Tag Archives: Chris Quick

A little bit of drama for the Wolfpack at the Palatine Invite—and a new hero


The Saint Ignatius Wolfpack boys varsity cross country team finishes fifth at the Palatine Invite to win team medals–and a new hat for the coach.  Left to right:  Assistant coach Steven Bugarin, Patrick Manglano, Brian Santino, Taylor Dugas, Kallin Khan, Dan Santino, Chris Korabik, Andy Weber, Coach Ed Ernst.

Last year at the 2012 Palatine Invite cross country meet our Saint Ignatius boys team finished in a tie for sixth out of 28 teams with 230 points—and just one point out of fifth place.  When they went to the tie-breaker sixth man, Palatine was given sixth place, and we were relegated to seventh officially.  But it was a good performance for us.  We had defeated several of the state’s top ranked teams, including Niles North, Maine South, and Lake Zurich.

We did a little bit of congratulatory back slapping and celebrating.  We watched the awards ceremony with more interest since we had been close to a top five podium position.  It was there that someone noticed that along with individual medals that go to  all seven runners of the top five teams, the coach of each top-five team got a special Palatine Invite baseball cap.

I always wear a hat—several different hats, actually, at different times and places and for different occasions.  It was one of my few really selfish moments that I can remember as a coach.  I really wanted one of those hats last year.

The Palatine Invite, which also goes by a second name, “Meet of Champions,” brings together many of the state’s top teams each year to run on a historic Illinois cross country course in Palatine’s Deer Grove East Forest Preserve.  It is a fixture on York High School’s schedule, and the perennial Illinois 3A state champions absorbed one of their few losses of the last year at Palatine, where they were beaten by another nationally-ranked team, St. Xavier from Louisville, KY.  This year York showed up prepared for a rematch.  Along with York and St. Xavier, other top-ranked Illinois teams at this year’s meet included Hersey, New Trier, Loyola, and Maine South—along with one of the top ranked teams in Missouri, St. Louis University High School.  In addition to York, the defending 3A state champions, the defending 2A state champions from Jones College Prep would also compete.

Our Ignatius team got some mentions in the pre-race discussion as a possible contending team, as well.  Two weeks ago at the First to the Finish Invitational in Peoria we were fourth out of 40 teams, which moved us up close to the top ten in the rankings by Illinois coaches, at Dyestat Illinois, and at Illinois Milesplit.

It was pretty clear almost from the start of the race that York would dominate.  Four York “horsemen,” as Dyestat’s Mike Newman dubbed them last week, took up positions early in the race at the back of a front pack of 20 runners—and Nathan Mroz, Alex Bashqawi, Kyle Mattes, and Matt Plowman proceeded after the first mile to move up to the front of the race behind the early leader Jesse Reiser of McHenry.   Bashqawi would eventually outkick Reiser in the last 200 meters to win the race in a time of 14 minutes and 43.1 seconds.  Mroz was third, Mattes was 6th,  Plowman was 14th, and fifth man John May was 25th, for a total of just 49 points.

The St. Xavier team was also clearly running well from the start of the race, finishing with two in the top ten and four in the top 30 to score 107 points for second place.  Likewise, Hersey, wearing a neon orange top with a simple H on the chest, had their runners at the front of the race, with five finishing in the top 30 for 112 points and third place.

Meanwhile, our Wolfpack runners did not seem to get a good start–and instead of running in a pack, as they had done successfully at the First to the Finish, they were spread out on their own.  Sophomore Dan Santino, who has been our number one all season, was an exception.  He settled into the front pack with the leaders.  Last spring he had battled Palatine’s then sophomore star Graham Brown in at least two races, beating him over 3200 meters at the Palatine Relays and finishing right behind him at the Midwest Distance Festival .  With Brown up among the leaders early in the race, Santino would stay with him, I knew.

Senior Chris Korabik  held a good position as our number two runner, settling in at around 35th place by my quick count after the mile mark.  Behind him senior Taylor Dugas was about ten spots back, and then it was around ten more spots back to junior Andy Weber.  Our important number five runner, senior Patrick Manglano, was back at round 70th place.  But that was a good spot for him.  Manglano, who has been the surprise of the team this year, has already had several races where he moved up in position as the race progressed.

In the second mile, Santino was clearly settled in at number 10 or 11.  But it also became  became clear that Dugas, Weber, and Manglano were moving up; Korabik, on the other hand, was fading a little.  With about a half mile to go, Dugas had moved up to around 30th, with Weber not too far behind and giving chase.  Korabik was right there with them, too, although he was going in the opposite direction.  And Manglano was once again moving by runners at the end of the race.

For the first time this year, I brought a bike to help me move around the course.  For the last two years at Palatine I had spent the race at the nexus point where the runners pass by at about 800 meters, at one mile, at two miles, and then at 2.5 miles.  But I missed the finish 800 meters away.

This year, with a bike, I waited to see Manglano pass by with about 800 meters to go, and then I set off on my bicycle toward the finish.  With so many people on the course and in the road, though, I still couldn’t get there.  I got held up about 200 meters from the finish by the crowds, and I watched Manglano disappear over the final small hill, running away from me.

When I did finally get close to the finish, I got the first news of the drama.

Taylor Dugas, I was told, had collapsed before the finish line.  While worried about Taylor and the heat and humidity, my first question had been, “Did he finish?”

Yes, I was told, but he had fallen twice.  First he fell about fifty meters from the finish.  Then he got up and fell again just in front of the chip-timing finish mats.

There Dugas had literally crawled his way across the finish line.

Taylor Dugas was struggling with 400 meters to the finish--and then he collapsed 50 meters from the line.  He got up, collapsed again, and then crawled across the finish line in 71st place.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Taylor Dugas was struggling with 400 meters to the finish–and then he collapsed 50 meters from the line. He got up, collapsed again, and then crawled across the finish line in 71st place. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

I found Dugas with his teammates at the end of the finish chute.  Dugas had been placed in the trainer’s golf cart, where his mother was holding a bag of ice on his head, then moving it behind his neck, and then back on top of his head.  His heartbeat was elevated, and he was breathing quickly.  Reports had already come in that he was not the only runner to struggle with the heat.  Several other runners had been pulled off the course when they began to demonstrate what might best be described as a heat exhaustion “wobble.”

