Summer Running Review – 2016

August 3, 2016 – End of ‘Summer Running’ Review

 

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog in which I stated the following:

               In less than two weeks, we’ll all be back at school, books stuffed into backpacks, assignments begrudgingly sketched into crisp new student planners, the carefree days of summer no more than distant memories.  Actually, though, for a runner, the summer (or any season really) can never truly be carefree, as every new days brings a new workout to manage, and those precious unscheduled hours often include rolling out or ice cupping.  The transition to the school year is thus sometimes easier to manage for us, especially as it brings the promise of the official cross country season, and thus the beginning of meets we’ve been working towards for months.  Like any transitional period, now is a good time to reflect on where we’ve come from and look ahead to where we hope to be.  

As self-appointed team statistician, I proceeded to share ‘the data’ on our summer training, as I will shortly do again here.  As HCXC alums know, in 2012 we initiated the ‘1000 mile challenge’ in an effort to incentivize better training, a solid aerobic base being a prerequisite to late season success.  The aim is to run over 1000 miles between the first day of summer running and our Conference meet.  Of the hundreds of athletes who’ve been through our program over the past half-decade (the most successful period in the history of our program) only a handful dhave achieved this distinction.   They are:

 

*All seniors unless otherwise noted

2012: Chris Kennedy, Jack Keller, Ryan Somerfield, Ankit Aggarwal, Emmett Scully (jr)

2013: Emmett Scully, Kevin Huang, Aria Darbandi, Billy Magnesen, Josh Feldman (jr), Andrew Irvine (so), Matt McBrien (jr)

2014:  Matt McBrien, Josh Feldman, Stefan Rosas, Alex Lambert

2015:  Blake Evertsen (jr.), Chris Brenk , Andrew Irvine, John Bynan (jr.), Ryan Doorhy (jr.), Nicky Midlash (jr.), Nathan Hill

 

One way to quickly compare our team this year to past seasons is to consider July mileage.  I have compiled averages for most athletes dating back to 2012.  Here is the top 30 from 2012-2016

mileage pic 1

 

To be on pace for joining the 1000 mile club in 2016, a runner should have logged 392 miles by this point.  As you will see, we have 5 athletes currently ahead of pace, with 5 more not far off.  Current mileage is below for the 10 athletes with the highest summer mileage at this point in the season.  For basis of comparison, I have also included their mileage from previous seasons, when that information was available.

mileage pic 2

 

Our final few days of summer running were spent, as they have been the previous three seasons, in Kenosha, where we stay on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside to take advantage of the solitude as well as the nationally-renowned Cross Country course and attendant monster hill.  This year, the mini-camp featured a guest speaker, Don Kopriva, a journalist (for several decades he has been a correspondent for Track and Field News) and author, most recently of the book ‘Coming Back Strong’ which features interviews with 75 of our nation’s most accomplished male distance runners on how they dealt with injuries.  In discussing the book, Don recalled a conversation with a coach he encountered while selling his book at the annual ITCCCA clinic:

Random Coach: “Oh, I don’t need that book.  My guys don’t get injured.”

Kopriva: “You’re not a very good coach, then.”

His point was that, in our sport, those who want to be the best are always walking the proverbial ‘razor’s edge’ between excellence and injury.  No runner who stays in the game long enough will walk away unscathed.

A related topic discussed in Kenosha was “Grit.”  I’ve recently finished the book with that title by the psychologist Angela Duckworth and was eager to share what I learned with the assembled crew.  In short, what Duckworth discovered is that the best predictor of who will be able to regularly accomplish truly difficult tasks in not physical ability nor intelligence but rather, simply, a ‘never-give up’ attitude.  It’s not the person who never gets knocked down but the person who, every time they do get knocked down, gets right back and keeps fighting.

The connection here is that getting injured is the most difficult test any committed runner will face (far more, I think, than regular training and racing).  The successful individual and team will be the one that has the mental fortitude to keep going through the isolating periods of cross-training that injuries force.  And, like every previous season, we face that.  We’ll see how we manage.  Of Steven Zaher and John Bynan, two of our athletes dealing with injury right now, I can say that two grittier individuals would be hard to find.  If any two runners can endure the drudgery of cross-training, it is they.  As for the tests we’ve faced collectively, our grittiness is yet to be determined.  What identity will the 2016 team assume?  That’s why we run the races…

 

QUICK HITS

-I am excited about our incoming freshmen.  And a special shout-out goes to Coach Josh Vance and his Westview Middle School team, the source of two of our top incoming freshmen and many other younger athletes who joined us this summer.  Aaron Lu and Chinmay Amin, a duo I last year dubbed “Chindia” (referencing both their respective ethnic backgrounds, Chinese and Indian, and the projected future dominance of that region in world economics and of these two young runners within our state) have run 3200 times this summer that rank among the fastest anyone in our program has ever run at their age.  Will Fahey, a freshman who moved with his family to Hinsdale from Arizona, looks like a young Josh Feldman.  Carter McCarroll ‘bought in’ to Cross Country within one month of joining us, and has become our most consistent freshmen on logarun.  Emmett Drew, younger brother of alum Patrick, is excited to make a name for himself.  Will Rakos is eager to mix it up.  Danny Hoffman, Tom Borys, Lorenzo Jennings, Mason Steere, and Lincoln Virant all put in quality summers and should help us have one of our stronger freshmen squads in many years.

 

-The Sophomores, likewise, are looking strong.  We received a huge boost in June when we learned Keegan Caveney had decided to ‘make the leap’ from soccer to Cross Country.  Keegan, who first joined us last Track season, comes from a running family (his older brother TJ was all-state for us on our 2013 championship team, his older sister is one of best runners on a strong girls’ team, and his father Andy ran for HC in the mid-80s).  His addition solidifies a squad featuring Alec Hill, Matt Kusak, Fletcher Spillers, Brandon Belgrad, Bradley Davis, Anshul Sankaran, Chris Deligiannis, Charlie Carter, Josh Terry, Jack Gerami, Matt Sayre, and newcomer James Giltner.  Watch out for Bradley Davis, who had the most consistent summer of any Sophomore (and who brought younger brother Mitchell with him) and who will no doubt be on the PR train this fall.

 

-This summer I also initiated the first ever HC Boy’s Summer Track camp.  We had 12 high school athletes who came for three weeks, along with 18 middle schoolers who participated for one.  Anthony Carta, Colin Jay, Alex Ritz, and Jimmy McKay emerged from the camp as senior leaders, while the hurdle crew represented particularly well, with Jay, Ritz, Colin Chval, and newcomer Andrew Novotney getting in some key technical work.  The highlight of the camp was our first ever summer Community track meet held on July 15.  I invited alumni back for the event, so many were on hand to witness the festivities, including one Ted Owens, a star on our 2011 team who I hadn’t seen in a few years.  Owens recently graduated from Dartmouth and just moved to San Francisco to start a new job doing coding.  Owens led off our last 4*800 team to make finals.  One of his teammates, Jack Feldman, could not be in attendance, but emailed me earlier in the week to say hello.  Jack just started a job in Princeton, New Jersey at Bristol-Meyers-Squib.  Amazing to think these guys are college graduates.  Jack’s younger brother Josh was on hand, and participated in an unlikely event: the 110 hurdles (he dabbled in steeple chasing this past spring).  Doube-G Griffin Gartner doubled up by running both the open 400 and the 4*400.  Maxie Maydanchik showed he still has it outkicking Ryan Doorhy to win the 800 in a very respectable 2:08.

