In 1915, the state of California held its first ever state championships track & field meet. The meet took place in Fresno with 91 male athletes representing 28 different schools. Points were scored in 13 events (100, 220, 440, 880, Mile, 120 Highs, 220 Lows, 880 Relay, Shot Put, Discus, Pole Vault, High Jump, and Broad Jump). In addition, there were non-scoring competitions in the javelin and hammer throw. In 1974, the first official girls competition took place at the California state meet.
Over the years the California state meet has garnered a great deal of respect for its elite competition. There are no divisions or classes at the California state meet based on school size. To win a track & field state championship in California means that the athlete is number one in the entire state. It is no wonder that since 1994, future Olympians including Mebrahtom Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, Allyson Felix, Shannon Rowbury, Chaunte Howard-Lowe, Stephanie Brown, Joanna Hayes, Lashinda Demus, Sharon Day, Jill Camarena, Suzy Powell, Michael Stember, Tyree Washington, Monique Henderson, and Angela Williams have won California state championships.
The last time an athlete from Sacred Heart Cathedral qualified for the state meet was 2003. Future women’s Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Michelle Gallagher represented the Irish that year. Gallagher had a terrific regular season, setting personal records of 2:17 (800) and 4:57 (mile). Her best race was a 10:33.04 that earned her fifth place in the 3200 meters at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational and ranked her in the top fifteen in the nation. At the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) Finals, she was second in the 1600 (4:57.13) and set meet record that still stands in the 3200 meters (10:49.11).
One week later, Gallagher came down with the flu. She attended the SHC graduation ceremony and then her mom drove her to the Central Coast Section (CCS) Trials Meet. When she arrived she didn’t look good. She was determined to run the 3200 to try to place in the top 12 to qualify for the CCS Finals. Fortunately she was talented enough that it didn’t take her best effort to qualify on. In the days that followed that race she was still not feeling great so she did pretty light workouts leading up to CCS Finals. At CCS Finals she faced some tough competition in defending champion Ruth Graham of Gunn High School and Melissa Grelli of Presentation, who beat Gallagher at the state meet in cross country. We decided that since she was not 100% healthy, it was in her best interest to not go for the win but instead to run for third place to qualify for the state meet. Tough as it was for her to let the other two beat her, it was the right decision. Gallagher ran conservatively for most of the race, finishing in 11:01.45, eighteen seconds behind Graham and twelve seconds behind Grelli – but more importantly eight seconds ahead of the fourth place runner.
Now that she was qualified for the state meet, I had some decisions to make. Normally I fill the week between CCS Finals and the state meet with light running to rest up for the championship race. But in Gallagher’s case she had missed a great deal of training, and she was a runner who thrived on hard training. I consulted with a coaching friend that I respect, Don Paul, and decided that I would do something a little different. I gave Gallagher hard interval workouts on Monday and Wednesday, leading up to the Saturday state championship race. On Monday she ran 2X400 (80, 79), 4X800 (2:41, 2:40, 2:41, 2:38), and 2X200 (34, 33). On Wednesday she ran 1600 (5:20), 3XPower 500 (94, 95, 98), 2X200 (33,33). This was much more intensity and volume than I would give any other runner I’ve ever coached in high school the week of a big race – except for Gallagher.
Throughout Gallagher’s career we always battled about the race plan. She tended to go out fast and would fade in the final laps. I liked it when she ran even or negative splits. Her best paced race was the 10:33 at Arcadia when she ran 5:21 for the first 1600 and 5:12 for second 1600. I wanted her to run a similar race at state. After the first lap, run in 76 seconds, she was in eighteenth place. Then she locked in. She ran 80, 81, and 81 for the next three laps and moved up to eleventh place at the midway point, splitting 5:19 for the first 1600. On lap five she ran another 81 but passed three people, including Grelli, to move into eighth place. On lap six she ran an 80 and passed three more people, including Graham, to move into fifth place. It was going perfectly. She was running a steady pace and as everyone else slowed down she moved up. On the seventh lap she ran an 82 and passed one more runner to move into fourth place, where she stayed. Her final time was 10:41.37. She moved from eighteenth place to fourth place during the race. She had the satisfaction of being the top runner from the CCS, beating the two runners who had beaten her the week before at CCS Finals, when she had to just let them go in order to make sure she qualified. It was a proud coaching moment for me.
