In cross country racing, it’s all about rhythm. The rhythm of the stride. The rhythm of each breath. The rhythm of a consistent training regimen.
Last season, San Luis Obispo High cross country runner Callum Bolger’s metronome and teammate was senior Will Ernst.
During races last season, Bolger says Ernst would “start pushing the rhythm and then I could have someone to pace me there.”
“I would push him and he would push me, so together we just got faster.”
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Usually Ernst would beat out Bolger. But with Ernst graduated and running at California Baptist University, Bolger, now a junior, has been able to find the rhythm on his own to the tune of three wins in a row, all personal records, to start the season. Bolger set a new school record for the Lake Casillas course at the Ojai Invitational with a time of 15:21:80 last Saturday, breaking Ernst’s old record by seven seconds.
“One of the things we talked about for this year was that Bolger has to learn how to do it on his own because there isn't anyone on the team that can train with him,” San Luis Obispo cross country coach Steve Boaz said. “But we lucked out this year with a new assistant coach who can run kind of close.”
Tyler Hoyt, a Morro Bay High graduate and former UC Santa Cruz cross country runner, is tasked with keeping pace with the best long-distance high school runner in the county.
“It hasn’t been as difficult as I expected,” Bolger said of losing Ernst. “I still would like a partner like him, but now with Tyler, that gives me someone to run with.”
Bolger says he figured out that he loved to run the summer before ninth grade and started to focus more on the sport.
“It was obvious that he had some natural racing instincts, that he knew how to use his fitness to the best of his ability,” Boaz said. “A lot of new runners don’t and they really have to experiment a lot, but Callum had that from the beginning.”
Boaz says what Bolger does outside of the team, including staying away from fast food and running at Poly Canyon on his own, has helped him become elite.
“At the beginning of the season, I’m not totally sure the extent of how fast I can run by the end,” said Bolger on Wednesday before practice, “so I just try to put in as much effort as I can and see how it pays off.”
Most of the races the team runs now are practice races, Boaz says, and preparation for the four big meets of the year: league, county, section and state. He says the biggest test will come Saturday at the Stanford XC Invitational.
“Stanford is a preview of the state championships, in my opinion,” Boaz said. “Some of the best schools from all over the state go there ... you really see where you stack up.”
The race at Stanford, which winds through the university’s golf course, is a 5,000-meter race, the same length as the Ojai race won by Bolger last Saturday. Boaz says the strategy for Ojai was to push the rhythm from further out.
“The first two races he was kind of waiting until the last half-mile. That race he waited until the last mile,” Boaz says. “If you go from too far out you can have the wheels come off in the end.”
In a sport built on rhythm and beating personal records, Bolger isn’t looking too far ahead to the finish line. He’s content to keep a steady rhythm for now in hopes of making a name for himself at the end of the season.
“I’m not a very goal oriented person,” Bolger said. “I just try to put in the effort during the season, train hard and see where I can go.”