The Wetmore Formula

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Those who know him best insist there aren’t any secrets to Mark Wetmore’s success as a distance coach. Yet few can match his accomplishments. How does he do it? We do our best to explain.

By Jonathan Gault, with additional reporting from Mitch Kastoff
September, 2014

Take a look at the photos from Colorado’s victory celebration on the podium at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last November. Blake Theroux and Morgan Pearson are hoisting the team trophy over their heads. There’s Ben Saarel, gold All-American medal draped around his neck, standing with his right arm raised straight up, pushing his team champion award into the cold Indiana air. There’s Zach Perrin waving a black and gold Colorado flag, reminding everyone in Terre Haute exactly who the #1 team in the country is.

Someone’s missing, though. Where is the architect? Where is the guy that just won his fourth men’s cross country title, most among active coaches? Where is Mark Wetmore?

This is the moment every coach dreams of, the goal the Buffaloes have pushed toward since their first practice back in August. All seven coaches of the other podium teams went on stage during the trophy presentations. Later, when the Providence women are announced as team champions, their coach, Ray Treacy, will be front and center, holding the trophy aloft. Wetmore has earned the right to be up there too, but he makes no effort to join his team. Instead, he stands perched upon a hill 50 meters away, stationed between two vehicles to avoid the wind. He betrays no emotion. The celebration marks the culmination of one season, but the clock has already started for the next one. There’s always a next one.

“He would have a hard time picking out [particularly memorable] races to tell you about because he’s always focused on the next one,” said Lyle Smith, who ran for Wetmore at Bernards (N.J.) High School in the 1980s. “He’s proud of his accomplishments but doesn’t dwell on them.”

This is not the first time Wetmore has been conspicuously absent in an important moment. In the the men’s steeplechase final at the 2011 USATF Outdoor Championships, Wetmore’s athlete Billy Nelson was battling Dan Huling for the win. Wetmore was in a crowd behind a railing on Hayward Field’s famous Bowerman Curve, having trouble seeing the track. As Nelson and Huling came off the final water jump, Wetmore asked someone nearby if Nelson was still there.

“Yes,” came the reply.

“It’s over,” Wetmore said, and he walked away.

Nelson passed Huling as they hurdled the final barrier and won the race. Wetmore didn’t see the finish. He didn’t need to.

“He didn’t even see the race was done,” Nelson said. “He just knew I had it.”

***

Charles Mark Wetmore has never sought the limelight. He is not an emotional man. Jorge Torres’ greatest individual accomplishment at CU was winning the NCAA XC title in 2002. One of his fondest memories from that day was a simple gesture from his coach: a smile, which counts as emotional for Wetmore. It didn’t last long, but it told Torres that Wetmore was happy for his athlete’s success. That’s all Torres needed to know.

All of this is part of the Wetmore mystique, part of what sets him apart from other coaches. But if you ask his athletes about the keys to Wetmore’s success, they’ll tell you that there is no secret. Wetmore himself seems to agree — after all, he let author Chris Lear chronicle CU’s 1998 cross country season in Running with the Buffaloes and the result was a de facto training guide that documented every workout in the Wetmore program. Yet since the book was published, he has guided his teams to a total of six NCAA titles (four men’s, two women’s), more than any other coach. Wetmore’s training is repeatable; his success is not.

So if there’s no secret, what are the staples of Wetmore’s program? Why has he found success at every level, from high school athletes in New Jersey to college runners at Colorado to top-tier pros such as Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn?

There are several common bonds.

Let’s start with the reason why it’s so hard to emulate Wetmore.

1. His system is constantly changing

To understand Wetmore’s coaching philosophy, you can’t just read Running with the Buffaloes and expect to have it down pat. That’s not due to Lear’s faults as an author — he did a fantastic job describing Wetmore’s program, circa 1998 — but rather because Wetmore is constantly tinkering with his program, and thus the tenets change from year to year. The changes can be running-related — placing slightly less emphasis on the long run, replacing a speed workout with a threshold run — but not always.

“Our freshman year [1999], there was failure with how we performed at the NCAA championships in cross country,” Torres said (Colorado finished 7th). “My guess was he did adjust a couple things, not much, but just fine-tuning them. The main thing that he did change — and it wasn’t just running-related — was that we took a private plane from Boulder to Indianapolis and he told us we’re never doing that again. That was a nice treat and we thought it was really cool, but we didn’t perform and Mark probably thought that was one of the reasons, though maybe not the main reason.”

