This past spring, the high school racing season came to an abrupt halt due to COVID 19. For many athletes, their motivation to continue to train waned as the spring transitioned closer to the summer. One athlete who definitely took advantage of this past spring was Amador Valley HS junior, John Lester. During the spring as well as early summer, Lester rolled to the fastest 800m time in the nation as well as one of the fastest mile times as he won the Independence Day Showdown at South Eugene HS on July 4th. Below, you can check out our interview with his coach Jason Oswalt. You can also check out Coach Oswalt’s presentation that he made at the Humboldt Running Camp on the next page detailing Lester’s training this past spring.
1) What were your own running experiences in high school and college? Highlights?
I spent my younger years in upstate New York playing team sports. I played soccer, basketball, and baseball with local leagues, and lots of sandlot football. I think from early on though, I knew that I would end up being a runner. No matter what sport we were playing, my asset was my speed and I used that and a good work ethic to cover up other deficiencies. I moved to Pleasanton before fifth grade and kept playing all of the sports. I started running the spring of my 8th-grade year because I was tired of hitting .200 and leading my baseball team in stolen bases. I had run a 5:58 mile in PE before I started training, which was a good start. With all that, I would have never guessed at that time how many cool things I would get to do in this sport. In 8th grade, we ran 4 days per week and never farther than 4 miles. I remember in my first day of training, I showed up to practice and we were doing a four-mile “long-run”. We all went out for two miles behind the coach and then we ran back at the pace we wanted. I ran back trying to pace myself, but trying to get back first (not what I would recommend, but that was me). On the final stretch, I put my head down, ran as hard as I could, and passed the leader with a few steps left. Got it. The leader had been Elizabeth Lowry. She was in 5th grade at the time. I don’t think she was running that hard. By the end of that season though I had run a 4:55 mile, so something worked. I was coached in 8th grade by Jim Poss. Then before I started high school at Amador Valley, he was hired as the coach there.
I was fortunate in both high school and college to be on teams that valued being teams, During summer training before my first cross country season at Amador Valley, seniors Ron Selvey and Donald Zimmerman made sure our team did the work we needed to do to accomplish our goals. Donald drove a mini-van and would pick up half the team on the way to training every day. Ron had the confidence to make sure we always believe we could. I didn’t know much about the history of the program. I hadn’t known that cross country was even a sport until my 8th-grade coach told me that I would be doing it and that I was going to make the varsity team. I asked the guys during a run one day if we were any good. They pronounced that we were the best team in the league and that we would be winning the EBAL that year. It was close, but we did. They pronounced it with so much confidence in the summer like it happened every year. I only found out later that the team hadn’t won in something like eighteen years. That was not the most talented team that I was a part of in high school, but I think we got the more out of our ability than any other team I was on. It was a testament to leadership. The story repeated itself on the track. We hadn’t won in a long time, but we did that year. I contributed 8 points finishing 5th in the 1600m and 3rd in the 3200m. My goal that year was to run under 4:35 in the 1600m. People thought that was crazy. I ran 4:34.7 at EBAL finals. It was my first time under 4:40. From there, I got to run in all the fun invitationals. Going to Arcadia was always a highlight. We broke our school DMR record at the Stanford Invitational my senior year. We won that race beating Long Beach Poly and Bellarmine. I can remember Pete Dolan screaming “Hard core! Hard core!” as I came down the backstretch of the last lap, even though he wasn’t my coach. I can also remember Neil Davis’ face when I passed him, probably wondering where that second wind came from. We won another EBAL title in cross country my senior year, beating Granada and San Ramon Valley. To this day I enjoy beating Granada and San Ramon Valley. It’s not always easy to do. The thing that brought the whole experience came together though were my teammates in the distance group. Besides the guys I mentioned, Travis Weisbrod, Ben Wolf, Matt See, David Piekarski, Kyle Monez, Ryan Stifter, Rehan Tahir, Chris Grigsby, Justin Tunberg, and Stephen Lowry just to name a few. Like every high school cross country team, we were ridiculous. But we went through it all together. Our parents were dumb enough to trust us to go camping for a week every summer with no adult supervision. We did some running and we were lucky we didn’t burn down all the forest around Lake Tahoe. But we brought everybody back, so we were allowed to go again the next year.
