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Without Breaking A Sweat


CAMARILLO — A 48-second 400 meters isn't supposed to look so easy.

That was the comment of more than one observer at Rio Mesa High on Wednesday after Camarillo senior Matt Lea won the boys' 400 in 48.5 seconds during a nonleague meet.

Lea won by more than four seconds, yet looked remarkably fresh afterward.

While competitors bent over with their hands on their knees, breathing heavily from their efforts, Lea took a few deep breaths, picked up his sweats and began to walk up the track, chatting with spectators along the way.

"You feel lost," Lea said when asked how he feels after running an all-out 400. "For the first two or three seconds after the race, you don't really feel anything, but then it hits you.

"Then you start asking yourself, 'Why the hell am I doing this?' For the first five minutes afterward, I hate the 400. But after that I'm happy I ran it, especially if I ran well."

Lea is undefeated this season, having run 48.6 or faster seven times after clocking a then-personal best of 48.98 to finish sixth in the 1997 Southern Section Division I championships.

He ran a school-record and state-leading time of 47.6 in a meet against Royal last week, but he'll be a slight underdog tonight when he runs against Pasadena Muir's Sultan McCullough in the Arcadia Invitational at Arcadia High. The field events start at 4 p.m., with the running events at 6:15 p.m.

McCullough was regarded as the top 100 and 200 sprinter in California last year before suffering a hamstring injury at the state championships. Concentrating on the 400 during the first half of this season, he clocked a fully automatic 47.85 to win at the Northridge-Alemany Relays on March 14.

McCullough's career best of 20.62 in the 200 is superior to Lea's 21.5, but Lea isn't conceding the race today.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him out there," Lea said. "But I can't be worried about him. I just have to run my own race."

The key to Lea's race is the final 100 meters.

That's when he hopes the training base he began building in September will allow him to overtake faster starters such as McCullough and Larry Jones of Taft.

"For the first 300, it'll be like I'm almost following myself around the track," Lea said. "But then when we come off the turn, I'll wake up and go. That's when you pump your arms as hard and fast as you can."

The final 100 was the weak part of Lea's race during his first three years at Camarillo, but giving up basketball to focus on track under the guidance of Bryan Krill has paid off this season.

Basketball was Lea's favorite sport entering high school. But after being a reserve on Camarillo's varsity team as a junior, he figured he had a better future in track.

Not playing basketball allowed Lea to start training for track in September rather than in February, after the basketball season.

Training under Krill enabled him to complete workouts that would have seemed impossible a year ago.

"If it wasn't for Bryan, I wouldn't be where I am now," Lea said. "He'll tell me when [my intervals] are not good and he'll tell me when they're awesome. I really value what he has to say."

Lea has a lot of confidence in Krill because the 25-year-old Moorpark College assistant coach has gone through what Lea is experiencing now.

Krill clocked 48.96 in the 400 as a Thousand Oaks senior in 1991 and ran a personal best of 45.55 to place fourth in the Pacific 10 Conference championships as a USC senior in 1995. Still he downplays his importance in Lea's transformation into one of the top quarter-milers in the state.

"He's been able to keep himself motivated and that's been the biggest thing," Krill said. "It's easy to say you want to get better and to say you'll put in the work. But it's quite another to actually do it."

Especially when there is no one to run alongside you in workouts.

When Lea trains with Krill, it's just him against his coach's stopwatch.

Some of Krill's workouts, such as running 10 200s in 25-29 seconds with a 50-meter walk in between, have left Lea sick alongside the Camarillo track. But Krill said his protege's work ethic has remained strong.

"He complains sometimes when we're doing them," Krill said. "But he gets them done."

Those workouts enabled Lea to run 48.1 in a 400 time trial the day before Christmas last year and then clock 47.7 in the 400 and 21.8 in the 200 in an all-comers meet at Cal State Northridge in January.

His 400 best has dropped by only a tenth of a second since then, but Lea hasn't been seriously challenged during that time.

He will be tonight.

"It will really be a good test for him to see where he compares against the other guys," Krill said. "I'm not going to make any predictions, but if the [weather] conditions are good, you might see him run sub-47."

Breaking 47 seconds and winning the state title were two of Lea's goals at the start of the season.

"I'm not going to lose because of me," Lea said of the race tonight. "I'm going to run as fast as I possibly can and if someone beats me, it'll be because they're better than me."

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