1) When and how did you get your start in running?
I started running when I joined the track team in eighth grade at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. The same friend that got me to try track, also encouraged me to join cross country my freshman year at Lowell High School. It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t terrific, but there was something about it that got me hooked.
2) Tell us a little about your experiences in high school and college? Highlights? What is your current running situation and when are you able to train?
I ran all four years both cross country and track & field at Lowell High School. I loved being the captain of the team. I think that was the first time in my life that I thrived on being the leader of something. In cross country I got to run at the first two California State Meets (we were the first last place team in California State Meet history). In track & field I had a memorable senior season when four of us ran together for the 4X400, 4X800, and Distance Medley relays. We called ourselves “The Four Horsemen” and brought home a fair number of invitational medals.
I did not compete in college.
I still like to race. I run for the Pamakid Runners (I’m coach and president of the club). I do most of my running with the SHCP team. Certain times of the year I get in pretty good shape by just trying to keep up with the varsity or by doing what amounts to a fartlek, sprinting from person to person trying to run with as many kids as possible during a single practice. Other times of the year (dual meet track & field season) I do hardly any running other than some 2-3 mile pre-meet shake outs.
3) When did you decide to enter the coaching field?
I think I knew as soon as I graduated from high school that I wanted to coach. I remember writing workouts and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the Lowell team the summer after I graduated. I went to UCLA and as soon as I arrived there, I asked the coach if he needed a manager. When he said yes, I began my coaching career. I started off by writing down results and passing out uniforms but as the years went on I got to do more and more coaching at UCLA.
After I graduated from UCLA, I entered podiatry school. I helped as an assistant coach at Lowell but figured I would be giving up the coaching to be a podiatrist once I finished school. As I neared the end of podiatry residency, I realized that I was just too passionate about coaching to give it up. I decided to get a masters degree in sports management. My mom saw an ad for a head cross country coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory so I decided to apply. Twelve years later, SHCP is certainly where I consider home.
4) Who were your mentors as you started out as a young coach?
Bob Messina was the women’s UCLA coach when I started. I learned a lot from spending time with him, both training ideas and how to make workouts interesting and fun. In my senior year I got to work with Bob Larsen. I didn’t realize it at the time but I learned a lot from Larsen and he is one of the most knowledgeable coaches in the country. I still look up to my high school coach, Lloyd Wilson, because he got me started in the sport. In fact, Lloyd has been an assistant track & field coach with me at SHCP since I started in 1999.
5) What do you feel are the biggest changes you have made as a coach from when you first started to now?
I have a better understanding of what I am trying to accomplish with each workout now. Before it was just hard/easy because that’s “what you did.” Now I pay more attention to the pace people are running and try to make sure we do some training at a variety of paces (e.g. sprints, VO2 max, race pace, lactate threshold, recovery) in a given week. As a result of being older and more experienced, I think I communicate better now with the team, the parents, etc.
6) The best two runners you have coached at SHCP are Michelle Gallagher and Shannon Rowbury. Tell us about each runner, their strengths and some of their successes in hs?
Michelle’s strength was her endurance. She liked volume. Before her last track & field State Meet, she had been sick and was just getting better after missing a lot of training. I actually had her do two hard workouts the week before State because she was sharper when she was doing a lot of quality. When she ran her best races it was usually when she had started off conservatively and moved up over the second half of the race. She ran 10:33 at Arcadia, and was 4th in the 3200 at the 2003 State Meet. In both races she ran negative splits and just kept passing people over the last laps.
Shannon’s strengths in high school were her speed and race tactics. She had some amazing kicks in high school when she would come from way behind to win a race. She was also very good at following a race plan. We would spend hours going over race tactics for big meets (how fast to go out, what position to be in, when to make a move, etc.) and I guess it paid off. Her major high school wins were 2001 Arcadia 800, 2001 State Meet 800, 2001 Outdoor Nationals 800, and 2002 State Meet 1600. Her high school PR’s really speak to her versatility: 2:08.52 (800), 4:51.0 (1600), 9:38.41 (3000), 17:52 (Woodward Park).
7) Shannon was able to compete in the ‘08 Olympics and ‘09 Track and Field World Championships. You were able to travel to both events. A little about each experience?
My wife, Malinda, and I realize that we are in a pretty special situation. I happened to have coached someone who has gone on to run at a high level and we have jobs and the finances that enable us to go watch Shannon compete. Not many people are in this position and this isn’t going to go on forever, so we’ve made the decision to try our best to go cheer for Shannon in person at international championships.
