Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ruben Dominguez, Austin Panther Double State Champion.

As I stated just prior to this entry I will spend some entries paying tribute to some of the greats of El Paso Track and Cross Country past. I covered one of the greatest ever in Bobby Aguirre (Riverside) in the entry here

The 1970's saw many incredibly talented long distance runners from El Paso. The runners of the 80's were all very aware of the accomplishments of El Paso's numerous long distance stars from the prior decade.  As far as performances go, keep in mind that they ran the full mile and 880 yards back then as compared to the 1600/800 meters when comparing times. The coaching was different and in some cases non-existent. Track surfaces were different. In some cases the El Paso athletes drove to the state meet in Austin. These things are unheard of now making the following interviewee all the more impressive. Get to know 1973/1974 Texas State Champion in Cross Country as well as the Mile, Ruben Dominguez of El Paso Austin.

1) Ruben, your senior year you were a double state champ in XC and the mile. Can you touch on your career leading up to that breakthrough year. 

(note: 4A was the large school division in that era, today's equivalent of 5A)
My father encouraged my younger brother and me to participate in various sports. After running in the sprints in grade school, I found a niche as an 880 yard runner in the 8th grade. I was going through growth spurts and my legs could no longer accelerate as fast needed for the sprints. In my freshman year in high school (1971), I struggled to qualify for 1 of the 3 spots on the 880 yard team on the freshman track team. My freshman track coach suggested the mile run. In the mile run, I had found my true niche and had success. I won the freshman District 1-4A mile run in 4:48.
In my sophomore (1972) and junior (1973) years in high school, I ran the mile run on the varsity track team. It was a difficult 2 years because I had to train with 2 outstanding mile runners who were 1 year ahead of me, Robert Murray and Carlos Gallardo. Robert Murray has finished in 3rd place in the mile run at the 1971 state track meet as a sophomore. Carlos Gallardo was an up and coming mile runner who could train and compete with Robert Murray. Robert was an organized individual who had developed a training regimen for the mile. So Carlos and I just followed the track workout he would complete that day. Since I was a year younger than both individuals, I struggled to keep up with them in my sophomore year. I still struggled but not as much in my junior year. I finished 3rd in the mile run at the 1973 District 1-4A track meet. In retrospect, I greatly benefited from training with Robert and Carlos. By the time, I was a senior (1974) in high school, I knew what track workouts to pattern my training regimen.
I had one accomplishment in my junior year. I ran the 880 portion of the distance medley relay (440, 880, 1320, 1 mile) and the team posted the 29th fastest time in the nation considering we were running at 4000 feet above sea level in El Paso. The team members were Victor Castillo-440, me-880, Robert Murray-1320 and Carlos Gallardo-1 mile. Thanks to you and your blog. I never would have known.
I tried out for cross country as a sophomore (1971) and promptly dropped out. I was not in physical condition to handle the long distances in practice. 
I joined the cross country team in my junior year (1972) and had success. The cross country team did not have a defined training regimen. We trained separately and rarely as a team. The concept of training as a team was not infused in us. There were times I would run with Carlos or Robert separately. I finished 3rd in the District 1-4A Cross Country Meet and 6th at the Regional Cross Country Meet. Since the top 10 finishers qualified for the cross country state meet, I had qualified to compete at the 1972 Cross Country State Meet in Austin. What I was not told by my coach was that I would have to incur the cost of traveling to the cross country state meet. The El Paso Independent School District would only finance the winner of the race, Tony Zuniga. Also, my coach informed Carlos Gallardo and I about the news one day before we were supposed to leave for Austin. I was devastated, heartbroken, disappointed and discouraged at hearing the news. I felt worse for Carlos as he was a senior. Carlos and I did not make the trip to compete at the cross country state meet in Austin. I vowed to myself that in my senior year such a circumstance would not happen to me again. I would win the Regional meet to assure myself to be financially sponsored for the State meet.
In addition to training and competing with Robert Murray and Carlos Gallardo, no doubt I benefited from competing with Tony Zuniga from El Paso High and Claude Barron from Irvin High from 1972 to 1973. Tony and Claude were among the best cross country and mile runners in the state. So every cross country and track meet for 2 years, I (along with the other younger cross country and mile runners) competed with 4 among the best runners in the state. We struggled competing with them but in the long run benefited greatly and raised our performance expectations after they graduated from school in 1973. Tony, Claude, Robert and Carlos set the precedence to be the best in the state and not solely be the best in the city or region. They set the bar of expectation very high and left it as a challenge for the next year’s class of runners to try to match it or exceed it.