I went to college at Cornell University. As I said earlier, I spent a long time in upstate New York, so although it was far away from Pleasanton, my grandparents lived a couple of hours away and I knew what to expect when it came to winter. The head coach at Cornell at the time was the great Nathan Taylor. Coach Taylor led an amazing jumps program and I was teammates with two NCAA triple jump champions, Rayon Taylor and Muhammad Halim, although they both won after I had graduated. In my freshman year, I was coached by Jerry Smith and after that, by Robert Johnson. I appreciate the work I did with both men. They were very different personalities and had very different philosophies. Jerry only wanted to coach the toughest guys in the world. I thought I was when I went to college, but he quickly disproved that. With Jerry, he didn’t even care if you won the race if it didn’t hurt enough and it didn’t matter how much it hurt if you didn’t win. So Jerry set about to make us the toughest team in the world by giving us the hardest workouts ever created, and just when we were done, he added a finisher so we could “find out where [we] lived”. Jerry was the inventor of the infamous 200 pride workout, where runners run a set of 4x200m at 45 with 100m jog recovery, then a set of 4x200m at 44, then 4x200m at 43, and so on until you get to 4x200m at 30. From there you do as many sets of 4x200m at 30 as you can until you can’t run anymore. Everyone on my team remembers during my freshman year when Jerry stopped Max King and Dan “Danimal” Dombrowski after running 108x200m with the last 44 of them at 30. I think Max actually ran the last one in 27. Jerry loved Max. After a year of the hardest workouts ever with Jerry, Robert came in and changed the program. He slowed down our easy runs and told us to use our easy days to recover. If we came back and told him that it felt too easy, he told us to go add on 15 minutes. Rather than destroy us in workouts, he would have a plan to do just enough. Rather than have us run through walls to reach a surprise finisher, Robert would tell us to err on the side of caution. But we still had that experience with Jerry that helped us when the situation called for it. I think that it was a great combination of different styles of coaching and I use things I learned from both coaches as well as Coach Poss in what we do today at Amador Valley. We also had a great group of guys who I am lucky to call my friends today. I just talked to Zeb Lang today, who eventually took over as cross country coach at Cornell and is now coaching at Colorado State, and since the shelter in place started I have been able to connect with Oliver Tassinari, Mike Sinkevich, Daryn Johnson, Galen Reeves, and John Castilhos. I have gotten some good information that I have used in coaching from Doug Krisch as well. And wherever you are John Goldsmith, I still love you too. Bruce, we know where you are, but well, ya know. Cornell was another program that hadn’t had success in a while when we got there, but we went on a run starting my sophomore year. After not having won a conference championship, we won the indoor meet my sophomore and senior year (we blew it my junior year), and my sophomore year began a run of eight consecutive outdoor championships. I didn’t score a single point in any of those meets, but I hated Princeton as much as all of us did. I did improve in college, but not by much. Although I always wanted to, I never got close to the point where I was going to be a major contributor at that level. I loved being a part of that team though, and everyone there knew that.
2) What led you to teaching and coaching?
I finished at Cornell with a degree in economics, but somewhere in the process of getting that degree determined that I didn’t really like it that much. I think in the back of my mind I knew that if I got a job in economics, there wasn’t going to be much room left for track and I wasn’t quite ready to leave that world yet. I ended up getting a job in sales back in the Bay Area but didn’t like it. I was looking for another job and in a roundabout way ended up leaving that job, substitute teaching, and coaching. By the start of the next school year, I was an intern teacher at Amador Valley and I was coaching. There was a three year period where I was teaching at Hart Middle School but was coaching at Amador Valley the whole time. I have been back teaching at Amador Valley for ten years.