The next day a video of the finish would circulate showing Dugas’s remarkable resolve to finish the race.  He did indeed crawl over the finish line.

I had thought I had a good handle on our results even from my spot 800 meters from the finish.  From that point, you figure the team will gain some and lose some—but the race had been pretty much settled.  Dugas’s struggles, though, had thrown our results into some doubt.  How many places had he lost?

Santino had been 11th, Weber up close to 30th, Korabik around 40th, and Manglano around 60th.  But Dugas, in the end, had finished behind Manglano.  We would be somewhere around 200 points.  Would that be good enough for a top five finish?

It wasn’t long before I bumped into Mike Newman, who had paper copies of the results—and who had already tweeted them out.  A quick look confirmed we had had finished fifth.  A closer look at Newman’s twitter photo of the results on my Iphone gave us the details:  Santino 11th  (15:11), Weber 32nd (15:39), Korabik 45th(15:48), Manglano 53rd (15:56)–and Dugas 71st  (16:12).   With 212 points, we finished behind York (49), St. Xavier (107), Hersey (112), and New Trier (165).

It was good news.  Even if Dugas had stayed on his feet, it was clear, we would still have been fifth.  But if he hadn’t finished, we would have been seventh again.  He really was a hero to have finished at all.

Later, in analysis of the meet results on Tracktalk.net, it was observed the four of the top five Illinois teams at Palatine would be competing in the same Lake Park sectional.  Maine South, with 244 points, had finished close behind us.  Loyola, another Lake Park sectional team, did not run well at Palatine, finishing 11th with 339 points, but one has to assume that it was just an off day and they will run better.  There will be seven or eight solid teams there competing for five spots at the state meet.

For now, though, the good news is that our Ignatius team had been close to New Trier, and we had beaten Maine South and Loyola.  In addition, we had beaten Jones College Prep for the first time in two years, avenging a loss last week in our home meet, the Connelly Polka Invitational, where a Jones team missing some of their key seniors had defeated our Ignatius team, missing ACT-takers Dugas and Korabik, 41-43.

The boys varsity awards were the last to be handed out at the end of the meet.  The girls’ teams got up and left after the girls’ varsity awards, and that allowed the boys to move forward closer to the microphone and the awards pavilion.  Santino got his 11th place individual medal, and then our fifth place team—all seven boys, including juniors Junior Kallin Khan (119th, 16:43.6) and Brian Santino (115th, 17:13.2)—got their team medals.  It is the only race that I know of that gives each of the boys a medal for their team finish.

I took a photo or two of the boys with my own Iphone, so that I could tweet out a photo myself.  Then assistant coach Steven Bugarin and I joined the boys in line as a couple parents took over the photo duties.

It was at that point that Korabik handed me the Palatine Invite hat.  I had completely forgotten about it.

Later I had placed the new Palatine hat on top of my big wide-brimmed sun hat.  When I bumped into Chris Quick, the Palatine boys head coach, he offered his congratulations and then  asked about Dugas, who was doing fine.  Then he gave a double-take look at my hat on top of a hat.

“Nice look,” he joked.




Filed under coaching, cross country running

A not so quick story about reading Chris Quick’s One Way, Uphill Only

Palatine coach Chris Quick holds up the 3A cross country trophy at the 2011 IHSA championship meet.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Palatine coach Chris Quick holds up the 3A cross country trophy at the 2011 IHSA championship meet. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Last Saturday morning I attended a retirement Fun Run and celebration party, complete with a cake, organized by grateful parents and athletes of longtime Chicago-University High track and cross country coach Bud James.  That event will be another blog post.

Then in the evening I helped out at the Midwest Distance Festival at Illinois Benedictine in Lisle, where I made it a point late in the evening to seek out Palatine cross country and track coach Chris Quick.  We had only a short conversation, but I had the pleasure of meeting and shaking hands with Palatine alumnus Tim Meincke, who was standing with Quick.  Together they watched Palatine sophomore Graham Brown break the frosh-soph school record for 3200 meters, running 9:29.45 for two miles, 9:26.1 on my official watch at the meet for 3200.  Earlier in the evening I had watched another member of the Palatine team, senior Christian Zambrano, run 4:18.81 for a mile.

Meincke (nickname “Monkey” to his Palatine friends), Brown (apparently still known as “Prodigy”), and Zambrano are key characters in Quick’s book, One Way, Uphill Only, his memoir about the 2011 Palatine cross country season in which the team won the Illinois High School Association 3A state title.  While there might not have been a book without that victory, perhaps, the book is less about winning the race and more about the relationships among the teammates and their coach on the way to that victory.

I am working on getting the exact details, but I remember either after the summer of 2010—or better, the summer of 2011—a parent of a Saint Ignatius cross country boy told me that they had seen the Palatine High School boys cross country team running together in Colorado somewhere in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.  Maybe the Ignatius team could do the same thing? asked the parent.

I’m not sure how I answered at the time.  But my thought, then and now, is that Ignatius is not Palatine.

Palatine cross country coach Chris Quick.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Palatine cross country coach Chris Quick. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

After reading Chris Quick’s book I am even more sure of that.

A Palatine team booster club, as I understand the arrangements, pays most of the expenses to send the team to Colorado each summer; the accommodations are not splendid, with some boys sleeping on the floor of rough cabins.  But it is a powerful bonding experience for the team as they share hardships of accommodations—and the suffering of running up mountains in altitude.

The Alumni Mile at the Palatine Relays puts as many as a hundred former runners and other team supporters on the track each spring--many of whom also volunteer their help at the meet.  Coaches Chris Quick and Joe Parks join them.  Photo by Palatine Track.