2) Let's discuss your coaching,  or lack thereof.
I had 4 coaches in my 4 years in high school. The coaches assigned were not running coaches and were from a football background. Different mentality, no country cross experience, no long distance running experience, no long distance running background, no long distance running training program. In each successive year, the coaching got progressively worse. The best coach was in my freshman year. The coach did dedicate time to train me after I showed the potential to be among the best mile runners in the city. He seemed to know what he was doing.
I had to develop my cross country and mile training regimen reading books from the public library or books given to me and the workouts from Robert Murray. 
Just because I tried my best to generate a training regimen, it did not mean I had developed the correct training regimen. It was not. I over trained, over used my body and began to feel the effects of burn out in my sophomore year in college. I was just tired.
In addition, I trained alone even when doing my speed workouts on the track. No other miler on my team was willing to try to keep up with me like I did with Robert Murray and Carlos Gallardo.
Granted, it was unfair and undue pressure placed on a teenager faced with training without a qualified long distance running coach to fulfill my dream of competing at the state level. I did the best that I could without a coach to train me.
Imagine standing at the starting line of a state final and having to plan and implement your own race strategy without the input or advice from a coach; unheard of in this day and age

3) What were some notable difference between then and now. I know you guys drove to the state XC meet, I know the 3200 wasn't introduced until 1980 in TX. How do you think you would have fared in the 3200? Would you have doubled up at State Track Meet? What were your PR's?
I’ve had 40 years to ponder about whether or not I would double in the 1600 and 3200 meter runs during the track season.
Thinking as an adult and observing the El Paso runners compete in both events at the regional and state track meets in past years, I would have run in both events during the track season until the District meet. From the District meet to the State meet, I would have chosen to compete in just one event. I suspect I would not have had the strength to compete well at both the Regional and State meets based on watching El Paso runners each year. “Well” for me is defined as running fast and winning the race. I would be able compete well in solely one event. When I competed in the mile run in my senior year, it was to run at top speed and win first place, nothing less.
Now, thinking as a teenager, with no sense of mortality, free-spirited and willing to take chances, I would have competed in both events to show my versatility and strength to the field and college coaches throughout the track season including the District meet to the State meet. However, I would have paid a price in the effort to train and compete for both events throughout the season and progressively not compete well from the District meet to the State meet. I see it watching the El Paso runners each year running at the regional and state meets.
2-mile high school cross country: 9:18 (in El Paso)
3-mile high school cross country: 15:08 (in Las Cruces)
Mile run high school: 4:17.4 (in El Paso)
Mile run: 4:15 (freshman year in college in El Paso)
2-mile on the track: 9:11 (freshman year in college in El Paso)
6-mile on the track was 30:30 (freshman year in college in El Paso)
15K: 50:00 (1982 in Boulder, Colorado)
½ Marathon: 72:27 (1980 in Boulder, Colorado)
Marathon (completed): 2:34 (1981 in Phoenix, Arizona). The next year, I was on 2:22 pace for 20-miles until a blister eliminated me from the race.

