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What Salazar Said

 Alberto Salazar (left), coach of the Oregon Project, with Ariel Stark-Benz (right), one of the original members of Al's Pals, at the 2016 edition of the USATF Distance Classic at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Alberto Salazar (left), coach of the Oregon Project, with Ariel Stark-Benz (right), one of the original members of Al's Pals, at the 2016 edition of the USATF Distance Classic at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

I'll never forget his words. They rang bright, crisp, and clear much like that cold Northwest February day. He spoke stark wisdom. "Be ready to win," Alberto Salazar said. 

The year was 2001. I was a high school senior in Portland, Oregon. Galen Rupp, Alberto's star protégé, was a mousy high school sophomore at the time — no one then knowing what he would become. 

The previous year, Alberto had started coaching at a local private high school. It was on the soccer fields where he discovered Rupp. Shortly after, Salazar invited the Portland metro area's top high school distance talent to train together in the offseason. I made the short list and was asked to join. I felt incredibly lucky. 

We called ourselves "Al's Pals." We met three days a week in the off-season between cross country and track. Tuesdays were track workouts. Thursdays were for hills, drills, and speed. And on Saturdays, we'd smash 10 mile tempo runs in Forest Park. It was an aggressive schedule for high schoolers. But if you know Salazar, it makes sense, his middle name is Intensity. 

The program worked. We all got better. Setting school, district, state records and racking numerous championship podium finishes. A testament to his organization skills.  

Alberto made that remark at the end of a Thursday session right before final our 200m repeat. Galen, Joaquin Chapa, Micheal McGrath, Ariel Stark-Benz (my high school teammate) and I toed the line. We all interpreted the declaration as a green light to race. Salazar shouted, "Go." And we went for it. 

I don't recall who finished the rep first (I know it wasn't Galen or me) but I do know my watch read 27.08, the fastest 200m I'd ever run up to that point. I was ecstatic.

After the cool down, I caught a private moment with Alberto and asked him to explain his statement. He answered, "If you're not here to win, then you're here to lose."

The sentiment guides my coaching practice to this day. 

 

Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm

Jonathan Marcus