The Alumni Mile at the Palatine Relays puts as many as a hundred former runners and other team supporters on the track each spring–many of whom also volunteer their help at the meet. Coaches Chris Quick and Joe Parks join them. Photo by Palatine Track.

For years our track team has competed at the Palatine Relays at the end of April or early in May, and each time I marvel at the community support for the event.  It is the only meet we attend where visiting coaches do not have to chip in and run the events; competent community volunteers take all those tasks—like measuring the long jump, shot put, discus, and triple jump.  We competed at the Palatine Invitational cross country meet for the last two years.  Once again volunteers carry an enormous load of the work for the meet—including the concession stand that sells a lot of hot chocolate and coffee. I can imagine that the Palatine community probably supports its football and basketball teams, the major high school spectator sports, with even bigger crowds—although perhaps not as many volunteers who actually help to run the events.

At Ignatius we have a few home track meets, and we host a cross country meet.  A few parents help out, but the coaches do most of the work.  This is not a criticism of our wonderful parents—and we hope to recruit more alumni to help, as well.

Palatine, as Quick’s book emphasizes at several turns, is not York High School, the dominant state power and perennial favorite to win the cross country title.  The school marching band does not follow the team to the state cross country meet, like the York band does.  Busloads of fans do not come to the state cross country meet from Palatine.

But in Quick’s book about the 2011 Palatine cross country team that won the Illinois High School Association state championship, it is clear that this is a program of storied achievement going back years and years—and the community both feeds, demands, and supports that achievement.

Perhaps nothing shows this more clearly than Quick’s description of the Early Bird Running Program, a 6:00 AM summer run for the team and the community in Palatine.  Each morning of the program 150 runners—some from the high school team, some from elementary schools, and many adult runners, including cross country and track alumni —gather in front of the high school:  “While most high school groups develop an insular bond with one another through school camps, we train alongside Boston Marathon aspirants, fitness joggers, mothers and fathers, and returning alums.”

There is, in fact, a large Ignatius track community out there in the world.  We’ve seen it come alive and coalesce at moments like beloved Coach Jim Connelly’s funeral last September.  But we don’t get together daily in the summer150-strong at 6:00 AM to run together and encourage our high school boys and girls teams.

Ignatius is not Palatine.

Palatine, as I have said, is not York, either.  After winning the state cross country title in 2013, York has now won the state championship trophy 27 times in the last 48 years.

As Quick begins his story, Palatine had never won.  But they had finished second five times—including a recent stretch of three second-place finishes in a row:  2003, 2004, and 2005, all three times behind York.  Quick had been assistant coach for the first two, and then head coach in 2005.  In addition, Quick coached his team to third place in 2007.  Quick’s Palatine program has produced IHSA individual champions Alec Bollman (1600-meters in 2010), Matt Smoody (800-meters in 2007 and 2008), and Steve Finley (XC in 2005).  In its conference, Palatine had won 61 consecutive dual meets in the Mid Suburban League, as Quick wrote his book in 2011, and in 2011 Palatine won its ninth consecutive conference championship.

After Jack Keelan’s exploits this past year, Ignatius now has a proud state champion, too.  In 1981 Mike Patton won the state cross country championship, the 3200 at the state track meet, and then finished third in the 1600—another great champion.  But when we won the Chicago Catholic League cross country championship in 2010, it was the first time since 1991.  We did win again in 2012—and in 2013 we won the CCL outdoor track championship meet.  But that was the first track championship since 1991, as well.

When we qualified as a team to compete at the state championship cross country meet in 2010, it was the first time our team had done so since 1981.

Ignatius is not Palatine.

Even before his team won the 2011 state cross country championship, Quick, then at just 35 years of age, had already established the groundwork for a hall-of-fame level career—and he had put his name in big letters on the already established monument of Palatine track and field and cross country success.

But in addition to celebrating the hard work and success of his 2011 team, Quick’s book also makes another thing perfectly clear—Quick himself is unapologetically a running and coaching nut.  I mean no disrespect–and instead of nut, a better word might be “character.”   Completely devoted to and passionate about his team, deeply involved in what he openly acknowledges as a loving relationship among his ”men,” knowledgeable and expert as a trainer, Quick is also capable of wonderful foolishness that in fact demonstrates the depth of his love for his sport and his boys.  It might also be the key to his success as a coach.

When Quick pushed his team into the Rocky Mountains to run up ten percent inclines and switchbacks, climbing over snow drifts in June to complete the assigned runs, he pushed his own 35-year-old body to run with them.  He, too, ran 80- and 90-mile weeks the rest of that summer.   He suffered and sweated beside them.

I did not attend the 2011 state cross country championship meet in Peoria when Palatine won.  Our Ignatius team has its own story from that year, a story told in these blog pages as the team, not a big surprise, and its star runner Jack Keelan, which was a surprise, failed to qualify for that state meet.   So I didn’t travel to the Peoria on that November day; neither did Keelan, for the record.  Other members of the team, in fact, did so to watch as spectators.

After reading Quick’s account of the race, I regret not having been there, mainly because I missed seeing Quick in the outfit he wore that day, which he describes unapologetically in the book.  Having pushed his own running and training to the limit that season, even as he pushed his team, Quick dressed himself in a red Palatine throwback singlet and short, red running shorts—and he admittedly scrambled around the course like a mad man as he exhorted his team to run and win.

Quick had earned that uniform, most readers of the book would agree, after training alongside his boys all year.

The book makes it clear that Quick is a knowledgeable coach in terms of designing a demanding training program for his team and that he is also skilled at team building and psychological motivation.  But it is also clear that Quick, an AP English teacher at Palatine, is also a romantic, whose passion and emotion about what he does at several key moments of the book overwhelms his telling the story.  In other words, as he tells us in the book, he cries a lot when the moments overwhelm him.  And his emotions, he admits, often get the best of him.

Some might wonder about boundaries and propriety–and wonder whether Quick gets too close to his boys.  He describes the team peeing together in the bushes before the championship race at the state meet—angering a park monitor.   Boys stop by his house at 9:00 PM for summertime evening runs.  He knows their music, and their personal tastes in terms of food, dress, and hygiene   He seldom says a word, however, about their lives beyond the team—except about their relationships with parents, which seem important to Quick.