Moving the other direction in age, we also witnessed the Track meet debut of the young Belgrad twins, age 5.  Both boys raced each other in the 60 meter mini-hurdles and later in the ‘toddler 20.’  One decade hence, they’ll be at HC, where I hope and expect to still be.  Jacob and Brandon will be the alumni then, adding length to the growing ‘red line.’

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HCXC and Track, past and present, gathered for the first annual Hinsdale Central Summer Community Track Meet, held this past July 15th

 

-Thanks to the initiative taken by Neuqua Valley head XC coach Paul Vandersteen, our summer started off with a speech from Donn Behnke, former coach of Stevens Point (WI) high school and author of the recent (excellent) book “The Animal Keepers.”  Coach Behnke shared the story of his 1985 team, a special one due to the arrival of Scott “the animal” Longley, a student living in a group home who made up for his lack of social awareness with his fierce competitiveness and love of team.  Coach Behnke’s speech reminded us what makes Cross Country such a unique sport – by joining the team and meeting its physical demands, Scott found a sense of belonging he’d never had before; in turn, he helped his teammates achieve at a level they’d not have been able to accomplish without him.

On a personal level, Behnke’s book, as well as his speech, hit close to home.  He referred to the 1985 season as the one in which he transitioned from “Coach as big brother to Coach as parent.”  I find myself in a similar transition.  Gone are the days when I could lead every workout; gone, also, the hours of time to devote to writing blogs.  In its place, a newly earned maturity that comes with being directly responsible for another individuals’ life and well-being.  The fact of the matter is that my relationship with our current runners will likely be different than the one I have with Billy Fayette, Zach Withall, and others of their era.  I hope, though, to help each runner realize their own individual potential, the same hope I share for my daughter.

 

-And speaking of Neuqua Valley, a recent national ranking released by tullyrunners.com (using some kind of complex algorithm) ranks them as the #1 team in the country (we are, surprisingly, ranked #26).  With all the usual caveats about the futility and meaninglessness of pre-season rankings, I can say this with absolute certainty: Neuqua Valley will have a great team this year, as they always do.  And we get to face off against them at our first invitational of the season, the hallowed “Hornet-Red Devil Invitational” on September 3, exactly one month from today.  Let the games begin!

What I learned as a Distance Coach by working with Sprinters

This past weekend, I made my annual pilgrimage down to Charleston for the final meet of the season with my Assistant Coaches and our 10 state qualifiers.  Most of those state qualifiers were distance runners.  One was a high jumper.  None were sprinters.  That should give some context on how successful I was in my first year coaching the fast kids.  That being said, the sprint corps and I made halting progress together this year.  We succeeded in getting many of the better football players to join us, won in the sprint relays a couple of times on the lower levels, and only twice all season dropped a baton (the one measure by which we are better than the US National team).

 

The Track/FB connection

A far better blogger than I, Tony Holler, has written extensively about how crucial it is for Track teams to partner up with Football, and how often ego, stubbornness, and antiquated thinking prevents this from happening:  see here, here, and here.  Being well-read in the ‘Holler’ canon, as soon as I took the position of head Track Coach, I knew the very first action I needed to take was to go directly to our head football coach, Dan Hartman, to ask what I could do to earn his support.  I had a few things going for me: first, Dan is a former Track guy, a sub-40 300 hurdlers in his high school days in Indiana.  Second, we teach in the same department – in fact, in the same room (believe it or not, Hinsdale Central has inadequate facilities, so sharing of rooms is commonplace, though these unhappy circumstances proved fortuitous in my case).  Third, we have another colleague in our department, Chris Korfist, who is at the forefront of bringing Track and Football together, and who is unquestionably one of the very best sprint coaches in the nation.  Dan and I both lean heavily on Chris for advice on how to improve the speed and strength of our athletes.  And Chris, to his eternal credit, has been incredibly open to sharing ideas with us – within days of my promotion to head coach, he began feeding me journal articles and links to current research and helped me develop a training program, and throughout the season has offered encouragement and support.  That Chris, Dan, and I all teach in the same department is an unusual but happy coincidence which smoothed my path by making it easier for me to earn trust.  I’d established some credibility by helping to build up our Cross Country program and was able to gain more simply by interfacing with Chris and Dan each day, keeping them abreast of our progress and comparing notes on our shared athletes.

I was also lucky to have Christian Bobak as a senior leader.  Christian was Hinsdale Central’s star running back, and was offered a spot on University of Illinois’ roster for next season (he leaves for training camp in two weeks).  He was also a four-year track guy who was not an elite athlete from the beginning, but who became one through focus, determination, hard work, and growth.  Bobak brought instant credibility to the idea that Track and Football are complimentary.  He also proved a great role model for pushing back against the trend, all too common in our school, of seniors in their second semester dropping out of athletics.

Bobak

Senior Track/Football star Christian Bobak, anchoring our 4*200 at Sectionals

So, of the 10 athletes that competed in the sprint events (100, 200, 4*100, 4*200) at the Outdoor Conference Meet, 7 were Football players.  Our two best frosh/soph horizontal jumpers (Robert Banda and Joey DiJohn) were freshmen football players.  Four of our six throwers at Conference played football (Phil Barrett, Drew Christensen, Matt Bjorson, and Owen Joyce).  On our total roster, we had 40 guys who played football: 4 hurdlers, 5 horizontal jumpers, 5 high jumpers, 10 throwers, 15 ‘pure sprinters’ and 1 guy who joined middle distance.  By comparison, we had only 6 guys on the entire team who played soccer for Hinsdale Central in the fall: Freshman hurdling sensation Ethan Ruth, freshman distance runner Keegan Caveney (whose older brother TJ was a member of our first state champion Cross Country team), sophomore middle distance runner Luca Karginov, Sophomore middle distance runner Matt Alvero, senior sprinter Matt Hillock, and senior middle distance runner Steven Coan (who came out for the first time as a senior and ended up as our top 400 runner, finishing 3rd in conference with a PR of 50.7).

DSC_0460

Senior Stephen Coan powers home to a surprising 3rd place at Conference.  Coan was one of only six soccer players to join our team.

From the winter sports, we managed to recruit three basketball players (all of them freshmen: sprinter Charlie Lyne and high jumpers Hayden Waters and Danell Nicholson.  Nicholson finished 4th in conference at the Soph level and had a PR of 5’6”).  We had twelve wrestlers.  We had two swimmers.  Oh, and we had 63 Cross Country runners.

