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Greg Bielecki – Coach of Lasalle High School’s Top-Rated Cross Country Team

By Admin | December 14, 2007

Where are you from?

I am originally from Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, and currently reside in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.

Where did you go to college and what was your academic major?

I attended Haverford College and majored in Political Science and also earned a masters in Political Science from Villanova University.


What was your career path from college to cross-country coach at LaSalle High School?

I took a teaching position at La Salle right out of college. I am a La Salle alumnus, so it was very nice to return to my alma mater. So, I graduated from Haverford in May of 2003, and began at La Salle in September of 2003.

I became the head cross country coach this past season. So, after four years as assistant coach I assumed the top position which was tremendously exciting.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in your coaching career?

It really is hard to pick just one. I think the nature of coaching is that you are constantly making mistakes, and constantly I hope learning from them and becoming a better coach because of them.

Despite knowing the science behind what we’re doing the difficult part of coaching is the art of reading your athletes and being able to choose the workouts and runs that will be best for them both physically and mentally. There really have been several instances where I have not made the best decisions at some difficult points.

But more than anything else I’d have to say in retrospect some of my biggest mistakes have been with certain individuals, particularly with ones who have been nursing injuries whom I pushed to run at times and they ended up injured.

So, without going into too many details I would say that a few cases of pushing athletes who were sore and hurting that led to injury have been some of my greatest mistakes.

What makes a top cross-country runner as opposed to a track runner? What specific characteristics?

I think that for the most part they really are the same characteristics that make you successful in both. You need to be very hard working, dedicated, disciplined and focused in order to succeed in either venue. However, I really think that successful cross country takes the extra bit of toughness.

In track, races tend to be smaller, more tailored to running certain splits, and having a much better grasp of exactly where you are and how things are shaping up. In cross country, you really need to be a very tough competitor because the races are much larger, you really don’t get many or in some cases any split times, and you are forced to lock in and compete for longer stretches of time with much fewer check points like in track.

How do you build team spirit and camaraderie in a sport based on individual performances?

We really emphasize the importance of everyone on the team. While the sport is undeniably individual, I really believe that individuals can achieve even more than they could on their own when a part of a team.

As a coaching staff, we focus on stressing the importance of the contributions of the last runner on our team as much as the contributions of our first runner.

And, we have seen it prove out the last few years that when our 40th runner is as dedicated and into it as our “one” runner we are very successful at every level -varsity, junior varsity, and freshman.

What squad is your biggest rivalry in cross-country?

It’s funny because really I do not like the idea of rivalries at all. As I see it, every time you toe the line your biggest rivals are the people you are racing on that day.

However, it is clear that sometimes certain races take on a big more importance due to the quality of opponent. For us, in the Philadelphia Catholic League we have several “rivalries”. Certainly this past year St. Joe’s Prep was a great team and presented a very strong challenge.

Over the past few years Cardinal O’Hara has been one of the biggest challengers as well. In the area, schools like North Penn and Germantown Friends are among the best teams and while they aren’t traditional rivals we certainly look to those teams as people we would love to run against and measure ourselves against.

How did your just completed cross country season turn out?

Our season went great. We had lost six of our top seven runners from last year’s varsity team, so we had some very big shoes to fill.

However, the team did a wonderful job. We were able to win the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship at the varsity level, junior varsity, and freshman levels as well. In addition, we had the individual varsity, JV, and freshman champions.

We also ended the season ranked #10 in the Northeast U.S. and the 4th ranked Pennsylvania team. So we were very happy with our achievements, and very proud of those recognitions.

What do you say to your runners about using performance enhancing drugs?

We don’t really address them specifically but talk about incidences of professional runners getting busted and the disgrace that it is to both the individual and the sport.

Are your runners tested?

No, our runners are not tested and most likely will not be tested until they reach an NCAA Championship in college.

What is a typical training week in season?

A typical week during cross country season would consist of the following:

Monday PM – 8-10 miles total. Workout: 4 by1 mile average. 5:30 with one minute rest.