Eight years have passed since that state meet. We had a near-qualifier in 2007, when James Mabrey placed fifth at CCS Finals in the high jump and triple jump. On Friday May 27, 2011, the Irish have athletes competing in seven events at the CCS Finals. We did a great job to qualify so many people this far. I believe that anything can happen at CCS Finals. There are eight invitations in each event to the CCS Finals and we are happy to have one of them in seven different events. On Friday we will compete in the girls shot put, the girls 400, the boys 100, the boys 800, the boys 200, and both the girls and boys 4X400 relay. The top three will go to the state meet. We have seven shots at getting to the state meet. Maybe we’ll qualify in all seven. Maybe we won’t qualify in any. It’s the unknown that makes this week so exciting.
The California state championship meet is an amazing meet to be at. The competition is fierce. It’s an honor and a privilege to compete at a meet of its caliber. I would love the honor and privilege to be coaching at the state meet this season. I’ve even promised the team that if someone qualifies they can shave my head bald. The road to state goes through Gilroy this Friday. Go Irish!
I think I will remember this decade as the decade I established myself as a successful coach. In the 90’s, I was still pretty competitive myself as a runner and I was a little more focused on my own running and racing than coaching. During the 90’s, I ran three marathons and set most of my PR’s. I also laid the groundwork for my coaching career (team manager at UCLA, asst. coach at Lowell, started Thursday night track workouts for the DSE), but it has been in the last ten years that I have made a bigger impact as a coach.
When the decade began I was 29 years old and had been a head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory (SHCP) for just one and a half years. Although I had been coaching the Thursday night track workouts for five years, it was quite different – there was no Pamakid Runners club involvement and on average just eight to ten people were at each track workout.
Now as the decade ends, I am 39 years old and am in my twelfth year as head coach at SHCP. Thursday night track workouts have been going for fifteen years and we average 15-20 people at each workout. I am both President and Coach of the Pamakids and also coach many people privately.
I won’t rank my top ten coaching memories from this decade, but instead will list them in chronological order. If you are reading this as a word file, you can click on the hyperlinks for more details about the event.
I’d never really followed the discus much as a coach. Before 2000, a high schooler throwing the discus 140 feet was pretty darn good to me. That all changed with Tony. When Tony threw, the discus just soared and soared like a Frisbee. All season long meet officials didn’t believe me when I warned them that we had a kid who could throw the discus over their boundary flags. This was most apparent on an April evening at UC Davis. Tony nearly hit the official with his 182-11 toss (fourth best in the state at that point in the season). We had to help the official mark the throw because he was more focused on getting out of the way than spotting the landing of the throw. Tony went on to throw a best of 194-4 (I missed this throw because Shannon Rowbury had an 800 race at the same time) and placed sixth at the State Meet.
June 2001 – Shannon Rowbury winning the State Meet 800.
Shannon and I shared a lot of great moments when she was in high school (Arcadia 800 win, Outdoor Nationals win, State Champion in the 1600) but her first State Championship stands out in my mind as special above the others.
April 2002 – The Varsity Boys beating Mitty in a dual meet.
It had been at least ten years since SHCP’s Varsity Boys had won a dual meet. We targeted April 17, 2002 as our chance to end the streak. It was a back and forth battle and it all came down to our victory in the 4X400 Relay.
The dream of getting the boy’s team to State Meet started two years earlier. It was a tight battle between six schools for the four qualifying spots. Our theme was “Be a hero and let’s get to that big dance in Fresno.”
A week before the race I announced that I would run 7:20 pace for the first seven miles of the race to help people hit their goal of a 1:36 half marathon. I had a good-sized group of runners and I was really proud when everyone came in at or under their goal time. It was during this run, from mile four to six, that Sara Saba and I discussed how to go about fielding a Pamakid women’s cross country team in the near future. Less than three short years later, the Pamakids cross country team grew to include men and women, open and masters.
May 2007/May 2009 – Coaching the whole kid, not just the athlete.
A high school coach is tasked with more than making someone successful in sport. I am proud to have played a role in the development of two special people: James Mabrey (2007) and Tammia Hubbard (2009). Both of these individuals came to SHCP thinking that they were basketball players. They faced numerous challenges but through our hard work they were successful in school and ended their high school careers as league champions.
