Interview with Oakland Tech coach, Richie Boulet

Today, we chat with former Sir Francis Drake HS and Cal Berkeley All-American, Richie Boulet. He was the first Cal athlete to win All-American honors in three seasons in the same academic year in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. He has coached at Oakland Tech HS for the past five years and in the short span, Coach Boulet has turned their distance program into one of the more competitive ones in the state. In 2017, his girls's XC team finished in 11th place in the always rugged Division I race.  This past Saturday, Oakland Tech senior Caroline Garrett won the Sacramento Meet of Champions 3200m with a new lifetime best of 10:42.25. Boulet is married to another former Cal runner, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, who was a 2008 Olympian in the marathon.

1) What sports did you play in your youth? How did you get your start in running? What was your running experience before high school? Any PRs?
I played soccer and baseball mostly growing up. My main running experience was running the mile in PE in middle school.  

2) What are some of your highlights and proudest achievements from your high school experience?
My senior year (at Sir Francis Drake), I was 3rd at the State Meet in XC for Division 4, and ended up finishing 5th in the 1600 at State in Track season.    

3) Who was your high school coach and what do you feel were his most important attributes that helped you during that time?
Bill Taylor was my coach. He was (and still is) quite an interesting fellow, which is the understatement of the century. He had a profound impact on me as a person in multiple ways, but there were two contributions that he made that really stand out to me.  The first is that he made me believe in how good I could be. He focused my attention on the best runners in the state and in the country, not just in our area.  That was harder to do in the days before the internet.  The second impact he had was to teach me that there is really so much more to the world and to life than running.   

4) How did you end up choosing Cal? Were there other colleges in the mix? What are some of your proudest accomplishments and highlights at Cal?
The only other school I seriously considered (or even applied to) was Colorado. But Cal was just unbeatable for me, as far as the quality of the education and the total cost, which was next to nothing in the early 1990s. While there, I earned two Pac-10 1500m titles and was All-American 6 times. We also beat Stanford in the annual Big Meet all 5 years I was there. The meets with meaningful team scores were always the most fun for me.

5) What about your post-collegiate running? What were some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a professional runner compared to your days in college?
The toughest thing about the post-collegiate running for me was that I wasn't really on a "team" anymore.  I stuck around Cal and was a volunteer assistant for a couple of years, but I did the vast majority of my actual training on my own. But eliminating the stress of school was a huge advantage.  Even though I had to work part-time (it can be tough to make an actual living off of running), I still had plenty of hours in the day to get my training done, but I never had to study or pull an all-nighter.  

6) What do you do outside of coaching? You got a major in forestry. How did you get interested and get into that major?
Up until about a year ago, I was a part owner of a running store (TRANSPORTS in Oakland and Berkeley). I sold my part to one of the other owners so I could focus on being at home for our son, and also to help facilitate my wife's hectic work/run/travel schedule. It's been a really positive transition for us all. Part of growing up and being a runner in Marin was spending a lot of time on the trails of Mt. Tam. I fell in love with that environment and decided to study it in college, which was great. But after college, I went straight into 4 years of training and competing, and it would have been hard to get into a Forestry job after that. 

7) What led you to coach? What was your first coaching experience? When did you start at Oakland Tech? At first, I volunteered at Cal because I still wanted to be part of the team. But I didn't really have any specific duties, other than holding a watch for one of the groups and helping out with recruiting a bit. I started coaching High School at Sir Francis Drake in 1998 when my high school coach asked me to come to help out with a group of boys that he thought could be really good. Sure enough, 2 years later we won the NCS D4 XC title and went on to finish 7th at the State meet, which was the first time our school had ever qualified as a team. But I was hooked, for sure. I loved the energy, and I relished the challenge of getting different kids with different abilities and motivations to work together toward one common goal. I started at Oakland Tech 5 years ago, as a temporary volunteer assistant. We've had some awesome coaches come through in that time frame, but through attrition, I ended up being the head coach 3 years ago and now I'm the only one here.   

8) What was the state of the program? What immediate changes did you make that you feel were important for the benefit of the runners at the time?
They had some decent participation, but it wasn't consistent, and they hadn't had much athletic success outside of the OAL. The biggest change we made at the start was to require people to show up to practice consistently. We also started taking them to invitationals around Northern CA (Artichoke, Stanford, Ed Sias) so they could see some more substantial competition that we don't typically see in the OAL.  

