How has Jim Geerlings, a senior at Newport Harbor High School, come to be one of the top milers in the nation this season?
It's tough to figure.
Unlike most high school track stars, Geerlings hasn't spent a great deal of time on the road, track or trail. He doesn't run endless miles. He doesn't talk endless track.
Geerlings doesn't lift weights. He doesn't run in the morning. He rarely stretches. He keeps no training log.
And, up until a week ago, Geerlings ate Twinkies for his prerace meal.
Most unusual, though, is this: Geerlings, a very amiable fellow, doesn't even like the sport.
"I used to hate track," he said. "But now, well, I still don't like it. I mean, I guess it's OK, but it's a lot of pain and a lot of work."
So why does he do it?
Competition, for one. "I like to win," he said. "It's hard for me to play a joke game of basketball. I take all (competition) real seriously, even if it's Ping-Pong or chess."
Improvement, for another. "In track, I like to get myself to push through the pain barrier. I'm always trying to break through so I can run faster next time."
But mostly, Geerlings runs because he's good at it.
Last Friday, Geerlings won the 1,600 meters at the Southern Section Masters meet at Cerritos College.
His time of 4 minutes 9.54 seconds ranks him as the fastest 1,600-meter runner in the state, third-fastest in the nation, this season.
Rob Kennedy of Westerville North (Ohio) leads the nation at 4:06.8. Dave Smith of Tumwater, Wash., is second at 4:09.2.
For Geerlings, the Masters victory was a huge breakthrough. Before the race, he had the slowest qualifying time of the nine-man field. His winning time was almost a 6-second improvement on his previous personal best of 4:15.9.
Tonight at 5:30 at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Geerlings will run in one of two heats of the California Interscholastic Federation state track and field preliminaries.
The winner of each heat, plus the next seven fastest runners, advance to the final Saturday night.
Two months ago, it seemed unlikely that Geerlings would make it to the state meet.
After a successful cross-country season last fall--he placed second in the Division II state meet--Geerlings was a starting guard for the Sailor basketball team during the winter.
But when track season started, the transition between sports was difficult. Geerlings' knees became sore and inflamed with what was diagnosed as a calcium build-up under the kneecaps. For several weeks, he could only run a few easy miles a day.
"At that point, my motivation for track was pretty low," he said. "Running was definitely low on my list of priorities."
Even when the condition of his knee improved, Geerlings' desire to train remained borderline.
Many times, when the coach told the distance runners to go for a six-mile run, Geerlings cut it short, stopping at the nearby Balboa Bay Club to sit in the sun before jogging back to school.
His motivation remained low until about four weeks ago, when Geerlings, who had been running in the 4:17 range all season, said he knew he wanted more.
"I guess I finally just got disgusted with myself," he said. "I felt I was capable of going 4:10. I realized I had been more competitive as a junior. I knew I could do better."
His Masters performance, if accomplished by sheer will alone, was proof enough.
Tonight, along with Geerlings, the top entrants in the boys' 1,600 meters include Joe Devine of Saugus (4:10.73), the runner Geerlings outkicked down the final straightaway to win last Friday; Jim Robbins of Corona del Mar (4:10.73), the Southern Section 3-A champion, and Reggie Williams of West Sacramento River City (4:10.40).
Devine is a strong runner who likes to lead and set a fast pace from the start. Robbins, who until last Friday had not been beaten by Geerlings this track season, has great speed (1:54 for 800 meters) and a dangerous final kick.
Williams may be the most talented distance runner in the state as he owns the fastest time in the 3,200 meters at 8:59.7.
Providing he qualifies tonight, Geerlings said he'll be satisfied if he can run under 4:10 again in Saturday's final.
"I'd be happy with that. To win, it'll probably take running 4:09 or faster. I'd like to take it out hard, about 2:03 at the (800-meter mark)."
That's the pace for a 4:06 1,600 meters, the goal Geerlings has been aiming at all season.
Or at least in the last four weeks.
State Meet Notes
Edison's Kaleaph Carter, who won titles in both the discus and shotput at the Masters meet, will compete in both events in tonight's trials. Carter's best mark in the shot, 63-2 3/4, is fourth-best nationally. Edison shotputter Kevin Flynn (54-7) will also compete. . . . Canyon discus thrower Allison Franke hopes to better her fourth-place finish in last year's state meet. Franke's best mark of 158-4, set last Friday in taking the Masters title, is second nationally.