Luis Grijalva Adapts From His Only Coach To The Next Best Thing

When Luis Grijalva first heard his coach was taking a job at Sacramento State this past summer, the senior distance runner at Fairfield Armijo (CA) High School wasn't quite sure what to think. 

"I was happy for him," Grijalva said. "But also, it was a bummer, because I was going into my last year of high school. I knew we could do some amazing things."  

At the same time, David Monk was having those same thoughts. Was the move he was making, after four years with Armijo and after 15 years in the high school ranks, the right one? 

While it was a dream of Monk's to get back to the college level, there were also some drawbacks. He would have to leave Grijalva, arguably the best runner he's ever coached, a year before his graduation. 

And he had to do so before any of their training paid off with a California Interscholastic Federation championship. One of their goals was to also get to a national championship race. 

"I don't think people probably can even fathom how difficult it was," Monk said. 

Beyond running, the pair had built a connection far beyond the track. 

"The bonds we have are far greater than a typical coach and athlete," Monk said. "We experienced some personal life tragedy, and as he went through that I was able to be there for him."

Monk had been there to baptize Grijalva. And Grijalva had gotten to know Monk's family, including his 5-year-old son. 

"Basically, he's a guy who got me really fast, but he's also the one who motivated me to get better and to try and run faster," Grijalva said. 

Monk couldn't let him down. 

So in his parting decision before leaving the school this past summer, he set in motion the pieces that would give Grijalva his best chance at meeting the goals the duo had set for itself in the beginning. 

Monk made sure Grijalva, who's having arguably his best track and field season to date and recently signed his National Letter of Intent to run for defending NCAA champion Northern Arizona University, was in good hands. 

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Karl Wurzbach left coaching more than a decade before Monk approached him this past summer about a unique opportunity to coach one of his student-athletes, a runner capable of breaking the four-minute barrier in the mile. 

The pair had become close friends after Monk graduated from Fairfield (CA) High School in 1992. Wurzbach, who was 25 at the time, had actually coached him through his high school years. Monk went on to run at Baylor and later became a coach, both in college and then in high school. 

In the ensuing years, the pair remained in touch through life's changes. Monk lived with Wurzbach and his wife for a time. Monk was Wurzbach's best man at his wedding.

In a lot of ways, Wurzbach had left his career happy. At 50, he had a wife, kids, and a steady job. He had coached successful runners, too many to count.  

At first, he didn't even believe Monk wanted the job at Sacramento State. Why leave a runner with so much talent? 

In 2016, Grijalva had finished sixth in the 1600m at the CIF track and field championships in a time of 4:07.68 and had run a mile PR of 4:12.98 and a 3200m best of 8:59.98. From his freshman to junior seasons, Grijalva had improved dramatically each year and was within an earshot of big times as a senior. 

"I didn't think he would take it," Wurzbach said. "But then when he called me a second time, I knew he was seriously considering it. And before he could finalize things, he needed to know whether I could take the time to coach Luis." 

So Wurzbach knew he had to take it. He talked to his wife, and the pair agreed he could coach if he could make the time. 

Grijalva had a new coach. 

- - - 

Grijalva's cross country season in the fall started out as an adjustment. Mostly, because Monk's and Wurzbach's approaches to training were vastly different. 

Wurzbach emphasized shorter recovery, while Monk was more hands on and was about "hitting this time." 

"I think it took me three weeks to adjust," Grijalva said. 

In one of his first meets of the year, the senior was beat by a local competitor at the Lagoon Valley Classic. 

"Karl and his workouts were tough," Grijalva said. "For me, it took time to adjust. The first race of the season, I was still getting used to it. I got beat by 20 seconds by my competitor. And that's really, that's a bummer. I'm thinking to myself, 'Wow, am I not fast anymore? Am I not fit?' I started wondering." 

But Wurzbach emphasized the program was still working its magic. 

"He said, 'Don't worry, it's only the first week of September. We have a long way to go.'" Grijalva said. "I listened to him and took what he said to heart. After that, I started to feel stronger." 

In October, the senior ran 14:49 at the Asics Clovis Invitational, which ended up being his PR for his high school career at the distance in XC. He ran 13:58 at a 3-mile course in October, which Grijalva later said "was super motivating."  

