“I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
“At least, I didn’t have it on my radar for this year. That’s why when the opportunity presented itself this last week, and it became apparent the Pamakids were going to win our first PA team championship in club history, I was beside myself with excitement.”
“Hopefully we will win more. But I will always remember this first one.”
I have been quite fortunate in my life to have been part of numerous championship teams – league titles at Lowell in high school, a Pac-10 championship at UCLA as manager, CCS and league titles as the SHC coach. Not to mention other achievements that have been worthy of a celebration – qualifying the cross country team for state, Shannon winning two individual state championships and qualifying for the Olympics and World Championships. As the coach and president of Pamakids, we hadn’t won any championships….until last Sunday.
“I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
We’ve come a long ways since 2007 when the only Pamakid presence in the Pacific Association (PA) was a women’s cross country team. It’s been five years since the announcer at the cross country championships saw a Pamakid cross the finish line and exclaimed, “Pamakids? Wow, I didn’t know they were still around.” We didn’t revive the Pamakid racing team for the glory of winning championships. That was probably the farthest thing from our mind. The only thing father back was our pack of runners behind the race leaders. We definitely owned the middle and back of the pack for several years.
However, our philosophy of welcoming everyone to the club and showing appreciation for all runners, no matter their speed, has paid off. We have great team depth. Our team spirit, which is evident at races, motivated new runners to join and inspired current runners to become faster. All of a sudden, we were a team in the top half of the results.
“At least, I didn’t have it on my radar for this year. That’s why when the opportunity presented itself this last week, and it became apparent the Pamakids were going to win our first PA team championship in club history, I was beside myself with excitement.”
I realized on Saturday morning that it was pretty inevitable that we were going to win the PA Women’s 40+ Grand Prix title. It was important to me that everyone in the club feel excitement and pride in the achievement, not just the 40+ women. My philosophy is that it’s about the whole team, not individual groups within the team. A good example is the SHC track & field team in 2010. When the JV Girls won the league title, the whole team celebrated together – girls and boys; JV and varsity. It was a team achievement and we all felt pride in it. It’s the same philosophy with the Pamakids.
I wanted to do something special to commemorate this championship. I already had a big pre-race motivational speech planned. I needed something tangible that people would get to keep as a souvenir from the day. It would be another reminder that this was a Pamakid championship, not just a women’s 40+ championship.
Championship hats in 24 hours? Uh, no.
Championship shirts from the mall? What am I, made of money?
Homemade championship pennants? Now we’re talking. Usually Malinda gets sucked into my last minute projects. This time, she put her foot down. She would help figure out the process. But if I wanted to make 50 of these pennants, I was on my own. I’m not the most confident person when it comes to being artsy and crafty. My wife usually handles those jobs. But not this time. So off to Lowe’s I went on a mission to buy dowels. Then it was time to print out the pennants, cut them into triangles with the papercutter, and glue them to the dowel. Being the runner/coach geek that I am, I timed it. It took me on average three minutes to glue each one. My PR was 2:38. I made 50 of them. Yes, a significant portion of my Saturday was spent on this project. It was all worthwhile.
“Hopefully we will win more. But I will always remember this first one.”
Making the accomplishment even sweeter, it would be the first PA team championship in club history. You always remember the first one. Five of my most memorable coaching days of my life are the day Shannon won her first state championship, my first dual meet win at SHC, the first time the boys team qualified for state, the day the SHC JV girls won the league title, and the first time both the boys and girls qualified for state. I think about those days often and it always brings a smile to my face. I now have a sixth “first time” memory.
I will never forget opening the bottle of champagne and pouring it into cups for our celebratory post-race toast. I will never forget walking around from person to person, to clink our plastic cups of champagne. I will never forget the sight of the pennants and the smiles and hearing the laughter and cheers.