Wetmore takes notes on every workout and he refers to those notes when deciding whether to implement a change. As Wetmore has coached longer and longer, he has accrued more and more information, allowing him to make more informed decisions than he would have been able to 30 years ago.

“Everyone thinks Mark has a special formula to create national champions, but it’s one of those things that Mark over time has built data and is able to use that data to his advantage,” Torres said.

Perhaps the most important change Wetmore has undergone during his four decades of coaching is not how he coaches, but whom. Wetmore’s first gig was as a municipal children’s team coach in his hometown of Bernardsville, N.J., in the 1970s.

“I started coaching because it was offered to me,” Wetmore said earlier this month. “It was a summer job. It fit with another summer job. It was an evening deal. And I liked money. So I said, ‘Can I work a regular 9-5 or 8-4 job and then I pick up this other evening thing and make some money?’ That’s all it was.”

Under Wetmore, the group evolved tremendously. Soon he wasn’t just coaching youth runners, but their moms too, to whom Wetmore would instruct “Don’t just stand there” when they came to their children’s practices. Eventually, he had a stable of runners from age 8 to 60 that included top local high school talent. The group became known as the Mine Mt. Road Department, after the hilly road in the center of Bernardsville that they traversed on most of their runs. Wetmore liked the idea that his group was out laboring on the roads and thus eschewed the typical “Striders” or “Running Club” for a more unorthodox name. He even put the symbol for a slow-moving vehicle, an orange triangle, on the back of the team’s bright yellow singlets.

After a couple of years, he took on assistant coaching duties at his alma mater, Bernards High, under his old coach Ed Mather, in addition to his Mine Mt. Road Department responsibilities. His success at Bernards led to a position at Seton Hall in 1988. Four years later, he was hired as an assistant at Colorado, where he has been the head coach of men’s and women’s track and field and cross country since 1995.

Wetmore had a lot of success working with Mather at Bernards, but it was at Colorado that he really hit his stride.

“I think he’s a way better college and pro coach,” said professional coach Brad Hudson, who was coached by Wetmore as a New Jersey high schooler and went on to coach former CU standouts Torres and Dathan Ritzenhein post-collegiately, among others. “I think he’s a little too intense for high schoolers.”

Before Torres latched on with Hudson, he first ran post-collegiately for Wetmore. Wetmore was still getting used to coaching pros and struggled to balance the responsibility of being a pro coach with his duties at CU.

“He tried his best, but for him his main breadwinner was coaching the University of Colorado,” Torres said. “I couldn’t take his time away from that and I realized, at that time, to focus on us was kind of selfish.”

Recently, however, Wetmore and his assistant Heather Burroughs, who is an ex-Wetmore athlete at CU and now his domestic partner, have gotten back into the post-collegiate game in a major way as they now coach Simpson, Coburn and Kara Goucher.

Wetmore and Simpson – Great Success, A Parting and Now A Reunion

Simpson is better positioned than perhaps any of Wetmore’s athletes to discuss the changes in his system, having run for him both in college (as a steepler) and as a professional (as a 1500 runner). As a senior coming out of Oviedo (Fla.) High School in 2005, Simpson (then Jenny Barringer) chose Colorado specifically because of Wetmore’s success churning out professional runners (though not all of them ran post-collegiately for Wetmore).

“Once I looked at the history and legacy of the program, Colorado stood out as having so many post-collegiates that had success after their career at Colorado,” Simpson said. “So many people went on to do great things and that really indicated to me that the years I’m going to spend in Colorado, I’m really going to be developed and that I’ll be able to grow and improve after that.”

Simpson has improved and flourished as a pro, but her start as a pro runner didn’t come under the tutelage of Wetmore.

As a Buffalo, Simpson put together one of the most impressive careers in NCAA history, becoming the first woman to break 4:00 in the 1500 as a collegian and setting the American record in the steeplechase. Her collegiate career ended in disappointment, however, as Simpson’s last race as a collegian was a shocking 163rd-place finish at the 2009 NCAA championships.

Simpson continued to train with Wetmore for a few months after she exhausted her eligibility in that November 2009 race, but soon switched coaches to Juli Benson after signing a contract with New Balance. What many do not know is the Simpson didn’t leave Wetmore for Benson because she was dissatisfied with Wetmore. Simpson left because Wetmore said he’d no longer coach her.

