Brie Felnagle, the athlete, is a professional runner, currently coached by Danny Mackey. At the 2015 USA Championships she placed ninth in the 5000 meters. Her 1500 PR is 4:05.64 and her 5000 PR is 15:14.33. She was an outstanding high school athlete at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. She went to North Carolina for college, graduating in 2010. Her college highlight was winning the 2007 NCAA Championship in the 1500 meters. She struggled for a few years right after college, but seems to have found a good training set-up. She lives in the Seattle area, is coached by Danny Mackey, and trains with the Brooks Beasts Track Club (Beasts TC). Felnagle is sponsored by Adidas so she is not an official Brooks Beast TC team member.
Felnagle ran at the 2011 and 2013 Club Cross Country Championships, which means a few Pamakids have had the honor of lining up and running against her. In 2011, Felnagle won the Open Women’s race. In 2013, she came in seventh and helped the Brooks TC win the team title. This title was not without controversy because Felnagle’s aforementioned Adidas sponsorship required her to wear an Adidas uniform. That meant her uniform was not 100% matching with her Brooks TC teammates.
Brie Felnagle, the workout, is a challenging track interval workout that I highly recommend. Felnagle shared the workout in a Running Times article in September 2013. Warning, it’s a long workout – six miles of running (24.5 laps total). You will run a variety of paces (all of which are fast). You will be challenged both mentally and physically. Delayed onset muscle soreness will kick in around 24-48 hours after the workout. But that soreness will eventually clear and you will feel good about getting the workout in, and hopefully, your race fitness will be much improved. I recommend this workout for people running at least 30-40 miles/week and training for either a 10K or cross country race of 8K to 12K. I like to do the workout at the tail end of my base training phase, just before the racing season. I use it as a benchmark of my fitness.
The full workout is:
- 3K – 5 minutes rest
- 2K – 5 minutes rest
- 2 sets of 6X400 with 5 minutes between sets and 1:00-1:15 between 400s.
The 2K is run at my 5K pace. I aim to be 10-12 seconds faster at 1600 meters than I was for the 3K.The 3K is run a little faster than tempo speed. I’ve been running it at approximately my 10K pace.
The first set of 6 X 400 are run four seconds faster than the 400 pace of the 2K. My goal is to only take 1:00 rest between these 400s. This is probably run at my two mile race pace.
The second set of 6X400 are run four seconds faster than the first set of 400s. Due to the increase in intensity, I have found that I need to take 1:15 rest between these 400s. This probably ends up being my one mile race pace.
Here are some example workout times in table format:
The next time you are at a big meet or watching one on the internet, check and see if Brie Felnagle is in the 1500 or 5000 and maybe give her a little cheer. It’s the least we can do to thank her for sharing this challenging but highly useful workout.
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.
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!
In November 2012 there was a sad announcement that after fifteen years, John Dye, founder of the website DyeStat.com, announced that the website would no longer be updated. However, a few weeks later RunnerSpace stepped up and bought DyeStat. After three months of prep work, the new DyeStat website was re-launched on Thursday, February 28, 2013.
DyeStat.com, when overseen by John Dye, was a major source of information, statistics, and pictures of high school track and field, and cross country. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s DyeStat.com averaged two million views per month. When I first started coaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) in 1998, there was very little information about high school running on the internet. I remember checking Dan Cruz’s cross country website which pretty much consisted of just a weekly Central Coast Section ranking. I was thrilled to see his entry one day that had my SHC girls team were ranked number four. As I expanded my interest to include more than just my local section, to encompass the whole state of California, I found California Prep Track & Field. Then, as Shannon Rowbury got faster and faster, I expanded my interest to the national level and that led me to DyeStat.com.
Dye started with a weekly newsletter in 1996 that covered high school track & field in western Maryland. Dye’s interest stemmed from the participation of his children Derek (high jump) and Natalie (pole vault). Dye started collecting results so that he could create rankings and see where his kids ranked not just against the competition in Maryland but across the whole country. In 1997 DyeStat.com became the first national high school track & field website, featuring top 100 rankings in all events for the whole country.
Dye also went to big meets where he posted results and race re-caps, while his wife Donna took pictures not of the athletes in action but the sidelines – the spectators, coaches, and families. Donna’s section of the website, Donna on the Side, was a favorite place to see pictures and one of my favorite photos is one that Donna took of Shannon Rowbury and me after Shannon’s last high school race – it was both a joyous (Shannon had just won the state championship) and a sad (this was the end of our time together at SHC) occasion. One picture down and to the right of Shannon and me is 2012 800 meter Olympian Duane Solomon and his high school coach.
