The following is an interview with Bill Aris, conducted by LetsRun.com in 2010. The original transcript was split into four pages, so I have reformatted it here into one page. Note that I had no involvement in the original.
The original four pages have been preserved on the Webpage Archive, at the following links:
Page 1: https://archive.fo/1bptI
Page 2: https://archive.vn/KV2aB
Page 3: https://archive.vn/zivMf
Page 4: https://archive.vn/0XDgN
This contains approximately 17,200 words.
Track Talk With Fayetteville-Manlius And Stotan Track Club Coach Bill Aris
April 14, 2010
Editor's note: LetsRun.com did a lengthy one hour and 30 minute podcast with Fayetteville-Manlius cross-country and track and field coach Bill Aris (Fayetteville, NY is just outside Syracuse, NY). Aris is the coach of 4-time Nike National champions girls Manlius XC team and the coach of the original Stotans of '04, the boys team that finished 2nd at the inaugural Nike Team Nationals (NXN). Aris talks about magically motivating his HS runners to do magical things, his new pro Stotan Racing team and whether or not his prodigy Alex Hatz will go sub-4 this spring. You can download the podcast here or listen in this embedded player.
We have transcribed
the podcast and it spans 4 pages.
*Page 1: Introduction, What is the Stotan Lifestyle, Percy Cerutty, The Process is the Goal, and There is No #1 Runner
*Page 2: Getting Kids to Buy Into the Program, Logistics of Running a High School Program, What to Do With People New to Running, Weekly Mileage
*Page 3: (No Magic) Workouts, Strength Training and Doubles, Collegiate Success, and Running as a Part of Life
*Page 4: Stotan Racing Team, Lopez Lomong vs. Dominic Luca, Alex Hatz and the Sub-4 Quest
Page 1 of 4
Rojo: Good evening, everyone. This is letsrun.com's Robert Johnson welcoming you to another edition of our world-famous Training Talk Internet show, where bi-weekly we interview some of the top minds in the world of distance running. In the first few editions of Training Talk, we spent a lot of time covering the top end of the professional aspects of the sport, so tonight we thought it would be good to go back to the root of the sport and talk to one of the top high school coaches in the land. Tonight's featured guest is Fayetteville-Manlius coach Bill Aris. If Bill isn't the best high school coach in the country, he certainly is on a short list, as the record of success he's had at F-M over the last 10 or 15 years, I guess - officially he's been the director of both programs since 2004 - has been unbelievable. In 2004 and 2005, his Fayetteville-Manlius boys' teams won the New York Federation titles and placed in the top three at the Nike Cross Nationals. But since then, although the boys have managed to win their class meet a few times and excel at a pretty high level, it's been the girls' time to really shine, as the Fayetteville-Manlius girls have amazingly captured the last four national titles in Nike Cross Nationals. Bill, welcome to the program. It's seriously a big honor to have you on. I've been a big fan of yours since ... I guess I met you back at the New York State meet in the spring of 2005.
BA: Well thank you very much, Rojo. It's a pleasure to be here and an honor for me to be considered for this.
Rojo: Sure. I wonder ... I was telling you off the air before we started I wasn't sure where to begin, but I think maybe the best bet would just be for me to begin. I vividly remember the day I met you back in the spring of ... I think it was 2005. I was recruiting one of your runners, Owen Kimple. He was a junior, and he was running the two-mile at the state meet, and I was there. I think he ran around 9:14, 9:15, something like that. I'm not quite sure. And he was the second runner on your team in the state meet that day. And I remember saying something like, "Oh, so is Owen your number two guy in cross?" And you turned, you said to me, "Well, not exactly. I mean, quite honestly, normally he was like our fourth or fifth. We actually had a different number one on the team each week."
So I was pretty stunned that a high school team could have a fifth runner who was running 9:14. But the thing that really struck me was I asked you, well, who was your best runner, who was your number one guy. And you said, "Ah, he's not running today. We've got him in the 4-by-8. He's just a sophomore and he was kind of struggling running the two-mile and we just thought, hey, do you want to focus on the two-mile - that's your eventual event - or do you just want to be a normal high school runner, you know, a sophomore in high school and sort of have a good time out there and do the big stuff later?" And that story really struck me, because I think a lot of the people listening have heard stuff about F-M and probably how "crazy" you guys are, and how these guys live this stoic lifestyle, and how they run so much, and triple digits in high school, and they probably think you're some raving maniac. And you know, those are some of the rumors I've been hearing not too far down the road. And then instantly when I meet you, I realize, oh, that's false, and it's not about you shoving your system down them, it's about them coming to the sport, finding out what's best for them. You know, I just was very impressed by that. But - so, you know, it's not really a question, I guess, and I was starting off with a long story, but it really did strike me - and I guess you've got this system and these kids work unbelievably hard, but somehow I think the key to your system is you get them to buy into it themselves. You don't force them to run, you don't force them to all do the same thing. So how do you sort of get them to buy into this whole Stotan lifestyle type thing?
Percy Cerutty And The Stotan Lifestyle
BA: Well, you've certainly addressed the gist of our program in your comments. The reality of our program has nothing to do with triple-digit mileage. It has nothing to do with killer insanity, although certainly at certain meets I'm known to look and appear insane - in fact, probably would embarrass myself if I saw myself on tape - the fact remains that our program is athlete-centered. It always has been. Since 2004 when John came aboard - my son John, assistant coach - we have made a focus and a practice of having everything revolve around what is best for the athlete. Clearly, any good coach in the country is - should be - doing that, and I think most do. And certainly we've done that all the way back to when I started back in '92 at F-M. The reality is, though, quite different than what is purported out there. Quite often when people don't understand what is taking place or what is actually happening, we'll come up with - concoct things and stories. And I've heard them all, too. Every rumor, every twist and turn of everything under the sun.
The bottom line, it's really pretty simple. We start with the athlete's mind and their heart. And people think, "Well, he's sandbagging again, he doesn't want to talk about workouts." That's - no, that's not true, that's our priority. You start with the mind and the heart. We try to find out what makes a kid tick. We talk to them, we spend time with them, we ask them - this is in advance of any serious running - and find out what motivates them and what they aspire to do and achieve, even if they're runners, or even if they're not runners yet. OK. And our emphasis is on getting them to see what we may perceive as their potential. And when they see it and they invest of themselves or, as they say, buy into it, then the rest of it's easy. You know, everybody talks about the training, and yeah, certainly training, physical training is ... clearly, objectively, it's essential, or else forget it. I mean, you can't just run fast on waking up in the morning and having a good attitude. But the fact is, you've got to believe in what you're doing. You've got to believe and trust your coaches. You've got to believe in the aim and the purpose of your program philosophy, and that's really what it's all about.
We started - you mentioned Owen Kimple - we started back in '04 with that group known as the Stotans. Again, that was a beginning of a kind of an enlightenment of sorts. We had a great deal of success at F-M through the '90s and into the early 2000s, certainly, and many people contributing to that. But that year was kind of a pivotal year, a transitional year in outlook and philosophy. And that's where the Stotan philosophy became embedded in our psyches and in our systems. Percy Cerutty, all glory goes to him and his memory. And certainly his number one star, Herb Elliott, and all of the guys, the original Stotans, at Portsea. In reading and studying and learning about everything that those guys did and their inspirational, magical coach - who was, by the way, considered an eccentric, over-the-top egomaniac, etc., etc., etc., slavedriver, you name it - the fact is, not one of those guys did anything other than what they wanted to do back then in the '50s and early '60s. Much of the same with the guys in '04. Those guys came together, all different sorts of kids came together, trusting, listening. We spoke, we listened, we communicated with them, found out a lot about each other. Had a camp, at Owen Kimple's camp - we called it the Stotan Camp - back in '04, and it was a wonderful week. It was a lynchpin transitional period for our whole program. And from that came that great year that those guys had, and we certainly enjoyed every moment of it.
But that program that year was so pivotal for so many reasons. It was because we had everything working. We had the parents invested, willingly, excited about it. We had the kids invested, excited, willing to do this. And we had, certainly, John and myself as invested as you could possibly be in this. And the key word here: selflessness. Every one of those guys and coaches and parents did everything for everybody else. Not one time were the athletes thinking - or the coaches - thinking about themselves. It was always about everybody else. As such, you heard the reference that you correctly made before. Remember, it was you - speaking with you and Nate Taylor on the infield after Owen and Jared Burdick ran that two-mile at CNS state meet. And what I can recall is this - it was selflessness. We went out there and did what we did for each other. Those guys didn't really care, back in those years - as the girls these days don't care and as the guys these days don't care - what place people finished in.
