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Interval Session #31 - Ricardo & Roberto Vergara

February 7, 2008

The milers may have grabbed the spotlight at the recent Millrose Games, but before those runners ever took the track, a pair of high school race walkers were etching their own efforts into the boards of Madison Square Garden. Edinburg TX senior twins Ricardo and Roberto Vergara have long been rising stars in the world of race walking, but haven't always gotten the attention that flows to more mainstream track events. At Millrose, however, Ricardo was an impressive winner of the Men's mile, taking the title in 6:29.92 over open USATF competition. Twin brother Roberto was only a few ticks back, in third. Both have seen their share of success in recent years. They went 1-2 in the mile (with Roberto winning) at the 2007 Nike Indoor Nationals, and then Roberto went to #5 all-time in the 3000 with his win at the USATF Junior Olympics last July. Ricardo was again runner-up. This season, Ricardo has moved to the fore with his Millrose victory, and both looked poised to re-write the race walk record books in their final high school campaign.

DyeStat assistant editor Dave Devine heads to Texas, where he walks the line with two of the best high school race walkers in America.

1) You guys had a great night at the Millrose Games, with Ricardo in particular breaking through with the overall win in the Men's one mile race. Unlike the Millrose HS miles the same evening, this one was against an open men's field. Ricardo, did you have any sense you could win that night, and how did it feel? What was it like to compete in front of a crowd like the one at Madison Square Garden?

Ricardo: (486 at right) Well, at the beginning of the day that Friday morning I was a little worried about how I would do because we were predicted to place 3rd and 4th. But once I got on that track I felt like I had a very good shot, because I had beaten of couple of those guys before. While we were racing and I knew they were getting tired, it gave me a big boost of confidence. It felt really exhilarating and very exciting to be walking on a track like that.

2) You guys have been ranked in distances all the way up to 10,000 meters and compete on the track and the roads. The track at Madison Square Garden is 145 meters around. What changes do you have to make in approach or technique to race walk on such a small track? Does it adjust how you race or approach the competition?

Roberto: (485 at right) Racing in Madison Square Garden is a bit different for us because we don't ever get to train on an indoor track; we don't have any in Texas. We work out at the Summit Club on treadmills, so we can have an idea of how an indoor track feels. But our approach is the same as any other race.

3) Looking at Michael Roth's most recent national Race Walking Lists, it seems like the hotbeds for high school race walking are Maine, New York, Ohio and...Texas. How did two athletic guys from Edinburg TX first get involved in race walking? When did you first have a sense that this was a sport in which you could excel? Were there other sports you tried first?

Ricardo: Well, we got involved with race walking when one of Coach Jaime's assistants came to our elementary school and gave a clinic to us on race walking, and was trying to recruit other kids to join their team. So after that clinic, we went to practice the following day and everything started from there. The first race we ever did was on June 11, and it was our birthday. Mostly I just wanted to get over with the race because we were going to have a birthday party with all of our friends. But it also turned out to be a great race, doing a 1,500 meters in about 8.20 and coming in second place. So that was a big surprise for us at the same time. Of course, we were very athletic kids and loved to try everything from running, football, basketball...you name it, we did it, and we were pretty good at mostly everything we tried.

4) Can you discuss your coaching situation, and your experience with competing for the South Texas Walking Club? It seems like Coach A.C. Jaime has been influential in your lives; what is that relationship like?

Ricardo: (left) We have a great coach, and he always tells us that he knows what we are capable of doing, and what we can shoot for in time and pace. It always amazes me, because he is always right. Either we will be right on the time, maybe a couple seconds off the time he gave us, or sometimes we do a lot better than what he gave us to shoot for. So everyone always listens to his ideas on pace.

I think being part of the South Texas Walking Club has really changed me. I used to be a very quiet boy that would keep everything to myself, but being part of this team, meeting new friends and traveling to different places, has really made me open with people and able to start a conversation with them. This all has to do with our coach, A.C. Jaime. We are very close; every time we go to a race and meet someone new who doesn't know us, they always think he is our grandfather, because of how close we are, not only as a coach but as a good friend. If we needed him to pick us up in a town an hour away, he would do it in an instant. No matter what time of day, he calls just to see how we are doing and how our day is going. He is not only like this to us, you could possibly say the whole team is a big family because of how well we treat each other, and Coach A.C. Jaime is Grandfather to all of us.

