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.