Friday, July 31, 2009

An Inside Look At Reaching the Summit

The following was written by Schwartz's coach, Paul Contreras. Coach Contreras is an alumni of Foothill High school and is now the head cross country coach there.

I started coaching Chris during his sophomore year in track (2006) and I knew Chris was a good runner but I never expected him to run the times he ran. His sophomore year, he finished the year running 9:08.3.

I thought he would run 9:20ish especially since he did not have a grasp on what pacing was. It was frustrating to see Chris go out and take the lead and then drop off pace. If I had to pick one race where things changed and Chris made the jump from being a good runner to being one of the best in the nation it has to be the Arcadia Invitational 2007.

Some athletes drive coaches crazy and Chris was not the exception. In fact, I think he excelled at driving me crazy.. I had checked on Chris a few times to see if he had everything he needed while we were waiting for the seeded 2 mile race to be called. Chris said he was fine but I could tell he was nervous but that was expected, especially since this was the biggest race he had ever run in.

Just after the second call for the seeded 2 mile race, Chris came to me and told me that he had mistakenly packed his sisters racing jersey and forgot his, he even had it on to prove to me that it did not fit. Chris is just an inch or two over 6ft and his sister is about 5ft tall. The only thing we could do was to wait for Dayshan Ragans (2008 state dicus and shot champion) to finish competing in the shot put and use his jersey. Dayshan won the event and I quickly ran the jersey to Chris and just as he put it on the seeded 2 mile was called to the track and it was too late.

I remember explaining to the clerk of the course (if I remember correctly it was Rich Gonzalez of DysStatCal) and he asked if I wanted to add Chris to the invitational 2 mile. I wanted to teach Chris a lesson, so I agreed to have him run in the invitational 2 mile. I explained to Chris that there were some VERY good runners in the race and I told Chris to run in the middle of the pack and not to take the lead but let the pack pull him to running a good time.

After the third lap Chris took the lead but did not keep it and he finished second to last. After the race I was furious that Chris did not listen to me but I was also pleased that it did not phase him to take the lead and try to run with those guys.

I told Chris if he did that in another race again I would not enter him in any more races. After that I knew Chris had the talent and the guts to run with some of the best but he need to learn to pace himself. I thought about what might work for Chris and I could only think of one workout that might work.

The following Monday at practice I explained the workout to Chris and he looked at me like I was crazy because he had never had a workout like the one he was about to run. The workout was 16 400s at a 70 second pace with a 200 jog rest. But I think what really made him think I was crazy was that I told him I would add an extra 400 for every one he did not hit pace and he knew I was serious. He hit every one of them on pace.

The Friday of that week, I took Chris to the Mt. SAC Invitational and he won the 3200 with a time of 9:13.7. More importantly, his 400 splits were almost perfect. Two weeks later he won the 3200 at the Meet of Champions in Sacramento. Chris won the 3200 at league, area and then took second at valley but finished second to last at state. His poor performance at state was because he was nervous but he was also fighting of a viral infection that weakened him.

The next year during cross country, I was the assistant coach and Chris ran with more confidence. He finished the year winning state DI and qualifying for nationals. I was not sure what my role was going to be on the track team during Chris' junior year. We did not have a sprinters coach and both Arron Rietz, the head coach, and myself were both distance coaches. Arron decided since Chris and I had some success the previous year that I should coach the distance team.

My goal for Chris during his junior year was to build on the pacing strategies that we worked on the year before. But I also wanted to work on his speed. We worked on his base by putting in some miles and then we worked on his strength by doing some endurance interval workouts towards the end of the year I had Chris concentrate on running faster times for his 400, 800, and 1600.

This was the year that German Fernandez destroyed everybody and I knew that the pace at state was going to be fast. We worked on Chris running the first part of his workout fast and then recovering back to a sub 9 minute pace and fortunately it worked because Chris was the only other runner to run under 9 in that race. I guess second place to German Fernandez in a national record setting race is not bad.

The following year (2008), I once again was the assistant coach during cross country and Chris was having a great year. He had not lost a race until he ran against Trevor Dunbar at Mt. SAC, a loss he later avenged at Western Regional. However Chris did not win state, he placed 7th, I believe that we entered him in too many races and he was tired and he was not smart about getting enough rest and a good breakfast before the state meet.

After the loss at state Arron and I talked about what kind of approach we should take for the remainder of the season. We agreed that we should not make the practices easy. I put together a few workouts which included the workout Chris has always responded to very well, 400s on pace with 200 jog rest. The following week Chris won Western Regional and finished 8th at Footlocker Nationals.

