The Berkeley High Yellowjacket track & field team, traditionally a laggard in the distance running events, leaned heavily this season on an uncharacteristically strong distance team. Leading the pack: 17-year-old sophomore Alex Enscoe, 2002 ACCAL champion in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Enscoe is fast. Personal records of 4:25 in the 1,600 and 9:51 in the 3,200 can properly be described as “blazing.” Which is unsurprising once you hear of Enscoe’s pre-race routine. Before burning up the track, Enscoe routinely plays with fire.
“Recently I’ve been juggling for a pre-race ritual,” says Enscoe. “Torches. I do it at home before (the race).”
Enscoe, who was also the ACCAL cross-country champion last fall, is a self-taught juggler. Balls, clubs, and yes, torches. Fittingly, he does a good deal of his distance training on the fire trails in Berkeley above Strawberry Canyon.
Enscoe’s 4:25 personal record in the 1,600 was set Saturday at the North Coast Section Bayshore Regional meet. Enscoe finished third, qualifying easily for next weekend’s NCS Meet of Champions at UC Berkeley – and he likes his chances.
“It was fun,” said Enscoe. “I pretty much did everything I wanted to do today. It was motivating to get third place - I only needed seventh to qualify.””
Berkeley distance coach (and also cross-country coach) Dave Goodrich points to Enscoe, along with sophomore Nic Reily and senior Scott Monash, as the keys to Berkeley’s distance resurgence.
“We had a strong group of distance runners and we did well,” says Goodrich. “I don’t want to say we carried the team, but we did have a strong group, and Alex was a big part of that.”
“He’s a great kid - real coachable, does whatever you want him to do, and then asks to do more - I have to hold him back more than anything on most days.”
Enscoe is proud of the role the distance runners played in Berkeley’s success this year.
“We’ve been able to make a better contribution - we’ve been getting a lot more people to be more serious about it.”
And he attributes much of Berkeley’s new success to Goodrich, who was pressed into service this year when the Berkeley distance runners found themselves coachless.
“I saw these kids working out in the afternoon and they really didn’t have a coach,” says Goodrich, “so I volunteered to do it.”
“I wouldn’t call last year’s team weak, they were just young, and inexperienced. They’ve developed a lot - I don’t know if it’s just enthusiasm or what, but they’ve definitely come a long way this year.”
For whatever reason, Goodrich seems to be getting more out of this year’s distance crop than Berkeley has seen in recent memory. At a meet late this year, he put Enscoe to the test by throwing him into two events that he never runs in competition – the 800 and the 4 by 400 relay.
“In the 800 his PR was 2:11, and he ran a 2:01. He PR’d by about 10 seconds, that shows his improvement over the year. He also came back that day and ran a leg of the 4 by 4 and ran a 53 (seconds) - his PR before that was 60,” Goodrich says.
“I think he’s helped a lot as far as getting people involved and doing the right training and stuff,” says Enscoe. “It’s good to have a coach who knows what he should be doing at all times. I think the program will keep improving the next few years.”
As will Enscoe. Only a sophomore, Enscoe isn’t thinking much about the future but the promise is bright for both Enscoe and the Berkeley team.
“Right now I think I’m going to keep running and playing music (Enscoe is also a guitarist) as long as I can - I don’t know what else. I’d like to run in college, and I’d like to play music for my whole life.”
A college career in running seems all but assured for a multiple ACCAL champion who is still just a sophomore. As for the guitar playing, that will depend on Enscoe’s continued ability to catch those torches cool-side down.