What do you teach?
I teach math. More specifically, I teach intermediate algebra to students who struggle with math and I teach an accelerated program where students learn all of geometry and a chunk of intermediate algebra. That class is a fast track to calculus class.
Before this track season, what were some of your coaching highlights?Well you asked, so let’s go. I think the previous cross country season was a good one. We had three guys, Aidan McCarthy, Jack Gray, and Euan Houston run faster than any Amador Valley athlete had ever run at Woodward Park. Jacob Lawrence was unhappy with his state meet race but was our 5th man that day. His return to running was nothing short of miraculous as he had brain surgery in the summer and it was unknown whether he would run at all. The boys ended up 8th in the state. Despite Hope Bergmark’s injury, she returned to lead us at the state meet on the girls’ side and Ella McCarthy had a huge race for us. Derica Su won the NCS championship and for the 2nd year in a row, the girls went 1-2-3 in that race. And I don’t know where Taya Small came from last year, but as the quietest girl on the team, she was the glue that helped us to a 13th place finish. It was only the second time that both our boys and girls had qualified for state in the same year.
I have a lot of pretty good coaching highlights to pick from though. It was pretty exciting when Jena Pianin was 5th in D1 at the state meet. Even better the next year when she was 3rd behind 2 all-time performers. It was my first year as the head track coach when Nate Esparza threw the shot put 69 feet, 8.75 inches. I didn’t do much with that but get out of the way of Nate’s brother, who was our throws coach, but that was a fun season. Nate broke the NorCal record by 5 feet. Watching Chinyere Okoro progress in the short sprints was a lot of fun. Although she ran faster as a senior, the most exciting might have been when she won the 200m at Arcadia her junior year. Coaching Conner McKinnon to a 3rd place finish in the 800m at the state meet was awesome. Conner could do some things that to this point, even John can’t do. That may not last for long though. We won 3 NCS MOC titles on the boys’ side when I was an assistant coach and what was fun about that was we did it with athletes from every event group. Ja’maun Charles, Darnell Roberson, Josh Slaton, Michael White, Matt Esparza, Sam Peters, and Conner were all key contributors to those wins. Combinations of those guys ran a 41 second 4×1 and a 3:13 4×4, which was so cool. It was awesome when Aidan Boyle dove to hit the state meet auto time in the 800m two years ago. It was heartbreaking when Melodie Leroudier missed the auto time in the 1600m by .1 seconds, but in the process, she PR’ed by 4 seconds and broke the school record. It was a pleasure to coach athletes like Annaka Green, Madison Perez, and Becky Laurence to MOC Finals and I’d say the same about Zach Beston if his race there didn’t end in injury. In My first year as head cross country coach, we had 50 runners at the EBAL championships. 46 ran PR’s and 2 of them had never run the course. Of the two runners who didn’t PR, one missed by just 1 second. Nina Razavi’s senior year was a 20 week long highlight and I will never forget when she qualified for NCS Tri-Valley against a stellar 3200m field at EBAL Finals. She went from running something like 12:45 as a junior to 11:24 as a senior and went on to have a stellar college career at Saint Louis University. In fact, I really enjoy following former Amador Valley athletes move to college and seeing how they do. I love to see someone who never saw themselves as a college athlete and maybe never had the kind of high school success that we think of when we think about college runners, go on to have great college careers. Margaret Duffy was barely a 6:00 miler in high school but ran well for four years at Haverford College. On the other end of it, Garrett Ward was a 9:27 guy who decided that he wanted to walk on at Colorado. The summer between his senior year and when he started at Colorado, we took his training to a different place so that he could make that a reality and ultimately had a successful career at that school. I loved watching Alec Elgood be slow for three and a half years and then run 2:00 in the 800m as a senior (I guess I didn’t actually like the 3 and a half years of being slow, but I liked how it ended). Same story with Jordan Rice and Armin Mahini. I loved when Kevin Huey finally ran the 1600m in 4:30. I loved when Smita Nalluri ran 11:37 at EBAL Finals and didn’t qualify for NCS Tri-Valley, so instead she led us to victory with a 4 second PR of 2:22 in the MOC 4x800m. And one last one. When Kim Sannajust came off the final hill at Hayward as our 6th runner, passed Monte Vista’s 5th and 6th runner to put us into a tie with Monte Vista and give us the 6th runner tiebreaker, sending us to the state meet, that was a good one too.