As the celebration wound down, I went over to Betty’s memorial bench with two pennants and had Thang take a picture of the pennants next to the bench. I later posted the picture on social media and sent Betty, the club’s first president a message:
Hi Betty. You would have been so proud of us today. We won our first PA club championship in club history. And appropriately we clinched the title about 100 meters from your bench. Thanks for getting us started back in 1970. Proud to be carrying on your legacy today.
Everyday is a great day to be a Pamakid. But Sunday, December 14, 2014 was a particularly great one.
To read an account of the race from one of the runner’s perspectives, checkout Heather Johnson’s blog: http://heatherraejohnson.com/2014/12/15/teamwork-can-stop-the-unstoppable/
The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run is considered by many to be the ultimate ultra marathon. Their website proclaims the race to be the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile race in the world. The race starts at Squaw Valley near the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and ends at Placer High School in Auburn, California.
The race began as a race for horses in 1955. That race was known as the Western States Trail Ride or the Tevis Cup “100 Miles One Day” Ride. In 1974 the first two-legged creature, known as an ultra runner ran, the route with the horses. His name was Gordy Ainsleigh and he finished in 23 hours, 42 minutes. In 1977, fourteen men ran the first official Western States Endurance Run, which was held in conjunction with the horse race. Due to an increase in interest, the race for runners separated from the horse race and became its own entity in 1978.
Today the race accepts about 400 runners each year. To gain entry into the race, one must complete, 1) a 50 mile race in under 11 hours, 2) a 100K race in under 15 hours, or 3) a 100 mile trail race. More people qualify and want to run the race than there are spots, so a lottery based system is used to gain entry into the race. Runners receive extra entries into the lottery for each consecutive previous year of not getting into the race. There is also a special bonus drawing on the day of the lottery open only to those who attend the lottery at Placer High School.
The race is not for the faint of heart or the un-trained. The course follows the same trail that gold and silver miners followed in the 1850’s. It’s the middle part of the Western States Trail, a nationally dedicated recreation trail that stretches from Salt Lake City, Utah to Sacramento, California. There is 18,000 feet of elevation gain and nearly 23,000 feet of elevation loss. Temperatures can vary from 20 degrees at night to 110 degrees in the middle of the day. Recently the range has been more like a low in the 50-60’s and a high in the 80-90’s. Runners summit passes and dropdown into canyons. At mile 78 runners, using a guide rope for assistance, must cross the middle fork of the American River. If conditions are particularly harsh and portions of the normal course are not accessible due to snow, race officials may use one of two snow routes. Also, if the river crossing is deemed to be too dangerous, boats are used to transport the runners across the river.
A total of 1,500 volunteers make sure that the race runs smoothly. The river crossing station alone has 125 volunteers. There are twenty five aid stations with names such as Dusty Corners, Devils Thumb, and Rucky Chucky spread throughout the course. Runners must weigh-in at the ten medical checkpoints. If they have lost more than 5% of their starting weight, they must remain at the aid station and re-fuel and re-hydrate until their weight returns to within 5% of their starting weight.
Runners are allowed a pacer who can accompany them (for safety reasons) from the Foresthill station (mile 62) until the finish. There are very specific rules about what a pacer may and may not do and violating the rules will lead to runner disqualification.
Since 1998, runners must fulfill a service requirement of eight hours. This service can be trail maintenance or any other volunteer service for a running event. Pacing, crewing, and coaching other runners does not count towards this service requirement.
The Western States awards are among the most prized in the ultra running community – a silver belt buckle for finishing in under 24 hours and a bronze buckle for finishing before the 30 hour cut-off.
The 2013 Western States 100 holds particular interest for me because three Pamakid Runners, a former SHC assistant coach, and a former Pamakid who helped start our current ultra running team will all be running Western States. The three Pamakids are Colin Alley, John Gieng, and Janeth Silva. Mary (Fagan) Churchill is the former SHC coach. And Eduardo Vazquez, who became a father for the first time earlier this month, is the former Pamakid (now Tamalpan).
Good luck to all the runners in this year’s Western States Endurance Run!
