Thousands of high school students compete in track & field and cross country in Montgomery County every year, but truthfully I only personally know a handful of you, especially after this year's graduation. That is why I went to your summer cross country practices! I spent the preseason trying to get to know you and let you get to know the man behind www.mocorunning.com. Many coaches invited me to your practices, time trials, and scrimmages. I laced up my running shoes and jumped right in with you so that I could get better idea of who the athletes are that make up this great running community.
I put up some photos on Facebook: Album 1 Album 2. Feel free to tag your friends and "friend me" if you'd like.
I went to Northwest High School to kick off my 2008 MoCo Tour. The Northwest cross country team of 60+ runners began their second practice of the day at 5:30pm. Despite some noteable runners not having their physicals done in time for the first day (tisk tisk), all of the top runners are back, healthy and optimistic for a good season in 2008. I was quickly filled in on their morning workout: a relaxed 5 mile run followed by a 3200 tempo on the track at 6:00 pace for the boys and 7:30 pace for the girls. Athletes who couldn't keep the pace were stopped after each lap. Several boys and girls were able to finish the full 3200's.
After a relatively tough first practice in the morning, the evening workout was much lighter: 5 miles at a relaxed pace or 4 miles depending on ability level. After a brief warm up, an extended bout of dynamic stretching, and a lesson on how to cross the street from Coach Muehl, we took off at a comfortable pace down Great Seneca Highway. The pace remained relaxed throughout the run and the pack stuck together. Several of their top returning runners settled comfortably in the middle of the pack of about 10 runners.
We returned back to the track for four 100-meter strides and more stretching.
Although the Northwest boys are being chosen by many as this year's favorite for the 4A state title, Coach Muehl says they aren't talking about a state title until they see who worked over the summer. They know that they can't roll into this season unprepared and expect to win anything. They won't know where they stand until their time trial on Tuesday.
Chris Miller, sporting a new short haircut, told me that he got in some good running this summer and is shooting for top ten in the state this year, a reasonable goal considering he was 11th last year.
The Northwest girls have a few questions to be answered. They expect to be led by Britt Eckerstrom and Alyssa Henshaw. Eckerstrom will not be joining team practice until next week. After that, they aren't sure yet who will fill out the top seven, but they have several young prospects who came on strong at the end of last year.
I joined Whitman High School for Monday afternoon practice. I saw a few familiar faces and a lot of new faces. Whitman runners are always friendly to me, but they have a habit of graduating. This year, Whitman's girls' team will especially have a lot of new faces. Only one member of last year's top five, Shayna Barbash, returns. She, coincidentally, was not at practice today. They are hopeful that they can still be competitive with the help of some hard working sophomores, 2:30 half miler Itziar Belausteguigoitia running cross country for the first time, and incoming freshman Anna Ryba who was the top finisher in their time trial on Saturday (yes, a time trial on the first day of practice!).
They return several key members to their boys' team including their powerful junior duo of Brandt Silver-Korn and defending state champion Andrew Palmer. One of those two did not have their physical done in time for practice, but I did get to run an easy 4 miles with Andrew and a few others.
We left school in a pretty big pack, but a few guys broke off to do loops around Landon's campus. They have a dual meet at Landon later in the season and it's a nice, grassy place to run.
This was the second workout of the day so the assignment was an easy 3 or 4 miles. I stuck with Andrew and Coach Brameyer. The pace was a little quicker than my run with Northwest on Saturday, but nothing too crazy. It was only thirty minutes and Andrew said it was almost exactly four miles, so it was 7:30 mile pace. Andrew says he's done that same loop in just over 20 minutes before...if you do the math, that's just over 5 minute mile pace. Although he didn't get to show me what kind of shape he's in, you can tell he's in good shape and won't have the sluggish start to the season that he had last year.
I picked the warmest day of the week to pull a double header: first practicing with Einstein, then with Blair. I thought that by the end of the day, the meaning of a consortium might sink in, but in the end I still don't understand.
I got lost on my way to Einstein for the third consecutive time - that area is so confusing to me - but I made it in time for practice, redeeming myself from last year when I completely missed it.
The assignment for the top runners after stretching and drills was a six mile run. Each ability group would turn around a little sooner.
I departed with Coach DaSilva and the top few guys, Sam Rivers, Dawit Zawede, and a freshman Alex Hevey who had no trouble keeping up. These guys are probably unknown to the rest of the county xc fans, but the pace of this run was no joke. The first mile was about three-quarters uphill and it didn't get much easier from there. Sub-7:30 miles for 6 hilly miles in the heat of the day showed me these guys are working hard to fill big shoes after graduating their top two.