I was coaching Michelle in her first year after finishing college. After she ran a fast time at the San Jose Rock ‘n Roll half marathon, her goal changed from just running a marathon to going for a sub-2:47.
Everything happened fast from early-May to early-July. Shannon was home in San Francisco training for the Olympic Trials and I volunteered to help her in any way that I could. For the most part that meant meeting her at the track to help her do Coach John Cook’s workouts and talking to her about anything and everything. There was a bit of a media blitz as Shannon went from chasing the “A” standard to being the favorite to win. It was all a brand new experience for me – especially the priceless moment: watching the kids you coached in high school make the Olympics!
December 2009 – Seeing Pamakids succeed at CIM.
It was a wildly successful day for the Pamakids at CIM – all three relay teams placed second in their division (thanks in part to the now famous meet sheet). In addition there were numerous PR’s among the thirteen Pamakid marathoners and all four people that I was coaching achieved their goal of a Boston qualifier.
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.
I knew that watching Michelle during the California International Marathon (CIM), at the pace she would be running was going to be a challenge. That’s why I was only half joking when I e-mailed Tower and asked him if he wanted to come. It’s why I was really excited when he found a flight and was willing to fly from Texas to spend a few hours with Michelle, Malinda, me, and some of the Pamakids in Sacramento for CIM.
Tower has a real knack for knowing what I am thinking or what I want to do…sometimes even before I know it. One of his high school classmates once said that he and I must “share a brain” (actually what she said was to imply that given our intelligence it must be only half a brain between us and we must be sharing it at that). Anyway, Tower and I have been together on the CIM course many times and I knew his presence would be a valuable addition to the crewing team.
The real key to our successful day was the “map session” we had Saturday night in the hotel. That’s when Malinda looked at the map and I was able to tell her what I wanted to do. She had refused to engage in any dialogue about my meet sheet the whole week leading up to CIM (unless you consider rolling one’s eyes dialogue….in which case we had lots of dialogue). Saturday night, Malinda, Tower, and I created what we believe to be the best CIM course map in the 25 year history of the race. We had to tape two AAA maps together with athletic tape to create our masterpiece. The course was highlighted in pink, the driving spots highlighted in yellow, and the mile marks (this was key) in black sharpie. Upon completing this map, we were all set and ready to crew. No wonder I woke up at 5:20am Sunday morning full of confidence.
One thing I vacillated about the whole week leading up to CIM was what to do at the beginning of the race. I wanted to be with Michelle to keep her relaxed at the start line. But I also knew it was important to get a mile split and a 2 mile split. I felt I needed to be at 2 miles in case stern directions about going out too fast needed to be given. But I worried that we wouldn’t have accurate watches on the course if we weren’t at the start line to hear the gun go off. I was also concerned about being on the course illegally with a bike or getting Michelle in trouble for having a pacer by running along side her.
In the end, I came up with the best possible plan given the parameters I was working with. Leah was at the start line with Malinda’s phone. Malinda, Tower, and I drove out to the boonies (sorry, Denis, I know you have friends that live there) to be at the 2.3 mile mark. From there, Tower ran back to the 1 mile mark and I ran back to the 2 mile mark. Right before the race started Leah (using Malinda’s cell phone) called me (speed dial #1) so I could hear the race start. Then I called Tower 2 minutes into the race (he had already set his watch to 2:00) and said go. Now we had two watches with the right time. Later in the car at the 20:00 minute mark, we synced Malinda’s watch.
With watches synchronized, Tower took the mile 1 split and called me to tell me what it was. Then he “casually” ran along side the 7:00 milers to get back to the car (as casually as he could seeing that it felt like a sprint to him and he was breathing really hard at the 1.5 mile mark on a marathon course – “it’s OK, I’m just doing the relay” he told a concerned onlooker). I got Michelle’s 2nd mile split and gave some instructions about relaxing and being on pace, not fast. As we ran to the car, Leah called to say she still had Malinda’s phone but couldn’t find us. Then she called back and told us to turn around because she was right behind us and wanted to hand us the phone (less weight without cell phone usually equates to 1.5 seconds/mile).