He writes about the Palatine track team’s visit to the York field house in the middle of the book as Palatine runs an indoor track meet there; he describes the York trophy room, with its 27 state trophies.   Nothing could match that impressive memorabilia.  But much later in the book he describes the basement room of his own house—with team photographs, framed medals, and trophy photographs of each individual runner on the team that won the trophy.  Indeed, he apparently has a room in his private home devoted to his Palatine running teams.

He describes numerous occasions when he stands in front of his team giving speeches in which he cries—including the morning of the state championship run.  On that day, as Quick tells the story, he had so convinced the boys on his team of their love for each other that they all cried together.

Then they went out and won the state championship that afternoon.

I have never cried in front of my team, either out of emotion or as a way to motivate them—and I have never managed to move them to tears.  We do have a framed photograph on the wall of our family room of our 2010 conference-winning cross country team, celebrating my Lawless Award as the Chicago Catholic League’s top coach that year.  It was given to me by my team that season.

But Ignatius is not Palatine.  And I am not Chris Quick.

Quick, as I suggested, is unapologetic about his coaching passion.  Other coaches make appearances in the book, especially his Mid Suburban League colleagues.  The book celebrates the hard-boiled competition of that conference.  The relationships and rivalries between these coaches, as Quick describes them, in some ways resemble the relationships among the coaches in the Chicago Catholic League, of course.  But Quick also seems to make it a point that these MSL coaches, like himself, are pretty nutty.  Among those coaches, his closest friend, he notes, is Jamie Klotz of Buffalo Grove.  Klotz make several appearances in the book, and he is among the first to congratulate Quick after the state championship win.

Coach Jamie Klotz with the Buffalo Grove Bisons.  Photo by Dyestat Illinois.

Coach Jamie Klotz with the Buffalo Grove Bisons. Photo by Dyestat Illinois.

As he tells the story of the 2011 MSL indoor championship meet early in the book, Quick also affectionately describes Klotz this way:  “As head coach of Buffalo Grove’s cross country and track teams, he is one of the true characters in Illinois sports.  To know him and love him you must be anesthetized to an endless stream of filthy language.  He’s not the kind of guy you take your mother to meet.  My mom has met him.  All she could say afterward was ‘Who is this guy?  I’ve never heard anyone say f*** in so many creative ways.’  On MSL days, he goes straight into barbarian mode.  With his bright red goatee, shaved head, and numerous tattoos, he coaches with the ferocity of a medieval Viking.  The man should be decked out with a battle axe and an ancient helmet scarred with the blows of former foes.  When I hear the first ‘Attack!!  Attack!!’  of the meet, I know it is time to go.  Klotz and I always look each other in the eye and think the same thing, ‘Are you ready to bang today, brother?’”

Quick’s book deserves a real book review.  He self-published it last year, and I didn’t finally get a copy from him until a few weeks ago.  I really probably didn’t have a chance to read it until this week, with school finished and the track season over. But I pretty much read it straight through over a few days.   A commercial publisher, Breakaway Books, will release a second edition in the fall, and that book, with a new cover, is listed already on Amazon.com.  Maybe I can write something more like a real book review at that time.  In other words, it would be a review of the book which would describe the book for any reader.

Because, as a coach, what especially captivated my thoughts as I read the book was the landscape it described in terms of coaching, specifically among these storied Illinois coaches that we compete against, as well.

The sporting drama of the book includes two bookend events—the 2010 state championship cross country race that Palatine lost and the 2011 race which it won.  York won the 2010 meet.  But much of the drama of the 2010 race—and the 2011 race which follows the same initial plot, with a different ending—really centers on the battle between Palatine and Neuqua Valley, who pursue what are essentially opposite racing strategies.

In 2010 Palatine’s runners—it is not quite clear how much under coach’s orders and how much simply out of a youthful response to their coach’s bubbling belief and enthusiasm—began the race so aggressively that they took an enormous lead after the first mile.  It was Palatine ahead of Oak Park-River Forest, another fast starting team, 57-138.  None of the meet favorites—in particular, York and Neuqua Valley—were in the mix at that point.

Then the Palatine runners faded.  “Monkey” Meincke, who had led the Palatine runners until well after the first half mile in a misguided chase behind the frontrunners that day Lukas Verzbicas and Jack Driggs , ended up 135thoverall.  Tony Gregorio held on for all-state honors in 20th.  The others finished in the spaces between.

Meanwhile, from behind the Palatine runners, York, Lake Zurich, and Neuqua Valley moved through the field, eventually taking the top three spots.  Neuqua edged Palatine out for the last trophy, 180-189.  At the mile, Neuqua had been hundreds of points behind.

Coached by Paul Vandersteen, Neuqua had run virtually the opposite race from Palatine.  Controlled and careful, their team had moved through the ranks as a bunch.  They did not win the state meet in 2010, but they had done so twice in the previous three years.

Tony Gregorio and Peter Tomkiwiecz were all-state runners for Palatine's 2011 state championship team.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Seniors Tony Gregorio and Peter Tomkiewicz, with shaven heads andwearing Palatine red uniforms with a throwback “P” on the front, finished 14th and 10th as all-state runners for Palatine’s 2011 state championship team. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

In 2011, Palatine’s race plan was to run a similar race—except they would not fade so dramatically.  There were also two differences from 2010.  First, Meincke was going to hold back and run as a truly important fifth man.   Rather than leading a Light Brigade charge down the hill, Meincke settled into an intelligent pace in the middle of the pack.  In addition, over the course of the previous year, a new top runner had emerged for Palatine, Peter Tomkiewicz.   Tomkiewiecz would finish as the tenth place scorer in the team race, followed by Tony Gregorio in 14th, Tim Johnson 21st, Marcus Garcia 22nd—and Meincke in 47th—for a team total of 114 points.