In 2010, I was like a nine year old boy. I couldn’t wait for my birthday. Only I wasn’t nine. I was thirty-nine, and just as I couldn’t wait to turn ten, I couldn’t wait to turn forty. Why the eagerness of a little boy for a birthday? Because turning forty in the running world means entering into a whole new world. The world of Masters races, where young, fast twenty- and thirty-somethings no longer exist (or at least run in a separate race that I get to spectate instead of participate in from the back).
My first year as a masters runner went quite well, but it was nothing like this past year. All of a sudden my team, the Pamakid Runners, have a kick-butt team. Our transformation from not having a team, to having a mid-pack team, to having a podium-worthy team has happened gradually and slowly or, if you prefer, we just went out on pace rather than too fast.
The Pamakids participate in the USATF-Pacific Association Road Grand Prix and Cross Country Series. In 2011 we were fifth on the roads and fourth in cross country. We were solidly in the middle but were not really any threat to the top teams. Our top places were third place finishes Across the Bay 12K and Zippy 5K in the road race series, and at the Presidio race in the cross country series.
2012 looked like it would be a similar story. But after a second place at Zippy followed by back-to-back third place finishes, our team started thinking we might be able to challenge the “big boys” from the Aggies, Strawberry Canyon, West Valley Track Club, and New Balance Excelsior. At the San Rafael Mile we pulled a first place team finish, winning on a tie-breaker. It was our first PA first victory in at least a decade.
The win at the mile, spurred interest and hope for the fall cross country series, which is made up of eleven races plus the championships. Teams score their best five races out of the eleven, plus the championships. The season began typically with a fourth, a third, and a sixth. Then things got interesting. After being somewhat disappointed with our sixth place at Garin Park in early September, we were ecstatic two weeks later when we placed third at Golden Gate Park. We rode that positive momentum to our first PA cross country victory at the Presidio race, a race in which we had three runners in the top nine and five in the top 21. The next two weeks brought a second and another third place finish. All of a sudden we found ourselves in third place for the season and nipping on the heels of the second place team, the West Valley Joggers & Striders.
Back on the roads, the grand prix resumed with the October 21 Humboldt Half Marathon. Sensing a chance to make a serious impact on the rest of the PA, we made sure we had a full team at the race. Roy Clarke, Denis Glenn, Carlos Urrutia, Tomas Palermo, Steven Pitsenbarger, and Theo Jones as the sixth runner, just in case, came through in a big way. The Pamakids took first place, by a scant twenty-two seconds! That’s two PA road race wins in a row!
What’s been the key to our success? Depth. “Scary” depth as we’ve heard one team call it. At any given race any number of our runners could step into the scoring role for the Pamakids. Out of the five scorers in the half marathon team victory, only Carlos was among the five scorers at the road mile team victory.
In this cross country season so far eleven different runners have placed in the top five at one time or another. The Pamakids aren’t reliant on a core of five runners who do all the heavy lifting. We’re a team in the true sense of the word. That’s how we’ve weathered injuries to Tony, Carlos, and Adam; me missing races due to coaching obligations; and others missing races as they prep for fall marathons.
It sure helps to have a guy like Jerry Flanagan, who has run at all the cross country races where we’ve scored a team this year. And like Richard Martinez, who ran a great last mile at Presidio after Carlos was injured in the race to help us secure the win. We are lucky to have fifty year olds like Mike Axinn, Paul Zager, and Roy, who can drop down to help score for the Masters team when needed. Our incredible depth showed at Golden Gate Park when we lined up thirteen runners, enough for a “B” team of Colin Alley, Galen Carnicelli, Tomas, Steven, David Ly, and David O’Connor that beat one other team. Since John Spriggs was instrumental in the rejuvenation of the Pamakid Masters team, we sure hope he can heal his injury and be able to step on the starting line and race at the championships with us.
If I had known that turning forty was going to lead to so much fun, I would skipped right past that tenth birthday and gone straight to masters!
I delivered this speech at the Pamakid Runners Club General Meeting on March 26, 2012.
