Distance runners have a better viewpoint about the effects of altitude on their sport than baseball players, but Frank Mencin had a unusual problem when he was coaching the cross country teams at Lake County High School in Leadville.
Instead of taking his runners up to the recognized best training altitude, Mencin would have had to bring his team down about 3,000 feet to reach the upper limits of the most desirable workout level. When your school is at the highest elevation of any in the country, sometimes adjustments have to be made.
“We always figured that 7,000 feet was the optimum training altitude,” Mencin said. “Leadville is 10,151 feet, give or take a few feet at different places in town.”
Something worked for his boys and girls teams in their competition against the state’s best in the state championships. His teams combined for 14 state championships starting in 1980. (He took one year off from coaching in 1982.)
“Our kids were tough,” Mencin said. “Some came from pretty tough backgrounds. But it wasn’t as if I started the program from scratch. We had great tradition that was built by coach Dick Anderson.”
In all, Lake County High School has won 27 girls and boys state cross country titles since the first state championship event in 1968. The state championships were for boys only from 1968-78. The girls program was added in 1979.