The Einstein girls, while lacking in numbers in this early season practice, I predict will be one of the most improved teams in the county this year IF they stay healthy. That is a big IF for them. They return just about everyone including top runner Sisi Reid, and will be adding the two twins who ran 2:30 in their 4x800 relay that clocked 10:06 last spring.
I pounded as much water as I could after the Einstein practice. Luckily the temperature was cooling down when Blair's practice began.
Rob Bock joined me for Blair's practice. Rob lives nearby in the consortium mixup zone, but he couldn't shed any light on it since he just went to Good Counsel instead. He has also been helping me out a lot with writing articles for mocorunning.
I received a friendly welcome from several Blair team members who are fans of the site. After a two mile warmup and some stretching, the workout was a three mile run for the young group and close to five miles for the experienced group at conversational pace.
It was conversational at first, especially when we ran by a group of slightly overweight women doing situps and giving cat-calls to the passing Blair runners in a middle school parking lot.
The conversation slowed as the pace may have picked up a bit. Logan Talbott, Lucas Alvarado-Farrar, and Rutvij Pandya kept things moving up front while young Jeremy Ardanuy and myself hung on in the back (sorry if I forgot anyone). I'll admit...as I approached 12 miles for the day, I was beat.
I think the boys' team is definitely looking more complete than in years past with several of their most consistent runners back and ready for a good season. The girls' team is young and rebuilding, looking down the road to make an impact.
As they say on Flotrack.org, today was Workout Wednesday. I got to see the first interval workout of my tour around the county when I visited the Walter Johnson cross country team at Cabin John Park.
The team ran the nearly two mile trek from their school to the park. I arrived at the park just in time for drills and stretching. The assignment was the same for everybody: 4 one-mile loops on a trail in the park. The first and fourth loops would be at a relaxed pace and the second and third would be at 5k race pace. About a third of the loop was slightly downhill, the next third was steep uphill with switchbacks followed by steep downhill, and the final third was back-tracking the first segment, making it slightly uphill.
Makeshift groups were formed based on ability level and the top guys took off. Running a relaxed pace, they ran the first one in about 6:30. Not bad.
The second one was supposed to be more intense, but not much faster than 5k pace. Roni Teich and Sean O'Leary ran it in 4:30. 4:30! We all concluded that it was a little short of one mile - probably closer to 0.8 miles.
The next was 4:40, and they finished with a 6:30.
There was quite a bit of passing among the nearly 100-athlete team on the narrow trail, but the courteous runners made it work, encouraging each other as they passed.
Most runners ran back to the school after the mile loop workout. The top guys ran their 5k home course at a relaxed pace before heading back to school.
The WJ boys and girls are looking sharp. Teich and O'Leary are leading the way for the guys right now, and there is a slew of young guys who aren't afraid to chase after them. Jennifer Spencer and Anna Bosse look like they are in good shape with Jenna Willett and Maria Moersen not far behind. While the WJ boys nearly missed qualifying for the state meet last year and the girls did miss qualifying, at these early stages both teams look like a good bet to get back to the state meet.
Candy Cane City is the stomping ground for the defending 3A boys cross country state champions and 3A girls indoor track state champions from Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. Coaches Chad Young and Colleen Desmond assembled the team under the shade of a large tree to assign the workout.
Pacing was key on this day, especially for the new runners. The idea was to learn how to control speed and learn a pace that can be maintained throughout a whole 5000 meter race. The task was six to eight 600-meter loops at a little faster than 5k race pace around a large grass field. Completing all eight loops would be a total of 4800 meters of intervals.
Matt Davey-Karlson, better known as DK, led a group of guys on a quick first loop in 1:40 (sub 14:00 5k pace). Also following was Andrew Finklestein, Eliot Gerson, Eric Damtoft, 2008 graduate Walter Beller-Morales, and others. They backed off the pace on the remaining loops to closer to 1:50.
The girls' pack was led by Addie Tousley and 2006 graduate Megan Andrews. A few girls hung with Tousley and Andrews when they went out at the assigned pace of 2:20, but in the later loops Tousley dropped below 2:10. That might be the story of the B-CC team this year with nobody on the level of Tousley. They are hoping to develop some young girls to move up. They also have their fingers crossed for cuts from other teams to boost their roster size.
