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Running slow to go fast
April 22, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Gering freshman Logan Murdock takes the baton as the third leg of the boys’ 4X800 relay team at the Mitchell Invitational earlier this month. The Bulldogs finished second to expected rival Sidney.

Rick Marez is a counselor at the Gering Freshman Academy and a Gering High School track coach. A slender man with a big friendly smile, he disarms most people with whom he engages in conversation, including his charges, middle and long distance runners for the Bulldogs’ track team. They’ve been given the impression, he’s a man on a mission and a “genius” on the oval.

This year, Gering’s distance runners have put the competition on notice. Veterans and a bevy of talented freshmen have blended well enough to earn dozens of personal records and a handful of medals in track meets including the Chadron Indoor, and the North Platte and Mitchell invites, so far. Today, April 22, Friday, they’ll compete at the Twilight Invitational Meet in Scottsbluff against some of the same local teams.

Though Marez doesn’t use unique training methods, they may seem unusual to the newcomer, and may not make sense to observers, even other coaches. “Our slogan is run slow to be fast. I’m a math-science guy focused on what each workout will do for our runners,” he said, joyful in confirming his approach does indeed work, siting world competition sprinter Michael Johnson’s journey back from injury, which resulted in striking gold at the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996, in both the 200 and 400.

Marez continued, “There’s a fine balance between training output and recovery. Each individual runner is required to run select times and distances.”

If they run too fast, Marez tells them to slow down. His training ploy covers the whole season. He takes both the credit and the blame for meet results, while developing a good support relationship with all the runners he coaches. “There are a few guys who ask a lot of questions; they like to know the details,” he said, constantly honing his coaching techniques.

“But most of them understand the big picture,” and are understandably pleased with what they have accomplished so far this season. “Some of them get excited. With the freshmen, I go over with them one-on-one how to fix their arm swing, or fix turnover (how quickly their legs move in hitting the ground), their leg position, stride length. They all run differently.”

Marez has coached cross country for eight years and distance for 13 years. After graduating from GHS in 1991, he then went on to attend Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, then transferred to UNL to finish his teaching degree, living in Lincoln after graduating college, he moved back to Gering in 1998.

For those first four years as a track coach, he worked with Coach Dave Nash, who had worked with distance runners for more than 20 years.

In high school, Marez ran the 800, 400, and 1-mile events. He preferred middle distance. In his freshman year at Cornell, he ran a 1:58, and a 48.6 in the quarter. As a junior in high school, he was a member of the 4X800 relay team that nearly set a school record; they were two tenths of a second from doing so. He had to wait until later to break that record as a coach.

Nash’s milers Justin Lana and Tyler Goswick and Marez’s 800 thoroughbreds Caleb Hebbert and Joey Salinas joined together for the 4X800 relay in the 2003 season to land in the Gering record books with a time of 8:02:36. “That was something special,” Marez said.

Ultimately, the current batch of runners want to win, he said, but setting PRs, shows they’re improving, too.

Junior Rebekah Rawlings ran the 400 in 60 seconds flat (1:00.36 official time) at North Platte (The Buffalo Bill Invitational).
“She loves to run,” Marez said. “She approaches the race with the idea we can be better than ourselves. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She gives everyone (her competitors) a hug after every race, because she knows what they go through to prepare.”

Rawlings, a 16-year-old junior, also competes in the 800, 4X400 and 4X800 relays. “I love the 400,” she said. “It’s one and done, but I think I perform better for the other runners on the relay teams.” Rawlings typically is the first leg for each relay. “My parents said I ran before I walked. I’ve been competing since seventh grade.”

Before each race, Rawlings said she talks to her mom. “She always says something I need to hear, and with each relay team prays do our very best,” she said.

About Coach Marez, Rawlings said, “he’s kind of genius coach; he tries to make us run our best when it counts. I share my enthusiasm for running, because I love to run. If I share that kind of enthusiasm, our team will be that much better.”

At the Chadron Indoor Meet, four of Gering’s top distance runners Rawlings, Victoria Schwartz, Lauren Shaul, and Kaitlyn McColley ran in the 4X 1-lap event, unique to Chadron’s indoor format, besting the competition. At the same meet, milers Christian Arellano, a sophomore, and freshman Logan Moravec came close to finishing in sub-five-minute territory, just seconds away from doing so.

These accomplishments, “let the kids know the hard work is going to pay off,” Marez said. “Even though they were sore, they did a great job.”

At North Platte, Moravec ran a 4:51 mile. “I think he surprised even himself,” Marez said. “He wasn’t afraid to go after the lead group.”

Moravec finished behind only Scottsbluff junior Josh Hergenreder (4:47.01). His compatriot, Arellano finished with a respectable 5:08.50. At the same competition, Gering senior Jacey Shaul ran a strong second leg in the 4X800 relay, allowing the last two runners of Logan Murdock and Moravec to hold on for the win and a time of 8:53.20.

“If we keep working to meet our goals, we have a good chance of competing and winning at state. “Jacey weighs in at about 120 pounds and his turnover is so fast. He’s not your typical leader. He’ll support you in order for you to do your best. He wants to get those guys to state. During a race, he tells them, if you get past me, do it to get the best race,” Marez said.

Shaul, 18, said he’s been running cross country and track for four years. Aside from the 4X800 relay team, he’s a miler with a PR of 4:54 this year. His goal is to keep a sub-five, though his focus has been on the relay and getting to state.

“It’s fun to work with the younger guys,” Jacey said. “There’s not much I need to tell them, because they like to compete, which means they’re willing to work hard in practice. They see us older kids. When they see us run our times (according to Marez’s schedule), they follow. At track meets they see the results, so to them, it makes sense to go along.”

Jacey, who is a triplet, is joined by his sister Lauren among the 30 runners who make up Gering’s distance corps, almost a third the track team. “She’s great for support; you always have someone to talk to,” said Jacey, who plans to study applied sciences at UNL, then return to the family’s farm. Though, he claims to not have a famous idol, he looks up to his older brother, who makes a living as an architect, and alternately helps out with his father’s construction business. “He’s just a hard worker,” Jacey said. Likely a family trait, Jacey exhibits the same brand of dedication on the track.

At the Mitchell meet, the 4X800 girls relay team finished third behind Scottsbluff and Alliance, while the boys 4X800 relay team finished second to the Sidney Red Raiders. “We were starting a new cycle, and I told them their legs would feel heavy,” Marez said, true to form in shouldering the runners’ lapses. “I told them this was on their coach. I take full responsibility.”

But the team also trusts and believes in Marez.

“They see the big picture; how they see we’re in it together really helps,” he said.

Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Rebekah Rawlings checks her 200 times with Coach Rick Marez who keeps the distance runners on a strict workout schedule. Between them, standing by for the next repetition, is freshman Logan Murdock.
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