Crescenta Valley Senior Zack Torres did not start his running career until his freshman year in high school but it looks like his career will continue well after graduation this June. His final cross country season earned him National recognition as he toed the line with the Nations best. In October he finished 3rd at the Mt. Sac Invitational behind Alaska State Champ Trevor Dunbar and California Elite runner Chris Schwartz. He also took second at the California State Championships and finished 9th at Foot Locker West earning him a spot on the West Team heading to Nationals.
I met up with Zack and his dad at Balboa Park in San Diego, the day before the National race. Zack was fun to talk to as his engaging and friendly personality made you feel very comfortable being around him and after several emails and phone conversations I also found him to be a young man of great character.
Read on as Zack talks about his Foot Locker National race, his now famous dive (or belly flop, trust me, I heard it and it sounded like it hurt) for the finish and his upcoming dual sport (track and baseball) season. Zack will also be writing a journal for CalRunners, giving you some insight into his final prep season.
CalRunners: Congratulations on a fabulous Cross Country Season and your top 15 finish at Footlocker Nationals. Can you tell me about your race at Nationals and your slide (or dive) over the finish line?
Zack Torres: Instead of explaining how the actual race went, I’m going to explain to you the most important part of my race, which was my hours before, not during. (I can’t remember half my race, because when I hit the ground on the dive, I think I lost half my memory.) The race experience as a whole was just a dream come true. Getting to Footlocker was a blessing in itself, but I knew going up there it wouldn’t be a vacation. Around all the runners I was very social, happy to meet everyone and making friends everywhere. Race day however, I wanted to be focused and ready to go. Instead of being talkative that breakfast, I was dead silent, just glaring at my food and focusing on the race. At first, I ate with the runners, but some of them kept trying to talk to me and I couldn’t focus, so I left the table, threw away my food and tried to find a place to sit and concentrate on the race. I walked out of the Hotel Del Coronado and went out to the beach, just to sit and think for about 45 minutes, staring at the ocean. It was these 45 minutes that made me so successful that day in my race.
I thought about a lot of things. I first thought about all the people back at home praying for me, all the sacrifice my coach has done for me, and thought about all the things my family has done to support me. That didn’t quite pump me up as much as it used to, so I sat and thought more about all the extra work I did to finally have the opportunity to run in that race. (In know all this sounds bogus, but I have to “sike” myself out before I race and get pumped up, like a football player or boxer.) I re-imagined every hard weight lift I did, every extra drill, every bead of sweat and extra thing I did that no one noticed except me. I re imagined all the sit ups, pushups, and squats I did, all the striders when everyone left to go home. After that, I stood up to leave, but didn’t feel quite ready to run in a National Championship, so I literally sat back down and just waited for some extra inspiration. I prayed and thought about what I did that made me different than all the runners I’d be running against. Thoughts started rushing through my head, vividly imagining every run in the rain, every extra pull up and rep in the weight room. I thought about all the criticism I ever got from people telling me I wasn’t good enough to do both baseball and track to be successful, and I thought about all the people who didn’t support me. And lastly, I thought about every disappointment, every second place I ever got, and closed my eyes so I could literally see it in my mind. I knew that that day, I wasn’t going to let anyone take any spot away from me that didn’t deserve it.
(Photo by Victor Sailer - Photorun.net)
The reason why I tell you this is because if you wanted to know about my race, I wouldn’t give the normal “I did my best” answer. My best wouldn’t have been good enough to get even top 30 in that race. I refused to let my best even be possible, because that would mean I would be setting a limit. I ran my race exactly to my coach’s plan, which was basically, “run relaxed, and then with a mile to go, you will know what to do….” Going into the race, I needed to find a way to develop a style, because usually I just go in and grind and compete until the end. This race, (and I know it sounds LAME but it really is true), I treated it like any championship baseball game. I had never run a race this large before, so I had to compare it to something in my comfort zone, baseball. In championship baseball games, I know I can’t let the crowd pump you up in the big games like all the other small ones because you will make careless mistakes, so I decided to relax the first part, and see who I could hunt down. Coming into the finish line, with two hundred to go, I knew my place and I saw just a blur of everyone in front of me, so I took off. I even surprised myself catching Dylan Sorenson, but I wasn’t going to let myself be short changed yet again after all the hard work I did this year to get to Nationals. That’s why I felt that morning getting out and just contemplating the race and my past races was so important, because running into that finish line, all I was thinking was “Not this time”. So I dove like Pete Rose diving for second base, and hit the ground HARD. That’s something people may not have realized, that the dive hurt a BUNCH. I didn’t put my hands down to stop or anything, I just hit the ground like a pancake and my body was aching the entire day. And when they told me AT FIRST I got 16th, I was so disappointed in myself because I knew I was so close. When they reviewed and changed the results, I was shocked, and all I could think about was “This can’t be happening to me, this never happens to ME.” All the support and the whole experience was unbelievable and I still get tears telling people the entire awards ceremony where they announced my name because of how much it meant to me.
CalRunners: How long have you been running and when did you first get involved in Track and Field
Zack Torres: This is the literal conversation that went on in my house that got me into cross country. My dad came to me and said:
“Zack, you need to do a winter sport to keep in shape for baseball. Now you’re too small to play football, and they’ll just have a field day tackling you and you won’t be able to tackle them. And you suck at swimming, so you will drown if you play water polo. So I signed you up to run cross country.”