“Through the process of me choosing a sponsor, Mark made the decision that he didn’t want to coach me anymore,” Simpson said. “That was really upsetting and disappointing to me and that made me sad.”

Jenny Simpson won the DL title this summer under Wetmore

Jenny Simpson won the DL title this summer under Wetmore

Amazingly, to this day, Simpson has never asked Wetmore about why he chose not to coach her after college and he has never told her. Simpson just refers to it as “a strange moment in our history.”

“It’s not something I feel incredibly uncomfortable about, I just prefer to look ahead. I have no intention of hashing that out anytime soon.”

Despite winning a world title under Benson in 2011, Simpson felt that she was not improving as a runner. In three years under Benson, she never ran faster than 4:03.54 for 1500 after running 3:59.90 as a senior at Colorado. Simpson decided to move on in December 2012; her first call was to Wetmore and Burroughs.

“It wasn’t super complicated. I just asked if there was any possibility that they could coach me, and within a week, I was back at the Sunday run at Colorado.”

Two years into her second stint with Wetmore, Simpson is coming off her best season as a pro, with a Diamond League title in the 1500. Don’t expect the program to change too much in 2015.

That being said, Simpson like Torres, believes that Wetmore’s improvement as a pro coach is due to the fact that he is constantly tinkering with his formula. Wetmore is committed to improving every year as a coach and those incremental gains mean that he is better-suited to coach pros now than he was a decade ago. She added that recovery is emphasized a lot more in Wetmore’s system now, but part of that is also due to the fact that she is no longer a student and can thus dedicate more time to recovery.

“One year to the next, it’s very difficult to see exactly what has changed, but when you see the evolution over 10 years, the difference becomes more clear,” Simpson said. “He never comes into Balch Fieldhouse with some crazy harebrained idea for the team. It’s always a logical transition from what we’ve been doing to something that will make us better.”

2. Aerobic development

Wetmore is open to change, but one element of his coaching philosophy that has remained constant is his focus on aerobic development, particularly the importance of the long run. It’s something he took from the great New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard, whose concepts of base training and periodization made Olympic champions out of his pupils Peter Snell and Murray Halberg. Wetmore says now that he believes his system has evolved to the point that he’s no longer a strict Lydiard disciple, but adds that the New Zealander was greatly influential in his early career. Not only did Wetmore read Lydiard’s book, Running the Lydiard Way, but he also learned from the man directly.

Back in the 1970s, Larry Sullivan was heavily involved in the Bernardsville running scene and his son John ran under Wetmore at Bernards. Sullivan went into business importing a shoe called the EB made by a German company named Brütting. Sullivan hired Lydiard to design and promote the shoes. Wetmore got involved with the shoes as well and got to know Lydiard.

“He had many great runners and it became apparent that there was something special to his method,” Wetmore said. “I was interesting in learning it and maybe making my method better. So meeting him and reading his books, things made sense. I began to apply some of the principles of his method to what I was doing.”

The staple workout under Wetmore at Bernards was the long run, which was 20 miles for the experienced runners on the team. Every Sunday morning, 20 to 30 runners would gather at The Wall, the designated meeting spot on the Bernards campus. After a few minutes of shooting the breeze, the group would walk up to the corner of the parking lot and amble out of town toward Mendham along “the Sunday 20 course.” Wetmore would follow along in his white van, known as the Meat Wagon, to pick up stragglers and drop off water for the others.

One of Wetmore’s early charges in Bernardsville was Buck Logan, whom he coached over the summer at Mine Mt. Road Department. Logan would spend summers logging up to 80 miles a week on Bernardsville’s hills. As a senior in 1979, Logan ran 8:52 to set the New Jersey state record for two miles, a mark that would stand for 28 years. Logan remains convinced that the aerobic foundation he developed under Wetmore was a major reason for his success.

Wetmore’s success working under Ed Mather at Bernards High was undeniable. From 1981 to 1985, Bernards won the New Jersey Meet of Champions three times, an impressive accomplishment made all the more remarkable given that, for four of the five years, Bernards was in Group I — the smallest classification for schools. Hudson, whose North Hunterdon team won the MoC in 1983, likens Bernards’ story to Hoosiers, only Bernards won three state titles. They also won three Penn Relays distance medley Championships of America in 1979, 1984 and 1986.

At a price – early burnout?