No #1 Runner
And to this day, when people ask me, "Who's your lead runner?" I mean, I've said it more than once; it's not just one time. We've got five, six, or seven of them. Pick whichever one you want. And that's the truth. That year, every single one of those guys in '04, each one of them was a champion in one way or another. Each one of them won a race. And each one of them did amazing things in their own right. And we were really proud of that. I think what made it so gratifying and continues right through 'til now - and I'm certainly not taking anything away from the accomplishments of all of our kids, boys and girls, since then - you mentioned the girls and the national champions - Alex Hatz or the rest of the boys who did a Herculean job this past fall, without Alex, in winning the state championship, all of it was doing things for other people. And while this may seem like hocus-pocus to people who want nuts and bolts and intervals and reps and etc., etc., etc., all of that's well and good and important. It starts with the soul, it starts with the mind, and it starts with being able to tap into that as coaches. And if there's anything that we pride ourselves at trying to do really well it's that as coaches. And hence the success flows. There's no guarantees, by the way, that your gonna win anything with that but I think there's an almost certainty that there'll be fulfillment from the athletes and the coaches. And I think I can say that with confidence that everyone of our kids that pursues excellence to its fullest comes away whether they win or lose feeling that they gave everything they had and they're proud of that.
Rojo: Right. It seems to me there's a, you know - and I called you actually to ask you this fall for some coaching advice actually trying to motivate Mr. Kimple - but it seemed to me that there was a conscious decision for you guys to focus on sort of the desire to excel and not necessarily run a certain time or win a race, 'cause you can't necessarily control that, and one of the quotes on one of these online profiles - I don't remember if it was the DyeStat one or the Running Times one - but you talked a little bit about that and you sort of saif that you can look into a person's eyes and you can tell what their commitment is. Talent without commitment doesn't do a lot of good because you get to a point in training in racing and you just can't go any farther. But then you say we're interested in what's in their heart and what's in their mind than what they can do physically. Because when you start working with guys you really don't - I mean, in 8th and 9th grade, do you know who's gonna be the best runners when they're juniors and seniors? I guess that's question one, but question two is: do you focus more on the process or do you focus more on the goal now that you're so good - we've gotta get back to Nike Nationals, we've gotta win the state meet, et cetera?
The Process Is The Goal
BA: Well, another one of our phrases that you've correctly tapped into - "the process is the goal" - we live by that. I've got that up on our wall in our office and every one of our kids can recite that and they know exactly what it means. You know, I'm an American. I'm proud to be, as we all are, or I think many of us are, let's put it that way. But the fact is, I think sometimes we get it backwards in this country and certainly as it applies to distance running. We become so driven by a goal and doing whatever we can to achieve that goal. While in itself may appear like a good approach, we miss all the steps to get to that goal. And it's a mad dash to achieve something and whether you can reach that goal or not determines your whole livelihood, your whole self worth etc., etc., etc. in many cases.
Well, we reverse it. We focus on the process. We focus on not the achievement of a certain elusive goal. We focus on trying to perfect what we do every day - that's our goal. The process is the goal. The daily grind is the goal, if you will. And each kid takes special pride in trying to prefect and improve what they do every day. It's not a paranoid, over-meticulous type thing; it's something with calm and intelligence and wisdom, common sense and objectivity, that we all apply ourselves to this. And by doing that, it relieves the stress ... "Oh my God, we gotta get that or else, I gotta win this race or else" - we don't look at things that way. From Alex Hatz and his recent successes and his past frustrations with last fall all the way down to the - I'll say the least fast kid on the team - it's all the same and they're all alike in that regard. We focus on the process.
Now I wont lie to you; every one of us likes to win, certainly yours truly and certainly every runner we've ever had likes to win. Who doesn't? But it shouldn't be the headlong pursuit of victory at all expenses. It should be the perfection of the process daily. And I might add, especially dealing with high school kids, when you focus and approach things that way, (there's) this funny thing that happens. That spills over into every other aspect of their lives and they start improving their practices and hobbies or their practices and habits about everything they do in whatever they do in their daily lives. Obviously school is most important, but in everything - and you'll find that spill over and I'll hear parents say that - how much their kids' attitudes and habits or nutrition, their sleep and everything else, everything else that we concentrate and focus on. I left that, by the way, out - sleeping and nutrition. People ask me what are the two most important things you guys focus on. They think I'm crazy when I say it, or again, that I'm sandbagging. Not at all. It's sleep and nutrition, the first two priorities. And now as I've said it before, if you're not concentrating on that, then you're not gonna have the wherewithall, the foundation for any kind of training to make any sense, because you just wont be able to sustain it.
Page 2 of 4
Getting the Kids to Buy Into the Program
Rojo: I read somewhere that you said that you did focus on nutrition maybe even more so than mileage; one of your mottos is "garbage in, garbage out." How hard is that? Is it a lot easier to get the kids to focus on living this sort of Spartan lifestyle and being committed to running now they know that "Hey, this is Bill Aris. This is the coach of the national (champion) and we won the national championship four years running and that you've had all this success" than it was back in the beginning? Teenagers now are into junk food and obesity and those types of things on average. But does the success of your program make things easier as the years go on or do people take this success for granted a little bit?
BA: It does both. Let me start with this. I can say that I don't see myself as much different than I've ever been. So, when you refer to Bill Aris, oh, God, you know, bow down, the kids are going to be in awe and they're going to do whatever because I say so, that's not the way it works. And I'm a very personable, approachable guy and I'm very self deprecating when it comes to dealing with the kids. I try to make them laugh and feel comfortable and at ease and so does my son, John. We work together in that regard. So it kind of offsets that imagery of, you know, grand wizards running the whole thing and pushing and driving and whipping and everything else. That's crazy stuff.
But what we try to do is this: We try to educate, you know. Every coach is a teacher and that's also an overlook. We try to educate. And when we started way back in '04 with the Stotans ... and you say a Spartan lifestyle. Of course, that's one of the root words of Stotan, so I'll use the word Stotan. It's Stotan lifestyle. It's Stotan philosophy. Really what are we talking about? Old fashioned, common sense living. Eat right, get your rest, train properly and live a good, clean life. Now, you're right, that seems novel these days. It seems outlandish. It seems abusive, in fact, to some people. But you know what? So be it. If that's abusive, I guess "guilty as charged."
What we do, it's not restrictive. It's not arm twisting, although some will see it that way. "Oh, my, God. You can't eat whatever you want. You can't have that 15 pounds of fries in the cafeteria every day for your meal. You can't have five Snickers bars and six glasses of soda." No, you can. You know, you won't perform well, but you can do it. Alright. "You guys don't drink or party at all?" Well, no, we choose not to, you know, and emphasize we. Okay, yeah, sure, we have transgressors here and there like every program does. But, the fact is that the kids by-and-large buy into it. They buy into our holistic approach and really, I fall back on and call back on the Stotans of '04 because they were the ones that were the banner wavers on this and they did it with humility and strength and toughness and goodness. And they redefined what excellence was, as far as our program goes and they set an example. And every one of our kids in the years that followed, they followed that example.
And, you know, so is it difficult? I think there's some people ... again, if you work with a kid year-round, they're pretty much going to learn the system and then they ultimately, if they haven't bought into it yet, they're ultimately going to have to either take a leap of faith or find out that they're not going to be comfortable in the system. And that's fine. You know, we wish them well if they don't want to be with us. But the fact is that most of them do once they start. We get kids from other sports. They like it - they hear horror stories and then they decide they want to stick with it and then all of a sudden you've got kids running in national championships in 10th, 11th and 12th grade that were playing other sports in 7th, 8th and 9th. And that's not because we brainwash them or try to steal them. It's because they enjoy it, you know, and it's a positive thing in their lives.
And in fact, I just got off the phone with a mother a little while ago, called me about their daughter and raving about just how much fun their daughter's having and how they're ... she's planning, I'm very happy to hear, she's planning on running cross-country next fall. So you know, it's a way of life, you know. And our kids - I would say this: The most successful ones find it easiest, the easiest to follow this path and they do so not as a chore or as a job, as punishment. They do it with zeal, with enthusiasm because they like it. And they take pride in it. So if that's crazy, abnormal, over the top, whatever, you know, I guess. Then, again, who's doing the judging, you know?
Logistics of Running a High School Program
Rojo: Great. I've got a lot of questions emailed to me. A lot of them are from actual other high school coaches who sort of just want to know the logistics of how you make things work. I mean, you coach both programs and ... how large is your team - men and women? How many people start the year? How many people end up going all four years? And sort of how do you conduct practice? It sounds like you sort of ... is it right to say that you group the practices more by ability versus not necessarily male / female?
BA: Yeah, all excellent, and I'm very, very happy to share this. I've done this and answered those questions in a variety of interviews over the years, but I'll certainly share that information. First of all, our practices typically start at three, three-thirty, and we'll run 'til whenever they end. I mean, some days are longer than others. Spring track and indoor track are usually not as long. Uh, the kids that stay and lift afterward, by a special, periodized plan that we give them, they're a little later in the weight room, but usually they're out of there in a couple hours; its an efficient practice. The cross-country season, being a nature of the team component and what not, it does last a little longer, our practices do, but its not like, again, not like the horror stories.