3) Can you tell us a bit about Lester’s progression during his freshman and sophomore years and what sports he participated in during those two years?
John came to high school as a football player. I think he was a kick returner. He progressed to sprinter during the track season. Our pole vault coach really wanted him there, but he ended up in the sprint group. He wasn’t that good in the short sprints. He ran 12.65 in the 100m and 24.98 in the 200m, but he was good at the 400m. John ran 52.09 in the open and either split just over or just under 51 on the relay. John’s dad didn’t really love him playing football and thought he should do cross country instead and I know some of the guys already on the cross country team wanted him to do cross, but John was pretty adamant about football. As a coach, I never want to take away what someone loves, especially not with a promise of something better that I don’t know that I can deliver on. John was a decent football player from what I had heard and there was nothing about his running that guaranteed that he’d be any better at cross country or even sprinting than he would be on a football field. If someone is interested enough to ask, I’ll talk about track forever (like you can see in this interview…Albert asked me about track and here I go), but John never asked. So one day in the summer he shows up and says, I’m going to try cross country. And John became a distance runner. He was strong, but he was a first-year guy, so his mileage stayed pretty low. Despite low mileage, he was athletic, so he could keep up with most of the guys anyway, but not the front of our team. I doubt that he ever ran much more than 30 miles that season, but by the end of the year he broke 16 at Hayward and was our #4 runner. The only time John didn’t break 2:00 in the 800m was his first time running it. He ran 2:03 his first time running it because he was too tentative, just learning the race. His next attempt at it was a 1:58 and he progressed all the way to 1:52.99 in the state final. He made a tactical error in that race, putting himself in a bad position with 200m to go. If he didn’t get bumped around a couple of times in the last part of that race, he probably runs a little bit faster. But rookies make rookie mistakes and as far as things went, that was an awesome season.
Where do you feel like the big jump was made by him?
I don’t know that there was a big jump. I think everyone gets into racing and the initial improvement happens pretty fast. We get that period of time where every race is a PR. It’s just that most people don’t start as fast as he did and for whatever reason, that improvement hasn’t stopped yet. Most people don’t have two years of linear improvement and they don’t start out running 2:03. John did.
Was it a specific race or series of workouts?
I think at the beginning of John’s sophomore track season he was fitter than the times he was running. He was just learning to race, so as I said earlier, he was a little tentative. I film all of our races and we would go over his race videos and find things to work on. He very quickly went from running 2:03 to running 1:55. I remember that we were able to point at a lot of things in his Arcadia race to work on from how he positioned himself early to how fast he was running at the end, but made the move too late. I think those things were eye-opening to him. We usually go into a much more heavy speed phase with 800m runners right after Arcadia. Up until then, whatever they are doing, they are doing on aerobic strength. After a couple of weeks of that, John’s fitness turned a corner. As we moved into the postseason, I changed a lot of the plans because I could tell that John had become a different dude. We were trying to figure out how he could get under the auto-qual standard in case he didn’t finish in the top 3 for most of the season and all of a sudden we were talking about winning MOC, which he did. Going into the last couple weeks of the season, I was coaching a sophomore who I believed could run 1:51. He didn’t quite do that, but I thought he could. When Conner McKinnon ran 1:51, he had a better max velocity than John, so John wasn’t as good at the really fast stuff, but when we did things where John had to do a few medium-hard reps and then come back with something really fast, he was just so fluid, which you still see in his running today.
