Culver Cross Country Runners Get Rare Experience
October 23, 2014
By Fred Altieri
Suicide Hill and Agony Hill are not fictitious flash points, downloads of the latest recording artists, reality show entrees or sub-portal links to popular online video games.
They are physical land features that impose themselves upon the local runners who test their paths. The slew of SoCal high school cross country athletes that challenge these dominant peaks and their respective courses do not suffer lightly.
The Culver City High cross country team competed at both sites the past two weeks as it continued to battle in order to qualify for the CIF Prelims beginning next month.
The meet on Saturday, October 14 was the Palos Verdes Invitational with its famed Agony Hill always overlooking the picture-perfect Pacific Ocean just steps away.
This roughly two-mile hilly and winding course also featured bales of hay and started all the respective races with the boys and girls running together but competing independent of each other.
Centaur cross country head coach Tom Fritzius offered: "Brian Shapiro, the cross country coach at Palos Verdes High, is an excellent coach. He has the best talent one can come by, he knows what he's doing and he's got a facility. He puts on this meet and changes it from the standard way of running it to accommodate the number of runners on the course at the same time."
What he's done has been very effectual. The kids like it. It has a challenge to it. It's different. It has those hay bales out there. And it has "Agony Hill."
The more pressing meet on Thursday, October 16, was the Ocean League Cluster Meet #2 at the even tougher and frequently-used Ocean League course at the top of Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. Gazing eastward, the panoramic view of downtown Los Angeles and beyond was prominent. Just below the bluff loomed the long inclination of Suicide Hill elevating westward.
Coach Fritzius detailed Thursday's league meet: "We were the host of the Ocean League Cluster #2 meet. Our varsity girls went in with a fifth place finish from the first league meet which really put them in a hole. In order to qualify for the CIF Prelims they needed to put up two third place finishes, one in this meet and then one in the finals.
"Our runners felt a sense of accomplishment because they went into this race behind the eight ball. They were a fifth place team out of six. They knew what they had to do and they went out and did it.
'A third place finish in the league finals will guarantee our girls a spot in the CIF Prelims next month. El Segundo and Santa Monica have one and two pretty much locked up. Our league only gets three spots in the prelims."
Fritzius described the Hahn course layout: "It is the most difficult course that we run. The time is usually two to three minutes slower on this course than any other course because of the hill and a couple of other little features that are involved.
"The hill starts after the runners have run almost 2 1/2 miles. They come around a blind corner and there is "the hill." So they don't even get to see it until they get to that point. The hill from the bottom to the top is almost 3/4 of a mile. It's not so much how steep it is but how long it is.
"The other feature about it is: as you are coming up the hill you can only see two thirds of it. So when you make that run and you accomplish what you think is "the hill" there's actually another third of it that has been blocked from view that you have to continue on. And that's a little demoralizing.
"It's steeper and it zigzags, what we call a switchback. When you reach the top of the hill there's only 200 meters to the finish. So not only is the hill difficult but it's right at the end of the race when you're tired."
Besides several personal best times the Centaur runners also entered a school-record. Fritzius remarked: "We had 47 kids run and it's the most we've had in a meet since we've started this program. Of the 47 only eight had run the course before. So 39 kids were running the course for the very first time. Granted, we did a run-through a couple of times during practice but in competition this was their first attempt.
"Our girls were fantastic. We finished 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th. Hawthorne only had one girl ahead of them. Lawndale only had one girl ahead of them. Beverly Hills had nobody ahead of them. So our depth versus the other three schools really made the difference. There were only 16 girls in the freshman race but one of our girls, Eden Winslow, managed to finish second."
The boys also included highlights: "I was happy with the boys though the varsity boys finished last as they couldn't withstand the loss of two of their top three runners. Even so, Max Flynn finished 10th overall. He ran an 18:18:55 on the course and that is hard. We had one other guy who ran under 20 minutes and that was Patrick Gardner with a 19:55:03. We had freshman Sam Robert finish fourth and in that race there were 45 runners.
"Once our runners finish the course they have a sense of accomplishment. It's still an obstacle for them. Most of them came back to me with a comment. Like: "Coach, I ran the whole hill." Or: "Coach, I almost ran the whole hill." So it was an event for them."