So we ... in terms of how we set things up, there are no genders; there are athletes. And we take pride in that. And I'm sure that any coach out there that runs a co-ed program knows exactly what I'm talking about. We're very proud of this. Our athletes, boys and girls, take pride, and are inspired, by what the other gender is doing. In fact, one of our guys, Brendan Farrell, last fall even represented it that way. And usually you don't hear a guy, saying that, that they, that they are inspired and take pride in what the girls' successes have been and it motivates them. That, in turn, back in 2006 is a quote from Jessica Hauser, who's at Brigham Young now, along with Tommy Gruenewald. Jessica Hauser said, in our awards dinner, after our first national championship, it was wonderful, and such an inspiration to what the guys, the guys did, uh, in those couple of years, '04 and '05, they inspired the girls. So, its synergistic, and in that same way, that's how our practices are structured. We set up groupings. Yeah, usually the top group has mostly guys in it, but, there are some girls, and, and we set it up by, by, levels of fitness, experience, ability, that sort of thing and of course in track by specialty events if need be on particular days. But it's gender-less; OK, in theory it's gender-less, it becomes gender, by gender only because, at, at, in certain groupings only because there are maybe more girls at a certain level as far as a certain workout goes than there are guys or vice-versa, but its not intended as, OK, the guys are gonna do this and the girls are gonna do this. We usually operate the same way. As far as ... there was something else you asked me there, that was a loaded ... you had like five parts, it was, remind me.
Rojo: Yeah, my famous five-part questions.
BA: It's alright.
Rojo: I think I may have been talking about the ... the practice setup - I don't know, I can move on to another question, if we want, I'll probably remember in a minute.
BA: Were you asking that with regard to how we ... I'm not sure if you were referring specifically to the high school or what we're doing now with Stotan racing, or was ...
Rojo: No, I think we'll, lets do the high school first then we'll talk about Stotan a little bit later, I think they're a little separate.
BA: Oh, OK.
What to Do With People
New to Running?
Rojo: But one of the questions I ... actually I got and I ... it's a pretty basic question, but it's one I've never thought about because I've never had to deal with this, but a high school coach from State College, PA wrote in. He wanted to know, sort of, where do the ... what is the root of a champion? And he is very familiar with books and how to build mileage over the years, but he said, "I have no idea what to do when I get a brand new runner, someone who's never run before." What should ... what mileage, you know, before we get to the complex questions about training, but what mileage do you shoot for in year one of running - someone who's never really run before?
BA: If we're talking about someone who literally has never, ever run, OK, I think the appropriate answer to that is to take the mileage quotas and throw them right out the window. They mean nothing. And so ... and to be honest with you, that happens to be the way we approach things throughout all levels of our program. We don't count mileage at all; we run ... we go by minutes. I mean, specific workouts that might be, you know, I say occasional track workouts, very rare in cross-country, but a very occasional track workout that we do will be measured by distance and time, depending on the nature of the workout, but we count ... we go by minutes. Now to the new, brand new kid who's never run before, maybe even be totally out of shape, maybe even have been a couch potato, etc. And the coach is concerned about how do I start him off, or her off, I would do the same thing that I would do with somebody who's in their fifties. I'll be fifty-five in June and maybe someone just like myself who's never run a step before and has called me for advice on how to get started.
I'd say this, very simply: mix walking and running, walking and jogging. First of all, get out and be able to walk thirty minutes to an hour. Once you do that - and this is a painstakingly long process, less so for a kid than I think for an ... someone at fifty-five years old - but start walking. And then start mixing in, start interspersing little bouts of jogging. And the easier that jogging feels, increase the minutes of jogging. And I usually use the formula of five-minute segments. Mix it up so that you're maybe jogging two or three minutes and walking two or three minutes in each five-minute segment and break it down into bite-sized pieces. When you get to half an hour, then up it to 45 minutes. When you get to 45 minutes, try to run for 15 minutes straight in part of that. And then try to up it again. And up it again. And then when you get to an hour and you're able to run constantly for an hour, consistently, then maybe you're able to start counting mileage if you need to - but you still don't really need to - and then start maybe with more sophisticated training. But the way I would do it would be that. I'd start with wherever the person is at and build from there. That, by the way - not that walking/jogging, but that model - applies to every runner, whether they're world class or never ran a step in their lives. You start from wherever they're at. So ...
BA: That's my answer to that, anyway.
Rojo: Sure. Before we get to sort of the ... the more difficult training and talk about that, actually someone in the chat box said we were talking ... one of the questions we had asked earlier was, "How big is your team and how many people start the year and finish the year?"
BA: Good question. I hope that's not geared toward "Are we burning people out and getting rid of them?" but probably its genesis is somewhere in there.
Rojo: Well, no, but there might be a little of that, but I think some coaches are curious what a natural ... there's gotta be a natural ...
BA: Yeah, you know what? It would shock some people ... I've said this before and think some people just really don't believe me ... I'll start, actually, with two other sports to answer this question. The psyche of F-M always has and seems to be likely that it always will be - the psyche is embedded in sports, in soccer and lacrosse - embedded. Now, we have kids in our school that would rather sit on the bench, alright? - and I'm not saying this is a bad decision - would rather sit on the bench than come out and run. Alright? That's their choice; I can respect that. That's fine. Actually, I played lacrosse in high school and I played football and I played basketball and I never played soccer - we didn't have it - but you know, it's a free world, a free country, you can do whatever you want. Now, with that as a backdrop - and that's why I say it, OK - we have, with all of our success at F-M, it's not easy to get kids to come out to run. Some faction will say, "Well, you would think that with all the success you've had, they're lining up in legions." And some people in fact think Oh, F-M is just gonna be great forever 'cause we've got hundreds and hundreds of kids just lining up to run! Well, truth?: 18 girls, 22 boys - total team last fall. Now, the other more cynical side of voices out there would say, "Well, that's because you're scaring them all away, 'cause you're running them into the ground and it's this and that and it's scaring them away and they're intimidated." Well, I can answer this without reserve. How could we be have been successful if we're running kids into the ground with numbers that few? We wouldn't have teams if we ran them into the ground. Our teams are so small that we just can't do that. We have to be very efficient, very selective and productive with the people we have, and sustain that.
So we have small teams, alright? Part of that is due to the psyche in the school district, OK? Part of it is due to the proliferation of sports teams at all levels in our school system. Like in soccer and, I think, in lacrosse, you've got multiple teams - at each middle school and junior high are modified sports. In lacrosse. And I think the same in soccer. And I think perhaps the same in basketball. And you've got freshman teams, JV teams and then certainly varsity teams, OK? Now the reality is that we have modified cross-country and track and we have varsity cross-country and track, OK? And yes, the numbers usually are pretty large, but right now, in spring track, we've got a lot of kids out. But a lot of kids that have never done anything before, like the ones you described before, that have never taken a step or done anything athletic. So statistically, there's a lot of work to be done before they become fit enough to contribute. But we have small teams. We make the most of them. We keep them healthy and we work - yes, we work appropriately hard, but appropriately. We do appropriate mileage and we do a lot of other things to ensure their health, in a very holistic sense as I laid out intitally to you. I don't know if that answers all of it, but I probably forgot something.
Rojo: No, that's great. So let's talk a little bit more about the ... we talked a lot about, you know, Percy Cerutty really being sort of your spiritual inspiration and I know that Arthur Lydiard is in my mind - thank God - is a physical foundation of sort of the F-M program. And everything is focused sort of on getting, obviously, a strong aerobic base, you know, through plenty of mileage. That was one of your quotes somewhere, in one of those interviews. But let's talk about the mileage or minutes per day, maybe. You know, over the years, I'm assuming it's increasing as the runners get more mature and stay healthy and stuff like that. But is there a rough goal for a certain runner in a certain grade to get to, and if so ...?
BA: No, actually, there isn't a set goal of mileage that they have to hit by each year that designate that they're maturing and growing and they can support that kind of training and this and that. There isn't that. We really treat each one individually, OK. And you mentioned Cerutty, you mentioned Lydiard. They're - I mean, like most good coaches out there, I've read everything there is under the sun. And reading alone doesn't make you a good coach. It's knowing how to apply it. And I think, over the years, I've become decent at learning how to apply things, as well as having some knowledge as a runner and having run as seriously as I could, which was not all that serious, but I did the best I could for years.
The fact is that - I am thinking of where I'm going with this. Obviously to me, Lydiard and Cerutty are almost inseparable, you know, across the sea from each other in Australia and New Zealand and roughly the same time. Maybe Cerutty started a little bit before Lydiard, but very similar type, foundational programs and emphasis on aerobic building. Lydiard had a bit more finite, structured, tiered system with a base and in hill phase and then the peaking, etc. And Cerutty's was a little more varied. And Cerutty believed in strength training. Lydiard was anathema to it, had no value for it. But of course, hills were strength training to him, as they were with Cerutty in the sand hills. All of these things ring loudly with us and they've certainly been incorporated as the foundational base of all sound, common-sense, responsible training.