9) What have been some of your highlights in coaching at Oakland Tech? 
From an athletic achievement standpoint, our girls finish at the State XC champs in 2017 was a great one (11th in Division 1). This year we had an amazing group of girls down at Arcadia, and our A team was 10th in the invitational 4X1600, running 21:17.  And just last weekend, Caroline Garrett (Clark Kranz photo below) won the Sacramento MOC in a big PR (10:42). Our boy's team had a couple of underdog victories at the Section championships my first two years, and those are always a lot of fun. But my personal coaching highlights are when I see kids really dig in, day after day, week after week, and get better.  I see their attitudes change and I see them get a ton stronger.  I see them progress from freshmen who never ran on their "off" days or over the summer, to a junior or senior who are a team captain organizing team activities. Watching them grow up and choose to let running be a part of their lives is the best thing about coaching. It's fun to be a part of that process and to have some degree of influence upon them. I also find that, in general, high school kids are hilarious. And when they're not hilarious, I can mess with them in ways that I find hilarious, so it all works out.  
10) What do you feel have been some of the major changes in the high school running scene from when you ran in high school to now? What are some other changes that you would like to see? 
The biggest change that I've seen is the effect the internet has had. The amount of information available to both athletes and coaches has really been positive. The ability to instantly compare yourself to everyone in your league, section, state, and nation has a profound effect as well. I know for my development as an athlete, what I expected to be able to do greatly influence what I was actually able to do.  When you see a bunch of your competitors (or perceived competitors) running fast, you assume that you can or should be doing that, too.  When I was in high school, I only really compared myself with kids in my surrounding area. Now, with sites like MileSplit, you can compare yourself to everyone, everywhere.   I think that high school running is great right now. The only thing I would like to see is to have the California XC state meet not be the Thanksgiving weekend every year.  Many schools are off that whole week, and many families travel for the holiday.  When you have a team you've been working closely with for 12 weeks, and the week leading up to the biggest race of the year you may not see any of them until the day before the race, it can be a challenge.  It's also tough on coaches and their families, who may not want to arrange their holiday plans every single year around a trip to Fresno, even though Fresno is lovely that time of year.

11) Your wife Magdalena is an accomplished runner herself. What have you learned from her?
She's taught me an awful lot about how much pain one person can endure. She's also taught me that it's possible to be happy and positive when things around you are not. Last weekend, she ran a 50-mile race. As my son and I were walking out to one of the remote access points to cheer her on, a woman stopped me. I'm not sure exactly how she knew who we were, but she just had to tell me how much she loved my wife, and how fun it always is to see her smiling and giving out high fives at the aid stations. That actually happens fairly often (people stopping me to say that). Magda's energy is contagious, I'm a pretty lucky guy. 

12) What advice do you have for a young aspiring coach taking on a new cross country and/or track and field program?
-Don't worry about how good your team could be if some talented kid(s) at your school would just quit soccer or whatever and come out for the team...Focus on the kids who DO come out. -Lay out your expectations at the beginning of the season for participation, effort, and attendance.  -Never stop learning. Read books and articles, talk to other coaches, attend clinics. You will never know it all. -Be honest and be yourself.   

13) With your experience as a runner and coach, what would your advice be for a prospective talented high school freshman? 
I don't know that this advice is any more useful to a talented kid than an untalented one, and I'm not sure I'd give different advice anyway, but...
-Specific workouts are not nearly as important as consistent training week after week, month after month, and year after year, so don't be afraid to take a day or a workout off if something hurts. 
-The "little things" like sleep and nutrition are not little. Your training doesn't exist inside a vacuum, and how you recover and refuel play an enormous role in how much your body adapts to the training. 
-Practice positivity. Don't talk yourself out of a great race and into a terrible one.  

14) Looking at the three distance events in track, what do you feel are the key components to each event? What are some of your key workouts for those events?
800? Speed Endurance. Workouts with lots of 200's and 300's in them, fast with a decent amount of rest. I also like finishing off the day with sprint-float-sprint 150's.
1600? For the mile, you need a little bit of everything. Most of the time, I have milers doing intervals in the 60-90 second range with double time rest. Every now and then we'll do something 2 minutes long, but that's rare at mile pace. And I always like finishing off mile workouts with a bunch of 200's, usually cutting down in time from the first to the last.
3200? Patience, and V02. Being able to stick to a pace and not go out too hard is critical, as even a first lap that's way too fast can come back to bite you 5 minutes later. We do a lot more Threshold work, and intervals in the 1:30-3:00 range with equal rest.

15) What is the typical mileage for most of your runners? Any morning runs? Length of longest run? Anything else that they do that you think is important as well?
First off, no matter what event any kid is targeting, they'll do workouts of all different types, it's just that they'll do more of the type specific to their race. Our mileage ranges from 20-45 MPW for the vast majority of the kids, and they run 5-6 days a week. Most of the kids who track it are doing long runs in the 8-10 mile range, but I prefer they go by time and not distance. I've had 3-4 kids over the last 4 years get up to 60 MPW and long runs of 12-13, but that's pretty rare, and I wouldn't go any higher than that. I only talk about mileage as an upper range to limit the cumulative impact, especially since we do a lot of concrete running, but mileage is really just a social construct. I try to make sure the kids don't get too hung up on the number. Thanks again.

16) Anything else you would like to add. Nothing else I can think of to add. 
Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Thank you very much. Best of luck to your runners the remainder of the season.

Thank you very much Coach Boulet!
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