The heat shimmered on the maroon track at Paso Robles High School. The temperature Wednesday afternoon read 90 degrees. San Luis Obispo High’s Callum Bolger warmed up for a training session wearing a brown, hooded sweatshirt. Just like everything else he does, the junior’s apparel and the location of the training session was a calculated move.
Bolger is preparing for the biggest race of his life, the 3,200 meters at the CIF State Track and Field Championships, in some of the hottest conditions in which he’s ever raced. The temperature for race day Saturday at Veteran Memorial Stadium at Buchanan High School in Clovis is expected to hit a record high of 108 degrees.
The heat worried race officials so much the events were pushed back hours with the hope that temperatures would drop to less dangerous levels. Bolger’s event will go off at 10:25 p.m.
“It will be later in the day, so it might cool down a little bit. But it is still going to be upwards of 80 degrees,” Bolger said after his Paso workout. “Coming up here, it won’t be quite as hot as Clovis, but it will give me a good indication what it is going to be like Saturday.”
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San Luis Obispo coach Steve Boaz hatched the idea to train for the day in North County.
“There is not a lot you can do other than talk about it,” Boaz said. “He’s got to mentally prepare more than physically prepare. It takes a couple weeks to acclimate to weather conditions. That’s not going to happen. But that’s not going to happen for anybody.”
The night-time heat isn’t Bolger’s only concern. The junior will also have to contend with a formidable opponent, Flintridge Prep senior Jack Van Scoter.
“Those guys have raced against each other enough now that they are becoming friendly rivals, so it will be interesting to see what the he does differently,” Boaz said.
Bolger raced against Van Scoter at the Arcadia Invitational and lost by a half second. In the rematch last week, Bolger returned the favor to the Georgetown-bound runner. Bolger’s 8:52.40 edged Van Scoter by .48, but Van Scoter’s time at the Arcadia Invitational (8:51.32) is the state’s best mark of the season.
The late charge, a move that Bolger has been perfecting since his win at the PAC 8 Championships in April, helped him capture the win. His move in the final 300 meters to pass Van Scoter and two other runners helped him win the CIF-Southern Section Masters Meet title and grab the No. 1 seed. Bolger will face seven of the same Southern Section opponents he saw last week, with the addition of the top runners from the Northern and Central sections.
“They probably aren’t going to do the same exact strategy as what they did last week,” Bolger said, adding the other sections offer stiff competition as well. “They are probably going to change it up to keep everybody on their toes, but it was nice to get a sneak peek to see what things will be like with that competition.”
Spencer Dodds (Great Oak, 8:55.20) and Mason Coppi (Dana Hills, 8:55.53), opponents last week, will likely be in the mix as well.
Boaz said the heat might make the race more tactful, and he’s confident Bolger can adapt.
“He was showing in the local races that he could finish fast. Even on his own in CIF prelims, he finished fast. But could he finish fast on a fast race? He did that last week,” Boaz said, adding that he believes a fast race gives Bolger the best chance to win. “It’s exciting to watch from a coach’s perspective because there are a lot of guys that know how to race. So somebody's going to do something.”
Race Day Meal
He’s planning to travel to Clovis on Saturday (the 3,200m doesn’t have a prelim round, so he doesn’t have to be there until the day of the race) and keep his same race-day eating habits.
For breakfast, he plans on eating a bagel and scrambled eggs. For lunch, five slices of dry, untoasted wheat bread. Then three hours before the race, he’ll down another bagel and a banana.
Then he will lace up his New Balance spikes with the clock approaching midnight and attempt to etch his name into the state record books.
The last SLO County high school athlete to win a state title was Jordan Hasay, who won her fourth-straight title with a first-place finish in the 3,200 in 2009. Arroyo Grande High’s Dan Rohr was the last boys state champion from the county with a shot put title in 2005.
When Boaz sent a text to ask Paso Robles track and field coach Ivan Huff to ask if Bolger could train at the school’s track to try and get used to the heat, Huff welcomed him. Huff only wished it was hotter so it would be closer to the conditions in Clovis.
“Distance runners, when you are in the race you want to win, it’s a battle. But in general when you are not racing, you suffer together, is what we say,” Huff said. “My guys who have raced against him, and have been beaten handily by him, they have a lot of respect for him. They are glad they can be racing with somebody that good.”
Huff, who knows the track at Buchanon High well, said the surface tends to hold the heat.
“It’s really uncomfortable,” Huff said.
Bolger also was able to experience a late start at Masters last week when that race started around 9 p.m. Even so, Bolger is already feeling the heat.
“I’m definitely nervous, but I have been practicing all season,” Bolger said. “When it gets down to it, I can’t control what anybody else is going to do on that day. I can’t control the conditions. I’ve gotta just get in my own mind, keep doing what I’ve practiced and try to race to my best ability.”