4) Talk about your peers a bit. Who pushed you, who was your fiercest rival? How did everyone get along back then? Did you all strive to represent El Paso as a city in out of town competition?
When I was a senior in high school in the 1973 cross country season, my fiercest rival was an outstanding runner from Las Cruces High by the name of Sal Briones. Sal was also a senior in high school and had won the New Mexico 3-Mile Cross Country State Meet as a junior.
Sal and I competed 3 times during the 1973 cross country season, twice in Texas 2-mile cross country meets and once in a New Mexico 3-mile cross country meet. I outran Sal in one of the 2-mile and the 3-mile cross country meets. Sal beat me in one of the 2-mile cross country races. I can never say I beat Sal Briones because I finished in front of him by mere yards (2 to 3 yards). I can say Sal beat me because he finished in front of me by more than 20 yards. Sal always made me run my very best and would push me to brink of exhaustion. I ran 15:08 in a 3-mile cross country race competing with Sal Briones.
I never competed with Sal Briones after the 1973 cross country season. I continue to have the greatest admiration for him as he brought out the best in me. He made me run at a higher competitive level. He made me realize the level of competition I would encounter at the Texas 2-Mile Cross Country State Meet.
In addition and in retrospect, the El Paso cross country runners from the 1973 season were an outstanding and extremely competitive group. After competing at the 1973 2-Mile Cross Country State Meet did I realize that every weekend during the cross country season, I had been competing at the state level all along. The result at the Texas 2-Mile Cross Country State Meet is evidence as 6 of the top 10 finishers were from El Paso. The first place team (Bel Air) and the third place team (Andress) were from El Paso.
As a senior in high school competing in the mile run during the 1974 track season, I did not have the competition to take me to the next level. The reason was the competition that I had in cross country were the runners from District 2-4A. I ran in District 1-4A. The one District 2-4A mile runner who could have taken me to the next level was competing with Joe Lopez from Bowie HS. Joe Lopez finished in 3rd place at the 1973 Cross Country State Meet and in 5th place in the mile run at the 1974 State Track Meet. Joe and I competed in the mile run only once during the 1974 track season. It was the first track meet of the season. The athletic administration of the 2 school districts in El Paso (El Paso Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School District) decided to have separate meets for their districts.
Joe and I did not compete again until the 1974 Regional Track Meet in Lubbock. It was frustrating not being able to run the mile with a competitor like Joe as we both could have benefitted from the competition.
After running at the West Texas Relays in Odessa and posting a 4:22 also early in the track season, I was ranked with the 2nd fastest time in the state. However, I got complacent due to the lack of competition as the season progressed until the 1974 District 1-4A track meet. At the district meet, I decided to push myself to the limit and was on 4:00 minute pace for 3 laps (60 seconds, 60 seconds, 65 seconds) and had a disastrous 4th lap. My 200 yard lead was cut down to 0 yards by Ray Camacho of Burges HS. I won the race by 0.1 seconds. I was disappointed in my time (4:27) and that I could not maintain the 4 minute or so pace. In retrospect and reflecting on the race as an adult, I should have realized that I had proven to myself I had the speed and strength to maintain a fast pace but not a 4 minute pace but perhaps at 4:10 to 4:19 at the approximate 4000 feet above sea level of El Paso. I just needed a coach to train me, to advise me and to encourage me. I needed competition in the mile to prove it. 
In the meantime as the track season progressed towards state finals, I had dropped from the 2nd best time in the state to the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th best time by the state meet. I did not worry too much about being ranked with the 9th best time in the state. The other 8 runners were running at an altitude much much lower than El Paso. In addition, the other 8 ranked runners did not have to deal with the wind and the dust storms so prevalent in El Paso in the March to April timeframe. The one time that I did drop in altitude at the West Texas Relays in Odessa (elevation approximately 3000 feet) was enough to show I was able to drop my mile run time.
Getting along
El Paso runners tended to get along back in the 1970s especially after a race. The New Mexico runners were just as friendly. The Bel Air cross country team tended to be the most festive as their high school band would show up to play music at the meets. In addition, the Bel Air cheerleaders would bring snacks for their runners. Then again, the Bel Air cross country team was the rowdiest of the El Paso cross country teams.
During the 1973 cross country I enjoyed my conversations with Sal Briones. Sal was a friendly person with a knack of calling me “Primo” (= cousin). I kept reminding him that he was a darn good runner and appreciated the competition.
The El Paso runners would bond once we got into Regional and especially State competitions.
At the 1974 state track meet, I bonded with Vaughn Courtney from Coronado HS and future UTEP track teammate. He competed in the 880 and finished in 3rd place. I also bonded with Joe Lopez from Bowie HS who competed in the mile run and finished in 5th place. I had great company at the state track meet. The 3 of us plus high jumper Joe De La Cerda from Irvin HS (who finished 3rd in the high jump) convinced the coaches to roam around the UT-Austin campus on our own. It was a great way to relax and explore the campus without getting into trouble of course. We had too much at stake anyways.
At the 1973 cross country state meet, I bonded with the El Paso High and the Coronado HS runners. To this day, George Herrera from Coronado HS remains a good and dear friend. We also graduated as engineers from UTEP. We talk every few weeks and get together whenever I visit El Paso. I contacted Vaughn Courtney a few years back and was doing great. I wish I knew the whereabouts of Joe Lopez. We lost contact after high school.
One of the best memories I have of the 1973 cross country state meet is the 6 runners from El Paso who had finished in the top 10 forming a circle to congratulate each other and to show the unity among the El Paso schools.
One of the best memories I have of training for the mile run at the state track meet was how 2 runners from my track team stepped up to train with me for portions of my workouts. There was a 440 yard runner by name of Tony Gutierrez and a miler by the name of Perry Pi~non. I had asked Tony to assist me when running my 440s and 880s intervals on the track. He would run with me in the last 220 yards of each run. Perry asked to run with me and would either stay with me until he got tired or join me in the latter part of the workout. It really helped having company and presence to simulate race conditions.