As it applies to high school kids though, you know, rumors 100 mile a week, that's what they do, da-da-da-da. 120, 130 is a little ridiculous. We have had one runner in all my years that has thrived and loved and craved and desired to run that much. And even then, rarely did. That was Tommy Gruenewald, OK. And if you want to use a number, we never counted miles, but my guess is he probably hit a few weeks of 100. But Tommy was built like Lawrence Taylor. I mean I was told when he was a kid, he was a hell of a football player. He's a well rounded athlete. Tommy was built strong and indestructible, OK. As such, Tommy could run more and would run more. However, most of the runners did not run that much. All of the Stotans ran appropriate mileage. I will replace "plenty of mileage" with "appropriate mileage" and that's what I'm leading to with this. I want them to respect that we have that nuts-and-bolts kid, that bullet proof kid who will run eight days a week, never take a day off and love it, thrive on it and do great.
But then, on the other end of the spectrum, you've got, two years ago, Meaghan Anklin, who now runs at BC, our second finisher at NTN, OK, who for the first two, three years of her running career in high school was injured all the time, no matter what we did. And, you know ... days off, cross training, this and that, appropriate mixtures. We tried everything we could and then from her senior year, lo and behold, I guess we got smart because we figured out that Meaghan ran her best, believe it or not, (on) three to four days of running. And, obviously, a lot of other supplemental work. But three to four days a week of running and she was our second girl in national championship. Now, that's a far cry from the rumors of mega-mileage or the realities of Tommy's capabilities. So really, on one end of the spectrum, you've got people that can run more and do - boys and girls. And then on the other end, you've got people that run much less. What we believe really - with Lydiard, Cerutty as a certain foundational truth - is that it's what is appropriate for each kid. And within that - and I just told someone this a couple of days ago - our system is like, I'd guess you'd call it the solar system, OK? I don't know quite what the sun is. Maybe it's our philosophy and our program, but each kid's a planet. And what makes them common? They're all runners. But each one of those planets is different. And as such, they each revolve around the sun. But each one of them has a different orbit, different size, different distance away from the sun, and that's, really, is what our program is like. And that's what it's been like for years. So what we do is we tailor a program - a program for each and every kid on the team.
Now some of those programs for each kid, some of them overlap and some of them are almost identical, but some of them are markedly different, like in Meaghan's case. Meaghan spent as much time in the pool or on spinning bikes as she did running. More, in fact, if she ran three times a week. But look at the success. And now she's, you know ... And then, like I said, you got Courtney Chapmans and others want to run all the time and we tell them not to, you know? So...
Rojo: Do you guys give each runner ... I mean, do you tell them how much to do each day or is there some ...?
BA: Yes. We give a general plan and we communicate with them. Again, the keyword trust and understanding of each and every athlete. OK? So that's the lynchpin of our program, it's what it all hinges on. Trust and communication. OK. We give them the general plan and we tell them, OK the game plan today is, and we say this all the time, John does, I do almost daily. OK, steady run today, maybe we did a workout the day before. Steady run today, a mixture of grass and roads and whatever. Give them the general guideline - either it'll be a structured road run or a route or it will be completely unstructured. These are the number of minutes we need, and it may be 50 for some, 60 for some, 70 for some. It may be, say to an Alex Hatz, "Alex, depending on how you feel today after yesterday's session, run 60 to 70 or however you feel."
And we trust that he's going to do what he's supposed to do. Or Paul Merriman, Brendan Farrell or Andrew Roache or any of the girls, the same thing. And they're trusted. And it's not like we've got to go there to watch them. We will go out and watch them, for safety's sake, in case something happens or somebody needs any help, you know? But the fact is that we'll give them the general guideline and they've been through the system, and ... including with the younger ones. They learn from the olders, older ones and they also learn from us and they follow that. So you know, rarely do we say ... on some days we'll have a measured timed run, I won't say that we never do that, but it's not like every single day ... OK, we're running 8.4 miles today and I want it timed. We'll do that on occasion just to get a status checked on where the team is at. Kind of like a Lydiard litmus test type thing, but not all that frequently.
Page 3 of 4
No Magic Workouts
Rojo: Right. In terms of workouts, obviously I don't expect you to give me all the specifics and it seems like everybody wants to get specifics and I know as a coach, I wouldn't want to do that, but I guess what type of workouts are your favorite workouts? Or what do you think are the keys to a team's success? And then, as one person emailed me said, so what do you think are the key workouts and what are your favorite workouts? And then how would you describe as what are the runners' favorite workouts and are those two necessarily the same?
BA: OK, good. I'll answer the questions, I won't sandbag. I'll start off with this, though. I could tell you probably every workout's my favorite workout. Because every one of them has a specific purpose. Every single one of them. Whether it be a recovery day, a long run, a hill workout, fartlek, structured fartlek, a swept line, I'll touch on that in a minute. Anything, everything is important. And again that leads back to the process as the goal - what we do every day has importance and value. And we tell our kids this. We don't measure mileage for its own sake, but what we do is we make sure that every step they take matters. Whether it's a recovery day, a quality day, a steady day, you name it. We want them to run what they need to run and no more. So just piling on a lot of junk miles serves no purpose in our opinion. On the other hand, we don't have them going out killing themselves every day either. So it's a mixture and a balance.
OK, what are our workouts? You know, I get that question all the time, and because people want, often want, and I haven't cornered the market by any means. Joe Newton gets asked this stuff all the time and he's written books disclosing all his track work and they have more track work in that program than we ever do, and many other fine coaches from fine, storied programs that've been around a lot longer than ours have done.
I really could tell you that to focus on specific magic bullet workouts is to do a disservice to any aspiring coach or program. There are no magic workouts. There really are no magic workouts, everything's a magic workout. Everything together, how you arrange it, how you put it together as a coach, the format. You know that the tapestry of a training developmental plan is the magic. It's not any specific workout. Now I'll give you some overviews. The summertime, were we ever on the track? Only by accident. Never. I mean, we have a voluntary summer program. The kids run like most high schools do, and we'll get together a few times a week; we've done that for years. And it's open, totally voluntary. Of course, the good ones will always show up all the time and want to run more and more and more. But, we...
Rojo: How many days a week is that?
BA: Well, that's driven by the kids. Several years ago, we only met a few times a week in the 90s, OK? Maybe even once a week, at one point. And just as a means of holding things together, to have a connective day for the team. And then as things evolved into the 2000s and beyond, and especially from '04 on, the kids craved each other's company. They really liked being with each other. And one thing led to another, and instead of being a couple of times a week, it was three, then four, then five, then six. And I said to them, "Look, we'll support you. John and I will be here to the extent that you're here. But don't say you want to do this much and have three of you show up, because then we will not do that." So I would say to you the kids probably, over the summer, show up on average five times, four times a week. On occasion, you'll see some of them be there six times a week. But we'll avail ourselves to them, but it's not like you've got to be here or else; it's never like that. We lay out a general schedule of availability on which we'll be present if they want to do it, and we basically leave it up to them.
They also understand this: If they want to be successful, it's obvious that you should be there more often than you're not, right? And if you're not there, we have kids who are away all summer, just like other programs, or significant portions, or college visits, or family vacations, et cetera, and they know that if they want to be successful in the fall, and provide themselves with a base to take them through the whole year, they've got to run on their own. And we're more than happy to give them an outline to follow on their own. So we do that. And again, no specific workouts of any kind, just a lot of good trail running with hills, and that sort of stuff. In the fall ... we are on the track in the fall, I think, twice the entire fall. And why do I say twice with such surety? It's because those are the two dates of the Jewish holidays that our school abides by, on which school is closed, and that we are not allowed to practice during the day, and no sport is until sundown. When the sun goes down, and we can turn on the lights on the football field, the only place we can practice with any safety is on the track. So we'll go out under the lights, while the football team is also out there, and we'll have almost a surreal evening of training, while the football field and the infield are marveling at what we're doing, and they're screaming and yelling and doing what they're doing, and we have quite an exciting evening; the kids kind of look forward to it.
So really, only a couple of times the whole fall are we on the track. The rest of the time is spent on the grass, as little time, though some is necessary on the road, mostly on the grass, at our school property. At Green Lakes, of course, which you've heard me talk about, an oasis for distance training, in my opinion, and most people's opinion in this area, and that basically carries us through the fall. We get to the winter, of course, the lovely tropical winters that we have, and the weather turns. We're on the road much of the time, almost all the time, in fact. And that's where we build in things like treadmill runs when the weather's really bad. But really, having said all that, I'm a firm believer in just if you have enough layers on, you can run in anything. I mean, I did that when I was an aspiring marathoner and I remember many days following snow plows and running twenty-mile runs, the Mountain Goat course twice, in the middle of a blizzard, following a plow. I mean, you do those things, you know? And certainly we don't make the kids do that, in the middle of a blizzard if school's closed, but you know what? We have an excellent YMCA here. The kids go run on their own at the Y or they'll run outside, because some of them prefer to rather than rather than portray that they're "weak," and run on a treadmill. They'd rather run outside, many of them, as soon as the roads are plowed. But some of them will run on treadmills and do other things: you know, water running, spinning, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You know, we lay out a plan for them to follow.