4) What about his fall cross country season? Aside from his faster times, where do you feel like John improved during the fall season?
By the start of this cross country season, we were able to treat John more like a distance runner. He still doesn’t run huge mileage, but he was routinely up over 40 miles per week and definitely over 45 at times. He probably never hit 50, but maybe once or twice. But you can do a lot more with that than when you top out at 35 and his body was ready for it. With the added mileage he was more consistent in the tempo runs, although I think he ran them too hard sometimes and he was much stronger running hills. His body was also changing. He was getting taller and stronger naturally, which was leading to gains in the weight room. I think finally, but importantly, he was more emotionally mature. John goofed around too much when he first started doing cross country. He was a sophomore and would act like a sophomore, even when he didn’t want to be known that way. Don’t mistake this as me saying that John wasn’t working hard, because he was, but there were times that he needed to be reminded what we were out there to do. By junior year, John was serious. No reminders necessary.
5) What did he do during the winter to prepare for the track and field season? Any consistent workouts?
To be honest, John didn’t have a very consistent offseason. It was an exciting cross country season for us and we put a lot of energy into it. We were all at the state meet and we went with big goals. We spent a lot of emotional energy, as it should be, and then John, Euan, and Jack went on to Footlocker West. Aidan planned to go too, but felt some tightness in his hamstring midweek and called it off. After that, we were all pretty exhausted. Aidan started to feel his aches and pains before Footlocker, but the other guys all felt a little something or other shortly thereafter. So we had a plan but made sure to emphasize recovery. Throughout the winter, we usually do a hill sprints one day (short sprints with long recovery), tempo miles one day (up to 6 with 1-minute rest, although I don’t think John ever did more than 5), a recovery day, a day where we touch race pace, a day where we do circuits, and a long run. Some athletes will go on their own on Sundays and some don’t. For the day that we touch race pace, we do 6 weeks where our top guys do 2 sets of 6 200s. I don’t give them times to hit, but in the first set they go easy, easy, easy, medium, medium, hard. The second set is easy, easy, medium, medium, hard, hard. They do 200m jog in between each rep and a 10 minute run between sets. The run is not a shuffle and is supposed to be slightly faster than easy run pace. After 6 weeks of that, they do a short VO2 max fartlek, where they do 1 minute on, 1 minute easy, 2 on, 2 easy, 3 on, 3 easy, and back down. They do this out on the creek trail near the school. They are in the weight room on the hill sprint day and the fartlek day. So that is our basic program, but John missed a lot of days with little aches and pains. We weren’t too concerned because we knew how much stronger he was than the year before. We knew the only way he wasn’t going to run fast is if he got hurt, so we emphasized recovery and to run when he was ready. By the end of the winter he was going through the program with everyone and feeling pretty good. We were ready to start the season.
6) Aside from Lester’s 1:52.06 at the Dan Gabor Invitational, you had other impressive marks. Can you mention a few of those and any surprises?
I wasn’t surprised that people ran fast, but I was surprised at how fast all of them ran so early. I’m glad they did because unbeknownst to all of us, early was all we had. Euan Houston made a huge drop during cross country for us running 15:39 at the state meet. It didn’t come out of nowhere but he was faster than I expected. There were some signs in the week leading up to Gabor that he was ready to do something, but 4:18 was a surprise. I expected for him and Aidan to run about 4:23. So when Aidan ran 4:19, that was a surprise too. But if you were to tell me that one of them was going to run under 4:20, it would have been Aidan and it would not have shocked me. Jack’s 4:25 wasn’t a surprise at all, but certainly nice to see. Jack had pneumonia twice during last year’s track season and really struggled. Looking at the longer workouts he was doing, he was going to have a great year in the 3200m. If we knew the season was going to shut down, he would have done it at Gabor, but we were saving everyone to do that at Dublin. We never got the chance. Jacob was a surprise. He did a workout the weekend before that showed he was in shape, but he dropped 4 seconds off of his PR to run 4:25 as well. I thought going into the season that he might run under 4:20 this season, but that race made me really confident that it would happen. Jacob actually went on and did some time trials of his own where he ran about 9:33 for 3200m and 4:23 for 1600m. I know that these questions are related to distance runners, but I was pretty happy with Jad Khansa’s shot put too and John’s brother, Tim, who actually is a sprinter, ran some really nice races early. We had some girls in the hurdle group who were going to turn some heads as well.