Around 2004, DyeStat.com added regional coverage and the California Prep Track & Field website that I visited for California high school information became part of the DyeStat family, as DyeStatCal.com. This led to an even larger internet presence, and interest in DyeStatCal surged to its peak during the years 2004-2008. The message boards were filled with discussions about top runners and teams. I excitedly checked DyeStatCal daily for the latest rankings and results. On occasion the SHC team was featured on the front page of DyeStatCal after strong performances.
DyeStat created a new level of interest in cross country and track & field among the participants themselves, especially distance runners. I truly believe that the recent resurgence in American distance running can be partially traced to DyeStat. In 2000, three years after DyeStat became a website, three of the greatest prep runners in history were seniors. Before the internet and DyeStat, each of these three may have run fast against their local competition and been satisfied at that. But thanks to DyeStat, the kid in Virgina who would break four minutes in the mile knew that the kid in Michigan was throwing down some fast times in the two mile. And both of them knew that the kid who lived at altitude in California was right on their heels. When these three future American distance stars faced off at the 2000 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships they already knew all about one another. Perhaps they were motivated by the others’ success, which drove each of them to be better. The end result: Alan Webb, Dathan Ritzenheim, and Ryan Hall led American distance running into a new era – an era that has seen Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, and Galen Rupp medal in the 10,000 meters and Shannon Rowbury, Jenny Barringer, Matthew Centrowitz, and Leo Manzano medal in 1500 meters at the Olympics and World Championships between 2007-2012.
Other than Shannon and Leo, I don’t personally know any of the other successful American runners. But I do feel like know them. These great runners grew up before my eyes, starting when I first read about them on DyeStat. Thank you John Dye, for promoting the sport. You played a big role in the resurgence in American distance running and it was just plain fun to go to your website and read stories.
2013 is a different year and different era than 1997. Websites are no longer new and hip. Today it’s all about smartphones, apps, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s hard to know what sort of influence the RunnerSpace’s DyeStat will have on high school track and field and cross country but I am glad that it’s going to be around. Thank you John Dye for starting this and thank you RunnerSpace for taking the baton and continuing onward.
Being sick stinks! There’s no two ways about it. I should know. I’ve been battling a scratchy throat and lingering cough since December 27, of last year. Those were my symptoms until last week when it turned into a full-on pneumonia. But just like I tell the runners that I coach, try to take away something positive from every experience. In this case, my illness reminded me (or taught me depending on who’s perspective you like to take) that I can’t and don’t have to do it all.
My excellent assistant coaches (and one emergency volunteer) at Sacred Heart Cathedral ran track practices on Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. The athletes may have missed my witty banter but they still got their workouts completed. We took positive steps towards our more immediate goal of having people in shape for the tryout trials next week and our longer term goal of having people prepared to compete at their best come championship time in May.
The week leading up to the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon is one of my favorites of the year. There are the countdown blog posts on this site, the data collecting of Pamakids’ projected time, and constant race tips and motivational words delivered both in person and via e-mails. On Friday night I send out the much anticipated meet sheet. Saturday I lead a pre-race run and striders, followed by Goodie Bag stuffing. Sunday morning we all gather in Golden Gate Park. Fifteen minutes before the race we take a Pamakids group photo. Then everyone gathers around me and I lead our Go Green cheer. It’s a moment I look forward to all year long.
This pneumonia thing really put a damper on things. Living in the digital age I was able to do many of the usual things. Others stepped up to fill in where I was missing. Notably, my wife Malinda, who led this year’s Go Green cheer, delivering my motto for this year’s race: “The running starts here at 8:00 A.M. But the racing starts on the Great Highway!”
The day after the race, all things Pamakids continued to roll right along even with me still lying in bed. Monica ran the Board of Directors meeting while I “attended” via speaker phone only.
The 2013 KP Half itself was a great success. Although, perhaps due to the same bug that hit me, and also due to the 49ers playing in the Super Bowl, we had a higher than normal no-show count. But the race sold 10,200 bibs and nearly 8,300 runners crossed the finish line in either the half marathon or the 5K fun run.