Now, that's the winter. And you say, "Well, it's indoor track. Where do you practice? Do you go to Manley (Field House at Syracuse) for workouts?" No, we never go to Manley for workouts. The only time we've been at Manley all winter is with the Stotan Racing people, doing specific workouts to meet a few people that were aiming for certain races. Think about Laurel Burdick, who is running Boston a week from Monday. I had to do some work with her in Manley a few select times this winter. And at one time we had Alex Hatz in there before the Reebok Boston Indoor Games, which he won the mile, just doing a couple of refresher tune-up workouts because he hadn't been on a track in a whole year, that is, with his kidney issues and everything in the fall. But by-and-large, we have neighborhoods around where our school is, and that's basically our winter track. We've laid out routes and distances and certain roads with varying degrees of hills and what not that we'll do work on that really serve as the strength of whatever success we have during indoor.
And if you were to look at Lydiard-type building, pyramid building, that would have been the next layer of the pyramid, if you will, leading to spring. And then we get to the spring, with this year a slightly different - a slight departure from what I've done in the past. We normally still are not on the track all that much other than to race. This year, with so many seasoned veterans, I decided with the better weather, relatively speaking, to get on the track a little sooner this year. So we're on the track once or twice a week. Nothing monumental, just getting our feet wet, and as we continue to build our base for aiming for late-season racing success. So that's basically our plan. We periodize. We ... I should say overall we break the year up into two halves. Our summer season is the base for cross-country. We take a meaningful break, which fortunately for us is coming around in December these days, and then we restart it right at the end of the Christmas holidays and rebuild the base through winter track to apply to the spring. And then they take another meaningful break around exams and what not and start it over again.
Rojo: What about - I always get these questions, and I could care less what the answer is, but I'll ask them since this show is for the viewers and not for me. But people want to know what kind of flexibility, core or weight training do you have your team do.
Strength Training And Doubles?
Rojo: And also people want to know sort of how many days a week do they run, and do some of the kids double?
BA: OK. Good questions, all of them. I'll deal with the last one first, so I don't forget it. Believe it or not, very few - no, our kids do not double. And you could start right with Alex Hatz. He's a typical one-a-day runner. He may do some supplemental ... I mean, if you mean running - no, no. I would say maybe during - if you want to call a shake-out run the morning of a major invitational, like a 20-minute shake-out run in the morning before you get on a bus as a double - I suppose you could call that a double if you want, but that's really not a double, that's just loosening up. Or if we're sitting around at the hotel and he's racing in the evening and the Nike Indoor Nationals, where the girls are doing the same, when they ran the 9:02 in a 4-by-8 and won the national championship, they would go out in the morning for a short shake-out run, 15 minutes, loosen up the legs. But I don't think that's the truest definition of doubling. Any kind of doubling we've ever done has been supplemental cross-training type work. And that's really to not pound their legs out, but just if there is going to be any augmenting of their conditioning, we try to do it in a non-running way. Again, I stick to the old ... the adage of making our running count, making the most of it. And that, again, doesn't mean it's 90% speed work. It's not. It's 90% aerobic. But we find other ways for their growing bodies to become fit in a comprehensive way. You asked me about strength training. Yeah, we are advocates of it, and that's where I drew the distinction between Lydiard and Cerutty. Lydiard was anathema to it. He did not believe in it. It often used - if you read it - I'm sure you've read his books as we all have, many of us have - and you know, he's referred - used Lasse Viren, one of my all-time heroes, as an example. Lasse Viren looked like a wet noodle after he won his double golds in '72 and '76. The guy had the skin-and-bones upper body. I don't care; I still loved him.
The fact is that I have firmly believed my whole life that how can a runner not become improved and more resiliant and more powerful, and more injury resistant, by not having ... how can they not become better by weight training? How can those words come out right? And that's where another aspect of Cerutty to distinguish himself from Lydiard and his philosophy really was near and dear to our heart. Cerutty was a firm believer in strength training. Not body building, not increasing muscle mass, specific strength training, what we call invisible strength. OK, the kind of strength you don't see but you feel. Our strength training that we do is specific and periodized and total body. And it works to develop each athlete as runners, not to turn them into something that they're not, but to make them strong for what they are. Ironically, many athletes out there, especially distance runners, get concerned about weight gain - boys and men, girls and women - by strength training. The funny thing is if you do it right, you can lose nonessential weight, to a degree, by strength training. You just have to know how to do it right. And that's what we believe we know how to do. And we do that and we've done it with great success. Now is strength training the be-all and end-all of life? You're not going to run a great 2-mile just by strength training and jogging. You're not gonna run 20 miles a week, do lots of stretching and strength training and be a great two-miler unless your name is Kenenisa Bekele. The fact is that, you know, we do everything else as a higher priority and strength training is just one component of a multifaceted plan.
Rojo: Sure, definitely. I have to give you credit for that ... the chiseled runners I'll never forget. I think it was back in 2005, my buddy Chris Lear, who was the author of Running with the Buffaloes - He called me from the Nike Track Nationals. And I guess that was kind of right when you guys were ... I guess you you ran a DMR or a 4-by-mile down there, I'm not quite sure.
BA: Yeah, yeah. That was spring 2006, when Owen was a senior.
Rojo: ... and he was just like, "This high school team ... they look like - they don't look like high schoolers. I've never seen a high school team that chiseled. Their bodies are different from everybody else." So he definitely picked up on it. He thought it was 'cause a) they ran a lot and b) they were doing, you know, the weights and everything. 'Cause I definitely think if you use Mr. Kimple as an example, he should be on the cover of Runners World, you know. Six pack abs ...
BA: Owen definitely has invisible strength. And he's just one more depiction, one example, of many of the kids who have followed our program, and what they've gotten out of it. And it's funny, the ones that continue it, when they go on to college and beyond ... they don't get injured and they stay pretty powerful and they're usually pretty happy with their result. The ones that continue it, I should say. The ones that don't continue it often wind up having injuries, wind up not understanding why they don't have any zip, and this and that. And so, you know, lo and behold ... like I say, needless to say, we're ... running is obviously the bread-and-butter, the guts of the whole thing, but strength training, eating right, sleeping right, all of these fit right in.
Rojo: Yeah. I guess we'll move on and ask sort of a more difficult question and actually maybe a difficult one for me too, because it may not make me look good, but I think a lot of people ... a couple of the posts on the message boards were sort of ... you know, and I think Joe Newton gets this a lot, as well ...
BA: I know what you're gonna ask.
Rojo: Your runners, you know, they have such great success in high school. And then I think a lot of ... you know, one of the questions on the message board is, "What is your rate in improvement for runners once they get to the collegiate level?" Are you just like Saratoga when it comes to females? And then sort of, can you point to runners that have succeeded past Fayetteville-Manlius? I'll let you take a crack at that and then I can obviously add my two cents, 'cause I coach one of your runners in college.
BA: Yes, that's right. Actually, you've got two of our people there - Kathryn Buchan on the girls' side and Owen on the boys', a senior. OK. I've seen, heard, considered all angles of that discussion. And I'll start off with this. And that is, by the way, a fair question, and I welcome it. I would pose this response in support of every coach out there and every athlete out there, everywhere, OK? I think it's really inappropriate for a kid, an athlete, to be held accountable for whatever they did in high school and the reproduction of it in college or beyond. I think it's also unfair to hold a coach, a future coach, accountable for that. And I think it's also unfair to hold a high school coach accountable for that - whatever happens afterwards, whether it's good or bad or in between. But one thing that's forgotten here, alright - people look through an objective lens and.they think in a very clinical way that they're all robots. They did this now, they're just going to continue to develop, and da da da da da da da, and it's going to go on. And if it doesn't, "Ah, something was wrong. Aris burned them out, ran them into the ground when they were in high school. Nothing left. Joe Newton, same thing. Saratoga ... the Kranicks? Oh, God awful, terrible. Yep, nothing left." That's not true. It's not fair, it's just not fair to say that. And most of all, you know who it's not fair to the most? It's not fair to the kids.
I've read one of the things on there, written about someone that's near and dear to my heart, Jared Burdick, I'm going to say his name right out now. The supreme Stotan - leader of our team in 2004. Someone got on there and said some commentary, negative comment about Jared not being ... producing at RIT, or whatever. Well, you know what? What they don't know, or what they should know, is people like Jared and many others ... think about what happens, think of the formative years of high school. Think about how things are relatively structured, how things are simple in high school. How it's easy, when a kid comes to practice, they practice, they do their work, they go home, and that's it, alright? All of a sudden, boom, you're free. You're in college. They have to make decisions. No one is telling them they can't. Yeah, the college programs in running, and in any sport, are far less structured than in high school. That kid's seeing it's a lot more choices, a lot more opportunity to do stuff. And as such, you, as coaches in college, have a lot more of an approach of treating them like adults, which they are, technically or really, whatever the case may be. So your practices are certainly not going to be as structured as a high school practice. Now some kids adapt to that very well. I've found that in that past, and what I've witnessed is people, kids who are individuals, say on a team that was not a great team, but had an individual star ... that, ironically, that kind of kid may be more apt to be successful in a collegiate program than a kid that was on a great team. I'm not saying that to defend myself; I'm saying that for anybody out there, because that kid had to learn earlier how to handle himself individually all the time.
