Bill Aris Track Talk: 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
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 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.
Continued on Page 3: (No Magic) Workouts, Strength Training and Doubles, Collegiate Success, and Running as a Part of Life