I was particularly proud of our Pamakids. First of all, we had ten runners race at the Jed Smith 50K on Saturday – that’s a 31.1 mile race. Of those ten, eight of them were out on the course volunteering at the KP Half on Sunday, no doubt reporting to their station sometime around 6:45 A.M. or earlier. That’s bleeding green! I’ve been recording in great detail all the finishing times and places of all the Pamakids at the KP Half since 2008. Over those six races, three people have run all six races in Pamakid uniform – Denis Glenn, Danielle Bisho Jones, and Monica Zhuang. Congrats, you three! Also, congratulations to our five medal winners. The medalists were: Adam Lucas-2nd, M45-49, Mike Axinn-3rd, M50-54, Roy Clarke-2nd, M55-59, Theo Jones-2nd, M70-74, and Patrick Lee-3rd, M60-99 in the 5K. Our Pamakid masters men continue to defy age with their outstanding races.
However, the last three runners I particularly want to highlight are three Pamakid women. First is Sarah Goins, who two years ago ran this race in 2:38:23, which is 12:05 per mile. On Sunday she was 28 minutes faster at 2:10:00, 9:55 per mile. Kudos to Sarah who knocked over two minutes per mile off her time from two years ago!
Marlyss Bird last ran this race in the rain in 2008. Since that time she has been beset with injury after injury. She saw therapists, did exercises, took a patient approach, and after five long years made her return to the half marathon on Sunday, running only 21 seconds off what she did in 2008. Well done, Marlyss!
Jodi Thirtyacre was featured before the 2011 race in the San Francisco Examiner. This year, the Kaiser employee, was even more active than usual in the lead-up to the race, arranging for guest speakers at the Saturday Sports Basement Training Runs and writing a blog to help Kaiser employees get ready for the race. Jodi’s enthusiasm for this race was rewarded this year. She’s been knocking on the door of breaking 2 hours for the last four years – 2:02 in 2009 and 2010, 2:05 in 2011, and 2:00 last year. Her goal this year was to go sub-2. And she did it! Chip time: 1:59:49. Gun time: 1:59:59. Either way you look at it, Jodi joined the ranks of the sub-2 hour half marathoners!
The ride home from the State Cross Country Meet in Fresno, California is one filled with different emotions. I have been fortunate to take this ride home fourteen times in my fifteen years as the SHC cross country coach. The last three years (2010, 2011, and 2012), I’ve been particularly lucky that both the boys and girls teams have qualified for the State Meet and thus, this ride home from State Meet was made in the front seat of a charter bus, not from behind the steering wheel of a van.
My mind wanders a lot during this ride home. I think about the season that has just concluded and the various highs and lows that have occurred. I think in particular about the obstacles that were overcome to qualify whoever was able to qualify for State. And like any good coach, I am already thinking about the next season – who is not graduating and will be back next year, what do we need to do to be even better, which people will step up to be the new varsity? All these thoughts usually make me feel a weird combination of emotions that makes me cry and smile at the same time.
The 2012 ride home from the State Meet was particularly sentimental. Of the fourteen kids who raced at State, half of them were seniors, many of them ran at the State Meet three times in their career. It was a veteran group and we had achieved and experienced a lot together, not just this season but over the course of the last three or four years.
This season’s high and lows were many. At Woodbridge, we experienced a high as both teams ran incredibly fast at this night cross country meet in Southern California (84:53 for the Boys and 101:13 for the Girls). But the next couple weeks made me question if we were not as good as I had thought. The Boys ran 92:06 at Stanford and 90:10 at Baylands and the Girls were even further away – 108:44 at Stanford and 107:56 at Baylands. But we turned it up a notch and ran well at Crystal Springs, 85:28 and 101:12 respectively, and my confidence that both teams would qualify for State returned. The next two meets brought mixed results. The Boys ran well but not great at the Polo Fields (86:10) and Toro Park (86:55). The Girls were beset with injuries and I wondered if I was going to be able to motivate them to “bring it home” come championship time. At the Polo Fields (102:28) the Girls had a horrible last mile where we fell from third place to fifth place. At Toro Park (105:01) we ran a pretty un-inspiring race that left a bad taste in our mouths heading to league finals. But that led to the perseverance that will forever define this year’s team.
