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Now, Track Star’s in It for the Long Run

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is fortunate that Don Strametz was seated when he heard the news.

Otherwise the Cal State Northridge track and field coach might have been injured falling down when Darcy Arreola informed him that the 3,000-meter run would be her specialty after the 1992 season.

Strametz had tried to convince Arreola for years that the 3,000--not the 1,500--would eventually be the race best suited to her abilities, and for just as long, Arreola had opposed the idea as adamantly as the National Rifle Assn. opposes gun control.

“I don’t know why I’ve changed my mind about (the 3,000),” said Arreola, 23. “I used to hate that race. It was just so long. . . . I guess that I enjoy running so much now that it’s not that bad to me. Before, I just wanted to run and get it over with, but now I’m enjoying the long runs more, and I want to do the 3,000 because it’s a longer race.”

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It is ironic that Arreola’s decision came during this--her finest season in the 1,500.

On June 1, she won the NCAA Division I title at Eugene, Ore.

Two weeks later, she placed third in the Athletics Congress championships at Randalls Island in New York City to qualify for the U. S. team, which is competing in the world track and field championships in Tokyo.

Arreola, who has a personal best of 4 minutes 9.32 seconds in the 1,500, will run in a first-round heat today.

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“I’d like to run 4:05 or faster at the Worlds,” Arreola said before leaving for Japan. “I don’t feel like I’ve come close to peaking yet this season.”

Neither does Strametz, Arreola’s coach since the fall of 1986.

“The goal is to qualify for the finals,” he said. “She’s made some breakthroughs this year, but now it’s time to make some more.”

Those breakthroughs were considered by many to be long overdue.

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Arreola--the 1986 state champion in the 1,600 meters for La Mesa Grossmont High--ran 4:15.35 to finish 10th in the 1987 TAC (the Athletic Congress) championships as an 18-year-old CSUN freshman. But her improvement was marginal (to 4:14.15) in the ensuing three seasons.

She won four NCAA Division II titles in track and cross-country during that time. But her progression in the 1,500 was painfully slow until this season, CSUN’s first in Division I--the highest level in collegiate athletics.

“This is the way I expected it to go the last couple of years,” Arreola said. “I was happy with the 4:09, but not really overjoyed. That’s something that I thought I could run a couple of years ago.”

Before that could happen, however, Arreola had to revamp her training regimen, racing strategy, and her approach to running.

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Strametz was so intent on improving Arreola’s speed in previous years that he had her run fast-paced intervals--set distances, such as 200 meters, run in specific times--during track workouts. The intervals improved Arreola’s speed over short distances, but they sapped her finishing kick because they frequently left her legs overly fatigued on the day of the race.

"(Strametz) used to always say that we had to do speed, and more speed to improve my speed,” said Arreola, who is two semesters away from completing her degree in recreation. “But that didn’t work because I always ended up dying in races. Now I’m not doing that much speed, and I have a better kick.”

Intervals are still a staple of Arreola’s training for track, but they are generally longer than before, and run at a slower pace with a shorter recovery period in between.

The alterations have improved her endurance, given her more speed in the last lap, and led to a bolder racing strategy.

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Before the season, the 5-foot-6, 108-pound Arreola was afraid to push the pace against the nation’s top runners, and she paid for her reluctance, finishing a well-beaten seventh in the 1989 and ’90 TAC meets. Both races were kicker-dominated affairs.

She controlled this year’s NCAA race from the early going, however, and was prepared to push the pace at the Athletic Congress meet, until Alisa Hill of the Southern California Cheetahs track club did it for her.

“We’ve talked about (forcing the early pace) for awhile,” Arreola said. “But I wasn’t quite ready for it before. Now I know this is the best way for me to run.”

That realization and maturity have been the biggest factors in Arreola’s rise toward the top of the U. S. 1,500-meter hierarchy, Strametz said. “Before, she just ran,” the coach said. “Now, she’s thinking about what she’s doing.”

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Arreola--who has run for the Nike Coast track club since her collegiate eligibility expired at the NCAA meet--concurred with her coach’s assessment as it pertains to running, but quipped that that maturity has not spilled over into other facets of her life.

"(Running) is more important to me than it ever has been,” she said. “People used to say to me, ‘You don’t take running seriously enough.’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t care. I’m having fun.’ But now I’m taking it seriously because I want to make a career out of it. . . . I know that running is what I enjoy the most.”

Even if it’s at 3,000 meters.


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