And when they get to college, it's no different, because things are more individualistic. That's just the nature of the beast, just like it is later on, when they go post-collegiate, if they continue to run. This, in my opinion, is why so many kids either a) don't fulfill their potential to continue on, on that curve of success or b) give up running. That's one of the reasons. Another reason - by the way, Jared Burdick is continuing to run, and we just spoke with him today; in fact, he's doing quite well. We're very happy in every way with Jared. The fact is that ... uh, where am I going with this? This is a pretty passionate topic, not just for myself, but for all coaches out there, and kids. When a kid goes to college, priorities change. It's inevitable. Unless they're a full-ride athlete. I mean, your bona fide D1 full-ride athlete where it's a quasi-job, OK? And perhaps an avocation as well as a job, OK? Unless you're in that situation, a majority of the kids, when they go to college, they're going to get an education way beyond everything else. Yeah, they want to run. Yeah, they want to do well. But the education's the primary thing. That's what it should be. Now isn't it logical that running in a more individualized setting, where far more expectations academically are placed on the kids, and their transition to all of a sudden being accountable to themselves alone? Not in a structured setting in the high school? Wouldn't it be logical that that is going to create a drop-off? Of course it is. Is anyone to blame for that? No, not at all. That's life; that's the way it goes. So, you know, for people that want to go out there and point fingers at college coaches or high school coaches, you can point the fingers, but I don't know what you're pointing at. We're not burning people out at F-M and I would also say that the college coaches that have kids that, like yourself and others who may not ... and by the way, where you coach, Cornell, not quite a low academic standing school, not quite a school with not much academic pressure (laughs), quite the contrary. Life changes, OK? And the kids do what they can. Some of them aspire, some of them manage to succeed and continue to grow, and some of them don't. But there's no crime in that.
BA: You know, that's in defense and support of all kids and all coaches. That's why I'm saying it. Now, back to our program, specifically, and this question ... this is the crux, I think, of what was asked, and I'm going to refute something, as it pertains to our program. We start - and I started doing this for kicks years ago, in my mind, and I know it's only a game of mental gymnastics, nine times out ten, until recently, in fact, that I put together a dream plan of what I would do with a kid from right through high school and right on beyond post-school, right through college and post-collegiately with the theory that I would be coaching them right through, how would I develop that person? Right through, you know. Seb Coe and his father, right from the beginning the only coach he ever had. That sort of scenario. I'd just play with it. Well, I put a scenario together in my mind and certainly hope and in fact try to help so that maybe we can find situations like that for kids so that they can continue to grow and succeed, at least worked for them in high school or find coaches that are agreeable and willing to listen and may consider what the high school coach did that created the success that the college coach wants, OK? Try to put together a plan that has them developing so that their best running comes in college and post-collegiately, not in high school. I can tell you this right now, all of our kids are undertrained anaerobically - every single one of 'em. Alex Hatz and everybody before - undertrained anaerobically. They are trained thoroughly and completely and appropriately aerobically. OK? Any kind of quality work we do is very selective; hence, the limited time on the track. So we're carefully developing their aerobic base with appropriate - not mega-, but appropriate - mileage with the idea that the anaerobic work, if any, that is going to follow is gonna come later, OK? Alex Hatz is probably the least anaerobically-trained athlete that he races against in the nation. OK, and that's just fact. And so is every one of our kids. And so what we do, we put a plan together that transition them in gradually increasing volume and to some degree quality and moves up the line and then goes towards the college and beyond. So that's my answer to all of those statements and those insinuations.
Rojo Sure. I mean, I definitely have to agree with you. I mean, I coach Owen Kimple, who ran a 4:07 1,600 for you. I guess that's a 4:09 mile. And without a doubt he wasn't burned out. I think that the hard thing for me has been just sort of to replicate the same ... I mean, when he's in high school, he's competing for a national championship, he's got a brotherhood that's, you know, unbelievable. And its not nearly as structured, you know. But if I could change anything, the only thing that I would have done ... I thought honestly, I mean I didn't really consider it seriously, but I told a friend of mine that I should make this kid the captain of the team his freshmen year because he was so focused on running. But then you know after that, well, I will let him relax a little bit ... this is college. But one other thing you said at the beginning of the show is that, it's almost considered abusive to ask these kids not to go out get hammered like every other college kid and stuff like that. Whereas in reality, I think if I had challenged him, perhaps he would have done it (captained the team). I mean it would be very hard when you've got nineteen thousand other students going out and doing it (drinking).
But I think a lot of coaches are afraid, you know, to ask for that. I do think that he was really focused going into his senior year of cross-country in high school. He did have a bunch of hundred mile weeks. But I didn't think that he was burned out. I think talent-wise he may have been the same as ... I had another kid, Charlie Hatch, come in that year, a state champion from Illinois who on his own on thirty or forty miles a week ran 4:14. I thought the two of them, despite the six second gap in their (mile) times, were basically the same because Owen was training twice as much. They both have gotten faster.
BA: Yes, they have.
Rojo: I think if Owen was as focused as he was in high school he would still be even faster. And ... if you go through the names - you know, I'm just looking at that 2004 list of the New York State - no one asks ... Jason Vigilante is a good friend of mine, he's a great coach at University of Texas (now University of Virginia). But no one asks ... everyone talks about (Leo) Manzano (an NCAA champion as a freshman) and the guys he's got now, but no one asked what happened to Brian Rhodes-Devey or, you know, those other guys (on the 2004 state list) I've heard of. Ken Little, Mark Russell, Josh Arthur, Geary Gubbins, Kevin McDermott of Duke - I mean, none of these guys were superstars in college. But I think that no one expects ... I don't even know where these guys went to school ... South Lewis, Lockport, Burnt Hills ... no one focuses on their (high school) programs, so no one asks about it. They only see your guys. And they expect them to all be ... (great in college).
Running Is A Part Of
BA: Rojo, I'll tell you what I'm proud of when I look at that 2004 year, since it seems they've gotten so much focus. That great (F-M) team, that the great team from York beat (at Nike Nationals) and should have beaten because we didn't have a great day and York ran pretty damn good and they deserved it (the national title). Lets look at this (the F-M team from that year) and consider it. Is this not successful or is it? Andrew McCann graduating from UMass this May, coming back and running with us at Stotan Racing right after he graduates, alright. Jared Burdick, finishing an engineering degree at a very tough school, RIT, and running a lot and running on his own and loving it and keeping in contact with us. OK, Tommy Gruenewald, after shifting gears. Of course, no one leaves Stanford, but Tommy, for religious reasons and other reasons, chose to transfer to Brigham Young. Tommy's in a two-year mission right now. He gave it all he had last summer and fall, helped his team as well as he could in their bid towards NCAAs, and went out knowing he gave it his all. And he's doing a two-year mission, he's very connected and close in his faith with God and doing everything he wants, and he keeps in touch with us every week, every couple of weeks as he's allowed to through the Internet. OK? Owen Kimple graduating from lofty Cornell University, academic renown, going on to a career and a life of success and running and still liking running. Who cares if he's world class or not? God bless him. And I still think he could be a great runner if he wants to be. OK? Look at all of those guys. Look at Geoff King at NC State - graduated with Tommy. He's the indoor state champion in your Barton Hall. OK? Geoff King - has had his ups and downs. Getting an education, still got a good spirit, still has all the talent in the world, and I know Rollie (Geiger, NC State coach) has talked with him extensively, OK? And on and on and on. And who am I leaving out? John Heron. John Heron - section three record holder in the steeplechase, great kid. He's had some ups and downs academically, but the fact is he's gonna get through college and he's going to be just fine and he's a great, passionate, wonderful kid. I wouldn't trade these kids for anything. They're like children to me, my own children to me. And you know what? My son feels like they're his younger brothers. Those guys are great, and every kid after that has been modeled - they modeled themselves after those guys. OK? My point is, running is one part of life. It's not all of life. And just because a kid may have a few down years in college doesn't mean their running's over. If they want it to continue, it can continue post-collegiately if they choose to, OK?
Rojo: Right. I think one of the things that - I was thinking about this when I got home from practice today - was ... I think my brother (Weldon Johnson) is a good example, and I think there are a lot of college runners who run 30-flat for 10,000 who, if they made running their number one passion in life and were willing to go move to Flagstaff, sleep at the top of a mountain, drive down two hours for a workout every day, that they could improve a lot. Not all of them would, obviously, improve and make 28:06 and almost make the Olympics (like Weldon), but a lot of them could get a lot faster than they are. I think there's a lot of kids in high school who are 9:35 two-milers who, if they really focused and were really committed, they could run 9:10 like your guys.