Tuesday AM – 30 minutes aqua jogging

Tuesday PM – 5-6 miles total – pre-meet day – easy running drills, striders, pushups and sit ups.

Wednesday PM – 7-8 miles total – race day – 5k at Belmont Plateau

Thursday AM – 30 minutes aqua jogging

Thursday PM – 8-9 miles total – easy running, drills, pushups and sit ups.

Friday PM – 5-6 miles total – pre-meet day – easy running, striders

Saturday AM – 7-8 miles total – race day – 5k at invitational

Sunday AM – 10-12 miles total – long run at home on their own

Total is 50-60 miles

Your runners do most of their training runs on the Forbidden Drive in northwest Philadelphia. Why don’t you do more training runs on the course that you run your races on?

That’s a great question. With Belmont Plateau not being far away it is tempting to go down there and run the course and workout there, however I follow the plan that we never go there other than race day.

That is for a few reasons. One, Belmont is a very hilly, difficult, challenging course that is demanding and can beat you up. We race it once a week all season long already, there is no need to add on to that. I like it to feel special when we go down there for meets.

I think it adds importance to the Plateau, that every time our guys set foot down there they know that it is time to take care of business.

(Also) time. We like to stay closer to school so that our runners can get home more quickly after and get to their homework – that is the most important thing.

Do your runners train year round?

Yes, 90% of our cross country runners run both indoor and outdoor track. So, for them training begins in mid-June and runs through the end of the school year.

They take off one week between cross country and indoor track, one week between indoor track and outdoor track, and three weeks between outdoor track and the start of summer training for cross country.

LaSalle High School has many other fall sports. How do you convince athletes to run cross-country?

If a student really doesn’t want to run there is little that will convince them otherwise. However, the ones who express even a little interest we try to “sell” them on our program. We really take pride in building a little community that is very welcoming.

Our seniors and juniors are great with how they take underclassmen under their wings and help them, and we work on getting students involved. Getting everyone into races, helping everyone to realize they are important to our team, and especially training them so that they see positive results and improvement.

We really have pretty good retention rates of students who come out for the team.

Does everybody who tries out make the team? How many runners compete in any one meet

Well, we don’t have tryouts, so everyone who signs up for the team then makes the team. You never know how kids are going to develop, and every year we see some freshman who run over 20 minutes for their first 5k end up being All-Catholics and more

At all of our regular season PCL (Philadelphia Catholic League) meets everyone on the team competes. At our weekend invitational’s it is usually just 21 – our top seven runners in varsity, our next seven in our junior varsity, and then our top seven freshman in the freshman race.

Who was your top runner this year?

Senior Dan Lowry. Dan ran 3 sub-16 minute 5k’s. He was All-Catholic, All-State, and All-Northeast Region. He will be attending Brown University next year.

Did you run in high school and college? Are you still a competitive runner?

I ran at La Salle High School. I had reasonable success there. I was a 3 time All-Catholic selection in cross country, and earned second Team All-State as a senior.

In track, I made All-American three times as members of several of our relay teams, and won two individual PCL Championships. While at La Salle, I was on five teams that won PCL Championships, and was a three season captain as a senior.

At Haverford College, I earned NCAA Division III All-American Honors three times at three different distances. I was a three time All-Conference selection in cross country, and a six-time Conference Champion on the track.

My junior year I led off when we won the distance medley relay national championship in a new national record.

Post-collegiately, I have continued to run for Haddonfield, New Jersey Running Company/Brooks. I have loved continuing to compete.

I have managed to continue to drop my times. I have run 3:50.44 for 1500 meters which is the equivalent of a 4:08 mile, 8:25 for 3000 meters, 14:33 for 5000 meters at the Penn Relays last year, and I just ran a new personal record of 24:44 for 8000 m at the Rothman 8k where I was fifth.

What do you like to do in your spare time other than run?

Well, being a full time teacher I love spending lots of time reading and grading tests and papers.

I also love to spend time with family and friends. During the summer, I enjoy going to the Phillies games, playing golf with friends, and going fishing with my brother. But perhaps one of my favorite activities is going camping with my fiancé.

Copyright 2007 DailyInterview.com

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