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High Schools

Always Miles to Go

Duarte's Trafeh is reaping benefits of a rigorous training schedule

September 22, 2002|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Perspiration drips from his face and soaks his shirt and shorts, but Mohamed Trafeh doesn't look or sound as if he's laboring.

His arms pump furiously, powering his legs like pistons propelling a car engine as he runs the foothills of Duarte during a recent training session.

Seven times the Duarte High junior sprints 80 meters up a steep private road, making it up in 17 or 18 seconds and descending the hill in a walk. Never does he seem to tire.

And while many high school runners would struggle through such a workout, Trafeh's breathing has nearly returned to normal in the 50 or so seconds it takes him to return to the base of the hill and start all over again.

"He's at a level right now where he just doesn't feel any pain," said Nick LaCapria, Duarte's cross-country coach. "He's just so strong."

Trafeh displayed that strength Saturday by winning the Division III junior race at the Irvine Woodbridge Invitational. His winning time of 14 minutes 51 seconds over the three-mile course was 68 seconds faster than the runner-up, Jared Zurn of Ridgecrest Burroughs.

Much of Trafeh's endurance comes from a base he has built the last two summers by running as many as 100 miles a week. His commitment to training is a big reason the native of Morocco could break the vaunted 15-minute barrier on Mt. San Antonio College's 2.91-mile- cross-country course this season after running 17:53 over the same layout two years ago.

"I've never seen the ambition in any high school athlete that I see in Mohamed," LaCapria said. "He's not ever satisfied. He's always trying to get better. You can give him a hard workout and he'll always want to do something more."

Trafeh ran 3,200 meters in 9:08.69 to win the Southern Section Masters Meet in May and his 14:39.01 clocking in the 5,000 in early June ranks sixth on the national list this year. He also finished fifth in the state Division IV cross-country final last November.

"I surprised myself," Trafeh said of a track season that included a sixth-place finish in the 3,200 in the state championships in June. "I didn't have much competition during the first part of the season so when I got into the big races at the end, I just tried to hang with the top guys for as long as I could."

Trafeh, who moved to the United States with his parents from Casablanca in the summer of 1999, has some lofty goals.

He hopes to win Division IV titles in the Southern Section and state cross-country championships and advance to the national championships in San Diego in December by finishing in the top eight at the West region championships at Mt. SAC a week earlier.

Trafeh placed 97th in the West region championships last year, but he's come a long way since.

He cut 44 seconds off his best in the 3,200 during track season and is running substantially faster in workouts than he was a year ago.

"I told him the other day that he's way ahead of where he was a year ago," Duarte assistant coach Gil Gomez said. "Way ahead."

Trafeh rarely ran for more than 20 minutes at a time during his first cross-country season as a freshman, but the easy-going, 5-foot-10, 130-pounder increased his training to about 50 miles a week during spring break last year.

"I just decided I wanted to get better," Trafeh said. "And I knew I had to run more if I wanted to do that."

The improved training helped Trafeh win the 3,200 in the Montview League track finals as a freshman and lower his best to 9:52.98 in the section Division III preliminaries. He then ran 1,200 miles during the summer of 2001.

"We came up with this mileage mania program," LaCapria said. "We figured we'd try to motivate the kids to train more by keeping track of their mileage, but no one could keep up with Mohamed. He'd run in the morning. He'd run in the afternoon. I think he even had some days when he ran three times."

Many coaches say it's unwise for a high school runner to log 100 miles in a week because it increases the chances of injury and mental burnout. But LaCapria and Gomez say Trafeh hasn't been injured since his freshman cross-country season and Trafeh said his weekly mileage rarely tops 60 during the season.

"We watch him pretty closely," Gomez said. "And we haven't seen any indications that he can't handle the mileage."

Although Trafeh hails from a nation that is a world power in distance running, he grew up playing soccer.

He knew that Hicham El Guerrouj, the world-record holder in the 1,500 meters, mile and 2,000 meters, was regarded as a national treasure in Morocco. But he didn't know Duarte had a cross-country team until he saw a friend running around the track at practice one day.

He joined the team a few days later but did not have instant success.

In his first competition, he ran 19:46 over a three-mile course to finish third in a freshman race of the Colton Invitational. But LaCapria and Gomez liked the fact that Trafeh would always wear his uniform underneath his clothes during the first three or four weeks of school and ask if the team had a meet that day.

"I think some of that happened because he didn't understand English real well at the time," LaCapria said. "I don't think he understood exactly when we were racing. But I also think it showed how excited he was about running."

That enthusiasm has only grown. Trafeh says the only time he gets bored on runs is on occasions when he's really hurting at the end of a long workout.

Otherwise, he enjoys the solitude--he usually trains alone--and challenge of pushing himself on training runs that measure as much as 17 miles and take him to the top of local mountain peaks.

"I usually think about splits I'm trying to run or about an upcoming race," Trafeh said about one of the runs that winds through a canyon.

"And I'm always looking around because there are mountain lions and bears up there. I'm never bored."

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