Then the crew started a routine that would continue for the next couple hours. Malinda was driving. I was shotgun, reading the map. Tower was in the backseat, updating a specially prepared excel spreadsheet on the laptop (which gave me final time projections). I would also ask questions like what the time was and what time we expected Michelle at various spots. Tower was always able to answer quickly, helping me determine where we would drive to next. We usually had an aggressive plan and a conservative plan to choose between, depending if we thought we could get to a spot in time to see her. By nature, I usually went aggressive.
It was very congested at the first relay exchange. That’s when I came up with cardinal rule #2 for crewing CIM (rule #1 is: stay to the north of the course). The new rule is: avoid relay exchange zones (unless you are driving a relay runner to their spot). Somehow we not only got parked and saw Michelle, the relay runners, and John, but we reunited with Margaret and Leah & Ellen, who had just run the lead-off leg of the relay. We now had three cars traveling together watching the race.
The next couple stops included some scary moments. It seems we all needed a bathroom and were constantly in search of one that would not cause us any delay. At one stop it looked like Malinda was going to either have to back the Explorer up 200 feet with oncoming cars or hop the curb. Fortunately the police started letting cars make u-turns. At another spot we needed to use alternate side roads to get out. We were held up in traffic once but the police officer finally let all three of our cars pass together as a caravan.
Tower started running forward or backward on the course when we parked so we could get an accurate mile split. Our map was invaluable because we always knew how far the next mile mark was and which direction to run. Sometime during this rush of activity, Margaret, who was taking photos at every stop, exclaimed, “I’m having so much fun following you guys to watch the race!” I was in game face mode so it wasn’t until later that I re-called hearing her say that. Speaking of game face, I asked Michelle around mile 10 what her last mile split was and she didn’t answer me. So I asked again, this time louder. Still no answer. As I was about to yell out my question a third time, one of the women running with her decided to answer for her so that I would shut up and leave them alone.
At mile 18, I asked Michelle how she felt; she nodded and said fine. So I told her to pick it up a little bit and she immediately surged. I thought to myself if she can do that now at mile 18, she’s going to be fine. As we headed back to the cars, I told the others that she was going to get the time. That’s when I started to feel confident.
The confidence must have led me to make the only two crewing tactical errors of the day. I guess I was excited and totally forgot that Malinda and I were supposed to be driving to mile 20, while Leah and Ellen went to pick-up Tower at mile 19. Next thing I knew all three cars were at mile 19. We got to see Michelle but now we were on this tiny road and it was going to take us awhile to get back to somewhere to cheer again. In my panic, I led us to a dead-end street.
Now we were really behind. I got out of the car near the relay exchange at mile 20.4 and told the cars to meet me at mile 21. I got on the course and realized Michelle had already passed. So I started running in hopes of catching up. When I noticed that the pack of women directly in front of me were running slower than Michelle was and yet I was not catching and passing even them, I decided to give up and start calling for pick-up. I ran a couple blocks away from the course so they could pick me up. Leah and Ellen stayed there to cheer the relay teams and other marathoners while the other two cars veered away from the course to get on the freeway to get over the river and into downtown.
The plan was to go to the finish but as we exited the freeway, Malinda and Tower kept asking if we should go back to mile 24 or hit mile 25. I realized that I hadn’t talked to Michelle since mile 19. And a lot can happen between mile 19 and 24 in your first marathon. Screech. We made a quick turn and intersected the course at 27th and L St. I didn’t know what mile mark it was for sure so didn’t really know when to expect her. Malinda and Margaret took Margaret’s car and headed to the end so they would be sure to see the finish. I kept thinking I should try to tell her how far it is or how many more minutes she had to go (since those numbers would hopefully be good news now). It seemed like forever waiting at that intersection and I got jumpy again. When I finally saw her, my watch read 2:33 so I said, “you have 14 minutes and it’s less than 2 miles. You’re going to make it.”
Then Tower and I jumped in the car and headed to the finish. Of course this took longer than expected and we had no idea where to park. As we sat at a red light for a minute, the race clock kept ticking. With each second she was another step closer to the finish. I didn’t think we would make it. We parked off of 14th St and I sprinted towards the capitol. The security wouldn’t let me go all the way to the finish but Malinda called me and read off the clock time as Michelle finished. I couldn’t see her through the masses of bodies but being able to see the finish line and the finish line clock and having Malinda tell me where she was made it seem like I saw it.