But the danger, in Quick’s mind, had been Neuqua, once again.  Could their disciplined charge once again catch Palatine from behind?  In fact, they finished third once again with 144 points.

Upstart O’Fallon had been a stealth team behind Palatine with 120 points—leading Palatine, in fact, in the early stages of the race.  They had almost out-Palatined Quick’s team.  The final difference, in fact, had been Johnson, Garcia, and Meincke, all of whom finished just a few places ahead of the number three, four, and five runners from O’Fallon.

I don’t really know Paul Vandersteen from Neuqua Valley or Jon Burnett from O’Fallon.  I’ve talked briefly with each of them, and I’ve emailed once or twice.

But I know from Facebook and Twitter, we are friends there who follow each other, that Vandersteen is a science teacher.  He takes his students on ecology field trips.  Along with pictures of his family, he’ll post a picture of a turtle on his Facebook page .  His training methods have benefited from experimentation, it would seem, and they have evolved into a path of moderation, as opposed to passion.   We had an email exchange a few years ago, in response to some of my blog posts at the time about what is appropriate mileage for summer running, and he told me that he no longer pushed his boys into the 1000-mile club, as he had once done.  In addition, his team really does not do its most serious training until the season is well underway; for the first half of the season, even, it is a dose of tempo running, and then their training emphasizes moderate interval work mainly at a distance of three-quarters of a mile or so–lots of 1200s, it seems.  As I have read about this kind of approach in training books, like our current Bible, Jack Daniels’s Running Formula, this is a program that seems to go by the book.  In particular, according to the “book,” it is not recommended that runners do many hard intervals for more than 5:00 minutes at a time.

I do not believe that Vandersteen takes his team into the Rocky Mountains for a trip of running pain sessions.  I suspect that he does not cry very often, or at all, in front of his team.  [Note:  After reading this, Vandersteen did want me to know that, in fact, he does cry in front of his team–usually on the night before the state meet as the team reviews its season together.]   In other words, Vandersteen would seem to be a rationalist—and a very successful one.

I know even less about Burnett  We had one exchange at breakfast last November in the Embassy Suites Hotel before the state cross country race later in the day.  “Our guys are going to be gunning for Jack,” he had told me.  And, indeed, O’Fallon’s Alex Riba would run ahead of Keelan for almost two-and-a-half miles of the three miles later that day.

As I think about these men, and then Joe Newton, as well, they do kind of fall into different categories of approach and mindset.  Quick is the poet coach—all about suffering, passion, and effort.  Vandersteen is the scientist coach—emphasizing discipline, control, and adherence to a plan.  Burnett is perhaps a psychologist coach, who seems to prepare his team for the biggest contests.

Newton?  I don’t know him except in passing, watching him from afar at track or cross country meets; I have read some of his writings as a coach and watched him on video.   I’ve also heard testimonials from his former athletes.  He famously tries to shake the hand of every runner on his team, 200 boys whom he knows by name, every day at the end of practice.  At Ignatius, I replaced our legendary coach Jim Connelly—and they are of a similar generation, I think.  Connelly was an engineer, a math teacher—and also a political science teacher.  They share some similarities of character and approach—and I think that their former athletes give similar testimonials.  Newton, it seems to me, is also a political scientist of sorts—a builder of teams as a political system, one in which he pulls the strings, perhaps, as the boss maker.

All these men are characters—as are many coaches, it would seem.

But Quick—and several of the other MSL coaches he lionizes in his book—go a little bit further into the areas of color and flamboyance.  Joe Newton never dressed himself in a bright red team uniform and short shorts in order to chase his runners around Detweiller Park.

Chris Quick and I have had as many as four significant conversations that I remember pretty well.   At the 2011 state meet, our 4×800 team ran in the last heat.  For almost three legs we were up front with the leaders, vying for a qualifying spot in the final; we faded at the end, but we had taken a good shot.  Palatine had run in the second heat and run well, apparently qualifying for the final.  After our race I was walking past the east end of the track, when I bumped into Quick, whom I must have already known somehow in passing, probably meeting at the Palatine Relays.  He basically gave me a pat on the back and some encouragement along the lines of, “Your guys were in it until the end.”  He had been watching and paying attention to our guys.

As we arrived to run the Palatine Relays in 2012, Jack Keelan had recovered from the cross country disappointment of 2011 by running great that winter—and then he dropped his astounding 8:56.86 for 3200 at Arcadia in early April.  He was now among the favorites for the state meet a month away.   Quick was working at the changes and scratches desk before the meet.  It must have been the first time I had seen him since Palatine had won the state championship.  Always scouting, perhaps, Quick asked me about Keelan’s plans at the state meet.  He wanted to go after the double, I told him, 3200 and 1600.  He smiled his approval.  I explained the strategy we were developing; I call it the 2:05 strategy.  Keelan had demonstrated on several occasions that he could negative split his races with a strong final 800 meters, 2:05 or better.  That was the way to do it, Quick said supportively.  I suggested that there were other guys who might be able to do the same thing—like Todd Ford at Loyola Academy.  Ford had outkicked Keelan for second place behind Leland Later at the Palatine Invite cross country race the previous fall.  Quick didn’t really agree:  “But I don’t think there are more than a couple guys who can run 2:05 the last 800 when they are all running 9:00 pace already.”

Then he smiled and told me, “Enjoy this!  Whatever you’re doing with him, keep doing it.”

We touched base again at the Palatine Relays this year, and then we had a sporadic  talk together at the Nalley Invitational as we both hung out by the 200 meter mark watching our athletes run that day.  It was there that I started to make arrangements to get my hands on Quick’s book, which I had meant to buy in the fall but hadn’t done so.

Finally, after Keelan’s double win at the state meet and our team’s surprising fourth place finish, one of my favorite emails came from Quick:  “I really enjoyed reading your blog about the weekend…  Stay up high floating on those clouds my friend!”

In those conversations, Quick had made me feel like part of the fraternity when I still felt like an outsider—or even a pretender.  To be fair, even my email exchanges with Paul Vandersteen had made me feel that way, as well.

