I'm waiting for my wife to get her nails done. Thankfully, the Laguna Beach Brewing Company is just across the parking lot from the salon. So here I sit on a picnic table outside, "A Town Called Malice" — one of the great underrated 80s songs — playing on the outdoor speaker system.
Today, it's an ironic term in that I feel anything but malice in this special town I call home. Callie and I just returned from an anniversary/birthday week on Oahu's North Shore. We did absolutely nothing. I don't count reading, trespassing on the golf courses (there are two) for a morning run, or watching the baby albatrosses in the local reserve count as activity, so I'm all in for nothing. A long red-eye home and a predawn bedtime means that I'm sort of just now getting my bearings.
But in truth — and I say this in all honesty — the real highlight of the trip wasn't birthday dinner at Lei Lei's or the sushi rolls at Roy's Beach House. The real moment of greatness took place in Fresno, a week ago Saturday, the night before we flew to Hawaii. Two of my runners were competing in the California State Meet. As a coach, expectations were a mixture of high and low. High, because when the kids are at their best it's amazing to watch them crush it. Like they're running downhill. Low, because California is packed with amazing talent. Even the most talented runners meet their match under the lights at State.
My guys crushed it. Two podium finishes in the 1600, against some of the best runners you or I will ever see at the high school level. My junior ran 4:10 in a big PR for fourth. My senior ran 4:11 for sixth.
Nervous time. The senior had his medal but was less than satisfied with sixth. He had also qualified to run the 3200 — the two-mile, as it’s also known. Did he still want to race the 3200, knowing that he had run a 1600 qualifying heat the night before and then the final earlier that night, while many top guys in the 32 had opted to bypass the 1600 to focus solely on the two-mile? No heats. No second race of the day. Tanned, rested and ready.
Despite the odds, Peter Herold was all in — sort of. Twenty-seven runners toed the line at 9:55 p.m. He looked nervous and ambivalent, as if there was something better he could be doing in Fresno a couple hours before midnight on a wind-whipped Saturday. Once the gun sounded, his first two laps of the 3200 were lazy 70s with the pack, as if he was still trying to figure out if he wanted to be there. Seventy seconds per lap is 4:40 pace, something that would stagger you or me but is slow for an elite two-miler. I was expecting, if not the worst, then at least so-so.
But then Pete dropped a 65 on the third lap — and the game was afoot. The fourth lap was another solid 65 and he came through the mile in 4:30. Our school record is 9:01. Pete was on pace to break nine minutes.
If you go to Milesplit.com, you can find the race. Pete is a graduating senior, headed to UCLA, never to compete for me again, and so I feel comfortable using his name. By Lap Six the race was really down to just six or seven guys. I couldn't speak anymore, my voice was gone from cheering so loudly. I was focused on the competition and also on the clock, hoping Pete could maybe glide alongside the school record and have a crack at breaking 9:00, if only because he's a great kid who's always been second best to someone else and you root for him to earn a moment of posterity all his own.
With one lap to go he was kicking, battling for a top five finish on a night when the nation's top runner in the 3200 would get the win in a mighty 8:46.
With 100 meters left I was this loud manic voice trackside, screaming silly shit like "get it done" and "finish it." Like my words meant a damned thing. The kid has run 70 miles a week for the last two years, forsaken the fun of senior year in the name of competitive discipline, and has endured my workouts since he was fourteen years old. But this is his last race in the team singlet. Last race. Last chance for a record to call his own. So as a coach, I get to scream silly things. At that point in our relationship, there was nothing more I could do.
Finally, it was done.
Watch that race. Watch that third lap, and the guile and guts of the next five times around the oval.
You might see the camera pick up on a very emotional man in a gray and black JSerra Cross Country sweatshirt standing along the homestretch railing.
I look a little crazy, maybe even deranged, but other than Pete and his entire family in the stands, no one is more ecstatic.
You coach a kid from the time they're a five-foot nothing 4:52 miler who doesn't have an email address or a cell phone, until they're a 6'3" senior busting through nine minutes, running that second mile in 4:28. Pretty damn cool. What a way to end a high school career. Watch out for that kid. Remember that name. He's not done yet.
Then, as if all that wasn't wonderful enough, it was on to Hawaii the next morning.
State Meet pandemonium straight into a week of mental and physical rejuvenation in Hawaii. It’s not quite the 1600-3200 double in one evening, but still a solid back-to-back vacation double.
No malice whatsoever.