Rojo: And it's just - people are focused at different points in their life and ...
BA: That's right.
Rojo: Yeah. I think that one of the things ... I thought that in one of your interviews somewhere, you were talking about how you guys focused on two-seasons - cross-country and outdoors, and how it's just hard ... you know, you can't do it three seasons a year. You can do it physically, maybe, for a few years, but you can't do it mentally.
Rojo: And I think that concept applies to running in America. I think that some of these guys - the professionals, obviously - when you're at the very top and you're winning, it's easy to keep going. When you're Dathan Ritzenhein and you're always at the top five in the country no matter what level you're doing, it's a little bit easier. But when you're someone who goes to college and now you're starting all over again, it's a lot harder to keep up that commitment.
BA: Of course it is.
Rojo: I'm glad that you realize that, because I don't know what it's like with other programs, but from a physiological and training standpoint, your guys definitely are not burned out. And one of the things I actually thought was when a bunch of these kids this winter went home to Syracuse, they all started running together and, at least for Owen, he trained with his high school brothers. He came back in great shape and ran 8:14 (ed.: actually 8:12). So when they're committed and mentally on, they're ready to go. But I was going to try to keep it to an hour. We're already at an hour-ten.
Page 4 of 4
Stotan Racing Team
Rojo: I'd like to talk to you briefly about the Stotan Racing.
Rojo: You've now got the post-collegiate professional club sponsored by Nike, and you don't have a whole lot of big names, but you do have Kyle Heath, who I think went sub-four ... for the first time this winter and ran in the 8:30s in the steeplechase. I know Jordan Davis is in the group. I'm not even really sure who is all in the group, but you could talk a little about that.
Rojo: But you know, it sounds like there is not a lot of money. And one of the things that I was talking to you a few weeks ago, you said, "Look, I want the guys that want to run for nothing. I want the guys that just want a stake in the game and a seat at the table, and we can help them with travel and some shoes." So tell us the setup of the group and what the goals are.
BA: Sure. I will do that. I'm glad you asked the question. As I mentioned, John and I have co-founded this, that is different from our high school program where I'm technically the boss and he's my assistant in distance. He and I are equals in this, in Stotan Racing. We co-founded it and we're co-coaches. And I'm very proud and pleased to say that. What we did is this - and this, actually, it's funny, it goes all the way back to the Stotans in '04. Those guys - Owen, McCann, etc., they said, "Coach, you know what we'd like to do someday after we're done with college?" and I said, "OK, I can't wait to hear this." "We're going to ... we want to go move somewhere in the middle of nowhere and live in a cave and just train our brains out and wait tables somewhere and live real cheap and have you guys coach us." And I laughed and I thought about it and I said, "Oh yeah, your parents are going to love that after paying for your college educations; that's just how they get their value back on their investment." (They said,) "Oh no, we're gonna do it, we're gonna do it." I said, "OK, alright, well, talk to me when you graduate from college." Well, you know what? It gets them to start. And it ... really the whole concept of what we've been doing with this Stotan Initiative, and little by little by little, John and I were talking about it more and more and more. The day may come where we may consider ... not collegiate coaching, I get that question a lot ... but post-collegiate coaching, where we think that there may be opportunities and, in fact, over the years, there have been a proliferation of cell groups that have been created, sponsorship and what not, of course the success of the Hansons and Nike's Oregon project, and you've got the McMillan Elite and a variety of others all over the place. Well, with some of that in mind, John and I came together with a plan, worked on it and - a very simple, humble plan, not out there to beat the world, but to start something, to take a stab at something. And it basically was under that premise. We would like to attract people that would do it for nothing, that's the kind of people. True - sorry to be cliché - true Stotans, OK.
And those are the people we would seek support for. Not everybody that wants to come around to jump on board for the bling, but people that really want to aspire to excellence, that would appreciate anything they could get, if anything. And if not, they would do it anyway, because they may want to be coached by John and me, which is one of our prerequisites, with one exception. OK, so what we did was we searched around, very low key, looked around, talked with a bunch of different entities, companies and what not. And lo and behold, we (were) standing in the freezing mud, after our fourth win in a row at Nike Team Nationals with my recently good friend Mark Parker (CEO of Nike) and his wife, who was inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame yesterday in Syracuse - I was happy to sit with her and enjoy those proceedings - (we) discussed the matter with them. And I said, "You know, even though our high school program, it can't be, you know, it's legally not allowed to be sponsored by a business entity or running shoe company, we are inextricably linked because of our successes here, both boys and girls, and it would seem almost proper if you guys would be able to sponsor us." I explained it all to him standing right out there that day and I said I understand if you can't. You've got a lot bigger fish to fry than what we're representing here, but I posed it to him just that way. And in their complete and thorough generosity, which we're ever appreciative for, however long this lasts, and we certainly hope a long time, Mark said, "Yeah, we can do that."
And within a week, the wheels were turning, got a talk in to the whole system, and then we started with a ... what we wanted it to be a small start, and grow it with quality, and that was the mandate that I gave to - the mandate that we agreed to, that I said to Mark. I said, the only way we want to do this is grow it with quality. We're going to start small, and we're going to get ... they provided us with sponsorship equipment, et cetera, and limited expenses, and we're going to grow it with quality. And it may grow, it may shrink, it may disappear, but we're taking a shot at it. And it was with that spirit, and that idea that we started way back in '04 and thinking outside the box and doing it with pure simple humility for everybody else. John and I don't get a dime out of this; we're channeling everything into the athletes.
Now, funny as it seems, we started out with a few anchor tenants, if you will. Well, we've got Laurel Burdick, whose racing was the prime example I was alluding to before, from when she was 13 years old right through high school, went to BC, All-American in cross-country in her last cross-country race, graduated, got her masters degree; she's back here and I'm coaching her, just like old times and she's getting ready to run Boston in a week. She was our first woman, our first technically member of Stotan Racing. OK, she was a member of Stotan Racing when there was no Stotan Racing, when there was no sponsorship and because she wanted to come back and be coached by yours truly. OK, now from that we've added several people, we've added another woman who's an aspiring - and actually as a runner is virtually new - named Emily LaSala, who ran like a 2:50 marathon out in California last year and is a local girl. And she's very powerful and very inexperienced and growing and improving. We have someone who, you may remember, was the teammate, one of the original boys from Sudan, along with Lopez Lomong from Tully, Dominic Luca. Dominic Luca came back after graduating from Norfolk State, where he spent four years as a sprinter and we've been building him back into his distance capabilities and he's doing quite well. In fact, he was just at Barton Hall yesterday, where he finished neck-and-neck with another one of our runners in just a tune-up 10K, in the Skunk Cabbage 10K. Fred Joslyn, formerly of Hansons, is with us, and Dominic was right beside him in that 10K. And they're both sponsored. Andrew McCann comes back, one of the original Stotans. And we have Kyle Heath, who was the one exception, and this - well, I say exception in that we're very pleased and happy to be about to help our very good friend and colleague Chris Fox at Syracuse University, who we developed a great rapport with and the minute he came on - I remember the first time he came to one of our freezing, muddy, rainy dual meets in the middle of September - and from there a friendship was built. And Chris is a great guy, a great coach, done a wonderful job, and he asked us if we would mind sponsoring, taking on Kyle, who would run for Stotan Racing while he continued to coach him. And I said, "Sure, of course." John and I were both very happy to do it and help him, and he continues to do a great job in coaching Kyle, and Kyle is responding with great results, and we're supporting him. He's the only one that's not being coached by us at this stage, but I can tell you, Rojo, that at this point I've gotten emails and calls from all over the country.
And obviously there are limited spots. We're not booked up yet, we've got a few more, but we have to be very selective and I'm sticking to that mandate. We are going to grow this with quality. We've had some results in this year with our anchor tenants, if you will, and we hope that will come, but our goal, again, was never, never to put up big names and big numbers in the first year and this and that. It was the process. It was orienting people, finding the right people who would buy in just like the high school kids did, who wanted it, found it attractive and exciting to become a part of this and to do it. And we found those people to start. And any growth that occurs from that is going to occur with that same theme in mind. And it's funny, we've had people call us from California, from the Midwest that want to relocate here to be coached by us and certainly to be sponsored, but at the same time, it was the spirit by which they expressed it - that selflessness, that attitude that we were looking for. And that's the kind of people that we take on: people who are, certainly, goal-oriented, excellence-based, driven, want to succeed. You have to, at this level, post-collegiately, want to. And that's the kind of people we're going to support and work with.
Rojo: Will the focus of the program, like your high school program, be the focus on the lifestyle and the commitment and the psychology, or will it be something else? I mean, it's a little bit harder, I think, at the post-college level sort of to outwork the competition.