7) What were some of the challenges of coaching Lester during the SIP?
Really the same challenges as coaching everyone else. Our track was closed, we weren’t allowed to meet with athletes, for a while everyone thought they might die, the list goes on. At the beginning, we had the benefit of thinking this might only last a couple of weeks, so our serious athletes stayed motivated. As time went on and it became apparent that the season would not resume, we lost a lot of interest. Or maybe interest isn’t the right word, but people lost their enthusiasm for what we were doing because without races, what was the point. We held a virtual dual meet with Granada, which was fun. At least for the girls, because they won. Granada’s boys scored a stunning upset. We were also a part of the virtual 4xmile, so that was cool too, but none of those things are the same as racing against people on a track. Eventually, some of the guys figured out ways to get onto tracks. It involved some driving, so most kids weren’t doing it.I was giving workouts for those running their hard efforts on trails and also workouts for those who were going to tracks. As far as John specifically, there were workouts that I wasn’t giving him because I wasn’t going to be there. There are a few workouts that I assign, but often change in the middle of the workout if it is going a certain way. I couldn’t give those kinds of workouts if I wasn’t going to be there to have the option to adjust on the fly. There are also some workouts that I give that are difficult for a person to accurately time and get recovery on their own, so I wasn’t giving those. In general, I’d say that at least for a while, the intensity was much lower than normal, but we kept mileage higher. We didn’t go back to base training completely, but it looked a lot more like that than what we would have been doing at that time of the season. I’m sure that plays a role in why John is still pretty fresh right now.
What were some of the workouts that he did during March and April? Was the 1:49.36 TT a surprise or within his goal before the effort?
The 1:49 was an absolute shock to me. As I said, he wasn’t really training on the track leading into it. I hadn’t seen John since March 14th, where he did a very good workout. On that day, we were still allowed on the track and he did 2 sets of 400, 600, 300. He and Euan did that workout. They got 45 seconds between the 400 and the 600, and 90 seconds before the 300. Then they got 5 minutes between the sets and did it again. I think John went 63, 1:35, 47 and then 62, 1:34, 47. Euan was right there. John walked off the track and asked if it was supposed to be hard, suggesting that it wasn’t. Euan managed it well, but he thought it was hard. To everyone reading this, that workout is hard. After that, I didn’t see them. John told me about a week in advance that he had this time trial set up and that he wanted to break 1:50. I figured a hard effort is a good idea and I encouraged him, but I looked at what we had been doing and it wasn’t conducive to running a huge PR in a time trial. That wasn’t really even the point of the training in that moment. I thought that if he ran 1:53, that would be amazing. I couldn’t go because I had classes to teach, but on his own, he had found a timer and a pacer. I got a text during one of my classes that he ran 1:49. As soon as that class wrapped up I was on my phone making sure he wasn’t lying. There’s a video and he wasn’t lying. It was pretty cool.
8) The Desert Dream-Last Hurrah Invitational was a very last-minute decision. Can you share how the race became a reality?