Wetmore’s critics will note that some of his most famous charges in high school — Logan, Smith (who won the New Jersey state title at 1600m indoors and outdoors as both a junior and senior) and John Carlotti (who won the MoC in XC in 1982) became injured or failed to achieve success in college, suggesting that high mileage and a steady diet of 20-mile long runs is too much for a high school athlete to digest. Yet the athletes themselves don’t place the blame on Wetmore.

Smith believes that had he continued to train under Wetmore in college at Villanova, he would have been successful.

“I don’t think it was [the mileage] at all,” Smith said.  “If anything, it’s because I didn’t do the same kind of training in college [as I did in high school.]”

Logan, who went on to run at Harvard after Bernards, managed to run 8:44 for two miles as a sophomore in college, but was frequently injured and graduated unsatisfied with his collegiate career.

In 1983, he enrolled in law school at Yale and resumed training under Wetmore, who would coach him through letters and over the phone during the school year when Logan wasn’t in New Jersey. Wetmore kept him healthy and Logan ran 13:59 for 5,000 and 2:18 for the marathon.

“When I ‘retired,’ I figure I had made $2,000 over my running career,” Logan said. “I gave [Mark] $300 at that point to pay him for about 3,000 hours of coaching over all those years. He did that for a lot of people. He was not in it for money.”

Not all of Wetmore’s charges at Colorado have been able to stay healthy. Someone could read Running with the Buffaloes, look at the amount of long, hard runs in Colorado’s training and infer that Wetmore’s training system is to blame. To do that would be to make two mistakes. First, it assumes that Wetmore’s system has not changed since 1998; that is not the case. Second, and more importantly, it ignores the prominence of injuries nationwide.

“You’re going to have casualties at any top-flight program in the country,” Lear said. “It’s just part of the game. To compete at the highest level, one way or another, you have to train at the highest level. And some people are more fragile than others.”

There’s also the story of Laura Thweatt. Thweatt ran for four years at Colorado and graduated in 2011. While at Colorado, she was far from a star as she never won a Big 12 title or qualified for NCAAs on the track.  She graduated with PRs of 4:21 (1500), 15:57 (5,000) and 33:49 (10,000). Since then, training under new coach Lee Troop, Thweatt has lowered her PRs significantly, running 4:10 for 1500 and 32:15 for 10,000. Her time of 15:04 from May’s Payton Jordan Invitational puts her #4 on the U.S. list this year.

Thweatt struggled to stay healthy during her first year and a half in Boulder and had difficulty recovering between workouts and long runs. It would be easy to blame Wetmore’s system, but Thweatt does not.

“I had to figure out how to adjust from the different training in college from high school,” Thweatt said. “No matter where you go, you’re going to have to make that adjustment. I was healthy my last two and a half years and it was a great experience all the way around.”

Indeed, Thweatt steadily dropped her times over her final two seasons in Boulder and continued to do so under Troop. She credits her improvement to staying healthy, which has allowed her to consistent log years of uninterrupted training, and also in part to the aerobic foundation she began building under Wetmore. Where you stand on Thweatt is probably where you stand on Wetmore. You could certainly argue that her injuries at CU were due to Wetmore. But you’d be going against Thweatt, who places most of the blame on herself, not her coach.

“He’s an unbelievable guy, probably one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met,” Thweatt said. “He’s a really great guy, an amazing coach. I owe a lot to Mark.”

3. Creating a culture of hard work and winning – thank you Ed Mather

To call hard work and winning part of Wetmore’s coaching philosophy might not be entirely accurate. Ask any coach what they’d like to accomplish and you’ll probably hear those two elements somewhere in the response. The difference is, Wetmore went out and did it, first at Bernards and then in Boulder. But before Wetmore could accomplish anything, he had to meet Ed Mather.

Mather became the head coach at Bernards High in 1964 and would go on to achieve legendary status in New Jersey running circles as his teams dominated the state in the 1980s. One of his charges was a sprinter named Mark Wetmore, who graduated from Bernards in 1971.

“I started as a wrestler and you can imagine that that was a fairly typical jock world, full of lots of slogans and yelling,” Wetmore said. “I got talked into going out for cross country in ninth grade, ostensibly to ‘get in shape’ for wrestling…The coach was totally different. He was eccentric and he was funny and we were relaxed. All that yelling and putting people down never existed. When it was over, I continued to wrestle, but I thought, ‘This is a lot cooler, to tell you the truth.’ So that’s what Ed Mather did: he made it fun.”

