order of finish within our own team. As a senior, I was getting beat all season by one junior (Luke) and a bunch of sophomores (Gabe and Dan). There was also a strong runner from McAteer (Andres). I began getting nervous for this race weeks before it. It would be my last All-City and I wanted more than anything to win a trophy (top 3). In all my previous years, I had peaked nicely and run my best race of the season at All-City. But could I do it again? I started listening to Whitney Houston’s “One Moment In Time” and visualizing the race every night. I didn’t know this was a proven technique for improving performances. It was just something I did. Every night I would picture the race course and “feel” myself surging during the second mile and passing runners in the last mile. As the race unfolded, it was almost like I had run it already. It happened just as I had imagined it! A group of us were together through a mile and half. With a mile to go it was Luke in 1st, Andres in 2nd and I made a conscious effort to pass my teammates and get into 3rd. Rain was coming down hard. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, just like in my visualization. I still remember entering the Polo Fields, my teammate Teo was jumping up and down screaming at me to kick it in and pass Andres….I did. I took 2nd place at All-City!!
Track & Field All-City, Laney College, 1989 (Senior Year). My final high school races were everything I could have asked for. My team, Lowell, trailed McAteer by 41 points after the first day’s field events. I had “doped out” the meet with the coaches and knew we had a chance, but needed everything to go our way on the final day, to win the team championship. Little by little we closed the gap. But, we were running out of events. I had already run the 1600 and 800. They were not my best times or top places but I was worried about the team score not my individual performance. It was my last track meet and everything was happening so fast. I wished things would slow down so I could soak it up and enjoy it. I was on the 4X400 and we were battling McAteer for every point. My teammates and rivals from cross country (Gabe and Dan) went 1-2 in the 3200 which gave us enough points to pull close. How close I didn’t know. We wanted it to come down to the 4X400. All we wanted was a chance. I was beyond nervous. Coach Wilson, a man of few words, came to the warm-up area and said a lot with just three words, “We’re down one.” Translation:
- We’ve made up 40 points so far.
- If we beat McAteer in this race, we will win the championship.
- If you win this race, you will go to the California Track & Field State Meet.
- This is possibly your last high school race.
- Go hard and leave it all out there.
I love that moment. We weren’t able to beat McAteer and pull off the miracle comeback. But I treasure the memory.
The Passionate Runner. Running has given me something that I am passionate about. Something to put all my heart into. I feel blessed to have something I care deeply about and I like to instill that same passion in others. That’s why I keep running. That’s why I am passionate about coaching.