John had originally planned to do another 800m time trial that day, so our training was setting up for a hard effort that day anyway. We got lucky in that regard. I knew nothing about the meet until John told me about it on Tuesday. I don’t remember exactly what the exchange was on Tuesday, but somehow we determined that the field wasn’t that strong and it wasn’t worth flying to Arizona for. We were better off just doing the time trial close to home. Fast forward to Thursday. Since the shelter in place has started, I have been taking part in a weekly Zoom call hosted by some coaches from Portland, Oregon. On this particular evening we were discussing how we trained and delegated responsibilities with our assistant coaches, given the success of the few female coaches in our sport why there aren’t more of them, and also which current professional athletes we hate the most. At 9:15, Jorge Chen, who coaches an incredibly talented group of athletes at Menlo, sends me a text asking if John wants to go to this meet in Arizona. I explain why John had decided not to go. Jorge asks if it would change anything if Cruz Culpepper was in the race. I’m thinking that it might have changed something on Tuesday, but probably not now. But I told him I’d check. John is lukewarm on the idea at first I think mostly because it was going to be tough for the family. Within 15 minutes Jorge texts again that Darius Kipyego would be there and now John is excited. It turns out that John’s family was going to be unable to go, so their loss turned into my gain and I got to go. We did a fair amount of coordinating to make sure that we were as safe as could be with flying and the COVID in Arizona. We waited to fly in until Saturday morning and flew out really early on Sunday. We were back in CA less than 24 hours after we left. There were more details discussed, but I have said to others and will say here, that I was never stressed about the race itself, but I was stressed over every move in between just because of the health situation where we were. Walking around in Arizona though, it didn’t seem like anyone else was all that stressed. In the end, I was really appreciative of the people that put the meet together to create that opportunity for John and all of the other athletes who stayed disciplined over the last few months.
What were your goal and race plan before the race and what was your reaction after the race was over?
I don’t know what John’s goal was exactly, but we were happy with the result. It sounds greedy, but I thought he might run a little faster. As far as the plan, I wanted him to come through 200m in 26 low, then run 26 mid, and 26 mid. I told him that if he could run 53 low to 53 mid from 200m to 600m without too much pace variation, he was going to be in a position to run very fast. Ideally, he was going to be through 600m in a smooth 1:19.5. I thought he could finish off that. He did a workout a couple of weeks ago where he did a 600m in 1:19.1, took 30 seconds rest and ran 29. I was concerned about the 29, but he came back 20 minutes later and ran a 600m in 1:21, so I knew that he could have run that 200m better. There was no 200m after the second 600m. What really iced it for me was the workout he did the Tuesday before the race. This was actually the first workout I had seen him do in person since 3/14. He did 4x200m on the minute, meaning if he ran 30 seconds, he got 30 seconds recovery. If he ran 40 seconds, he got 20 seconds recovery. I asked him to try to run 26.0, 26.0,26.0, and then as fast as he could (I actually told him to run the last one in 18.95, but he knows that just means as fast as he can). I was going to be very pleased if he could run them all in the 26’s. I was going to be ecstatic if he could run the last one faster. Well, he blew it from the beginning because he ran the first one in 24.14 (no typo). I figured he’d hold it together for one more, but then fall off on the third and fourth after running a 24. He ended up going 26.65, 26.18, 27.24. Not perfect, but after a 24.14, that’s really, really good. I ran with guys in college who could run 1:48 and they couldn’t do that, so I knew he could run 1:48. I thought if he ran smart, he could run faster.
9) What is the next race for Lester and what is the training plan leading up that race?
That is undetermined. I think he is going to run a 400m time trial this weekend. He will do something hard after it, but the focus of that day will be to get a fast 400m in. After that, I think he wants to run a mile on June 27th up in Eugene. We are trying to figure out how to wrap this season up though in a way that he will be happy with and we don’t overextend him. After what he has done, the most important thing is that he leaves the season healthy. He is going to have a lot of say in these upcoming decisions though.
10) Who have been your coaching mentors and who do you lean on for advice currently?