El Paso domination at the 1973 State XC Meet. Notice in 7th place was sub 9 minute 2 miler and future 2:10 marathoner, Marty Froelick.

(News clippings, Julio Lujan was the best reporter on Track/XC for many years)

5)Can you touch on your college experience. What would you have done different?
My college experience competing in cross country and in track was a disappointing experience.
The disappointment was committing to run for UTEP. I also bear the responsibility for not running well at UTEP by deciding to study electrical engineering as my major.
Allow me to clarify that academically UTEP was a good experience. I do not want to give the impression that my time at UTEP was disappointing overall.
When I choose to attend UTEP on an athletic scholarship, I had the high expectation that by attending the No. 1/No.2 program in the nation that I would benefit from the best coaching in the nation and would take me to the next competitive level. I was aware of the foreign runners especially Kenyans on the cross country and track teams. However, I was not expecting the foreigners on the teams to be the majority. I was not aware that the Kenyans were much older and more experienced than the average U.S. collegiate runner especially an incoming U.S. freshman. 
In addition, I had the expectation that a young U.S. runner would be allowed to develop and mature to be able to compete with the UTEP foreign runners by the 3rd year. I expected a nutritional program. I expected a weight training program. I expected tailored individual training programs where an initial assessment of our strengths and weakness were identified and addressed to correct and enhance performance to compete at the collegiate level and with the UTEP foreign runners. I thought that the No. 1/No. 2 cross country and track program in the nation had such programs and the facilities to accommodate for the tailored diet, weight training and individual training. It was not so.
I felt like I ( along with the other U.S. runners especially those in their sophomore and freshmen year) was thrown into a den of lions when told to basically keep up with the foreigners runners especially the Kenyans in practice and in races in order to compete at the collegiate level. I was overwhelmed not because of their talent but because I was a boy of 18 years old age and a freshman competing with men between 20 to 27 years of age with national and international experience and also freshmen.
As a runner, I did improve but not enough for the vast talent at UTEP. For example, I qualified to compete at the WAC track championships in the 6-mile run as a freshman. But the coach decided not to take me because he thought I would not be able to perform well. It was frustrating because I just wanted to gain exposure and experience to set myself up for the following year. At least, I would know what to expect. Still, I fault myself as well for not having the success as a collegiate runner. 
On the other hand, I choose to study electrical engineering as my major. I found course study to be demanding on time and energy, detrimental to improving as a runner. As a good solid B student in high school and college, I had to spend more time studying to understand a topic. In addition, there was course work that required the afternoons for assignments. So even though course work was quite demanding, I found it extremely satisfying, rewarding and having academic success. 
In the 1970s, there was no financial future for a competitive long distance runner after college. I decided to take advantage of the athletic scholarship to invest in an education that would bring me personal fulfillment and earn a modest living.
My father would spend time to counsel me to make a choice between being a good competitive runner or being a good academic student. It was obvious to him I could not handle both simultaneously. He also point out the value in investing in an education for my future and while I had the scholarship. I chose the academic route for my future. I appreciate the love, concern and counsel of my father.
I do admire Tony Zuniga from El Paso HS and Vaughn Courtney from Coronado HS for thriving in the UTEP cross country and track programs. They were able to balance their studies and training to have great success and be All-Americans. UTEP was just not a good fit for me. There were more U.S. runners and field athletes not having success than having success at UTEP. I experienced seeing my roommate from Wyoming, a 3 time cross country state champion, getting his athletic scholarship terminated after his freshman year despite a 3.7 GPA in business. Another example was a field athlete from California who was the No. 1 high school pole vaulter in the nation. He had limited success at UTEP. I experienced the constant pressure from my coach trying to convince me to change my major from electrical engineering to physical education so I could dedicate more time for training.
What would I do different?
In hindsight, I would not have chosen to attend UTEP. I should have chosen a university where I would have been allowed to mature and develop. Also, I should have chosen a university where I could shine to allow me to stand out and give me the confidence that I was progressing in the correct direction each year.
I should have been open to attending a Division 2 or Division 3 school with a great running program (for example, Adams State College in Alamosa, CO) and with a reputable engineering program.
I wished that I would have known that I could write to coaches of my choice to consider me to run for their team like UT-Austin, Texas A&M, Oregon (long shot) and other universities.
I did have offers and feelers from other universities and should have considered them more seriously. I sure wish the Internet was available back then to facilitate contacting and communicating with universities. It would also have provided me the opportunity to have an initial view into their academic and athletic programs, campus setting and their locale.

