SAN DIEGO — While some boys were teasing the girls on the way home from grade school in El Cajon, Rich Brownsberger was already developing into a runner.
"In third grade, instead of riding the bus home from school, I used to race the bus home," Brownsberger said. "People used to say, 'You can't do that.' But I used to beat my brothers and the bus home every time. Of course, I took a different route."
Even now, at 22, Brownsberger takes a different course when it comes to running. While some runners are drinking raw eggs and worrying that their target heart rates are too high, Brownsberger takes an entirely nonscientific approach.
Before winning the Buick 10-kilometer run here last year, Brownsberger stayed out with friends until 3 a.m. the day of the race and "had a few beers."
"I felt terrible when I got up," said Brownsberger, who will run Sunday in this year's Buick 10K. "I wasn't even going to run. But then I drank some water and decided I felt better."
The result: Brownsberger beat a top-flight international field and ran a personal best on the roads of 28 minutes 55 seconds.
"Some of my best races, I went out the night before," Brownsberger said.
After borrowing a pair of running shoes, eating "a few pieces of pizza" right before the race and waiting until the runners began to warm up before deciding to compete, Brownsberger recently ran a 14:14 over 5,000 meters at San Diego State. Though the time is 1:14 slower than Dave Moocroft's world record, it represents a good early-season performance.
Most serious runners average between 100 to 120 miles per week leading to a marathon. Brownsberger ran about 60 miles per week before last January's Mission Bay Marathon where he ran a 2:14.02, the fastest time for a San Diego marathon.
"I think it's good to go into a race with a positive attitude," Brownsberger said. "I don't want to worry about anything before a race. You know, if I drank enough water, things like that. You can't do anything about it once the race starts. Worrying about it could hurt you.
"The races where I say 'I want to do good,' I never do good. It's better for me to say 'It's a good opportunity for me, do the best you can.' "
Brownsberger attributes much of his success to that relaxed attitude. And he attributes the relaxed attitude to Tom Lux (who now coaches at SDSU but coached Brownsberger at Grossmont College) and Bob Larsen, UCLA track coach.
Brownsberger was a good runner at Valhalla High School but not a great one. Without much training he finished seventh in the state two-mile his senior year.
His training changed when he went to Grossmont and met Lux, one of San Diego's best runners at the time. Because of the tougher competition, Brownsberger began to train harder for cross-country and track. Still, it was the mental training Lux gave him that proved more important.
"Once in a while I'd get a negative attitude," Brownsberger said. "He taught me you have to go into a race with a positive attitude. Don't go in thinking you're going to do well, but go in thinking you'll do the best you can. He worked on my attitude a lot."
Lux's suggestion made Brownsberger's sophomore year a good one. Brownsberger won the state community college cross-country title, and received a scholarship to UCLA.
Larsen had to work harder than Lux to continue to build Brownsberger's confidence.
Brownsberger found moving to Los Angeles to be a difficult transition. Away from home for the first time, Brownsberger was a bit lost on the huge UCLA campus.
"I felt lost," Brownsberger said. "I felt like I didn't have any friends. I'm shy and I had trouble meeting people."
To make matters worse, Brownsberger felt Larsen was ignoring him.
"I got there and I felt like he didn't care," Brownsberger said. "Like he thought, 'Now that I got him here, he doesn't matter.' "
Said Larsen: "UCLA is an extremely competitive place. (The transition) was a little harder for Rich than for others."
After three weeks, Brownsberger was ready to call it quits. He called Vince O'Boyle, UC Irvine's track coach, and was set to transfer. What Brownsberger didn't count on was O'Boyle appraising Larsen of Brownsberger's situation.
"We talked for about two hours," Brownsberger said. "We talked about an hour, then he told me he talked to the UCI coach. And I thought, 'Now he's going to try to talk me out of leaving.' And I didn't want him to.
"We talked for another hour . . . and I realized he was a pretty sincere guy. He told me this was the best place for me and that when I graduate I'd have a degree from a good school. He was right about the reasons why I was leaving, because it wasn't as fun as I'd thought it would be; it wasn't like Grossmont."
Brownsberger began to feel more comfortable at UCLA after meeting with Larsen, and his times showed it.