Practice ended with a cooldown run, stretching, and core drills. I was already impressed with their workout, but after talking with a few of their athletes, I was more impressed with their devotion during the offseason. Despite losing five of their top seven, the returning runners seemed to have taken the notion of defending state champions seriously over the summer. They not only put in the high mileage necessary to succeed, they also made a conscious effort to eat right and sleep well. Defending their state title seems like a long shot at this point, but then again, nobody was talking about a state title at this time last year either.
On the eve of the first scrimmage of the season, the Sherwood cross country team had a fairly light practice. The emphasis was on starts, that is, learning how to get out aggressively but in a controlled manner.
Following warmups, all athletes lined up on the starting line of their home cross country course and practiced starts by getting off the line and running 200-meters at race pace. They then jogged around the track and repeated. On the third start, the athletes followed a set course which was about a full mile. Finally, they did another relaxed mile loop on their fields.
The workout ended with a mile jog and an interesting set of drills done around the track. The drills were brought to the team by their lead runner Solomon Haile. Solomon initially did the drills by himself before a few of his teammates decided to join in. Now it is standard for the whole team to do them together. The movements of the drills resemble peculiar dance moves, but work many muscles in the body including abs, back, shoulders, and hips.
Last year, the Sherwood girls squeaked into the state championship by winning a tie breaker at the regional meet. This year, they would like to safely get back to the state championship without any nail-biting tie breakers. They have the athletes to do this. Although they have not had a strong number one runner in years, they return four of their top five including the young trio of Teresa Cronin, Abby Iacangelo, and Ally Becker. They definitely have a few runners to fill out the varsity squad including Teresa Russell who was a sprinter that looks like she can run distance.
The Sherwood boys are coming back from a disastrous season in which they failed to qualify for the state championship. The two brothers Kyle and Cole Balderson will be joined on the varsity squad by Nate Toll, Kevin Hogan, and possibly freshman Alex Popeck who was a strong runner in middle school.
The Sherwood squad is of course complimented by two-time national 5k champion Solomon Haile. Solomon is now nationally known on the high school running scene, but the nation may not know that he is hard to spot without a smile on his face. He is a quiet leader on a team with great tradition. He will surely push the pace on hard days, but today's practice was designed to be easy and so he ran with his teammates. He has been training hard this summer while watching the olympics with great interest. He has admiration for all of the athletic accomplishments that have taken place, especially by Ethiopian and American athletes. Although he does not yet compare to the great Ethiopian distance runners in the olympics, he does have his sites set on gold at this fall's Footlocker National XC Championship, a race that local fans can look forward to all season.
Wootton and Magruder met for a friendly 1.5 mile scrimmage at the Agricultural Farm Park Saturday morning. I wanted to emphasize my time with Wootton since it was my only chance to see them. I will be revisiting Magruder on Monday.
The two teams did a course walk/jog together. They stretched and lined up for the race. The boys took off followed by the girls and still more boys. After disappearing around a corn field for about five minutes, a group of three emerged: Chris Gregorski and Mark Mechak from Magruder and Jonathan Loewy from Wootton. They finished in that order with Gregorski finishing in 8:16. Wootton exhibited surprising depth by taking the next four spots and having a top-5 spread of just 27 seconds for the 1.5 mile course. It should be noted that Magruder's number one returner Nicolas Escobar was absent.
Wootton's "sixth man" would have been Jessie Rubin who finished in 9:06. Of course Jessie is a female, but she finished twelfth out of all runners and first out of the females by 50 seconds. Wootton had at least seven girls in front of Magruder's first.
Both the Wootton boys and girls have rebuilt very well considering the talent that they lost. The older athletes know that it's their turn to step up and they put in the work over the summer. The girls, though not as strong as last year, look like a good bet to return to the top ten in the county and qualify for the state championship. A healthy season from Jessie Rubin will go a long way in accomplishing those things. The boys have a had a long drought from the state championship and this might not be the year for them, especially when trying to make it out of the 4A West without any star runners. They will take a big stride in the right direction this season, especially if they remain a pack team that can break up teams as they did to Magruder today.
More analysis on Magruder next week when I spend a little more time with them.
The Magruder and Wootton scrimmage overlapped Churchill's Saturday morning practice. The juggernaut squad of the county carpooled everyone up to the farm park to practice the course in anticipation of the scrimmage there next week. I regret that I didn't get to spend more time and do a little running with them, but I'm sure I will have plenty of opportunities to see them all season.
The workout that they did was something along the lines of a 15 minute tempo run plus a series of 500-meter starts at race pace. The most noticable thing about watching them do this is that there are about three times as many boys as girls on the team, which is unusual for the defending female county champs. Four of the top girls ran together while other top girls were absent. The drop off after the top group was noticable. They still return a lot of talent that will put them among the best in the state once again. The strong junior duo of Maryam Fikri and Alex Giedd will lead the way.
