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.
*Click here for 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