There's not much margin for error while competing in one of track and field's most strenuous events.
Glendale Community College men's athlete Jonathan Alpizar learned that while competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase during the Southern California Championships at Saddleback College on Saturday.
Having just begun the taxing race, Alpizar stumbled after barely clearing the first of seven water boards on a windy afternoon. Fortunately for Alpizar, he regained his composure en route to clocking a personal-best mark of 9 minutes 19.46 seconds for second place.
The recovery, along with the subsequent intelligent running and hurdling, landed Alpizar a spot in the California Community College Athletic Assn. Track and Field Championships. Alpizar will compete in the event at 2:20 p.m. Saturday at Antelope Valley College.
"I had lost my balance going over the water board and the key thing was how would I recover from it," said Alpizar, who clocked 9:30.97 to take second at the Western State Conference Finals at Moorpark College on April 30. "When we started the race, there were a lot of people in front of me and I think too many people jumped over the board at the same time.
"When I got out of the water, I realized that I had to run smarter the rest of the race. After that, I was able to keep going and take second."
There are many things to learn in the race, which requires athletes to be in peak condition to run the 7 1/2 -lap course while running, jumping and splashing through water hazards. There are 42 jumps.
"I've been practicing my water jumps, so I know what to expect at the state meet," said Alpizar, a Burroughs High graduate who recorded a mark of 9:49.76 for third place at the state meet last season in San Mateo. "You gain a lot of experience and you then take that to the running part of it.
"I believe I have a chance and it's taken a lot for me to get here."
The Vaqueros have an elite group of athletes who have captured state titles in the event, which is believed to have begun around 1860 in Oxford, England.
Glendale college has won a combined four championships since the event was state sanctioned in 1973. Jacques Sallberg won the men's competition in 1995, followed by Julio Serratos (1996) and Jose Merino (1999). Glendale High graduate Naira Bagumyan captured the women's crown in 2003.
Teammate Frankie Quijada, who placed fifth in the event at the state meet last season at 9:56.72, said Alpizar has displayed the proper ability to handle the race.
"He's an all-around tough runner, so you know he'll give it all he has," said Quijada, who took third in the 5,000 race at the Southern California Championships with a personal-best mark of 15:17.2 to also qualify for the state meet. "He's got a great water jump, probably one of the best in the field.
"He's also got good hurdle techniques and that's helped him take seconds off his time. He's in contention to win it, if not the top two."
Alpizar, captain of the men's squad and a reigning All-American member, will be fresh for Saturday's competition. The strong field will likely be led by L.A. Southwest College's Dahir Mohamed, who turned in a time of 9:13.53 to win the Southern California Championships.
Glendale Coach Eddie Lopez said Alpizar has used his talent to put himself in contention to win a state championship.
"He has good range in that he can run the 4x400 relay, 800, 1,500, 3,000 and the 5,000," Lopez said. "When he's running, he's never too high or too low.
"When he stumbled last week, the key thing was that he didn't panic. That comes from having a lot of experience. I think it's going to be a great race at state and he'll be up there in the end."
It will be the last time that Alpizar will don the Glendale jersey. One final opportunity to achieve state glory.