And that was it…we can’t argue in this house about sports. It just ISN’T and option. So I just got out there and ran to beat everyone and all of a sudden, I found myself beating a lot of people and they named me the states fastest freshman. So when Track and field came around, obviously when I told Coach Evans I was going to baseball, he said “No your not, your going to train with me”. I was caught in between a whirlwind of both my dad and Coach Evans telling me about my future. I got so sick of it, I came to them and said “Can’t I just do both???” they said “no”, but I asked “Why? Just because no one else does it doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.” So they researched it, found out it was legal, came to me and said… “No. Choose one.” But I kept at it and they said “Well, let’s try.” What people have to understand is I grew up my entire life playing baseball. My dad used to play professionally on the Dodgers program, he is the high school coach, and when I told my friends and baseball teammates I was doing track, they looked just as baffled when I told track people I was doing baseball. So, I wanted to do both and see if I could take that challenge.
CalRunners: What is a typical training week like for you?
Zack Torres: A typical week is: Monday is a hard workout or tempo, Tuesday is a sprints workout, Wednesday is a long recovery run, Thursday is a tempo or hard workout, Friday is a long run, Saturday is our longest run, about 90 minutes, and Sunday is our day off to rest. I lift every school day and do core workout usually every day of the week (except Sunday, I can’t move anything that day because I am so sore). How I balance my baseball schedule with all that is by either doing my runs at 5:30 in the morning, going to school, then lifting, then baseball at night time, and then study for AP tests. OR I wake up normally for school, then just pretty much go all out on my day to do 3 things in a row. Usually those are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, because I need my coach to help time me. I will go from weight room, jog from the weight room to do a warm up, then do the track workout, then hop in the car to drive down to baseball practice, then play baseball, where half the time I look like a zombie from no energy. Sometimes, I have no ride, so I will jog the 40 minutes to baseball practice after my track workouts as a cool down. To be honest, its very hard when the only time to stop moving is when you are either in class forced to sit or you are sleeping; it gets very hard.
What are your goals for the upcoming track season?
I don’t set time goals for track, because all I aim for is beating whoever I am racing against. If I focus on the time, I set a standard and a limit for myself. I don’t want a fast time, I want first place. I am hoping that I will break 9 in the two mile this year, and drop my mile time down from last year from all the extra weight room I have been doing.
CalRunners: How to you prepare yourself mentally for a race and do you have any superstitions?
Superstitions: too many to count……….
- • Before a race, I fold my uniform so I can read the name; I untie my racers and put racing socks in them. Then put my racing GU in a special pouch my sister made for me. All this goes in a special CV bag I have.
- • I iron my warm ups before races
- • I listen to my music and read the bible the night before every race.
- • I have listened to the same music CD since my first race in EIGHTH GRADE
- • I am always the last person off the bus, and I tap every seat on my way out
- • I always wear my sunglasses at races in warm ups to focus on the race.
- • Before every race I step out in front of the line, squat (like a catcher) and visualize my start and give a short prayer
- • (Not really a superstition, I just feel awkward and bad if I don’t)- After every race, I wait at the finish line to hand shake all the runners.
Baseball games I have even MORE superstitions
CalRunners: Many younger runners look up to top athletes like yourself. What message would you tell younger runners who aspire to be at the top?
Zack Torres: Go to practice thinking in your head “I’m guna beat someone today… whether I run more miles, I do more sit-ups, or do a strong workout, I’m going to beat whoever is ahead of me because I did more today. If you have that mentality, then there is no limit and you don’t settle at the end of practice because you are wondering who is doing more than you that day.
CalRunners: If you had to attribute your success to one thing, what would that be?
Zack Torres: It would be the hard experiences I went through to become the athlete that I am, and the extra dedication I put in.
CalRunners: Do you have any role models or mentors in track and field or cross country?
Zack Torres: Coach Evans is one of my role models to me because he will stay out on that track every day for me, even in the rain or hail, until I am done, and my Dad because he is there for every extra workout I do in the weight room.
Besides them, I would have to say Jackie Robinson, not only because of how determined he was to make a difference in sports, but he also played both track and baseball. AND he went to UCLA, which I found ironic.
CalRunners: What does your season look like? When is your first race and will you be competing in any out of state track meets during the season or post season.
Zack Torres: I’m not competing in any out of state track meets that I know of, and I am starting my first track race _____ (if I survive in time to make it there).
CalRunners: Most Feared opponent or Person you look forward to running against.
Zack Torres: I want to race any and everyone, and I don’t fear anything about any of them. If they aren’t scared to step on the starting line with me, I’m not scared to step up to them. I have my dad’s mentality, “if you are scared, go home.” I’ll race someone in the mall parking lot if they challenge me. I don’t need fans, I don’t need a crowd, I don’t even need someone to time; if they want to race, I’ll be ready to go.
CalRunners: Most of us only know you as a runner. What is one thing you would like us to know about you outside of running.
Zack Torres: That I am pretty much the easiest person to get along with and that there is never an awkward silence with me. I don’t stop talking, and I constantly make jokes. Any time I am with anyone, all we do is laugh. That’s my secondary ab –workout; laughing.
Favorite Cross Country Moment:
Winning 15th at Nationals in the dive because I put so much into that race.
Favorite pre-race Meal:
Pasta with chicken before a race, bagels and Powerbars day of a race, and GU directly before it.
Besides Nationals, I would say the Woodbridge invitational is a different type of experience and I love it.
Favorite Track Event:
I like the 3200 better than the mile, but I feel like a hamster running in circles for 10 minutes.
Favorite TV Show:
I love anything on Comedy Central, and Baseball tonight. My favorite on show is Family Guy.
Track or Cross Country (or baseball):
I Love cross country because of the team aspect. I would rate cross country ahead of baseball, but baseball ahead of track because of the team aspect. Track is very individual and I don’t want to be an individual, I want to win as a team.