BA: Of course it is. Yes, good question. Very good question, I'm glad you asked it, and it was asked by somebody on that message board, and it was a good one when I read it. I wanted to thank you for reminding me. High school kids are high school kids, adults are adults, OK? Here's the funny thing: I envisioned, with Stotan Racing's inception - and John and I talked about this extensively - this is gonna be adults with adult lives that we're going to be coaching probably pretty much individually, whose connectivity is basically being part of this club and being coached by us. OK. I never once thought that they would be interested in a team-type component, although at times I thought maybe it would be - we've had a few meetings, this and that. The funny thing that's come out of it - it's just like the high school kids. These adults - young adults - have actually valued and expressed an interest in working together, in wanting to be together like a team. It's almost like there's something there that they've missed for a while, and they want it back. And right down the line, they've all expressed that and it's kind of a neat, unique thing. So while I haven't forced that - we've certainly said, "You've got to do this and that" and everything else, and I certainly didn't treat them like adolescent teenagers, they've come to it on their own and what we're doing is we're following that lead and it's kind of the other direction. We're supporting them to the extent that they want to be together and work together, spend time together and at the same time train, certainly, individually or collectively. Right? For example, we had a couple today after our high school practice that we put through a workout. In a few days, we're meeting three or four of them for a time trial - I think four. And so on and so forth. It seems that there's a greater interest in team synergy, if you will, than I even imagined, although John predicted this would happen, and I guess I'm glad he was right.
Rojo: Yeah, I think a lot of people do want that structure, and they want that inspiration.
Lopez Lomong vs. Dominic
Rojo: I think it's weird, people are just afraid to either admit it - and I think some of the coaches, even at the college level, are afraid to ask for it. I guess two final questions. One, do you think Dominic Luca - I mean, I remember that guy in high school - is he close to a Lopez Lomong in terms of talent, or do you have any idea at this stage?
BA: Well, with all respect to both of them, that was one of the proudest moments that I could ever remember watching many Olympics, seeing Lopez Lomong walking with that flag (as the US flag bearer). And I'll never forget it. I can only say to myself, I wished he only stuck with one race in the Trials and in the Olympics. That is, I think he would have done even better. But the fact is, his team ... he's very close friends with Dominic and vice-versa. They continue to be, and they talk all the time. Dominic, by many people's accounts - and I say this with all respect to the supremely talented and strong, capable Lopez Lomong - by many people's accounts, Dominic was the more talented of the two. Dominic went to Norfolk State and was pretty much trained as a long sprinter. Ran the 4, ran the 8 at the longest. you know, I think his bests were 1:48 and 48, which are certainly nice times. He came to us and apparently through the rumor mill he was going to be around and then some coaches talked to him. And Jim Paccia, Tully coach and still his good friend, suggested that he come and talk with us and he did that and we had a wonderful meeting. I think Dominic Luca is an untapped ocean of potential. Certainly his speed derived from his collegiate running will not be lost and it will not be neglected, but at the same time many people forget - or maybe many people remember - that 1-2 finish (by Lomong and Luca) at the Federation meet in their senior years when they ran for Tully and they were just gliding along and just dominating. Dominic is a classic - you know, he's just a classic, tall, Paul Tergat-type looking runner. Tall, angular, lean and very - and deceptively fast, because he doesn't look like he's running fast, but he's gliding. Now what we've had to do and we're taking our time doing it, gradually transitioning into building his aerobic base. There it is, that word again. Not anaerobic, but aerobic. Rebuilding his aerobic base and transitioning him away from sprints and into long sprint, meaning the shortest race will be an 800, and probably up to 5,000 meters. That's the game plan, anyway. But we're going to use over-distance runs like that 10K yesterday as training efforts. Maybe he'll run a few - he may be running the Mountain Goat, the Boilermaker, as many of our people will, but all as a means to an end - not as the optimum goal, we've got to win this race or that race. We don't really care. We're not in that kind of phase right now as far as training. It's all just training, every race they run now, and it's what they're aiming for. But Dominic is a fully capable, fully capable athlete of immense potential and we certainly hope we can do a good service to him and help him to bring that out. And I think just in the brief time, the couple of months we've been working with him - actually it's one, maybe it's January, I can't remember now - he's made marked improvement in every way, and he's running very solidly and doing a wonderful job, and he's a pleasure to work with.
Alex Hatz And
Rojo: Well, very good. I guess one last question about another remarkably talented runner, and that's your Alex Hatz. I mean, he was ... for those that don't know, he's a high school runner, ran 4:05 in the mile indoors after missing the entire fall with some sort of liver or kidney problem.
Rojo: But it seems to me you guys - and this may seem outrageous, and I don't want to put pressure on the kid - but you've got a good - he's the top miler in the country - you've got a good relationship with Nike and as much as you're a dreamer, there has to be some thought of a sub-four. Is there any chance we'll see him at the start line of the Pre Classic in the mile like they've (invited) some of the top high schoolers?
BA: Well, Rojo, we're certainly not going to rule it out. I think he - by Alex's own words out of his own mouth, and I appreciate this, I mean, Alex - another Stotan at heart - the value system is right there. It's correct and proper. And out of his own mouth: "I want to do it in a high school-only race." That's what he said. "If I'm going to break four." And that, by the way, if it happens, it's going to happen because it's part of our process. It's not going to happen because it's a be-all and end-all, kill-'em goal and fry-him-for-good type endeavor. That's not what we're going to do. If it happens, it's going to happen because it's part of our process. You'll note that he's running the 3,000 at Penn Relays next week. And that's part of the process. So we're gonna aim, develop, continue, seek improvement, run the mile as appropriate and certainly the 1,600. Run the two-mile as appropriate, run the 800 as appropriate, as it - much less 800 running this year than past years. As ... also, the emphasis is getting him to the point of developing that mental and physical strength for collegiate running, which will likely be at the mile and up in distance, not at the mile and down in distance, though I am fully confident he could run well under 1:50.
The reality is that - will he be at the Pre? That depends on if he's invited. I think he would go if he was invited. We have a number of conflicts this year which have yet to be resolved. Nike Outdoor - or, excuse me, New Balance Outdoor Nationals, which Josh Rowe, formerly of Nike, does such a wonderful job with as one of the contributors to that at New Balance now. Josh - well, New Balance - has taken over that meet in Greensboro. That happens to be on the same day as Alex's graduation. Now in Alex's mind, he's going to nationals to race the mile. We'll see, you know? That's a significant conflict. But also, our state meet, OK? June 12th, also other races. He's been invited to a few races on June 12th in other parts of the country with elite miles. OK? The state meet's June 12th. Another conflict. That doesn't leave us with too many miles. OK, there are a few low-key races locally that we're certainly going to run, but those will be more developmental. I think May 1, the Chenango Invitational has a full mile that Fleet Feet sponsors and we'll probably do that, but that will be just like last year when he had a close race with Chris Stogsdill. Fine race. That was a developmental race. Last year, the goal was for him to go through at three minutes or as close to as he could to feel the pain of trying to run a four-minute mile, fully expecting - if you pardon my language - his ass to fall off in the last lap, which it did, but he still ran a PR of 4:10 in the process. That will probably be a similar type scenario this year, except hopefully he'll be faster. More developmental. And Penn Relays will be developmental. If he gets near it and the invitations come, which I would suspect they would, I would be surprised if he was not out there, and I certainly will do - John and I will do everything in our power to help him, put him in the best position to be successful, whether it's breaking four minutes or not. As you know, Rojo, going from 4:05 to 4:01 probably is a lot easier than going from 4:01 to 3:59.9. So it's ...
Rojo: When you're in high school, anything's possible. Is he the most talented male or female that you've coached at the high school level?
BA: I would say as a pure track runner, I would say Alex has got to be the most talented middle distance runner we've ever had. He's got ... his heart and soul is now matching all of the great Stotans of the past, and he's happy and proud to be part of 'em, part of that group. And I would say that we've had many successful and great-souled and (great)-heart(ed) women in our program, girls in our program. And it's hard for me to differentiate, but I would say Alex has elevated his status to that point. And again, that we have many - and I say this not to be politically correct - we don't measure people's heart and soul based on how fast they are. Our guys' team, in winning the state meet without Alex this year - and two kids with the swine flu - that's ... to me, that championship means more to me than just about anything we've done this year. What those guys did was phenomenal and those guys - the same heart and soul and grit as Alex - as well as all the girls.
Rojo: Very impressive, winning a state meet without your top runner. Well, Bill, we've taken an hour and a half. I was trying to only take an hour. But I really want to thank you. It's been great talking to you. Wish you the best of luck this spring with the high school team and obviously with the new professional team.
BA: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And I wish you all the success in the world this spring, too, Rojo.
Rojo: Thank you. All right, guys. Well, to all the listeners and to the people at Talk Shoe, we want to thank everyone for tuning in and thank Talk Shoe for providing the technology to make this possible. And for letsrun.com, this is Robert Johnson signing off. Good night, everyone. Keep running, stay healthy, run fast.