I’m a little sweaty and in sweats instead of being formally dressed but I think Betty would forgive me. I’m wearing the same shirt I was wearing in 2010 when I took this photo, my favorite photo of those I’ve ever had the privilege of taking with Betty.
Betty Cunneen was our club’s first President.
Some of you may have seen her at the club picnic last July. Alzheimer’s had taken its toll on her but it was nice to see her at a Pamakid event.
She went into hospice care early last week. The Cunneen kids (Connie, Kelly, Pat Jr., and Garrett) were all there with Pat Sr. in her final days. Pat assured us that they were at peace and ready to let go. On Sunday, Betty passed on.
Our club, the Pamakid Runners began in 1970. The Cunneen and Boitano families met every Wednesday evening for a run around Lake Merced and then pizza at Shakey’s. At the time there were members of the San Francisco Dolphin South End Runners (DSE), the San Francisco Rowing Club, Dolphin Club, and South End Rowing Club who wanted to compete as a club at local races. The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) would not recognize them because they were a combination of multiple groups, not one single club.
Armed with a desire to run as part of an official running club, Betty Cunneen called a meeting to form a new AAU club. They set a date for September 2, 1970 to discuss club details, including the name. The group tossed out several good ideas, including gems such as the Lake Merced Striders, Pacific Pacers, and my personal favorite, the Runaway Pancakes. Grant Newland invented the name Pamakid Runners and a bird called Soonar as the club mascot. That name and that mascot, won by a landslide.
With their name intact and Betty Cunneen on board as the club’s first president, the Pacific Association of the AAU officially sanctioned Pamakid Runners Club in January 1971. The Wednesday night runs continued for more than 15 years. The club’s first organized race was an 8-mile jaunt from Daly City to Lake Merced. A few years later, they organized a relay race at Lake Merced. This race later evolved into the annual Rites of Spring Run and Dinner, which we still celebrate to this day.
That’s just a small part of our club’s history but in a few paragraphs it gives you an idea of how we got started. We are not a jump on the bandwagon kind of club – we were founded before the running boom of the 1970’s began. Before Frank Shorter’s 1972 Olympic marathon gold medal made running popular. Before women were freely allowed to participate in races (Pat Cunneen has told stories about Betty and the girls having to register with fake names to get into Bay to Breakers because women were not allowed to participate).
Pat has shared some great pictures and stories from the Pamakid years in the 1970’s. What stood out was that Pat and Betty were out doing what they loved – running. It seems like the Cunneen kids had no choice…they could either run with their mom and dad or wait in the car.
Malinda shared this photo with some club members last month. It’s of Betty running with the caption, “Watch out Cheryl Bridges.” Well it turns out the reference is to Cheryl Bridges, known now as the mother of Olympian and American record holder Shalane Flanagan. But in 1971 she was simply Cheryl Bridges, 2:49 marathoner, which happened to be the women’s world record at the time. Cheryl must have been one of Betty’s running rivals in the 1970’s. Malinda and I are casual acquaintances with Cheryl and when we contacted her, she commented that she distinctly remembers the runners with the bird on their singlet.
This got me thinking that it’s a good thing Betty helped pick Soonar and Pamakids as our mascot and club name. I don’t know if I would be so excited to have a big pancake on my singlet and to be yelling “Go Flapjacks!” before races.
Let’s take a moment to remember and reflect on Betty and what she’s meant to the club. We all owe Betty as well as Pat and the Cunneen family a lot.
If you didn’t get to meet Betty take a moment to realize that when you race for the Pamakids, when you attend a Pamakid social event, when you’re part of a “Go Green!” cheer or feel pride in the success of your running club or in the fact that your club donates so much money to charities, remember that it all started 41 years ago in large part to Betty Cunneen.
For those that knew her, think of a favorite memory of Betty.
With that in mind, let’s pause for a moment of silence.
Thank you. This ends the official part of our general meeting. I invite you to now mingle and share some favorite memories of Betty Cunneen.
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.