What I have learned over the last fifteen years or so of watching my coaching colleagues at work is that there are many ways to do the job successfully—and nonetheless lots of disagreement about how to do it best.

At the end of his book, after the big victory at state–which seems like it should be the ending, but isn’t–Quick tells some stories about events after the state meet.  The team goes on to complete at the Nike X-Country Nationals meet, finishing 5th in the country.  But Quick, under IHSA rules, isn’t allowed to coach them, and he watches from the sidelines.

He also tells the story of an all-school pep rally at Palatine High School—the impromptu kind reserved for only when a team wins a state championship.  Quick finds himself with the microphone at the end of the event—and he admits that he has always liked having a microphone in his hand, just the way, it seems, he likes standing before his team giving motivational talks.  At the pep rally, Quick describes for the audience the struggle and work of his team over the last year, including the torture of running up Rocky Mountains.   And then he talks about what it has meant to him personally to watch his team work so hard–and then succeed.

Chad Quick gets his turn with the state trophy after Palatine's 2011 state championship.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Chad Quick gets his turn with the state trophy after Palatine’s 2011 state championship. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Finally, he introduces the crowd to his team’s biggest fan and supporter—his brother, Chad.  His brother, wheelchair bound since childhood, has cerebral palsy.  Chad, it would seem, represents the community and its support for the team—and the team has performed because of that support.  The team has run, it would seem, finally, for those like Chad who could not run.

Quick succeeds in making many of the people in his audience cry.

It is a measure of the place of a cross country team and its coach, even a state champion team, in a high school community that afterward Quick was still known by many in the general student population as “the guy who gave that speech.”  (I suspect they know the name of the football coach.)

Quick, the man with a Palatine memorabilia room in his home basement, talks about the sacrifices and support of his wife and his own children which allow him to coach the team, especially at the end of the book.  His father had been a hall-of-fame cross country and track coach, as well.  The 2011 Palatine cross country championship was clearly a family affair—and indeed, he describes the boys on the team as an extended family.

We do have aspects that suggest a family in our own Saint Ignatius program, and we cultivate those.   Peggy allows us to hold a team picnic and party in our Hyde Park condo, early in the season every year.  The boys on our team know my wife and kids by name.

So there are similarities with the Palatine program.

And I share some things with Quick.  He quit a graduate school Ph.D. program at Northwestern University in history when he decided finally that what he really wanted to do in his life was be a coach—and to marry his wife, Meredith, who at the time lived back home in Moline.  I had made a similar decision in the mid-1990s to leave my graduate program in English at Northwestern, my second attempt at a graduate program, for I am almost twenty years older than Quick.  A vague plan to teach and coach was behind my decision.  Quick and I, of course, are also both English teachers; we share the burden of grading papers and inspiring students to read and to write, as well as to run.  Like Quick, I have a special place in my heart for Romanticism and its excesses of feeling and expression—for both the British, but more importantly, the American versions.  Where Quick, I suspect, might lean toward Blake (“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”) and Tennyson (“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”), I probably lean toward Whitman ( “If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.”) and Emerson ( ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’ And “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”).

What’s more, I, too, have a family member, our son Luc, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  Luc can walk—and he can even skip along doing something that he calls running.  But without full control of his right leg and not  much use of his right arm, he has significant physical struggles.  It is not likely he will ever run on a cross country team.  My wife, Peggy, however, has frequently told me that we should never say never about things like that when it comes to Luc, who continues to surprise us.

There were particular moments in Quick’s book where my own attention piqued, especially at events where I remember my own experiences on the same days—like the state cross country meet of 2010, the 4×800 at the state meet in 2011, the Palatine Invite of 2011, and the Palatine Relays of 2011, where our teams competed with Palatine and others.

ernstBut most of all, Quick’s book sometimes made me wonder just how nutty I might seem to my runners and their parents, and, perhaps, boys and coaches from other teams, as well.  I don’t think that I am nearly the same kind of character as Quick, or Jamie Klotz, for example.  But perhaps there are boys from other teams who know me as that coach who wears the funny hat all the time.

Officially, I wear the hat as a way to battle the occupational hazard of sun damage.  But I guess I also just like to wear it because it is a little bit different.

And I do have to wonder whether my team might be a little bit more successful if I could be a little bit more of a character like Chris Quick.

THUMBNAIL_IMAGE bookHere is the Palatine Cross Country pages link for Chris Quick’s book, One Way, Uphill Only:  http://palatinecc.net/2012/09/one-way-uphill-only-now-available-for-purchase/

And here is the link for the new edition on Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/One-Way-Uphill-Only-Championship/dp/1621240088

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Filed under coaching, cross country running, high school track and field, IHSA, parenting, running, teaching

Ready to rumble at the Nalley Invite

Junior Conor Dunham prepares to lead off the Wolfpack 4x400 with the score tied 77-77 at the end of the Nalley Invite.

Junior Conor Dunham prepares to lead off the Wolfpack 4×400 with the score tied 77-77 at the end of the Nalley Invite.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

At the Carlin Nalley Invitational on Saturday, after the first week of real spring weather, there were two occasions which reminded and admonished me about my delinquency as a blogger.

The first occasion came in conversation with Chris Quick, the Palatine High School boys cross country and distance coach.  Last year Quick published his book, One Way, Uphill Only, which told the year-long story of how the 2011 Palatine cross country team won the IHSA 3A state cross country championship.  Quick and I had begun an ongoing sporadic conversation on a number of topics involving coaching and our boys at the Palatine Relays the Saturday before, and we picked up the conversation several times as we hung around the 200 meter mark at the Nalley Invite for various events.   That included watching Quick’s boys win the 4×800 in a Palatine High School record time of 7:50.0—also the fastest time in the state this year.