Then he followed at CIF, where he won the section finals in 15:08.50 and then followed up with his first state title in 14:50.10. 

"I think Karl and I have such a great relationship and such respect for each other," Monk said of his conversations with Wurzbach before he began his job with Sacramento State. "Early on, we were able to get together and map out what we felt worked for Luis and what his strengths were and what areas I had been building upon for the last three years. Karl was able to take that and not be so prideful that he thought he knew everything." 

The transition challenged Grijalva, but he took the opportunity to learn more as a runner. 

"What allowed him to adapt was the work he put in on the summer," Wurzbach said. " David was such an amazing coach when it came to regulating him with right mileage at right time. He didn't put too much early. He really brought Luis along well each year. 

"And Luis has been injury free his entire career. And that's a testament to being hands on and giving him the right mileage as he develops as an athlete. When I got him in early August, he was being introduced to 70-mile weeks. We started putting our cycles together. I explained what we were doing, and he explained to me that he wanted to win a state title." 

Grijalva's only disappointment came at Foot Locker Nationals, where he finished 13th in 15:23.60. The senior had hoped for a national championship. 

"That was my mistake," Karl said. "He didn't have his legs for it." 

- - - 

When Monk took the job at Sacramento State, he essentially had to curb his conversations about track and field with Grijalva. 

As a coach for an NCAA school, Monk was forbidden from communicating to him in certain ways, due to recruiting rules and regulations. 

Monk couldn't develop training plans for him. He couldn't talk to him about workouts. 

"It was very difficult to walk away, because he may be the greatest talent I ever get a chance to coach as a distance coach," said Monk, who later recruited Grijalva. "But at the same time, I had to make decisions for me and my family that I had been considering for many years." 

Grijalva's most impressive displays took place on the track over the past three seasons, where he went from a time of 4:33.77 as a freshman in the 1600m to 4:07.68 as a junior. In the 3200m, he transitioned from a time of 9:56.50 to a best of 8:59.98 in just three seasons.

So one of the hardest transitions for Monk was watching from the sideline as his former runner chased big times. 

"I would love for him to achieve all this goals," Monk said. "I know he sets high goals for himself, and he's equipped to do some amazing things. (Four minutes) is often a lofty thing for people to speak about, but I really believe it's in play and a legitimate goal for him."

The senior still has a reasonable shot to earn a big time in the mile. Three boys have run 4:00 this year, but no one has broken that wall just yet. 

"I feel like he's got a chance to do it," said Matt Pence, the head coach of Armijo who works with Wurzbach to tailor the senior's training with the distance squad. "He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen. He does everything he's supposed to do to be the best he can. I believe when the time comes, he'll have a shot at it." 

Grijalva's biggest accomplishments have come in other races so far. He's ranked U.S. No. 8 in the 5K after running 14:35.78 at the Texas Distance Festival in March. 

Over a month later, he went a U.S. No. 5 time of 8:45.58 in the 3200m, finishing fifth in a loaded field at the Arcadia Invitational. That time cut 14 seconds off his previous best from a year ago. 

The only remaining benchmark seems to be in the 1600m and the mile, where Grijalva's only attempt has come at the Dan Gabor Sprint/Distance Festival when he ran a time of 4:18.47. 

"Luis and I haven't talked much about breaking four minutes," Karl said. "I don't want that to be the focus. If he just goes out there and he's competitive with the kids he's competitive with, the times will come." 

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Monk has a picture in his office he sees every day. 

It's a reminder of the relationship he left behind, but it's also a sentimental moment he will forever cherish. 

"It's a picture of Luis running beside my 5-year-old son," he said. "That's who he is to me. He is like a second son to me." 

Grijalva feels the same way. 

"He's like another father," he said. 

As he finishes up his final season with Armijo, and looks ahead to his college future with NAU and living and training in Flagstaff for the next four years, the senior reminds himself of the bigger picture, too. 

"I think what I can reflect on," Grijalva said. "Really, really listen to your coach. Your coach knows what he's doing. Really trust the workout and the plan he has for you. Don't ever doubt him. 

"Have trust and faith in him. That will show. And enjoy your time having them as your coaches. Pretty soon, I'm going to college, and I will miss those guys and the training blocks schedules. So I definitely have to take some time to enjoy them."