5) What does a typical week of race walk training look like? What sorts of workouts do you do, where do you train, etc?

Ricardo: Our typical workout for a week is usually distance one day and speed the next. Usually during the week, on our distance days we will do around 10k workout at steady good pace. On our speed work, depending on what we are training for, it will vary from 400, 800 to 1500, and also 1 and 2 miles. Then on Sunday, if we don't have a race coming up, we will do 15k to 20k. When we train for speed we will do that on a track in Pharr, and on our distance we walk on the road starting at the stadium, go down I Road almost to Military Road, and back, to complete a 20k.

6) I'd imagine you have to spend some of your time working out on the roads. If you speak with a lot of HS distance runners, they've all got stories about being yelled at or even having things thrown at them when they're out training on the roads. Since it's not the most common thing to see identical twin brothers walking at high speeds alongside the road, have you guys ever experienced any of that? How do you deal with people who don't necessarily respect the athleticism of what you're trying to do?

Ricardo: Ha ha...actually, yes, we get a lot of those comments many times when we are walking on the side of the road. When we first started walking down the road we would get a lot of people saying mean things to us, and you would hear people laughing at us, because it would look funny to them, to see race walkers walking on the side of the road. So we would just ignore them and keep going on with our business. But now I can actually say that it has been a lot better, because many people know about the Texas twins and how we have put the Rio Grande Valley on the map. So now instead of people saying bad things or making fun of us, you hear them say, "Go, you can do it!" or "Go twins!" We also will get some girls whistling at us from time to time.

7) People are going to want to know...if you can walk a mile in 6:29, how fast can you run one? Have you ever run certain distances to see how well you'd do? When you're in a tight race walking competition, and it's coming down to the wire, are you ever tempted to just start sprinting?

Ricardo: You know, I haven't really ever timed myself to see how fast I could run a mile full blast. But I have done other distances, like the 5k for cross country. I would come in about 17:20, so that's pretty good for not running much, only during cross country season. (Also, it would probably be a little bit faster if I would do it on a track.) In race walking a 5k I have done it in about 23:25, so you can tell I am not a slow runner. Really, I have never been tempted to start sprinting [in a race]. If I am going to beat my opponent, I am going to make sure I pass him long before the finish line and keep a speed that I know he will not be able to match, to catch up to me.

8) I grew up running track with (and against) my twin brother, and I know it can get pretty competitive. Since both of you have had your measure of success, how intense is the rivalry? Can you train together without it turning hyper-competitive? Is one of you more competitive than the other?

Roberto: (right) Our rivalry is there, but we look out for one another by pushing each other in practices and races. It's great having someone to train with, plus someone that is at your same speed for taking turns in leading, to block the wind for each other. When it comes down to the last mile or so, it's whoever wants it the most and we go for it.

9) Have you ever pulled the old identical twin-switch on friends, family, teachers or dates? If so, how did it work out? Are there things you enjoy about being identical twins? Are there things that are difficult?

Roberto: Yes, we have pulled the old identical twin-switch, mostly on friends and teachers. It works out exactly how you want it to work out, because they can't tell the difference. It's so funny to see friends and teachers confused, trying to figure out who you could be.

What's difficult about being a twin is that we have had to share things since forever, but mostly I enjoy being a twin and having someone that I always train with, knowing we will be there for each other whenever we need it.

10) As busy as you are with race walking, what things do you guys like to do in your free time? As twins, do you have different non-track interests or hobbies?

Roberto: As twins, we have grown up together, so our hobbies are mostly the same. In our free time we'll hang out with friends...we do swimming, cross country, jiu jistu and every once in a while we'll go paintballing. Sometimes race walking does spill into the rest of our lives, but we make the best choice depending on the situation, and our coach knows when to give us time..

Photos: A.C. Jaime (top), John Nepolitan (middle, Ricardo), Doug Speck (bottom, Roberto)

Interval Sessions Indoors 08