There was no dropoff from the first boy to the thirtieth. The great depth and good strength up front is what has many people saying that the Churchill boys are contenders for the county and state titles this year. The coaches expect there may be several boys shuffling on and off the varsity squad all season long. Sean King and Matt Bernstein will likely have secure spots at the top of the squad all year.
Yes, school really starts tomorrow, and no I don't envy you. And so ends my preseason Moco Tour with a double-header, practicing first with Magruder, and then with Gaithersburg. Neither Coach Timm or Coach Tolbert took it easy on his athletes despite the looming summer reading projects and math packets that you should have been doing instead of reading this blog.
Magruder met at Lake Needwood where they will host several dual meets this season. After the warmup and stretching, the workout was a 32-minute workout of Segments: hard runs of 8:00, 6:00, 4:00, 4:00, 2:00, 1:00, and 1:00, all with 1 minute recovery in between. Coach Timm used to do these segment workouts in high school and in college when running at Florida State.
Now here is an update on my status. This past week, the mileage really has not been much higher than what I was running all summer, but the pace of the running is a little bit quicker than my normal relaxed pace. I've been cautiously fighting off shin splints on both legs and a tweaked right ankle. I did plenty of icing on Sunday and surprisingly felt very good on Monday after my warm up. I was a little weary of doing Coach Timm's workout but decided to jump in to get a feel for it.
I think I know what the Americans felt like in last Saturday's Olympic Marathon when Sammy Wanjiru and the other Africans took out the race in what the announcers kept saying was "suicide pace." The way that everyone took off to start the workout today, I was either in horrible shape, or Magruder had thirty guys and a few girls who were ready to tear that workout apart. We were, afterall, starting with a hard eight minute interval. Most of the young enthusiastic runners did run out of steam and I'm sure they felt it for the rest of the workout.
But like Hall and Ritz, I never stood a chance at "medalling" in this workout as Nicolas Escobar was flying out in front. It was Nicolas's first practice of the season with his team and he looked good. He will join Chris Gregorski and Mark Mechak to make up a strong top three, while other guys like Dagmawi Abebe and Joey Schaeffer know that they need to step up to close the gap. In the end, the boys should be a better team than last year.
Nathan Timm coaches his athletes mentally just as much as he coaches them physically. He puts an emphasis on positive attitudes and never giving up. That's the attitude that he says his girls team shares this year. They have lost a lot of talent, both to graduation and to other sports at Magruder. He wants to make sure that they are having fun as well as succeeding so that they can build tradition. Despite all the willpower, it is looking like a down year for the girls, who should be led by Svati Narula with possible contributions from freshmen Jessica Marques, Shannon Oleynik, and Andrea Escobar who is Nicolas Escobar's younger sister.
I finished the Moco Tour 2008 at the best school in the state, my alma mater, Gaithersburg High School. Gaithersburg did a two mile XC time trial tonight, and I was definitely not the only alumni who came back to watch or run in this race. There were over a half dozen Gburg grads from many generations including 2007 grad Sam Boimov who would win the time trial in 10:08, and a blast from the past, one of my former teammates, Aaron Anderson who contributed to the 2000 state title-winning team by placing 8th.
At all of my stops along the Moco Tour, I've found healthy runners and happy coaches, but Gaithersburg was a bit different. Expected #1 runner Antonio Palmer has been ailing from a back strain that was reaggravated at the junior olympics in July. He ran the time trial and will compete at the beginning of the season, but Tolbert plans to bring him along slowly. Expected number three runner Brendan Stepek is hobbling with a lingering injury and not expected to compete for some time.
Despite the injuries, the time trial went well with Vikas Bhatia being the top placing high school finisher in about 10:18 and Antonio following in behind him. Sophomore Shane Stepek was the next high schooler followed by Abby Spitler.
Yes, Abby Spitler is in tremendous shape. She already owned the top time of any girl to run this time trial in the last 16 years, but she was able to beat her time from last year by over thirty seconds: 11:48 for two miles on the hills and grass.
But the Gaithersburg girls, even moreso than the boys, have serious depth issues. Number two runner Lauren Rose is temporarily out after getting her wisdom teeth removed. The next girl did not come in for several minutes, and at this early stage, they don't look to be a very competitive team. But how about that Abby Spitler?
And there you have it. Eleven teams in ten days received a little bit of preseason coverage. I apologize to the teams that I did not get to visit, but I will see you out there on the XC course this fall.