Of those 40 Football guys, only 3 were seniors and 7 are juniors.  The key for our team will be keeping the 30 frosh/soph guys and adding to those numbers each year, while also trying to cultivate the kind of relationship we have with the football team with the basketball and soccer programs.  If we manage that, I like our chances.

 

Top Speed

Here is one thing distance runners hardly ever do: see just how fast you can run.  I don’t mean see how fast you can cover 200 or 400 or even 50 meters.  I mean see what is the absolute fastest velocity you can reach in a single moment.  What is your top miles per hour you can reach?  I’d previously look at a workout like 4*10 meter flys and just not get it. How could 40 meters of work be sufficient for a workout?  Pretty much every Monday all season consisted of the same workout: a dymanic sprint warm-up with lots of bounding, spiking up, then 4 fly 10s intermixed with prime times or mini hurdles and, by outdoor, 4 block starts of 20-30 meters.  Then, a lacate workout (such as 3*150) on Wednesday and  meet Friday or Saturday.  That’s it.  The goal is to be explosive.

We did use the Freelap system, which I liked a lot.  I love the instantaneous feedback.  I took me some time in the first week to figure out how to use the system, but now I can have it set up and running within a few minutes.  I did find, though, that guys with fast fly 10s or even fast 40s did not always become our best 100 and 200 runners.  A challenge I face is figuring out how to help a kid who is fast over 10 meters carry that through the longer track sprints.  You’ll never hear of a football player rushing for a 200 yard gain.

DSC_0167

Sophomore Garrett Oakey and Freshman Luke Skokna are both excellent Football Players who chose to come out for Track.  Skokna was also a state qualifier in wrestling.  Both contributed to successful Sophomore relays: 1st place in the 4*100 at the Bud Mohn’s Invite, 1st place in the 4*200 at the LT Relays, 2nd place in the 4*100 at Outdoor Conference. Skokna was also 3rd in the 100 and 4th in the 200 at Conference; Oakey 7th in the 100 and 5th in the 200.   

Challenges

And speaking of challenges, probably the biggest adjustment for me this year has been having less time to focus on my own physical well-being, and, relatedly, a loss in the time I have to develop relationships with the athletes I coach.  For the past decade as a distance coach, I’ve run virtually every workout with the team.  Up until my daughter was born (on November 19, 2015) I’d not run less than 50 miles per week in almost four years.  By running with the distance guys on a nearly daily basis most days of the year, I got to know them very well: what makes them tick, their hopes and dreams as well as greatest fears, their personality quirks and outside interests.  You can find out a lot about someone by running alongside them for 90 minutes every Monday all summer and Fall.  Less so when they are running flys.  I tried to make sprint practices short but efficient, and thus simply had less face to face time with the athletes in that group than I do with my distance runners.  There were some opportunities to learn about their lives through informal conversations on meet days or on bus rides, but figuring out ways to develop a genuine bond will take time and creativity.  It is what I felt I had to sacrifice the most this season as I moved to coaching sprinters and also took on the many administrative responsibilities of head coach (organizing home meets, keeping track of attendance and uniforms, managing the budget, establishing and revising lineups, submitting entries, planning the team banquet, etc.)

 

It was also always an advantage to ask an athlete to do something that they knew you would be doing as well.  I ran 25*400 with the guys, and so when I asked the distance runners to dig deep within themselves to find the reserves to get through a tough workout, they’d respect me for doing the same myself.  I spoke their language.  With our sprinters, though, I have the challenge of bridging cultures: I am 5’7” and 120 pounds and could probably be picked up and thrown by Drew Christensen and Phil Barrett, our top discuss throwers.  I never played organized football growing up.  I don’t know Xs and Os.  My authority this year came largely due to the fact that the football players knew Coach Hartman approved of my leadership.  Trying to earn their respect on my own has not been easy.  It’s the difference between coaching a sport you played yourself versus coaching a sport you haven’t.  I can explain the theory and can administer workouts, but I don’t know the gut level feeling of what a good block start feels like, or a clean exchange. I imagine this is what many coaches struggle with – projecting confidence in an area where you know you are still a relative novice.  It’s a little like travelling in a non-English speaking foreign country.  You do the best you can, try really hard to fit in, smile and nod a lot, but deep down feel pretty self-conscious and insecure.  Feeling adequate will take a lot more time and hard work.

Year one as a head coach has been hard, as I expected it would be.  Indoors, I spent mornings before school working with the sprinters and afternoons running the workout outside in the Midwestern wintry conditions with the distance guys, taught as best I could during the day, and tried to be a supportive husband and father at night.  And Track is a very long season, so this was difficult to sustain.  By outdoors, the weather improved (somewhat) but the intensity did not abate.  Between May 4th and May 15th we competed in 5 meets (three of which we hosted), had the conference seed meeting and held our team banquet.  I owe thanks to my own cross country and track coaches for instilling me with the fortitude to manage such challenges.  Those 11 days were craziest of the season, but offered plenty of excitement which helped sustain me through, from freshmen Matt Kusak, Keegan Caveney, and Alec Hill all running 10:22 at the LT/York tri on May 4th to Jared Neumann earning the 110 Hurdle Conference title at DGN on the 13th.  One great thing about being head coach is it makes every moment of every meet meaningful, as there is always an HC athlete competing.  I not only have a newfound appreciate for sprinting, but for throwing, jumping, and hurdling as well.

DSC_0145

Senior team MVP Jared Neumann seals victory in the Conference 110 High Hurdles

In conclusion, the year has forced me far outside my comfort zone, but that, of course, is where the most growth occurs (it’s what we’re constantly preaching to the athletes we coach).  Hinsdale Central boy’s Track has no significant legacy to speak of: one outdoor conference title (in 2004) since World War II, no state trophies, only a handful of all-state athletes over the past decades and no all-state relays yet.  There is tremendous room for growth, and I think I know the path to get there.  But knowing and executing are two very different things and in this sport you are never far away from a clipped hurdle, a step one inch beyond the line, a baton just out of grasp.  Therein lies the challenge, therein the elusive reward.

 

Mid-season reflections

Let me begin by offering an obvious but important personal statement: my life today is completely unrecognizable from what it was half a year ago.  You don’t know what you don’t know.  It’s a false equivalency to suggest that becoming a parent is like becoming a head Coach, but it’s fair to say that both require tremendous amounts of on-the-job learning, both can bring extreme physical exhaustion but also genuine fulfillment and sense of purpose.

