What does it take to have a remarkable cross country season? At Rubidoux High School, the answer includes a pair of star athletes, hard work and good coaching, and a tremendous finish at CIF State Cross Country.
About the latter, you may have heard: Senior Erik Gonzalez won the Division 3 state title in November to become Rubidoux's first ever cross country individual state champion. And Kevin Ramos finished 10th in the state race to become the No. 2 sophomore in all of California cross country.
But how did both reach the pinnacle of their craft?
"It's genetics," quipped RHS cross country coach Richard Torbert. He also cited a calibrated training regimen, and a healthy rivalry between Erik and Kevin.
At a potluck awards banquet in late January, Erik was named Most Valuable Athlete, and Kevin received the Will To Win Award, because he gave his all on the trail and served as an exemplary teammate.
The squad's training, of course, is grueling. Rubidoux's 45-member cross country team runs every day but Sunday, up to 65 miles per week. Light training, when the runners taper to allow muscle recovery, comprises 30 to 35 miles weekly.
And this is on tough terrain. The team must train in conditions resembling those in competition, which means hills, trails, and ample variety over a 12-race season that features myriad courses in Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties.
"They have pet names for certain roads," Mr. Torbert said of the routes used for conditioning. "I say, 'You're running Big Mama' and they know what I mean." Other training mainstays are Triple Hill, which requires running up and down three hills, and The Ridge, whose 400-meter uphill run leaves some athletes chilled with dread.
But the hard work brings rewards. The team's specialties include running downhill and winning through endurance. "We run the downhill extremely fast," Mr. Torbert said. "That's where we make up ground." This feat, he noted, is harder than it looks, given how much speed the runners pick up: "It takes a little bit of 'No fear.' "
As for stamina, Mr. Torbert simply said: "We will outlast you."
At the heart of Erik's success is a love of running, said the coach. "At the banquet Erik said he never thought of it as a workout. It was always fun." The soon-to-be graduate has strong grades and will attend college next year on a cross country scholarship, said Mr. Torbert.
As for Kevin, the sophomore improved by accepting coaching advice, and "he just goes and goes. He's a skinny kid who just keeps going and going," Mr. Torbert said. Kevin's older brothers ran at Rubidoux, too, "so there's a tradition there."
There is also a friendly rivalry. At the start of the season, the sophomore beat the senior, Mr. Torbert said. That drove Erik – who would become a state champion – to work harder to regain the top spot on his own team.
"Erik was more successful because Kevin pushed him," Mr. Torbert said, and vice versa. "The competition (between the two) helped both of them."
At the same time, the teens were steadfast in their support of each other and their teammates. "Neither of these kids have big heads because of their abilities," their coach said – a note that adds teamwork, grace and humility to the list of reasons Rubidoux had a remarkable cross country season.