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Archive for the ‘coaching’ Category

Every now and then you meet someone who makes an impression on your life. Someone who, through their integrity, hard work, selfless achievements, and personal sacrifices, is, simply put, a hero. I was fortunate enough to meet such a person recently, although I didn’t fully realize the scope and quality of her heroism until the other night.

I met Molly Thorpe for the first time several weeks ago when Alan and I volunteered at the Run for Ike 5k. When I met Molly, I was mostly impressed that she had managed to put the event together in three weeks, involving the community, the police, and the city government as sponsors, supporters, and volunteers. It was impressive, but not heroic. I also knew that she coached young students to run in many events, including training for, participating in, and hopefully finishing the Los Angeles Marathon. Again, impressive, worthwhile, but not necessarily heroic.

All that was before I attended the annual award banquet for the Palm Springs Marathon Runners and finally recognized just what a hero Molly is.

First, a little history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. The program has just finished it’s fifth year. Molly was inspired to start the Marathon Runners after reading an article in Runner’s World Magazine about ‘Students Run LA,’ a similar program, which focused on taking ‘at risk’ students and training with them to run the Los Angeles Marathon. Molly embraced the idea, partly because she was a runner and a teacher and loved the idea of changing students lives through running.

Over the years, 75 students have participated in the Palm Springs Marathon Runners program. Of those, 30 completed enough smaller events to qualify to run the marathon, and 27 of those completed the 26.2 mile race. Along the way, the children learn about commitment, dedication, friendship, goal setting, hard work, and accomplishment, just to name a few of the benefits. To date, each participant is either still in school, or has graduated from high school. Some have gone on to college. And these were troubled kids, some of whom had been expelled from school, who, had they not found this program could have ended up being written off by the standard school system.

While I was preparing to write this post, I sent Molly an email asking about the history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. She quickly replied and asked me to spread the word about the program. To do so, I added a new page to this blog and copied Molly’s entire email, which gives a lot more information about the program. To read it, click here.

When we arrived at the banquet, we mingled for a while, then following the seating charts were seated at table #2, along with some friends of ours. Greg Klein, co-owner of KleinClark Sports, who produces many of the running events in the Coachella Valley, and helped the PS Marathon Runners’ program by offering discounted race entries. Cherie Gruenfeld, who has completed numerous ironman distance triathlons and has written a book on how to train for the event. Cherie introduced Molly and her kids to multisport, and they added a triathlon to their training program. Jim Franklin, who at 81  still competes in many running events and enjoys sharing his experiences (and the road) with the young people in the marathon program.

Our friends, Jim Franklin, Greg Klein, and Cherie Gruenfeld were seated at our table.

After we had all taken our seats, Molly introduced herself, talked a little about the program, then introduced the people sitting at table #1, who included her husband, Jay, some family and close friends. Then her teacher side came out, and she had her runners introduce the rest of the guests.

We were shown a video of the runners participating in this year’s events, then Molly, again channeling her inner teacher, called upon her students to stand before the crowd to tell about their experiences.

This was when I realized that I was in the presence of a hero. As child after child stood before us, they all, some haltingly, some confidently, spoke about their experience becoming marathon runners. They talked about the challenges they faced, the accomplishment they felt, the confidence they gained, all through participating in the Marathon Runners program.  Most of all, though, what came through during their speeches was the love and respect for the woman who, in reality, had saved them. It was Molly’s guidance, dedication, hard work, and love that enabled them to learn that they could succeed.

Ironman Cherie Gruenfeld gave all the kids a signed copy of her book, "Become an Ironman."

The rest of the evening went quickly. We were fed (I was able to make a nice vegan tostada salad!), many awards were handed out (Molly really knows how to put together an awards banquet!),  The last part of the evening was dedicated to the Run for Ike. Ike was the Palm Springs K-9 who was killed in the line of duty last month. The proceeds from the race will be used to purchase and train a new K-9 officer for the police force.  Amazingly, $15,130.25 was raised! Palm Springs police officers Lt. Fallon and K-9 Sgt. Cabrera were there to receive the check. Sgt. Cabrera brought tears to my eyes as he choked up himself describing the loss that the entire force felt with the death of Ike.

I love being called "Ikes Angels!"

What really touched me about the whole experience was this: This dedicated woman put together this program from scratch. She worked with the community to raise money to fund the Marathon Runners. She has dedicated her life to these children. She is, of course, out there running right along side them, both in training and in the marathon. She stands behind these kids, fights for them, and when all is said, she loves them. Molly Thorpe, not only are you a hero to your kids, you are my new hero too.