 

I last posted a blog on January 3rd, one day before returning to Hinsdale Central for the beginning of second semester.  The absence of text here should give some indication of how busy the intervening months have been.  Yesterday was the first Monday I’ve had of 2016 where I was not struggling to keep my eyes open as the clock ticked past 9:00 p.m., mind full to bursting with the list of tasks awaiting for the morrow.  The first day of the week had heretofore started with a 5:00 a.m. wakeup call followed by morning  sprint practice at 5:45, intensely focused class and track prep work from 7:00-8:45, a full day of teaching, afternoon distance practice from 3:15-5:45, then a short and happily tired car ride home for my first chance of the day to see my wife and daughter awake.  Then dinner, usually one parent eating while the other attends to Clio, then switching roles (gone are the days of the long, relaxed meal).  By the time the dishes are loaded, floor swept, coffee made, and tomorrow’s lunch prepared we’d have perhaps an hour together before trying to go to bed, though we’d been stripped of the illusion of control we once thought we exercised over when that precise moment would be.

 

All athletes I coach have busy lives, their parents even more so.  I can look back to previous times in my life when I thought I was maxed out, only to realize that what I was doing then seems eminently manageable by my current standards.  I have a newfound admiration for parents with multiple children, and for single parents taking on the daunting task of providing for their children alone.  In this respect, it is a true privilege to be a coach; I am fortunate enough to have the time, even with an infant, to devote to a vocation I love.  With due respect to the administrator who told me, ‘of course, you are a teacher first and a coach second’ I don’t see those roles as distinct.  In fact, I can now confidently add parent into that identity mix – as all three titles: teacher/coach/parent have the same objective: to assist the growth and development of the young.

 

And no matter one’s mastery over content, the truest challenge for a teacher/coach/parent is to motivate the young, to light the flame of passion (to borrow a phase) which will help the pupil become self-directed.  And in this respect, I think our track team has made tremendous progress so far, though it may not be fully reflected yet on the results page.

 

If there is one accomplishment I am most proud of so far after the end of our indoor season, it is the new sense of shared mission we now have.  I have witnessed the slow process of our very large team beginning to coalesce around the idea that we are capable of contending for the top spots in the meets we participate in.  Of all the changes we made from last year, perhaps the single most significant was the institution of weekly team meetings.  We now meet every Tuesday in the Dance Studio, all 165 team members crammed together in a narrow rectangular room with wood floors and mirrored walls (magnifying our size to infinite proportions).  In this intimate space, we convene weekly to cover administrative issues such as uniform distribution or practice times but more importantly to publicly give recognition to those who earned it in the previous week’s meet and to inspire each other on to even greater achievements.  It has become a weekly ritual that we collectively value.

 

During these Tuesday meetings, we do our ‘shout outs’ to the athletes who shined most brightly in the week before.  This is often an athlete who scored high in their event, though sometimes it is an athlete who saw a massive improvement in their performance even if they did not place in the meet.

 

One of the challenges of writing about a team as large as ours is that all 165 individual athletes deserve recognition, but that is not a feasible task for a single blog post.  Instead, as a way to tell the story of our season so far, I offer a week-to-week accounting of our ‘shout outs,’ as this will offer some indication of the diversity and depth of our team (text taken verbatim from the weekly powerpoints I composed):

 

Week Four: Little Four Invite

Matt Cangelosi – 1st place, 400 with only one week of training; Won the frosh/soph level as a freshman in his first ever high school track race

 

Justin Taylor – 2nd place, Frosh/Soph High Jump; Jumped 5’4” in his first ever high school track meet; This mark would have placed him 4th in WSC Indoors last year, 3rd in 2014…and he has only been jumping for three week

 

Joey DiJohn-3rd in 200 (26.9); 4th in Long Jump (16’4”); Only a freshmen

 

Nick Biancalana-3rd in Pole Vault (6’6”); Has only been vaulting for 3 weeks; First time competing in a high school track meet

 

Kaidi Hu-3rd in Frosh/Soph 400 (62.5); 1st time ever running the event in an open race; Rolling 40 time indicated he might have some ability in this event

 

Colin Jay-Surprise winner of Varsity 400 (57.3); Also looked good in 55LH

 

Varsity 4*400 of Bobak, Muhammad, Carta, Hillock-Beat a DGN team that set a school record

 

Week Five: Proviso Quad

Owen Joyce-Wins Soph level of the Shot Put as a freshman; First time ever competing in a meet

 

Alec Hill-Wins Frosh/Soph 3200 by 47 seconds!  Sets a PR by 34 seconds! Had a stress fracture that prevented him from competing in Cross Country, but is now fully healthy; Going to be a huge contributor to this team

 

Liam Burke-3rd place in Frosh/Soph High Jump; PR of 5’2”; Only a freshmen; Ran a great 200 – almost 3 seconds faster than his time from the Little Four

 

Nicky Midlash-4th place in 3200; Ran a PR by 26 seconds! Also ran a PR in the 400; Missed all of his sophomore Track season due to surgery

 

Ben Hall-5th place in Varsity High Jump; PR of 5’8”; Missed all of Junior Year due to injury; Second PR in two weeks

 

Matt Ostrowski, David Vachlon, Alex Smirnov-Finished 4th, 5th, and 6th in Frosh/Soph 600; All are new to Track; Ostrowski also finished 5th in the Frosh/Soph High Jump

 

Week Six: Proviso West Invitational

Kareem Muhammad-4th in 55 (6.51), 4th in 200 (23.07), 6th in Triple Jump (43’4”); Ran lead leg of 6th place 4*200 (22.6 split); Earned 19 points for the team – this is more than 7 teams scored TOTAL

 

Sean O’Connell, Steven Zaher, Alec Hill, Neil Cumberland-Won the F/S 4*800 against several of the best distance teams in state; Less than 1 second off 24-year old school record

 

Cullen Fitzgerald-Wins the Soph High Jump at hugely competitive meet; Sets a PR of 6’0”; Closing in on school record (6’2”) for sophs

 

Phil Barrett-Sets PR by over 2 feet!  Breaks 40’ Barrier for first time; Senior leader in the throws group

 

Week Seven: HC Invite

Luke Skokna and Ethan Ruth-Both broke school records; Ethan’s time in 55HH (7.8) smashes the freshman indoor record and breaks the soph record; Luke’s time in the 55 breaks the frosh record; His time in the 200 was very close to breaking school record 24.7 handtime=24.96.  School record is 24.73 FAT; This was Luke’s first high school track meet

 

Darnell Nicholson-2nd in high jump (5’4”); Only a freshmen; 1st ever high school track meet

 

Brandon Belgrad and Keegan Caveney-Newest members of ‘sub 5’ club; Both ahead of the pace of their older brothers(Jacob ran 5:06 at this meet freshman year, while Brandon ran 4:53;  Keegan broke 5 in his third ever track meet – TJ, who went on to be all-state, did not break 5:00 until Sophomore year)

 

Jeff Dang-Finishes 2nd in Shot Put (42’3”); 3 foot PR

 

Long Jumpers-Every Long Jumper had a PR; Robert Banda was 2 inches from tying the freshman indoor record; Varsity goes 3-4-5, Frosh/Soph go 1-4-5-6

 

Frosh/Soph Team-Scored in every single event; This is the first time this season we have done that at any meet on any level; Scored over twice as many points as the second place team (195 to 87)