YAY! Michelle qualified for the Olympic Trials.
And WHEW! We managed to drive around the CIM course to crew for her.
Michelle Gallagher, 22, representing the Pamakids Running Club, qualified for the United States Women’s Marathon Olympic Trials by running a 2 hour, 43 minute, 30 second marathon. The Daly City resident, running her first marathon, placed 5th overall and 3rd American woman at the California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento on Sunday December 2, 2007. The 26.2 mile race started in Folsom and ended at the Capitol Mall in Sacramento. Her time, according to one listing, is the 30th fastest by an American woman in 2007.
The United States of America Track & Field (USATF) is the governing body for the sport of track & field in the United States. They, along with the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) will host the Women’s Olympic Trials Marathon in Boston, MA on Sunday April 20, 2008. The top 3 finishers at that race will represent the US at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China. To qualify for the Trials, you must be a female US citizen who has run a marathon on a certified course in under 2 hours, 47 minutes. As of December 1, only 96 women had achieved the mark. At Sunday’s CIM, Gallagher was one of nine athletes to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
Gallagher ran a smart race, running consistent splits throughout the race. She was on 2:43 pace almost right from the very start of the race and she held that pace for the whole race. Her fastest mile was 6:03 and her slowest was 6:21. “It felt more relaxed than at practice,” said Gallagher, “We had a good group of runners who worked together to get a fast time.” Gallagher ran much of the race with fellow 22 year old Brooke Wells of San Francisco. Gallagher had almost twenty people cheering her on along the course, including her mom, dad, brother, coach, and Pamakid teammates. “At 18 miles, I asked her how she felt and she said fine,” said her coach Andy Chan, “I told her to surge a bit and she immediately did. That’s when I knew she was going to get the Olympic Trials time.”
Gallagher attended high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, where Chan was her coach. In cross country she was league and section champion as a senior and placed 3rd at the State Championship Meet. In track & field, she was a 2-time league champion for 3200 meters (2 miles). Her fastest 3200 was 10:33.04 at the Arcadia Invitational in April 2003. That mark was the 15th fastest in the nation that spring. In her final high school race for the Fightin’ Irish she placed 4th at the State Meet in the 3200 meters. She also set high school bests of 4:56.1 (1600 meters) and 2:17.7 (800 meters).
After graduating from SHCP, she earned a full athletic scholarship to NCAA Division I, Iona College in New York. She competed for the Gaels for 4 years. In outdoor track & field she ran a 5000 meter best of 16:49.54, qualifying for the NCAA East Regional in 2004. She also won conference titles at three different distances (5000 as a freshman, 3000 as a sophomore and 1500 as a junior). In indoor track & field, she was a 4-time conference champion. In cross country she was a member of the Iona team that won back-to-back conference championships and in 2006 placed 2nd in the region and 20th at the NCAA Championships.
Gallagher graduated from Iona in June 2007 and returned to the Bay Area. She asked her former high school coach, Chan, to coach her again. Her goal was to run her first marathon in Seattle in November 2007. As part of her training she ran for the Pamakids Running Club at the Pacific Association Grand Prix Cross Country series. She won the Presidio Open in October and also placed 2nd twice and 3rd twice during the season. At the Cross Country Championships, she placed 4th. Overall for the season Gallagher placed 2nd and she led the Pamakids team to a 3rd place team finish.
Gallagher’s best race of the fall, prior to CIM, was the San Jose Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon on October 14. At that race she ran 1:16:37 (a 7 minute personal record), coming in 12th woman, 4th American woman, and 1st Bay Area woman. As a result of that excellent race, she and Chan decided to change her goals for the marathon. “After Rock ‘n Roll we realized that she had a legitimate chance to get the Olympic Trials qualifying mark,” explained Chan. So instead of racing the Seattle Marathon, she switched to CIM, which is known for producing fast times.
And a fast time is just what she got. “When I realized that the halfway split that I needed was six minutes slower than what I ran at Rock ‘n Roll it made me feel confident that I could do it,” said Gallagher.” “Even back in high school,” said Chan, “I thought her best distance when she got older was going to be the longer races. When she asked me to coach her in June, I remember telling her that if she ends up liking the marathon she could do quite well…maybe even make the Olympic Trials someday. But I had no idea that someday would come so soon.”