Morgan Bateman does not believe in overdoing it.
So Bateman, an articulate and independent-minded senior at Crescenta Valley High, decided to bypass the cross-country season to prepare on his own for track.
“I don’t live, breath, sleep or drink anything,” says Bateman, the defending Southern Section 4-A Division champion in the 800 meters. “You need to take everything in moderation. Too much of anything will hurt you.
“Hopefully I have a future in this sport and I want to leave something for at least four years from now.”
Throughout his high school career, Bateman has been leaving just about everyone in the dust.
At last season’s Southern Section finals at Cerritos College, he breezed to victory in the 800 with a time of 1:52.87.
“I remember looking back with 200 meters to go and there was no one there,” Bateman recalled this week. “I jogged in the last 50 meters and had a real easy race.”
At the Master’s meet at Cerritos the following week, he ran a personal-record 1:52.66 and finished third. However the next week, at the state meet, the long season and the meet’s two-day format produced an eighth-place finish (1:55.09) for the fatigued Bateman.
“I must have physically peaked at the CIF finals so from there on it was a big downhill slope,” he said. “This year, I’m going to put in more miles and more races (during track season) so that the Friday-Saturday format like the one at the state meet is going to be nothing and I’ll be all right.”
Sitting in the bleachers next to the Crescenta Valley track, Bateman talked about the upcoming season, which begins today at 3 p.m. with a meet against Bell-Jeff and Burbank at Burbank, and some of the triumphs and travails an athlete experiences when everyone else is chasing him.
Bateman, 6 feet, 155 pounds, wore red running shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with a logo for the rap group Public Enemy. His curly brown hair is cropped close on the sides and stands up in a thick flat-top. A small gold hoop hangs from his left earlobe.
Bateman knew Crescenta Valley Coach Keith Gilliland would not be thrilled with his decision to forgo cross-country. But Bateman said he needed the time away from long-distance training to prepare for what figures to be an arduous track season.
“My parents never told me what I had to do--they’ve always been pretty free with me,” said Bateman, whose father, Paul, was a member of an NCAA championship cross-country team at the University of Nevada Reno. “Growing up, I never had a curfew or anything like that . . . People have always just trusted me to do what was right.”
Bateman, Gilliland and Falcon distance Coach Dennis Oliver are still determining which distances will be the right ones for Bateman this season.
Although his success was in the 800 last year, Bateman said he will enter more 1,500-meter races, a distance he said is more suited to his leg speed--and his future.
“My leg speed is better than a lot of kids--better than a lot of milers,” said Bateman, who finished third in the 4-A championships as a sophomore but missed the state meet with an ankle injury.
“But there are a lot of kids that run the 400 and then move up to the 800. They’re the ones that are going to set records. All they have to do is get out on the roads and get some endurance and they’re going to fly.”
Bateman got off to a flying start last season, winning the 1,500 at the Northridge Invitational and the 800 at the Pasadena Games.
Then came the 800 at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational, the state’s premier high school meet of the regular season.
“Last year at Arcadia he was going in as, ‘The man to beat,’ ” said Oliver, who organizes Bateman’s workouts. “He’d never been in that position before and it was hard on him. He wasn’t able to concentrate on the things he should have been concentrating on.
“He ran as hard as he could, but a mistake was made and when that happens, you’re dead. You just can’t make mistakes in the 800.”
Bateman’s problems at Arcadia began at the starting line. As the No. 1 seed in the race, he had an inside lane, but the normally advantageous position proved to be a handicap in the crowded 16-man field, which Oliver described as “a mob.” There were other distractions as well.
“I remember I could hear a couple of cameras clicking and that was something I really wasn’t used to,” said Bateman, who was boxed in at the start and finished sixth. “I got out too slow the first 100 . . . I ran a 1:54, which is not that bad, but that’s a race I really wanted to win.
“I was real upset. It was my first major loss. But I think I learned a lot from that race--about how to deal with losing. It’s something (losing) I hate to do, but I guess I grew that weekend.”
Bateman said he always has enjoyed competing in track, but only during the past year has he learned to really enjoy running. He played basketball during his freshman year and participated, admittedly without a whole lot of enthusiasm, in cross-country his sophomore and junior years.
“Growing up, running is always a punishment,” Bateman said. “You screw up in any sport and it’s, ‘Go take a few laps.’
“I was doing it (running), maybe, for the wrong reasons. I did it because I could be good at something. Now I’m doing it because I enjoy it. It’s relaxing.
“In the last year, I found myself going out for a run when I didn’t need to, like during the summer. Whereas before, it just wouldn’t occur to me.”
With a summer of weight-lifting and fall of light running and flexibility exercises behind him, Bateman said he is prepared to meet the state’s elite runners.
Oliver has seen many high school phenoms who have had college careers cut short by burnout or mediocrity. His task, he says, is keeping Bateman fresh for the future.
“I feel a real responsibility and challenge to make sure I don’t do too much with him,” said Oliver, who has coached at Crescenta Valley for seven years. “When he gets out of here he’s going to be under-raced, undertrained and ready to go on, I hope.
“I don’t see any need for him to be a world-record holder in high school. I just want him healthy and happy and looking forward to going on and running in college.”
Bateman, who said he would eventually like to attend law school, is considering several universities across the country.
“I looked at schools in California and also places like Nebraska,” said Bateman, who moved with his family from Ohio to La Crescenta when he was 10. “They both have different things to offer. The warm weather is really nice because you get to train all year round, the beaches are great and the sun’s really nice.
“Whereas you go to colder climates and you have things like indoor track, which is something good for a person that runs my distances. And oftentimes at a place like that you’re going to be more focused.”
Last winter, Bateman finished fifth in the National Indoor Prep Championships at Yale University, running 1:55.0. That made him an indoor All-American.
This year, though, Bateman’s immediate focus is on winning his second consecutive Pacific League title and lowering his league record of 1:54.07.
His only goal, he said, is to run the best he can.
“I’m a pretty flexible person--easy come, easy go,” Bateman said. “Other people make a bigger deal about things than I think they should, they don’t keep things in perspective.
“I’m just looking forward to getting started.”