 

Week Eight: Hinsdale South and Batavia Meets

Wilson Cook – 20 second PR in the 1600

 

Charlie Lyne -Fastest 55, 4 lap relay split, and 200 of anyone on the team (except Zajeski & Johnson)

 

Chris Koldras, Donald Brorson, Ian Stevenson, Joe Glasby, Andrew Tobia – All ran PRs despite less than ideal track conditions

 

From Batavia – Huge 3200 PRs for Kusak, Miscimarra, and Cumberland; Huge 800 PRs for Naess, Coan, Guth, and Schiavitti; Huge 1600 PRs for Hopkins, Frank, and Zaher

 

Week Nine: Indoor Conference Championships

Varsity-Kareem -> 26 points, Jared Neumann -> 20 points, Blake Evertsen -> 14 points

 

Sophomore-Ethan Ruth -> 22 points; Robert Banda -> Breaks frosh record in the Triple Jump.  Previous record set in 1989; O’Connell/Zaher -> 17 combined points in the toughest double in Track and Field

 

JV and Freshmen – Charlie Lyne – wins 55 and 200; Colin Chval – wins 55 LH and 55 HH; MD3 Group – 15 of 15 guys ran PRs!

 

 

In reviewing the ‘shout out’ list, I see already the inherent limitation in the endeavor: it simply cannot do justice to all the individual highlights we’ve experienced already.  No mention got made of Garrett Oakey, a Sophomore who was moved up to Varsity for football this Fall and who has already made an impact after making a difficult but admirable decision to commit to the Track Team, qualifying for finals in both the 55 and 200 at Indoor Conference.  Chris Brenk, already an established Cross Country talent, is in the midst of a dramatic comeback from surgery that sidelined him over winter break.  Nathan Hill is emerging as one of the premier mid-distance runners in the state, running within .5 seconds of our school indoor record.  Jack Borys, an unheralded Sophomore, broke through at JV Conference shaving his 1600 PR by 25 seconds in a single race en route to a 5:07, making the 5:00 barrier his logical new goal.  Guys brand new to the sport are now point scorers at the conference level: Bernard Wong in the Long Jump, Sam Schiavitti in the 600, Jack Chen in the Triple Jump, Max Kuropas in the 4*200.

 

The single analytic that best tells the story of our progress so far is one I have previously shared on twitter and in our weekly team meeting: of all teams in the West-Suburban Silver division, none improved as much in a single year as us.

Most Improved – 2015 Indoor Conference to 2016 Indoor Conference

 

TEAM 2015 Results 2016 Results Point differential
  SOPH Varsity Combined SOPH Varsity Combined  
Hinsdale Cent. 28 60 88 78.33 77.5 155.83 +67.83
Proviso West 6 58 64 63 60 123 +59
OPRF 98 116 214 148.5 118 266.5 +52.5
Glenbard West 38 54 92 73.83 60.5 134.33 +42.33
LT 110 82 192 79 81 160 -32
DGN 137 41 178 36 80 116 -62
York 110 115 225 45.33 50 95.33 -129.67

 

We are at the midpoint of a season that I know I will always distinctly remember, with a very specific team goal known to all members of the team and coaching staff.  It is a goal that will not at all be easy to accomplish, but one whose pursuit will bring enough sense of pride and purpose to offset the vast amounts of physical and mental exhaustion yet to come.

New Goals for a New Year

 

The first blog entry I ever wrote was published on June 15, 2012.  I had decided to use the extra time afforded by the summer months to begin an on-going narrative which aimed to reflect on lessons learned from seasons’ past, chronicle the efforts of the current squad, and offer both motivation and praise to team members.  I had no expectations or grand designs, but began writing simply as an experiment, hoping that telling a story of our team in a manner different than the traditional newspaper articles might have the benefit of inspiring the individuals I coached to see their efforts as part of something bigger than themselves.  I was not sure if, or how long, the blog would continue, nor had I much inkling of what the next few years would hold in store for our program.  I did, however, have high aspirations, as that very first post, read with the benefit of hindsight, reveals:

 

June 15, 2012-Entry #1-Looking back, looking ahead 
As a new season of Cross Country is about to get underway, I thought it would be useful to think back on how our most recent track season ended as a way of setting the stage for the incoming group. As you all know, the last Hinsdale Central runners to feel the track beneath their feet in the 2012 season were Ted Owens, Neil Pedersen, Jack Feldman, and Mike Korompilas in the state finals of the 3200 meter relay. That race will be one I always remember and seems, in retrospect, an appropriate coda to that particular senior class, and an end to a significant chapter in the development of our program. The race contained in less than eight minutes all the elements of epic drama: underdogs doing battle against well-seasoned opponents, thrilling surges, moments of ecstasy and agony, and, ‘ultimately, a conclusion that fell just short of our dreams.  (NOTE: In the final straightaway of the second leg, Neil Pedersen pulled us into the lead, but in the end, we finished 11th, just out of the medals). Nonetheless, the four runners on that relay could leave with their heads held high, and as coaches, we could not have been prouder.

 

In short, I think the 2011-2012 year will be remembered as the seasons that marked our program’s arrival as one of the premier distance squads in state: we were regional champions in Cross Country, runner-up at Conference and Sectionals, and reached state for the second straight year…The challenge, then, for the 2012 XC team is to prove to the state that we are not ‘one-hit wonders’ but a perennial powerhouse. The 2010 and 2011 teams laid a solid foundation, and it is now our privilege and duty to build upon it.

 

As the year 2016 begins, I find myself, and our program, at another transition point.  In May of 2016 I will turn 36.  Half of that life was spent as a child and a student in grade schools.  The other half constituted college and graduate school, joining the teaching profession, getting married, buying a home, and, finally, becoming a father.  Now a third phase of life begins, marked foremost by being a parent but secondarily by taking on a new role as head Track and Field Coach.

 

I take over the position of head coach from Jim Kupres, who I have worked with for the past decade on both the Cross Country and Track teams.  Jim will remain on staff, assisting with the middle distance runners.  I am fortunate to be taking over a staff that he largely assembled, which is among the most competent and motivated in state.  It is my challenge to build upon the foundation he established, and it is my goal to take the team to a new level; while we’ve achieved great success with our Cross Country program over the past few years, the Track and Field team has not yet developed to the point where we can challenge perennially for the conference or sectional titles, to say nothing of contending for a trophy at state.

 

Part of my decision to apply for the head coach position was the opportunity to share my passion for this sport with a wider audience.  My hope is that members of the track team from events beyond distance will begin to read this blog, along with their parents (though, admittedly, now that I myself am a parent, the opportunities to write blog posts may be fewer).

 

In that spirit, let me offer that hoped for new audience a brief explanation of how the blog has evolved and of how I hope to use it in my new capacity as head coach.