For the 2009 track season, I found out early that I was going to coach the distance team and when Chris and I felt he had took enough time off to rest he began to run on his own. By the time the season started Chris was running 40-50 miles per week. I also put Chris on a circuit training workout to help with upper body strength. When the season started Chris continued to do up to 50 miles a week this was almost double what he was doing during cross country.

Interval workouts concentrated on his speed. Chris and I talked about dropping his 400, 1600 and 800 times early in the year so that he could run the first 1600 in a 3200 comfortably . I did not want to make the same mistake that we made in cross country and enter Chris in too many races and burn him out at the end of the season.

I also did not want Chris getting in the same rut and running the 3200 without competition. So I did not enter him in the 3200 in local invitationals, instead I had him run the 800 and the 1600 to concentrate on working on his speed. In our area there are decent runners but none that can challenge Chris, but I do expect this to change in the coming years because some of the local runners look promising.

One thing we do have around here are few runners that could challenge Chris in a 800 and they could even push him in the 1600. Everything was going well. Chris ran decent early season times and I was expecting things to continue. Arcadia came around and I thought that Chris was the favorite to win, and so did Chris. He went out in a blazing first lap at 64 and by the third lap he began to fade and finished last.

He bounced back the next week and won the 3200 at Mt. SAC, the only runner to win the 3200 three years in a row. We continued to work on his speed but I could sense that Chris needed to put more miles in so I increased his mileage for a couple of weeks.

After April we went back to working on his speed. I had him doing intervals twice a week and a long run and a couple of 4-5 mile runs mixed in. At league, Chris won the 800, 1600, and the 3200. We were both especially pleased with his 800 performance. We never really worked on tactics for the 800 but Chris put together a great race and beat, Jake Van Zandt of Highland, a very good runner.

Chris did not do so well in the 800 at area, in fact he took last but he won the 1600 and the 3200. At valley, I was worried because Justin Vihauerand Johnathon Sanchez were running well. In the back of my mind I thought that they had peaked to early and I was hoping that holding Chris out of some of the big meets would pay off and his legs would be strong and he would be well rested.

Chris defended his valley titles in the 1600 and the 3200 and he looked more comfortable in those two races than I have ever seen him before, now it was time for state. A week before valley, I took Chris off of the track and we did 99% of his interval training on our cross country course.

My reason for this was to save his legs and I hoped the the grass would absorb the impact of the pounding from repeat intervals. I set fast times for Chris to hit on his intervals I even tried to motivate by telling him that Jordan Hasay could probably run her repeat 200s faster than he could. I had watched the video of Hasay doing a track workout towards the end of the season.

I tricked Chris a bit during those last three weeks. Even though I had Chris run the same intervals that we did on the track it was more challenging on our cross country course because he was running on grass and our course has a gradual incline. Chris was working harder and running faster without realizing it.

The last week of practice was a recovery week and Chris ran nothing over a 400. The day of the state meet came and I knew that Chris would have to run his best just to place in the top ten. When we arrived at the stadium we found a seat by the shot put area and did not talk much.

A few minutes before the race Chris said to me, "Coachie, how should I run my second 1600?" I told him that his second 1600 not as important as his first 1600. I told him to run comfortable for the first half and stay in the top five and to maintain contact with the leader. I reminded that most of the top guys were not even thinking about him.

When the race started I hoped that holding Chris back throughout the season had made him hungry. Chris thrives on competition. When the lead pack came by after the third lap at 68 I knew that they were running the perfect race for Chris but the race was not over. When Chris took the lead after the 1600 I thought back to Arcadia and got nervous. When Collin Jarvis passed Chris with 500 to go I hoped that Chris would hold on.

I can remember saying, "hold on Chris, hold on," and my 8 year old daughter asked me what did I want him to hold on to. When I saw Chris take off at the 200 and then pass him at the 150 and leave Collin Jarvis it reminded me of his last 200 on our course, during practice Chris finished his last 200 in 26 seconds after repeat 200s, he was tired and I pushed him but Chris just kept driving his arms and legs to make himself run faster.

When Chris crossed the finish line it was one of the most amazing moments I have ever been a part of. When Chris gave his interview after he won and said he just listened to his coach and he wanted it bad I knew it did not matter who was in that race Chris was going to win. I look back at the last three years and can not imagine a better finish for Chris. I also look back and realize how fortunate I was to coach Chris. Chris would have accomplished all of his goals no matter who coached him.

Coach Paul Contreras