Two days before league finals, we had yet another injury and I was forced to move a girl up from the JV, to run Varsity. The Boys needed to hit the time standard to qualify for the section meet. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as worried about simply qualifying out of league as I was this year. But, the kids showed their toughness and made it look easy. The Girls beat two teams that had been beating us all season to easily qualify. The Boys were over a minute and a half faster than the time standard.
The road to Fresno went through Saratoga on the boys side and Valley Christian on the girls side. I had decided that the key to achieving our goal was for the kids to have fun. We didn’t need any special workouts or fancy race plans. We needed to have fun. If we were having fun, we’d be relaxed. If we were relaxed, we’d run well. And I truly believed that if we ran well, we would qualify both teams for State.
The Boys race between us and Saratoga was incredibly close. It was impossible to tell at the finish line which team was ahead. We’d have to wait for the official results. Our nervousness was heightened because I thought I saw Saratoga’s fifth runner finish with our fifth runner. But it turned out that that runner was from another school that had a similar white uniform top. Twenty agonizing minutes later, in the middle of the girls race, we learned that the boys had qualified. The Girls, bless their hearts, made it much easier on all of us watching. Our 3-4-5-6 runners got themselves ahead of Valley Christian’s third runner and stayed there to clinch it.
I relived all of those memories in my head as the bus made its way towards San Francisco. I then started thinking about next year. I would really miss these seven seniors. The boys team will return five runners, and the alternates and underclassmen are pretty strong so they are in good shape. The girls, on the other hand, graduate all but two runners. Plus we are losing a lot of leadership…
At that point I decided that worrying about next year was something to do tomorrow. Today, I should be celebrating the achievements of this year’s team. I got up and looked toward the back of the bus. It was very quiet. A lot of people were asleep. Some were talking quietly to their seatmate. Others had their headphones on and were playing a game or watching something on their phone or laptop. I wished that I could freeze time. These were the final moments of the 2012 cross country season. For the last month, these fourteen runners, five alternates, and four coaches had spent a lot of time together. We’d experienced nervousness together and we’d celebrated success together. There were team dinners, a Zumba class, a team service project, tons of group photos, and a unity ceremony with colored sand that will forever unite us.
This 2012 ride home from State Meet was particularly emotional for me. I think I summed it up best with a Facebook status post: Cried a little. Smiled a lot. Thanks, Seniors!
Last week I completed one of my least favorite tasks as the head cross country coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC). I finalized our team’s final roster by making some final cuts following our team’s annual eight minute time trial run. The 2012 season’s final roster is 54 runners strong.
As an athlete and then as an assistant coach at Lowell High School there were no cuts (at least to my knowledge). Everyone who wanted to be on the team got to be on the team, provided that they came to practice and worked hard. The only people dropped were people who stopped coming to practice by their own choosing or those who came to practice infrequently enough that the coach told them to turn in their uniform.
When I became the head coach at SHC in 1998 I employed this same no-cut policy that I had experienced at Lowell. My goal was to build up the SHC program and making cuts was not the way to grow the team. As it was, we had so few people that often times we ran incomplete teams in the freshmen/sophomore (F/S) and junior varsity (JV) races. We were so thin, that sometimes I didn’t even have enough bodies to put the maximum seven runners on the line for varsity races. We had plenty of back of the pack runners during my early years at SHC. There were also plenty of instances when the coaches had to pay particular attention to make sure we didn’t lose one of the slower runners on a run through Golden Gate Park, and when faster runners had to wait for a slower runner to catch-up. The 2000 season in particular was quite small. I had no seniors and a total of 32 runners. We often joked that they had one of the best athlete to coach ratios in league history.
Over the years, my athletic directors encouraged me to make cuts. They believed that it was a privilege to be on the SHC cross country team and that the runners should feel that they’d earned something. I was against this and clung to my belief that you never knew who might improve a lot and grow to really love running, so it was best to keep everyone while I searched for diamonds in the rough. We compromised and I began to use the eight minute run as a tryout time trial in 2002. In the eight minute run, runners run laps on the track and try to cover the most distance that they can in eight minutes. This gave me an objective number to use for making cuts.
The reality of the situation, however, was that hardly anyone was ever cut. An occasional returning runner who was not very dedicated or badly out of shape would be cut but almost no freshmen were ever cut after the eight minute run. The only freshmen that got cut were ones so slow that I felt it was unsafe to have them on the team because they couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group. I would have needed to dedicate an assistant coach to give them special attention at every practice and that didn’t seem fair to the rest of the team. I would estimate that 95% of the freshmen who ran the eight minute run during this era, made the team. They didn’t know it, but it was pretty easy for freshmen to make the team.