 

I have several groups I hope to reach through this blog: first and foremost, current and former team members, along with their friends and family.  Secondly, the wider high school cross country and track community, including athletes and coaches from other teams.  My goals include profiling current team members, telling bits of our program’s history, offering context for meets beyond what can be read through a look at the results page, putting forth ideas about how to improve our team and our sport, educating athletes and families about the unique challenges posed by Cross Country and Track, and sharing some of my own experiences running and coaching, which have informed my approach.

 

If there is one major idea that animates my coaching philosophy, it is that there is a great sense of purpose one feels in working together with a group towards a common goal.  In Cross Country, our goal the past three years has been to earn a trophy at state.  In 2013 and 2014, we exceeded those goals, not just getting a trophy, but winning outright.  Those state titles will forever be two of my proudest achievements, and memories of those two November days continue to make me smile.  In 2015, we fell short of our goal, but the pursuit of it was no less purposeful.

 

I don’t try to sell our sport by arguing that it will be fun.  Training is not comfortable, and I don’t pretend otherwise.  However, learning how to manage that discomfort leads to growth.  Speaking personally, I rarely enjoy my runs, but I almost always feel good after finishing.  I feel accomplished and I feel fit.  The daily pain and discomfort brought on by running with the team at practice is more than offset by the fulfilling sense of identity I get as a coach for the Hinsdale Central Cross Country and Track teams.  I hope it will be so for the kids I coach as well.

 

As their coach, what I hope to instill is genuine confidence that comes from achieving something that seemed impossible.  The most rewarding moments of coaching come from when an athlete has that ‘breakthrough’ race and suddenly realizes they are capable of much more than they’d once believed.  Our role as coaches is to try to identify that potential in athletes before they see it in themselves, and then guide them to discovering it.

 

This guidance can differ depending on the particular sport, but the common elements include setting high expectations and holding student/athletes to them, pushing students to never give less than their best at practice, teaching them how to handle the pressure of major competitions, helping them see evidence of their improvement, and celebrating their accomplishments with them.  We have generally managed to uphold these values, and will continue to do so.  That part won’t change.

 

So what will be different in 2016 for the Hinsdale Central Track and Field team?

-We will be meeting together as a team every Monday.  This is part of our efforts to promote a greater sense of team unity, something sorely lacking in some years past.

-We welcome to our staff our new throws coach, Mr. Dan Daly.  Coach Daly spent the last 14 years as the throws coach over at Hinsdale South, where he also has served as an assistant varsity football coach.  This past fall, he helped the Hornets Football team reach the final four, their best ever finish.  Coach Daly brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, along with great enthusiasm and a refreshingly upbeat attitude.  He will be an excellent addition to our staff.

-We will have a new free lap timing system which will allow us to get accurate split times for distances as short as ten meters, which will greatly assist in our sprints training.  The ‘freelap system’ is cutting edge technology that is used by many of the best track coaches across the country.  Thanks to a generous grant from the Hinsdale Central boosters, we were able to get one for our program.

-We will have a new logo as a symbolic representation of our new identity:

hc_logo_sm

This identity will be rooted in a common quest: to win a conference outdoor title, something we have achieved only once since World War II on the varsity level; and to have all team members finish the season faster and stronger than when they started.

 

To be a bit high minded, it is my hope that we can take the diverse and disparate parts of our track team and out of them form a whole.  We’ll have 300 pound throwers and 100 pound freshman distance runners, 9th graders and 12th graders, guys coming to us from soccer, football, and cross country (among other sports), guys of different ability levels and from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.  It should truly be the most diverse team in the school. Heterogeneity poses challenges: how do you get people so different to find common cause?  But diversity also can be a source of strength, as creativity is fostered by the clash of different ideas.   My hope is to incubate a culture that embraces these differences while also channeling them in the same direction, towards a sense that we are all working for the same cause, like different battalions of a military all fighting, some by land, some by sea, some by air, for the same ideals.

 

It can sound silly, but I refuse to give up my romantic notions about sport.  Though many of the Track and Field events are much more technical skills than cross country running, it is the spirit of competition that lies at the heart of both.  Let us, HC tracksters, strive to achieve that famous Latinate trifecta: citius, altius, fortius.  So long as we join that quest together, I promise the effort will be worthwhile.

On the birth of my daughter

 

 

First, a disclaimer: I struggled with whether it would be appropriate to publish this blog, as the topic is personal more than professional, and the subject only tangentially related to running and coaching.  The name Clio comes from Greek mythology: she was a daughter of Zeus and the muse of history.  And she is my muse for this atypical post, which I am writing simply because it is my impulse, my way to process.  And because, some day, I’ll be grateful that I took time to record my thoughts – Clio will have a written record, from her father, of the day of her birth.  I have decided to share that record here because a few people asked me to do so, and because significant life events like births (and deaths, marriages, graduations) can alter one’s world view profoundly: if ever there was a time to offer insight and perspective to the young men I coach (one goal of this blog) this would seem to be it.

 

We’ll start the story on the night of Wednesday, November 18th.  Megan and I had planned a ‘date night,’ our weekly ritual of going out to a nice dinner, an always welcome occasion which we knew would become increasingly less frequent in the months ahead.  On a whim, we chose to go to Talley’s Kitchen and Bar in Clarendon Hills, a spot I’d passed many times but never before dined at.  We had a lovely meal: vegetable risotto and club soda with lime for Megan, steak frites with red wine for me, and talked through Christmas present ideas, little knowing how dramatically our lives would be changing within the next 24 hours (Megan’s due date was November 29th, so we both figured we had some time left).

 

Without going into too much detail, I can say that it was on our short walk through downtown Clarendon Hills that Megan first realized her labor was beginning, though it would be another hour before I became privy to that information.  We made one last errand on our way home, to the Verizon store on 75th and route 83 to upgrade Megan’s phone.  It was after exiting the Verizon store that Megan grabbed my arm, looked at me, and said, “I think it’s time.”

 

We tried to stay calm.  Went home.  Packed bags.  Megan showered and I shaved.  I contacted my Department Chair to let her know I’d need a substitute for the next few days, and hastily prepared lesson plans to give to whoever that might be (alas, I had to delegate to the substitute one of my favorite lessons, on King’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail,” one of America’s most beautifully written and righteous essays).  We completed our usual evening chores, focusing on the mundane to keep the nervousness at bay: emptied the dishwasher, filled up the coffee pot (though turned the timer off on this occasion), swept and vacuumed.  And then we loaded up the car, and off we went, fairly well-prepared all things considered (though lacking winter clothes, something we didn’t realize we’d need).

 

The drive from home to the hospital was surreal: we came via an unusually quiet Madison street, passing by the high school before cutting through downtown Hinsdale, where shopkeepers were just then closing down for the night.  We entered the labor and delivery wing of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital just after 10:00 p.m., got checked in, and met with the nurse on duty.  She ran a test on Megan to determine if the labor had indeed begun, and the results came back negative.  The palpable effects of adrenaline subsided immediately upon hearing this news, though the nurse told us that the doctor wanted to run one additional test, just to be sure.  As Megan and I waited for these new results, we began the process of reorienting our mental frames back to the ordinary, summoned the will to be patient just a while longer.