6) The present .Let's discuss your bid to get inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame as well as your current running.
I have been nominated a total of 4 times and for the last 3 consecutive years for induction into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame (ELPAHOF). My sponsor thinks I have the credentials to be considered for induction into the ELPAHOF. It would be such an honor to be inducted and serve as an example that a competitive long distance runner, born and raised in El Paso, from the 1970s and with athletic accomplishment can get inducted into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame.
I have learned lessons each year I have been nominated. In my case, I have learned that being selected for induction is not solely based on athletic accomplishments. It can also be based on how a person contributes to the El Paso community and to one’s community. I have had to develop a presentation to highlight my athletic achievements, my academic and professional accomplishments and my community contributions in El Paso and residing in the DFW area. In addition, I have had to learn to choose the right individuals to speak on my behalf at a nomination meeting. An individual has 1 minute to speak on the behalf of a nominee.
I have come to realize that the odds are against me to get inducted into the ELPAHOF. I am, after all, a long distance runner, from the 1970s and do not reside in El Paso among other factors. 
If I get inducted, great! If not, that’s OK. Life goes on with its share of successes and disappointments.
There are other long distance runners from the 1970s and 1980s that deserve induction into the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame: Tony Zuniga, Patsy Norman, Sergio Oaxaca and Gilbert Contreras. 
I run 3 times a week and do anaerobic exercises 2 times a week. Currently, I am training to compete in the 5K at the Texas Senior Games in April. I have been running on the track for interval work. In 2012, I finished 1st in my age category (55-59) and 8th overall. I ran a 22:08. But don’t be too impressed, I got beat by 3 runners in their 60s with great times. One of them finished 2nd place with a 19:30. Yikes!!!
For the past 3 years, I have been mentoring a male high school runner competing in Class 3A. He is among the best in the state in cross country and in the 1600 meter run. We meet to establish athletic goals, academic goals and professional goals. It has been a rewarding experience providing advice on race strategies and race tactics; assess and provide feedback when he races; ensure he maintains his grades in school; to discuss matters affecting his life. I also have shown him to consider carefully the college of his choice and the expectations as an athlete in college. I do not want him to go through the experience I went through as a collegiate runner. 
A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

ATT: I would just like to thank Ruben for making such a great profile and providing the great photos.. He's still a champion. My goal here is to pay homage to an era that is not that easy to find info on anymore. I hope to have some more profiles coming soon.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Coming soon

Looking back here a bit, I would have to say that my absolute favorite entry is the one on Bobby Aguirre. He will always be one of the greatest ever to run prep XC in El Paso history, without argument. I also enjoy popping in with entries on my alma mater Eastwood as they returned to a distance program to be reckoned with. I have decided for a bit to focus on these type of entries. I want to bring some more EP Track/XC history to light and explore some more of the past greats.
I will still continue to go to big meets out here and chime in on them. I've been very fortunate to see so many top runners compete in person. Many, like Lukas Verzbicas, Mary Cain and Alexa Efraimson I've been able to see on their way up. But, the reality is there is no shortage of coverage on their accomplishments.
Coming soon, I will have an entry/interview with one of El Paso's best. 2 time State Champion in 1973/74 in both XC and the Mile, Ruben Dominguez of El Paso Austin. I will expand out from there.