The 2008 Olympics is almost a blur in my mind. In May Shannon was chasing the Olympic A standard and in August we were at the Bird’s Nest. There was a moment during the Olympics when I just said to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening.” I don’t think I ever dreamed I would be at the Olympics cheering for someone I know so well. Before Shannon’s race, she jumped up and down three times. Nothing unusual, just part of her routine. I’m sure other athletes did their typical pre-race routines, too. But Shannon’s three jumps just warmed my heart. I’ve seen her jump up and down three times before a race hundreds of times. She’s done it at SI, at Los Gatos, at Crystal Springs. And that night she did it at the Olympics.
The 2009 World Championships were better from a track & field perspective. The fans in Berlin were very knowledgeable and I was pretty much in heaven going to the stadium every night for nine nights in a row to watch the best athletes in the world compete. The night of the women’s 1500 final was full of memorable emotions. Shannon was 4th across the finish line and I was happy for her because I felt that she ran a good race and should have no regrets. But then it looked like there would be a DQ and Shannon would get the bronze medal. What an emotional roller coaster the waiting was… Even though I saw her with my own eyes standing on the medal stand receiving a bronze medal at the world championships, it didn’t seem like it was really happening until someone sent me a congratulatory text message. Then I got all emotional. Looking at the pictures now, the smile on my face tells it all – I was so happy and proud of Shannon. To be able to be there and see it in person and give her a hug at dinner later that night was a pretty awesome experience.
8) You also coach adult runners (I believe). What group do you coach? What are the biggest differences between coaching high school students and adults?
I have been coaching Thursday night track workouts since 1994. The group has evolved through the years. We call ourselves the K-Stars (K for Kezar Stadium, where the workouts take place). Most of the people who run at these workouts (12-20 people usually come) are members of the Pamakid Runners. The main difference between coaching the adults and the high school team is that I know the high school team’s entire training plan and they are all more or less on the same schedule. So the workouts are quite specific. With the adults, I have a basic track interval workout and just give people guidelines for goal pace. I do coach some adults privately. With them, I give them a training schedule and it’s up to them to get the workouts done. With the team, not only do I write the workouts, I oversee their execution, too. Another difference is that with the high school team, I think it’s my job to help motivate and inspire the athletes. With the adults, I expect them to be self-motivated, so I spend less time on that (although I give the occasional rah-rah speech that they seem to enjoy!).
9) SHC is always a large and spirited team. How do you get so many runners out for you team? What activities do you do to help build team camaraderie?
Thank you for noticing our spirit. We pride ourselves on being spirited and I think this year’s cross country team may be one of our all-time best in that department. We really don’t do anything too crazy to get people to come out. We’ve had 47-48 runners the past two years. That’s actually a good number for me. Any more and I feel the experience for the team isn’t as good because they don’t get as much personal attention from me. I strive to make the experience enjoyable so that the kids want to recruit their friends to come out too. I think having a lot of traditions builds team camaraderie because it makes people feel that they are part of something special. We do typical things like team dinners, games at practice, wacky awards, etc. The kids might disagree but having some traditional workouts (even the hard ones) are an important part of our team culture. We also have an annual theme and logo, a senior day, a Sausalito run, and a summer leadership retreat.
10) What are some of the cross country meets your teams have attended in the past few years that have been really positive experiences for your runners?
We’ve been to the Three Course Challenge in Seaside, Oregon two times (2004 & 2007). They have three courses there (a hard, a medium, and an easy course). The hard and medium courses include a mud pit the kids have to run through. All the races take place on a military base and there are all kinds of challenging terrain that you don’t see elsewhere. “This is real cross country” is a comment I often hear from the kids when we race at this meet. I am always changing up our meet schedule from year to year. I like to go to different places, race different teams, have a different levels of competition, and also race at some of the same places annually so we can measure improvement. I think this mix of meets makes for a positive experience.
11) What would be your best advice for a young aspiring cross country coach?
Be excited and passionate about the sport. Do everything you can to make everyone in the program feel that they are part of something unique and special. When you do that, the kids become very self-motivated. Then the hard work will get done and you can’t help but have success.
12) Anything else you would like to add.
This sport has been very good to me. I’ve gotten to share my passion for the sport with hundreds of kids. I love how the alumni keep in touch with me and I’m especially proud that many of them have come back to coach at SHCP. Thanks to coaching, I’ve gotten to go to some big meets and experience some fun and memorable times. I even met my wife though running. But there’s no better feeling than being out there at practice doing a hill workout or hard interval and seeing the whole team pushing as hard as they can to get it done. Those moments always excite me and that’s what keeps me coaching.