 

The nurse finally returned after an hour, even though she’d told us she’d be back in 30 minutes after she left with the test sample.  With a grin, she said: “Well, look’s like you are staying!”  Megan and I could only look at each other in wonderment.

 

Our nurse suggested we try to get rest, as the most difficult phases of labor would not likely begin until the next day’s sunrise.  Megan called her twin sister Liz with the news, and then we tried our best to sleep, though dreams came fitfully.

 

True to the nurses’ word, contractions came more regularly the following morning.  I will spare you the details, other than to note the obvious that the labor progressed as it has for time immemorial.  As the hours ticked by, we came to know our nurse better, and to meet other members of the hospital staff.  Shirley, our nurse, hailed from the Philippines, one of 11 kids.  She had two grown children, both of whom had graduated from Hinsdale South.  In a few days, she’d be hosting Thanksgiving for over 50 relatives.  She had a perfect bedside manner and a wealth of wisdom to share about birthing based on her 34 years of on the job experience.  Megan was as comfortable as it is possible to be at that stage of labor, reassured by Shirley’s competence and compassion.

 

Liz had arrived earlier that morning, and the two of us worked together to keep up Megan’s spirits and to keep her calm and prepared for the hardest phase of the labor soon to come.  By late afternoon, Shirley began prepping the table for the baby’s delivery.  We chatted amiably with her, excitement growing as we knew the time for meeting our baby approached ever closer.  Our genial conversation was interrupted, though, as Shirley radioed for ‘a friend’ to come assist her.  Then, chaos.

 

Before I could realize what was happening, there was a swarm.  Nurses and midwives rushed in.  Somebody pulled an oxygen mask from the wall, placed it over Megan’s mouth, and ordered her to breathe into it.  Plugs were yanked out of the wall by shaking hands.  The brakes on Megan’s hospital bed were released, and she was rushed out of our room, down a hallway and through double doors.  I chased after but was prevented from entering the surgical wing by a forceful but sympathetic nurse.

 

I was escorted back to the now eerily silent delivery room, and Liz and I looked at each other speechlessly.  Those moments of sheer panic were followed by foreboding and worry.  There was nothing to do but wait, and in those minutes I thought about how long it had taken us to conceive, how truly momentous the task of being pregnant and giving birth is (young men, you have NO IDEA how much hard work, dedication, and discipline is involved in pregnancy – our distance training, challenging though it may be, does not even begin to compare).  Should anything happen to Megan or our baby, I was not sure how either of us would ever recover from the devastation.

 

Mercifully, the wait for news was not long.  A midwife who was at the hospital to assist another patient had heard of our distress and came to offer the calming balm of information.  “Megan and the baby are both stable” she reported, and Liz and I both breathed sighs of relief, though we couldn’t yet let go of all fears.  Not long after, a nurse came to get me, telling me that it was now OK for me to join Megan in the surgical wing.  She brought me through the vaunted double doors, and gave me scrubs and facemask to wear.  Shakily, I put on the protective blue outer covers, and before I could even finish I heard the cries of our baby.  They brought me into the room, and the doors opened onto what will be one of the indelible images of my life: a glance first to the corner of the room where nurses were attending to our minutes old baby, and then to Megan, lying on the surgical table, who looked up at me, and, joyful and teary-eyed, said, “it’s a girl.”

 

Clio Delaney was born, via emergency c-section, at 5:50  p.m. on Thursday, November 19th.  She weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces, and was 19 inches long.  For the first hours of her life, she was wide awake, with big black eyes and an astonishingly calm and gentle demeanor belying the scary circumstances of her birth.  While the doctors finished up Megan’s surgery, I was given a short time period to be alone with Clio.  I held her in my arms, looked at her, and could not stop smiling.

Clio1

Megan was brought in to join us, and we became a family.  I gave Clio to Megan to hold for the first time, and euphoria swept over us, though tempered by exhaustion.  I took out my phone, and after taking a few photos, selected Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” as Clio’s first song.  Listening to music is one of the joys of being human.

 

In the hours ahead, we would learn what happened: a blood vessel burst where the placenta and umbilical cord connect, so the baby was not getting enough oxygen.  Our nurse, Shirley, realized something was awry when monitoring Clio’s heart rate.  Her quick thinking and expertise prevented complications in Clio’s birth that could very well have arisen had we been in less able hands.

 

Here is the connection to HCXC.  We speak often of cultivating a ‘culture of excellence’ within our program.  This means that each individual aspires to do the very best they can, not just for themselves but for their teammates.  It means that the team actively promotes certain values: hard work, self-discipline, an unwillingness to take short cuts, while discouraging others: negativity, mediocrity, undependability.  It means certain habits and ways of acting become so ingrained that new members of the team become seamlessly integrated, and soon start sharing and contributing to the team’s shared norms.  The best recent evidence I have that HCXC has instituted a true culture of excellence is that the freshman athletes, on their own volition, have created and implemented a training plan for their off-season conditioning, whereas in the first years I coached at Hinsdale Central, we literally had only one athlete on the team who trained regularly over the winter months (Pete Richard, who later went on to have a successful collegiate career at DePauw and who now works in Chicago and continues to train).

 

At its best, high school sport allows young men and women to acquire life skills and to gain valuable practice experimenting with implementing these skills in comparatively lower stakes environments.  In the ‘Labor and Delivery’ and ‘Mothers and Babies’ wings of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, I witnessed what a culture of excellence looks like in a professional, real-world context.  In a moment of crisis, the nurses and doctors in charge of helping Megan safely deliver her baby were able to draw upon decades of training: they knew enough to identify a problem early enough to address it, remained focused in a critical and high pressure situation, and managed to expertly execute a precise surgical maneuver all the while keeping us calm and informed of what they were doing.

 

This culture of excellence extended far beyond the surgical team, but was evident among all staff members we encountered at our stay in the hospital, from the Doctors and Nurses, to the high school volunteers, consultants, and orderlies.  The people who attended to us were very obviously going above and beyond what their job responsibilities required.  They showed genuine interest in our well-being, patiently answered our many questions, and showered Megan and little Clio with care and affection.  To undergo an unplanned c-section can be a traumatic experience, but the staff that cared for Megan during her hospital stay did much to help her heal both physically and emotionally.  I am sure nursing has its inherent rewards, and I know also that these nurses are working in part to provide income for their own families.  But, it must be said, to exhibit such professionalism and kindness at 6:30 a.m. at the end of a 12 hour graveyard shift, and to do so day after day, year after year, sometimes for decades, requires reserves of strength and depth of character that are, simply put, uncommon.