At some point I asked him about his book—and what was the process for writing and publishing it.  He had a bit of news, in fact.  Originally self-published, the book will soon be released again in a new edition by Breakaway Books, which prints literary and thoughtful writing on sports.   Most of the material from the book, he told me, came from hundreds of pages of journal writing.  Quick, who teaches high school English, coaches two long seasons, and has a young family, disciplined himself to write for an hour each day over the year-long period covered by the book.  “The journal entries weren’t only about coaching,” he explained, “some of them were more philosophical.”

So Quick wrote a book—and for two months I can’t even write a blog post.

The second was an outright notice about my failure to post.  “Coach Ernst,” said junior Chris Korabik, after he had won the 1600-meter run in a personal best time of 4 minutes 23.75 seconds, “when are you going to update your blog.  I visit it every few days and every time it says, ‘Snow Day.’”

It has been that long.  Korabik and I agreed that our team’s performance at the Nalley Invite certainly merited a blog post.

We’ve been going to the Nalley Invite for ten years.  It follows on Saturday early in May each year after the Friday night Chicago Catholic League Frosh Soph championship meet—a big meet on our calendar.  For most years we have used the meet to give our varsity guys a sharpening race before the varsity Chicago Catholic League meet next Saturday.  Our team often depends pretty heavily on the freshman and sophomore runners who fill spots on our best relays—if not in individual events.  Those younger team members aren’t available to us at Nalley since they run the night before.  We’ve never been able to muster a competitive team effort at Nalley.

The meet is a special treat for the upperclassmen.  Most years it takes place at the Illinois Benedictine University facility in Lisle, with a nine-lane, national-class track, a large grandstand, and generally wonderful amenities.  The facility itself lifts performances.  The meet used FAT long before it became normal for meets to do so.  Ken Jakalski, a coach at Lisle High School and the long-time meet director, is also a Saint Ignatius graduate, as we discovered many years ago.  He runs the meet as much like a state and sectional meet as he can—good practice for the teams.  Jakalski himself mans the microphone for the PA system which introduces most of the athletes as they run, jump, throw, and race.  Many, many boys get a mention and a few moments of glory, often just for competing.

This year we brought a competitive team to Nalley, mainly because we finally have a team that depends mostly on our juniors and seniors.  We didn’t program the event to win.  We entered our top distance runners in just one event, not multiple events like we will likely do at the CCL championship meet next week.  We used most of the relays to get as many of our runners as possible into the meet., rather than program the relays to win by using our top runners in all the events.

But our team, as we discovered Saturday, is indeed a strong one.  As we have done in some other meets this year, we started slowly.  In the first four events, we scored only in the 110-meter high hurdles.  But we scored big, as juniors Conor Dunham (15.10 prelims, 15.17 finals) and Chris Hawkins (15.24, 15,23) finished second and third.

Then in the 3200 senior co-capatin Jack Keelan took the lead at the start and never looked back.  The plan was to make a good effort, but not to run too fast with big meets ahead at the conference, sectional, and state level in the next three weeks.  Keelan was the IHSA 3A cross country champion in the fall, and he set our school record for 3200-meters, 8:50.74, at the Arcadia Invitational in California back in early April.  Obviously, that was just one event of several that I failed to blog about this spring.

At Nalley Keelan  settled into a steady pace of 71- and 72-second laps for six laps, running easily.  Then in lap seven he accelerated to run 65 seconds—and in the final lap, a 64.  His final time of 9:19.55 was still among the top five times run this year in Illinois.

Junior Chris Hawkins jumps personal bests of 43-7 and 21-5 to win the triple jump and the long jump. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Junior Chris Hawkins jumps personal bests of 43-7 and 21-5 to win the triple jump and the long jump. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Hawkins, between his hurdling efforts, was also doing big things in the triple jump.  The night before a text message from Hawkins complained about a sore hip.  He is regularly our top points scorer as a hurdler and our number one jumper—and the injury was a concern.  When he climbed into the minibus in the morning in uniform, it was almost a surprise.  The assessment of our assistant coach and physical therapy student Ike Ofor was that Hawkins had an illiotibial band problem—manageable, if somewhat painful.

Hawkins had performed well in the hurdles.  In the triple jump, his first three jumps were the three best jumps of his life, with his best jump of 43 feet and 7 inches almost a foot better than his previous best.  That jump stood up as the best of the day, with Hawkins passing in each rotation of the final as the last jumper–and saving his energy and tolerance for a sore hip for the long jump.

A check of the scoring early in the meet put Ignatius in second place with 34 points, behind Lincoln-Way East, who had quickly totaled 54.

In the 800-meter run, announcer Jakalski’s attention and the attention of the crowd was focused on Marist’s Kyle Hauser, as he ran the state’s fastest time of the year, 1:53.8.  But the Ignatius attention was on senior Sean Kampe, who started back in the pack.  Near the 400 mark he accelerated toward the front of the race, passing the first lap in 56.6 seconds—very fast.  Then coming off the third turn he moved again into second place behind Hauser, putting a big gap between the third place place runner.  He was 1:26.5 at 600 meters.  Kampe slowed slightly on the final straightaway, but finished in 1:57.25, a personal best by over two seconds.

That personal best had, in fact, been a relay leg at the state track meet in May of 2011.  Kampe, a soccer player, took last year off to play on a demanding club team which wouldn’t allow him to accommodate both sports.  But even as he had taken leave last spring, he told us he would be back to run as a senior.  Kampe now has the number one time in the Chicago Catholic League for 800 meters, and he will be the favorite to win next week.

What’s more, he had scored important points for the team.

In the 400-meter dash senior Elliot Gibson ran a personal best of 51.17 seconds for fourth place.  Gibson had finished pole vaulting about an hour before.  At Nalley, the best pole vaulters go first on the pit in the morning, and then a second group of novice vaulters follow in the afternoon.  Gibson had bested the accomplished group, clearing 13 feet and 3 inches, a personal best, and taking the event lead on first clears and misses.  But the event would not be final until the novice vaulters finished.

In the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, junior Conor Dunham squared off against Austin Corydon of Lincoln-Way East, winner of the 110 hurdles.  Dunham looked to be in the lead over the first hurdles, then fell behind on the big sweeping curve of the Illinois Benedictine track.  With three hurdles to go, Dunham seemingly lowered his head into a headwind and accelerated ahead of the others, winning in 39.30 seconds.