The poster child for the “diamond in the rough” theory is a kid named E.J. In 2006, E.J. was one of fourteen freshmen boys who ran the eight minute run. E.J. bordered on that “so slow I need a special coach for him” line. In eight minutes, E.J. ran three laps or 1200 meters. Actually he ran 1200 meters in seven something minutes and then spent the remaining 40 or so seconds of the trial grabbing his stomach and gasping “I can’t run anymore.” I must have had a soft spot in my heart for E.J. that day because he ended up making the team. Of course this story has a happy ending. E.J. would improve tremendously over the years. He ran varsity his junior and senior year and we share the same personal record at Crystal Springs – 17:13. In E.J.’s final high school race he ran the 3200 meters (just under two miles) in 10:41. It brought tears to my eyes when we realized that in this final race, E.J. came through 2400 meters (six laps) in eight minutes – he ran twice as far in eight minutes in his last race (and kept going for two more laps) than he did at the trial his freshman year.
E.J. is also part of why I started to make cuts. As I mentioned, E.J. was one of a fourteen boy freshman class. By 2007 the group grew to be fifteen sophomore boys. That group would be known as “The Sophomore Boys” and it wasn’t exactly a term of endearment. Whenever there was trouble, “The Sophomore Boys” were in the middle of it. It wasn’t one or two of them. It was ALL fifteen of them. That same season, I followed my usual policy of not really cutting any freshmen and ended up with a 77 person team with 24 freshmen. It took two buses to get us to meets. In addition to some discipline issues with “The Sophomore Boys” we had a huge number of DNF’s (Did Not Finish) from the freshmen. They were just dropping out of races all the time. The team captains and I were quite frustrated. We felt the freshmen were a bunch of quitters – but due to the sheer size of the team, I really didn’t get to know the freshmen very well. I didn’t instill the passion for running cross country that I normally did. I couldn’t give my usual personal attention. At the end of the season I decided that the large team had negatively affected the program. I made the decision that starting with the 2008 season we would have a smaller team.
The philosophy of shaping the team roster that I use currently has been the same since that 2008 season. I believe that having approximately fifty kids on the team is what works for me. We fit on one bus to travel to meets and I feel that the athlete to coach ratio is perfect for providing proper guidance and instruction. I use the same eight minute run as a tryout trial. Veteran runners who are pretty certain they are going to make the team still get excited and run hard at the eight minute run because they are trying to improve on their mark from previous seasons. Borderline non-freshmen know that they are going to have to run up to a certain standard for me to keep them. The freshmen get three days from the first day of tryouts until the eight minute run. Over those three days, some quit because they just don’t like cross country. Of those that stick around and do the eight minute run, approximately 80% make the team – still the majority, but it’s also something to be earned, just like what my athletic director wanted.
We have had some tremendous team successes since I went to the smaller team size in 2008. However, I know that my cut-policy is always evolving. I will make adjustments based on the circumstances with the team. For now, this is what works for me and my team and my coaching style, so I am going to stick with it.
Any good head coach will tell you, any success you have is most likely due to the athletes and your support staff. The athletes are the ones doing the training and are out there competing. Good assistant coaches make all the difference because they are hands on with the athletes on a day-to-day basis. Behind the scenes you also have the trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and a host of other vital people who comprise a track & field program. This past season the Sacred Heart Cathedral track & field team had one other key player who contributed to our success – one of our bus drivers, Patrick Scott.
We first met Patrick last spring when he drove the team to the Central Coast Section (CCS) Finals in Gilroy, and then waited patiently in the parking lot at Applebee’s while the team shaved my head to celebrate our three state meet qualifiers. During the fall cross country season we often had Patrick again, and I requested him specifically for our two overnights, to the Mt. Sac Invitational and the state meet in Fresno. He was always laid back and flexible about things. The kids liked him and he genuinely showed an interest in getting to know them. One time when we pulled into a shopping center for lunch, Patrick got on the PA system and told the kids where all the “hot spots” were – “In ‘n’ Out is in this section, cross the street to the right to get to McDonald’s, cross the street to the left to go to Starbuck’s.” It was awesome. While we were at the meet, Patrick had been scouting the area to help us quickly find the food of our choice right after the meet.
