College Sport: Westlake boys having great run

By Campbell Burnes

Desire, commitment and sacrifice behind success of school where running is seen as a team sport by coach.
Cross-country runners (from left) Joseph Clark, 16, Stuart Hofmeyr, 15, Murdoch McIntyre, 14, and Jude Darby, 14. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Cross-country runners (from left) Joseph Clark, 16, Stuart Hofmeyr, 15, Murdoch McIntyre, 14, and Jude Darby, 14. Photo / Brett Phibbs

They love their running at Westlake Boys' High School.

The results of the distance running team, be it on the track, on the road or cross-country, prove that, but it has not been an overnight process.

Coach Theuns Strydom often runs with the boys at training, and he has 83 boys under his wing, all at different stages of their development.

"The secret in the school environment is to sell running as a team sport. We spend a lot of time together. They sit down and enjoy breakfast together after training in the morning," says Strydom, who started the Westlake running programme with one boy in 2005.

In 2016, his charges won six of 10 available distance running titles at the Auckland schools track and field champs, and followed that up with seven (out of nine) titles at the Auckland schools cross-country event in Pukekohe and six (out of nine) wins at the national schools cross-country in Rotorua a few weeks ago.

The next major group focus is next month's Auckland schools road racing event then realigning the goals for the December schools athletics nationals in Auckland.

"We train hard, but the secret for us is desire, commitment, sacrifice. That's what distance running is all about," says Strydom, who expends a lot of his own time and resources on this team. Next year he will take some of them to Kenya, his second trip, for a priceless life experience mixed with some high altitude training with some of the world's top natural runners.

Some of the team might clock up to 100km a week, so seniors such as Joseph Clark and Dan Hoy, a multisport and running allrounder, are in this bracket. Jude Darby, who is Year 9, racks up around 32km a week, but is champing at the bit to do more.

Clark, who is Year 12, is also a top steeplechaser. He says the discipline required of the running team has wider, positive, implications.

"When I was Year 9, I was pretty relaxed. Now I'm focused on my schoolwork and have grown up a lot," Clark says.

Year 11 runner Stuart Hofmeyr is the Auckland intermediate schools 1500m champion and has designs on the junior national title in December.

"It's a very well-worked programme and shows the huge depth through our team," he says.

Darby is the Auckland junior schools 800m and 1500m champion and has seen his times improve markedly since immersing himself in the programme. He enjoys the banter amongst the boys.

Murdoch McIntyre was one of the star turns at the schools cross-country nationals, winning the junior 4000m title by hitting the lead more than 2km out and holding on to win by four seconds in a gritty display. He is after victory in next month's intermediate road race and the junior 3000m at the December schools nationals.

"I came to Westlake because I heard about the great running programme, but I was amazed at how good it was. The programme wouldn't be what it is without the time Mr Strydom puts in. You see the end product, but you don't see what goes on behind the scenes," McIntyre says.

Plenty goes on, and it is working for Westlake BHS.

- NZ Herald

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