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Friday, November 9, 2012

Ten Questions: Irish Edition

That's Luke Watson tucked behind the late Ryan Shay (RIP) in his prior life as a "Fighting Irishman".

Those keeping up with this blog know he's been a fairly prominent figure here despite never running a step for the Nittany Lions (until the 1,000 Mile Relay!).  I have always said that a Penn State Track and Field Alumni Golfer can be anyone, and Luke exemplifies that as well as anyone on Earth.

We first met in the early stages of our efforts to energize and spread the word on our group with this blog.  He introduced himself to me at a Alumni function and impressed me right away with his intensity, intelligence and overall "goodness".  I can't imagine anyone better to represent our group.

Luke is a sub-4 minute miler, record holder of Notre Dame's mens steeplechase event, a top-notch marathoner, a 1:53 "half-miler", and soon will attain his PSU doctorate degree in accounting.  But I suspect I'm short-changing him by letting out a lot of other things he's equally good at or even better.

I've spoken with some of those on the team and recent graduates who all tell me how valuable his tenure has been.  I asked him to answer our soon-to-be-patented Ten Questions, and he has come through in remarkable style.  Detailed and honest, his replies cement my admiration of the Notre Dame and Penn State bonds in Track and Field and Cross Country.  Thanks Luke.

1. What similarities and differences do you see in the Track/XC Programs at Notre Dame and PSU?

 Well, I was coached by Joe Piane who is much more of a Harry Groves type of old-school coach, and I think that's the biggest difference/similarity. Artie (Gilkes)  and I talk about that generation of coaches and how they just don't build them like that anymore. Coach Alford-Sullivan and Coach Gondak are great people and great coaches, but it's hard for the new generation of coaches to get away with inappropriate jokes, completely crazy monster workouts, cursing, refusal to send emails, whatever, like those old-school guys could. So I'd say ND cross country was pretty similar to PSU cross country back in the day, but it's different now (since Piane is still coaching, although he has mellowed a bit).

2. Are there prettier women at PSU or Notre Dame? (this is a trick question just to see if you are adept at dodging the tough ones!)

 Penn State has like 44,000 students; Notre Dame has like 10,000. So there are more outliers in a larger student body, I'll just put it that way. Wow does that make me sound like a nerd. Which I am.

 3. Has Coach Groves ever given you a piece of advice or knowledge you have used to your advantage?

 When I was running competitively, I'd frequently see Coach Groves at the indoor track. I'd be warming up for a workout and we'd chat after he finished his daily walk. I'd just be amazed at the stories he'd tell, and every time he'd ask me what my workout was, he'd have some legendary story about (Greg) Fredericks or someone just crushing a similar workout. Those were always inspiring because then I felt like I had to live up to the legacy. It's fun to follow in legendary footsteps of all the great runners who have come through Happy Valley.

 4. Does PSU or Notre Dame have better facilities?

Facilities are a toss-up. Both have nice cross country courses, excellent indoor tracks, and adequate outdoor tracks. Actually, when I was at ND, the same outdoor track had been there since 1988, so it was rock hard, patchy, and cracked. But now they have an adequate new outdoor track. I will say that Notre Dame had a better indoor track in terms of training. For distance runners, it's a lot better to train on a 320m track than on a 200m banked track. And being in the snow belt, a great indoor track is really really important. But Penn State has slightly better trail running from campus, so overall the facilities are pretty even.  

 5. Does Notre Dame have anything similar to "The Switchbacks"?

Have you been to South Bend? It's pancake flat. Actually, about 2-3 times per cross country season, we'd drive to Wilson Park on the south side of Mishawaka, IN. Wilson Park was a snow tubing park and a disc golf course. So the hills were incredibly steep, and we did this one-mile loop that included 3 really nasty hills. Those were the hardest workouts of the year in my opinion. Plus you'd catch intermittent whiffs of marijuana smoke from the disc golfers. I don't know if that helped or hurt us. There were hills in town, but you had to seek them out. Here in Happy Valley, everything is hilly and you have to seek out flat ground. In terms of tough long runs like Switchbacks, at ND we had a 16-18 mile loop called Bertrand that literally ran from campus up into Michigan, did some rolling hills, and came home. Piane would egg us on, stopping every 3-5 miles to give us water, he'd leave the watch running, yelling "You're Sub-6 pace WITH the water stops!!!". Those would be absolute pound-fests. There was one particular day on Bertrand in 2001 when our team was really good and everyone was trying to prove themselves on that run. On that single run, about 4 guys who really wanted to make the travel squad got hurt. We could really have used a 5th man that year too (our top 4 went 5-6-36-58 overall at NCAA Championships, then our 5th was not in the top 150).

6. Academically, what differences do you see between your Universities?

 Academics is the most pronounced difference between the two schools. From what I have seen, the top 10 to 20 percent of students at Penn State are truly excellent students whose work is top quality. At Notre Dame, that ratio is about 80 percent. This is not a slam on Penn State- remember, 15% of 44,000 is still 6600, while 80% of 10,000 is 8,000, so the number of excellent students is about the same at either institution. But in general, the students at ND work extremely hard on their academics. You have to, in order to be competitive with your classmates. Almost everyone studies hard every night except Friday and Saturday. At Penn State there's a lot more variety in study habits.

 7. If you cut yourself shaving, is the blood at least a tinge on the blue side?

 Well since blue is an official color of both schools, yes!  (ed. I'm an idiot...)

8.  Is having a range of excellence from the 800 to the Marathon something you have always had?

I credit my high school coach, Scott Christensen, with developing my speed. As a freshman, I was a gangly kid with a great motor and excellent endurance. And although I had a good kick, my ability at 400m and 800m was fairly pitiful. Over the years, he gave me lots of speedwork and brought my 400m down to sub-50 and my 800m to 1:53.0. I credit my endurance development to the late Ryan Shay and Dennis Barker. Ryan was my teammate at ND and any time I ran with him, it was a pound fest. Suffering through those miles made me aerobically stronger. I didn't like it, but I knew it was what I needed to do to get stronger. Dennis was my coach at Team USA Mn. He prescribed a steady diet of "subthreshold" i.e. marathon pace running 1-2 times per week, depending on the training cycle. Again, I didn't enjoy it, but hard distance is an absolutely vital component of training for anyone racing a mile or above.

 9. Did the embrace from PSU Track and XC Alumni help you in your quest for your PhD?

PSU Track and XC alumni have been fantastic. Although I don't have a Penn State degree yet, and although I'll never have had the same experience of being on the team, the alumni have welcomed me to their community like I was one of their own all along. I've found it to be a great group of friends. For example, I ran into Todd Kletter at Notre Dame last weekend and we caught up like old friends. And of course Artie (Gilkes), Jayson (Jackson), the Shislers (Steve and Beth), etc have always been great to have right here in State College. And the younger alumni-- the guys and ladies I know from when I was volunteering with the team-- seem to visit all the time, so it's great keeping up with them. Since I spend so much time working on and thinking about research, it's nice to have Penn State friends outside of my academic department. 

10. Will you be golfing with us this year in May?

  Count me in for golf! My brother Quinn got me a new driver for my birthday last summer and sadly, it hasn't even seen green grass yet. Time to break that sucker in! (ed. Quinn is invited too! The only Scharsu on The Cup is Alan's brother Doug!)

1 comment:

  1. All of the truly smart ones find their way to PSU eventually!! This may be the most statistically relevant post in the history of the PSTAFAGolf blog.


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