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>An article I wrote for the high school newspaper about our Cross Country team: (I’ve removed the last names of the team members)

The Aztec Cross Country team started practicing in July, when the temperatures are over 110 degrees. Because a cross country race is three miles long, the team builds up their endurance and stamina by increasing their running mileage up to eight to 10 miles. That is all at one time. In order to beat the heat practice starts really early all summer long. While the rest of the high school is enjoying their summer break by sleeping until noon, cross country runners rise at 5:00 am, run for a couple hours, do some drills, and strength work. Most will admit that a nap is involved sometime after that.
In order to build strength for running, hill training is incorporated into the workouts.  For example, one day the team will run to the top of the Bump and Grind. On another day, they will run from College of the Desert up to the Palm Desert cross. One of the favorite workouts consists of hill repeats in the “Valley of the Champions.” A favorite of the coaches, anyway.
As the season approaches, speed training is incorporated into the workouts. This can be 800 meter repeats on the track, or an interval workout on the roads. They basically consist of the runners pushing themselves as hard as they can for the given distance. It is very, very hard.

Another important aspect of cross country training in the desert, is to incorporate some heat training.  After all, the first DVL meet is held in mid-September, when temperatures can hit 110 at race time. So, practice is moved to the afternoon, and, slowly at first, the team becomes adapted to the desert heat.

Sometimes, it is difficult to understand how cross country teams score. It is not as simple as win/lose. Three all league meets are held. This year, all seven teams in the DVL compete against each other at each meet. The races are scored by adding up the numbers of the placement of the first five runners. 
In addition to the three league meets, the team travels every Saturday to a variety of “invitational” meets and competes against schools from all over the country. On October 23, the Aztecs will participate in the Mt. San Antonio College Invitational, the biggest cross country meet in the US and will compete against the best high school athletes in the country.

This year, the boys’ varsity team consists of captain Connor, who has been putting up some impressive numbers this year, setting a personal best time, and finishing sixth overall at the first DVL meet. Co-captain Sanket has been setting personal records as well. Other returning varsity runners include Jordan J., Luke, and Blake. Jordan R., is a promising newcomer who has already taken minutes off his race time. Jerry, Matt, Stefan, Chris, and Nick have had solid performances which point to a promising future for the team.
The girls’ varsity team is captained by Alex, who also leads the Aztec girls on the field. She has taken minutes off her race times from last year and finished 9th overall in the first DVL meet. Returning runner Jazmine has been impressive as well, improving her times from last year. Newcomers Ana and Morgan improve at each race, and they are supported by Taryn, Joelle, Raquel, and Tessa.

 

Our High School is proud to host the second DVL meet on October 13. We will be racing at Civic Center Park and we hope that you will come out and support the team and your school.

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>We had our first cross country meet of the season last Saturday, the Palm Springs Challenge. Obviously, running in Palm Springs in early September is the most challenging part of the event, where temperatures tend to be in the 90s by 9:00 am on their way to the low 100s.

During the week before the event, the weather forecast looked promising, with highs in the 90s and lows in the 60s (where’s my jacket?). As so often happens, though, as the event grew closer, the forecast grew higher, so that by Saturday morning we were expecting a high of around 104. It was nice and cool for a while. With the first race going off at 8:00 am, the varsity girls teams were able to enjoy mid-seventies. It heated up quickly after that though.

Wow, I just realized I wrote two paragraphs about the weather. Time to move on and talk about the event, but let’s just say, the heat wasn’t anything we haven’t been training in for the last three months.

The Palm Springs Challenge is a fairly small invitational event, with about 10 teams competing this year. We’ve been coming here for the last four or five years. Because it is close, we save money on transportation (important these days for any school sport that isn’t football). Plus we have an opportunity to “scope out” our league competition. In addition to Palm Springs, three other schools out of our seven school league were at the event. And as much as I complain about having to run in the heat, it is actually good for the team. We live in the desert, we train in the desert, so we have to race in the desert. (They will get rewarded in a few weeks, we will be in Huntington Beach on October 16 and we always head to the beach for a couple hours after the race).

The girls’ varsity raced at 8:00, followed by the boys at 8:30. For those who don’t know cross country, the race distance is three miles (sometimes 3.1–it depends on the course). For those who know a little about cross country, or who ran on the east coast over hills, through trees, and jumping over streams, running in the desert is a whole lot different. While our high school is fortunate to have a race course at a local park, most schools’ courses basically run loops around the campus. This means lots of turns and lots of concrete.

As coaches, Alan and I were pleased with our team’s performance at their first meet. There were a couple of standout performances, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Running and racing is all about training properly and peaking at the right time, so we expect to see that improvement over the next several weeks. Our first league meet, which is a cluster meet of all the schools in the league, is in a week.

Wish us luck.

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