 

Those two wings of the hospital are almost entirely female domains, far removed from the predominantly male realms I encounter in as my job as coach.  Clio was born in world where, in the week she was born, a terrorist attack had been committed in Paris, bombs were set off in Mali, and protests over police brutality broke out in Chicago.  But I will tell her that she was also born into a more immediate world where the people who tended to her were motivated by love, empathy, and compassion.  These individuals ensured that Clio was properly cared for and established the conditions which set her up to thrive – and they did so knowing that they’d likely never see her again after she left the hospital.  And they do this for every single baby born in that hospital, and for every wide-eyed and disoriented parent accompanying that baby.  These doctors and nurses did not become this way by accepting mediocrity.  They exhibited excellence in their job.  It is my hope that by encouraging our athletes to reach for excellence, they will come to develop the skills that our medical team had; skills which changed forever for the better little Clio’s life, to say nothing of her eternally grateful parents.

November 7, 2015

This photograph, more than any words I could write, best captures the feeling of today

This photograph, more than any words I could write, best captures the feeling of today

In our team meeting this morning, after reviewing the day’s itinerary, I concluded by sharing two thoughts: first, that I had no regrets about our training this season and would not have changed how we prepared for state; and second, that, no matter the outcome, I (along with Coach Westphal, Kupres, and Snee) was and will continue to be incredibly proud of each and every one of the young men who were there listening to us, soon to head to Detweiller.

Cross Country is a mysterious sport.  I genuinely felt as though we were ready to have our best races of the season, but, dispiritingly – and with one notable exception – we ran our worst.  After two state meets in a row of experiencing the purest elation at the close of the day, we left Peoria today humbled and a bit shell-shocked.  It wasn’t a matter of not giving it our all – our seven men certainly did that.  It just wasn’t our day.  I can’t explain why.  Our game plan was no different from the previous two years, but the outcome was the polar opposite.  I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.

The one genuine highlight came from Blake Evertsen, our heralded junior.  Blake ended fourth overall, the highest finisher in our school’s long history.  He was within one second of the runner-up position, just edged by Sandburg’s Chris Torpy and York’s Charlie Kern.  Between Kern, Blake, and OPRF’s Irwin Loud, the WSC is already shaping up to be as intensely competitive as ever next season.  A silver lining on today’s outcome is that Blake will be back to help lead us next season, as we aim to recapture a trophy.  It is certainly not too soon to make that declaration.

As for the rest of our top seven, I can say this: we went for it.  The race splits show us in third place at the mile mark.  The men on our team followed pre-race instructions and got out very hard, so as to avoid traffic around the first turn.  It is a strategy that worked wonders for us in 2013 and 2014, though it may have worked against us today.  But, I think of the famous Teddy Roosevelt quotation:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

We did not toe the line today with the goal of getting second.  We ran to win.  We failed in the attempt.  There is no shame in that.

Some perspective taking is necessary.  In the 70 years in which the IHSA has hosted the state meet, our 9th place finish today represents the fifth best final place ever for Hinsdale Central.  There was a time, not long ago, when we’d have been thrilled to place that high.  The last two seasons changed our program, so that now 9th place seems a disappointment, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.  However, no teams in the state will be feeling sorry for us.  Over the past three seasons, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to enjoy success beyond what we once thought possible.  The best way to think about today’s performance (as I told our top 12 after the race) is not to view it as a singular moment but to put in the context of the arc of the four years of high school.  In that time, Nathan, Chris, and Andrew – along with all their senior teammates, have seen the team finish 12th, 1st, 1st, and 9th – a pretty remarkable record, and one most high school cross country runners never get to be a part of.

And so, the emotion I feel more than any other as I write this is gratitude.   Gratitude to the parents of our runners who have entrusted us with their care over these past months and years; who have made the trips to the meet locations each weekend, changed schedules to accommodate practices and meets, and juggled career and family responsibilities in order to make it possible for their boys to devote so much time, effort, and emotion to our program. Gratitude to our alumni, who continue to give back to our program through messages of support, through the care they continue to show to each other and to their former teammates, and for the passion they still have for cross country.  Gratitude to our current team members who may not have made the top 12 but who contributed to our program just as much.  Taking a page from the playbook of the great Fayette-Manlius coach Bill Aris, we encourage our athletes to be contributors rather than participants.  The boys on our team who travelled down to the Peoria to cheer on their teammates are exemplary in this regard: each has given 100% effort on a daily basis, and in so doing has enriched the culture of our team.

I feel gratitude towards Sean O’Connell, John Bynan, Ben Schieders, Jacob Belgrad, and Steven Zaher – the five athletes who comprised our official ‘alternates’ this season.  How gratifying to know all five will return next season, along with others including Emmett Grundberg, Colin Yandel, Sam Schiavitti, Mac Anderson, and Alec Hill, to help join the quest which has begun already.

I feel gratitude towards Blake Evertsen, Ethan Planson, Ryan Doorhy, and Sam Fathizadeh.  They comprise a battle-tested foursome that will form the core of that quest, with a strong supporting cast waiting in the wings.  With a year of experience running at state, they will be better prepared next season, as we do battle once again.

I feel gratitude to Chris Brenk, Andrew Irvine, and Nathan Hill.  This is not the conclusion I scripted for them, but though they have run their final cross country race as a Red Devil, I hope they can take solace in knowing how much I appreciate their investment into our program.  All three had to overcome adversity in their careers with us, but all three have kept the faith.  They persevered through the hard times, as they will through this difficult moment of their high school running career.  All three are men of exemplary character, who teachers in my department often speak highly of whenever the conversation in the office drifts to cross country.  All three, I think and hope, will continue to run in college, where other highlights await.  I thank them for making challenging goals and pursuing them with every fiber of their being.  You can never be judged anything other than admirable when you do that.

Finally, I feel gratitude to Megan, my wife, and for the child we’ll be meeting in three weeks or less.  Looming over this season has been the awe-inspiring knowledge that, at its conclusion, a completely unprecedented and thrilling epoch of my life will begin soon after.  The season is now over.  In so many different ways, a new chapter begins.

The Final Sendoff

The reach of the HCXC community is wide and it echoes back through the decades.  An amazing amount of support has flooded in over this past week, as we have received messages of good will from over 50 friends, family members and alumni – from Grandparents in their 80s to younger siblings not yet 10.  Alumni from 5 different decades reached out to us, from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.

We had notes send from Washington DC, Boston, Baltimore, New Haven, and New York City on the East Coast to Atlanta, Columbia-South Carolina, Blacksburg-Virginia, and Raleigh Durham in the South, to Stevens Point-Wisconsin up North, to Denver, Los Angeles, and Claremont-California out West.  In our own midwest, letters came from Davenport, Iowa, from Urbana-Champaign (several), and even from Elmhurst and La Grange!

All of you who sent letters or who simply have kept us in your thoughts, you have contributed a significant gift to our team – you will be the proverbial wind to our sails when we toe the line tomorrow.  We cannot thank you enough.

So, here it is, the 2015 final sendoff:

https://sites.google.com/site/hctrackxc/2015-the-final-sendoff