This track & field season, week after week, meet after meet, when I walked up Gough Street to our bus, there was Patrick sitting in the driver’s seat. An avid sports fan, Patrick admitted to not knowing too much about track & field. But at most meets he would come in and watch and cheer. He got to know the kids and what events they did. One afternoon, it warmed my heart when I saw Patrick giving fist bumps to the kids as they boarded the bus. Another time when we coaches got our wires crossed and we only had one coach (me) for two buses, we had no choice but to send the kids on the bus with Patrick with no coach. When we got back from the meet, Patrick sent me a text message reporting that the kids had behaved superbly and that they left the bus extra clean. I was proud of our kids that day, but also it reinforced the idea that since Patrick was so polite to them, they just naturally reciprocated. Almost every kid thanks Patrick by name for driving us when they get off the bus back at school.
Halfway through this season I was having problems coordinating my ride home after meets. My wife was picking up our car at the end of her work day and going home. This season I had no assistant coach living near me to give me a ride. On a lark, I asked Patrick if he was going back to the Coach USA yard after dropping us off, and if he was, could I get a ride there. The Coach USA yard off of Evans Street is an easy three minute drive for my wife to pick me up, as opposed to a thirty minute drive (fifteen each way) if she had to come to school to get me. A ride with Patrick to Evans Street became our weekly ritual. Patrick would comment on some of the things he saw at the meet and I could explain some of the nuances of track & field to him.
As if this wasn’t enough, when one of the kids left her laptop on the bus, I called Patrick. Typically a forgotten item like that is placed in the Coach USA office and the kid and their parents have to go retrieve it during business hours the next day. Even though it was 9:30 P.M., Patrick went back to the bus to retrieve the laptop. He called me saying he had it. I had walked to dinner so I didn’t have my car with me and couldn’t go get it from him. Patrick’s solution? He asked for directions to where I was having dinner and he drove the laptop to me.
Because of this terrific relationship that our team has with our bus driver, I look forward to opportunities to buy Patrick a meal when we’re on the road or invite him to our end of year banquet. I think he’s become a real track & field fan, too. Although we probably won’t be using a bus for the CCS meet this year, Patrick has already indicated that he’s kind of hooked on our team now and wants to see us through to end. He’s texted me after CCS Trials, asking “How’d we do today?” and I know he’s trying to take the day off and driving himself down to Gilroy to cheer us on at the CCS Finals.
Now that’s a bus driver that’s part of the team!
On Saturday, February 11, 2012, I had the privilege of running for more than just myself.
As a high school coach, I look for opportunities to teach the students about life and how running can be a part of their life beyond high school. “Running is more than just training to run in a high school meet,” I began. I went on to mention that I was living proof that even after high school, one could run in order to compete and accomplish goals. I pointed out that running is often used as a means to raise funds for charities, through organizations like Team In Training. “Finally,” I said, “Running is a way to honor and remember people – sometimes people you don’t even know, and that’s what we will do today.”
I went on to describe Sherry Arnold, someone about the same age as me, a math teacher at Sidney High School in Montana, a mother, a wife, and a fellow runner. I told the team that on January 7, 2012, she went out for a run and didn’t come home and that it appears she was abducted and killed.
It was a good reminder to all of us runners to be as safe as possible when out running. I reiterated to the team that they are not to wear headphones while running so that they can hear things all around them. I re-emphasized the importance of paying attention to the traffic and people around them. I re-stated our policy that they run the exact route the coaches prescribe and that they try to always be with a teammate or at least in earshot of one.
I then told the team that we would join thousands of other runners around the country in honoring Sherry Arnold by participating in a virtual run. I passed out the running bib for Sherry and safety pins. When everyone had their bib on, we gathered for a prayer led by my assistant coach, Natalie Martinez:
Let us pray in the memory of Sherry Arnold. A wife, mother, teacher and fellow runner whose life was cut too short one Saturday morning. Her tragic death is a simple reminder to be thankful and appreciative of the many blessings we have especially the chance to run on this team. Let us celebrate her life, her spirit, her strength and courage as we run in her honor today. And we pray we have a safe and successful track season.
Holy Founders…Pray for us
Live Jesus in our Hearts…Forever.
After that, we headed off for our run. We ran what the kids call the “box run,” a route that includes the beauty of Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. We’ve done this run many times but today, running for Sherry, it was just a little bit more meaningful.