Well all of the guys who have coached me are people who I have learned from. In addition, when I first started coaching, our head coach was Peter Scarpelli. Peter was awesome about letting me learn the administrative side of being a head coach, which is where a lot of the time is spent. By the time he left to become an athletic director, I had already done a lot of the things that head coaches have to do in one way or another, which made the transition much easier. He was also always just a phone call away and although I don’t need to lean on him as much, he is still there and I appreciate that. From the side of it where we develop athletes, Chris Puppione was a huge mentor. Pup and I would talk shop before I was ever a coach and I think he was excited when I became a coach. He’s been a cheerleader of mine and an educator all the way through. He was the first to call me about John in Arizona. I know this because he messaged me before the race as well as right after and I had to ignore him for a minute. I basically grew up doing track with Tyler Huff and we have done a lot of coaching together. He coached at Texas State for a season and also at Baylor, but he found his way back to the paradise that is Amador Valley and we bounce a lot off each other. I also like to bounce things off of Devin Elizondo. Devin coaches at UCLA, but we have known each other for a long time through the Runner’s Workshop running camps and he is great to get perspectives from especially in helping an athlete deal with recruiting. Otherwise, I have enjoyed the USATF and USTFCCCA coaching education programs, the different VS.Superclinics that Peanut Harms puts on in Sacramento, the clinics that Tim Hunter and Chris Williams have put on locally, and of course the NorCal Coach’s Roundtable that Pup, you, and I have put on. I have been able to learn from some of the most accomplished people in the sport and as much as I have written here, I am happy to go into those rooms, close my mouth, and listen.
11) Of all the Corona Indoor Nationals episodes, which one was your personal favorite?
Ooohhh. I don’t know. I liked shooting the gun in the house. That was the one I was worried I might actually get in trouble for. The thrill! I kind of regret throwing a hammer down my hallway, but not really. I think the fan favorite was the high jump. I think that we can all agree though, that race walk sucks, and so does Princeton.
What was the most taxing and any injuries during any of the episodes?
Running the mile was the most taxing for sure. It was slow, but it was really hard. When the whole thing started, in the first event I talked about a slight calf strain. That was real. And that mile made it much worse. Other than that, when I was testing out the high jump, I was trying to properly do a Fosbury flop. And I did, but the mattress wasn’t thick enough and it really hurt. It took me a few minutes to walk that off, which was the reason for the head first attempts.
Will there be more Corona Indoor Nationals events?
No, we did closing ceremonies after the hammer throw. It was a fitting end. I hope everyone enjoyed it.
12) Anything else you would like to add.
I think part of the reason that you sent me these questions is because you want to get a better sense of what makes John so good. But you never asked that. First, John is good because he was born with some talent. You don’t run 1:48 ever, much less as a 17 year old if you don’t have some talent. But not everyone who can run 1:48, does. So the most important thing is that I’m his coach. Simple as that.
After that, John does everything. I give credit to all of these athletes who had their worlds turned upside down in March, but managed to stick to the task and not only stay in shape, but reach heights that they never have before. That’s hard and the vast majority did not do that. So John is not alone in doing that, but he is in rare company.
John not only does the big things like coming to workouts ready to have good days, but he has taken on the challenge of doing all of the little monotonous things. John’s mechanics are smooth, but not perfect. He’s working on it. John completes his core work without cutting corners. He’s serious about what he’s doing in the weight room. He told me that the best thing about the shelter in place is that he’s able to get more sleep. He’s learned about how to properly fuel his body, by eating healthy foods. He has even figured out that on certain days, he needs to deviate from the plan and do a little bit less. Not because he’s being lazy, but because that’s what his body needs. John has made a decision that he wants to be fast and he has started to do the things that will make him fast now. He is not someone who is going to wait to get to college to start doing those things.
Alright Albert, after all this, I hope you don’t regret asking.
Thank you very much for your time Oz! AJC