Results of the long jump were announced, which we already knew.  Hawkins had taken the lead in the preliminaries with a jump of 21 feet and 5 inches.  He had again passed in each of the final rounds as the other jumpers failed to match him—although there was a challenge from Parker Westphal of Bolingbrook.  Hawkins beat him by an inch and a half in the triple jump—and by an inch in the long jump.

The 1600-meter run turned out to be a little bit of a surprise.  We expected junior Chris Korabik to run well and compete for the win.  He settled into third for the first couple laps, coming through the 400 in 65 seconds and the 800 in about 2:12.  Then he took the lead, with two runners holding on behind him as he ran a 68 second third 400.  A challenger closed on him with about 250 meters left, and Korabik accelerated.  With 100 meters to go, there was another challenge—and then Korabik hit a finishing gear, kicking strongly to finish in 4:23.75, a personal best by two seconds.

Junior Chris Korabik wins the 1600 in a personal best time of 4:23.75.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Junior Chris Korabik wins the 1600 in a personal best time of 4:23.75. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Meanwhile behind Korabik, the real surprise was junior Taylor Dugas.  After missing almost a month of running at the end of March and in early April with a sore foot that was finally diagnosed as a nerve problem, Dugas returned to sporadic running three weeks ago.  He’s doing his aerobic work on the bicycle and in the pool, and he is running only in our interval workouts on the track.  At Nalley the plan was for Dugas to run 70-second laps.  The real goal was for him to get in shape to help us with depth for our 4×800 relay in the season’s final weeks.  He came through the first 400 in about 68, running in 12th place.  He was 2:17 at the 800—but he looked relaxed and strong.  He had wanted time splits during the race, hoping he could keep on pace and on plan.  Instead I yelled to him, “There are six medals, and six places score.  You are in tenth.”

Dugas proceeded over the next two laps to move past four runners to finish sixth, running a personal best of 4:35.69.

Jakalski made an announcement after the 1600 that Saint Ignatius was now winning the meet with 77 points.  I pulled out my new Iphone—and tweeted that news.  I haven’t been blogging, but in the months since my last blog post we bought an Iphone plan and started a team twitter account:  @ernsttracksicp.  I have been tweeting from our meets for about a month, including updates all day at Nalley.  I typed in the news:  “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack in first with 77 points before 4×4.”

But in my excitement after the 1600 success, I had forgotten about the 200-meter final.  We had a runner in that final heat, junior Francisco Meraz, but he didn’t score.  Lincoln-Way East, however, had two finalists—and they finished first and fourth.  My next tweet:  “But tied with Lincoln Way East.”

At the start of the 4×400, Elliot Gibson gathered on the line with our strong 4×400 team of senior Andrew Reardon, Dunham, and Kampe—and with the Lincoln-Way East team lining up beside him.  We had the top seed in the race after our good effort at the Palatine Relays last week where the same team ran 3:28.30.  The team was confident—but the pressure would seemingly be on them to win the meet for us.

Jakalski announced on the PA that the meet was tied, 77 points for Ignatius, 77 points for Lincoln-Way East.  The 4×400 would decide the meet, he said, adding, apparently as an aside, that the novice pole vaulters had just finished vaulting and the final pole vault results weren’t included yet in the total.

“How did your team do in the pole vault?” a Lincoln-Way East runner asked Gibson.

Gibson couldn’t help but smile when he told him, “Well, I won the pole vault.”

“That means we lost,” said the disappointed opponent.

Senior Elliot Gibson takes baton from senior Andrew Reardon for the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay at the Nalley Invite.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Senior Elliot Gibson takes baton from senior Andrew Reardon for the anchor leg of the 4×400 relay at the Nalley Invite. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The Wolfpack runners ran as if it did still matter.  Dunham lead off the 4×400 with a leg of 52.7, about a second faster than he had run the previous week at Palatine, and off the break Kampe stormed down the back straightaway into the lead.  His relay split was a personal best of 50.5.  Reardon held the lead with a 51.5 leg, and Gibson took the baton with Oswego East chasing him just a step behind—but with a big lead on the rest of the teams, including Lincoln-Way East.  Gibson was never really challenged as he ran 50.1 seconds to win.

We had won the meet running away, as well, scoring 97 points total, ahead of Lincoln-Way East’s 79.

My tweet:  “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack wins 4×4 3:24.88 and meet. “That’s a dirty time,” says Taylor Dugas. #clutch.”  Coach Ofor supplied the hashtag.

We have had great success as a team this year, and the boys knew the drill.  We took some team photos.  The Nalley meet is the only one all year that we designate as a “run and go” meet.  It comes as many of our upperclass boys are preparing for the start of AP exams next week, and the demands of other schoolwork are pressing as the year draws to a close.  It is also just a long day in the sun, with the first events starting at 9:15 and the 4×400 finishing at around 4:15.  We sent many of our boys home early, and we had only a crew of 11 boys for the team photo.

Jakalski then descended from the press box with his camera, after announcing that he needed photos of the winning teams from the meet’s 1A and 2A/3A divisions for the cover of next year’s program.  We took a photo with the winning team’s plaque.  Jakalski insisted we take it out of the box and plastic wrap for the photo.

I tweeted a team photo—and then a photo of the plaque—and then we packed up our tent and headed back to Chicago in our mini-bus.

We have high hopes for the Chicago Catholic League Championship meet next week.  At Nalley we posted our best times of the year in virtually every event that we targeted to do so.  We have three weeks left in a season of more than 20 weeks—and our team seems ready to run its best when it counts the most.

The caption on Twitter @ernsttracksicp:  "At Nalley Invite Wolfpack win. pic.twitter.com/g39pK7qj7o"

The caption on Twitter @ernsttracksicp: “At Nalley Invite Wolfpack win. pic.twitter.com/g39pK7qj7o”


Filed under coaching, high school track and field