Mather would convert many more runners during his time at Bernards, and he started early.

“We had this run for fun program,” Smith said. “I must have been eight or nine at the time. And Ed Mather was there, giving his show, basically a running roadshow promoting this run for fun program which really fed the Bernards running program. He had all these kids who had an enthusiasm to run and instead of playing football, they went to the cross country table.”

Wetmore’s passion for the sport endures to this day, and not just because he’s a coach.

“He has this running streak going — I don’t know how long it is now,” said Ritzenhein, the 2003 NCAA cross country champion under Wetmore at CU. “It was around 25 years when I was around, so now it’s probably like 35. He had every injury that he could run through but still managed to run every day for those years. Sometimes, he told us he would run 40 minutes from 11:40 at night to 12:20 in the morning so he’d have a full two days before he could do it again and still count it toward his daily cycle…He was kind of crazy in that way.”

Once he came on as an assistant at Bernards, Wetmore took that enthusiasm and channeled it into a desire to work hard. Wetmore made it clear that he was there to be serious, but he was no disciplinarian.

“He’s very committed to being a coach and improving your running and you sense that,” Logan said. “As a younger person, if someone shows an interest in you and your running, you respond to it and raise your expectations of what you think you can do. The commitment is infections.”

Every year, Wetmore wanted to accomplish something that no one else had before. The biggest goals were team efforts, so the Penn Relays was massively important to the program. In 1983, Wetmore and his charges set an audacious target: sub-10:00 in the DMR at Penn. Bernards just missed, taking second in 10:00.9, behind Willingboro (N.J.), who finished with the same time (both schools broke the existing meet record). Though Bernards didn’t win (they would get revenge the next year), the message was clear: tell Wetmore how high you want to go, and he’ll do his best to get you there.

“Everything there was to create a positive, serous, goal-oriented atmosphere,” Smith said. “We were there to do a job and enjoy doing it. And we did.”

More than anything else, that element of Wetmore’s formula remains unchanged. Talk to any of his athletes at Colorado, from an early star like Adam Goucher through the current crop, and they’ll tell you the same thing.

“Mark created this environment where everyone wanted to work hard and was focused on this common goal,” Torres said. “There would be stragglers that wouldn’t survive because the fact is to be good, you have to run a lot of miles and not everyone can handle the mileage. By the time I was a senior, and even before, the environment was there. We had people who could handle the mileage, got the ball rolling at CU and were winning national titles.”

Just as it was at Bernards, that commitment was infectious, and once Wetmore established a culture of success at Colorado, it almost became self-sustaining. Future generations wanted to succeed to continue the CU legacy.

4. Honesty and straightforwardness

Wetmore is no cheerleader. There are no stories of epic pre-race speeches. Wetmore doesn’t partake in wild post-race celebrations. He sets a goal, accomplishes it and moves on to the next one.

“It’s not a sis-boom-bah thing,” Logan said. “He’s straightforward and honest about what people have to do to improve and if someone buys into that, he works hard to improve them.”

Jorge Torres and his twin brother Ed were among the nation’s top recruits when they came out of Wheeling (Ill.) High School in 1999. Ed qualified for Foot Locker finals three times. Jorge remains the only boy to qualify for Foot Lockers four times, an event which he won as a senior in 1998. Wetmore didn’t have the funds to offer both a full ride. Rather than bluffing, Wetmore laid his cards on the table. He told the twins that, unlike some other schools, he couldn’t offer them the full scholarships they deserved. He said that he was looking to build something at Colorado and that he’d love to have them if they could stomach not getting full rides.

Wetmore’s honest approach won over the Torreses, and they committed to Colorado (it didn’t hurt that their high school coach, Greg Fedyski, conducted a lot of research and concluded that Wetmore was the number one coach in the country).

Two years later, Wetmore used the same approach to secure the commitment of Ritzenhein, the two-time Foot Locker champ and one of the most highly-sought recruits in history.

“When Mark [first] recruited me, he didn’t even call me,” Ritzenhein said. “He just sent me a letter that said, ‘You’re probably going to be recruited by every school in the country so we won’t waste your time if you’re not interested.’ He didn’t have to make the big sales pitch.”

5. Race preparation and confidence

Honesty gets the runners to buy in. Aerobic development gets them fit. But none of it works if they don’t produce results on race day. Wetmore’s runners don’t necessarily overperform relative to expectations (see chart below), yet no team seems to take the start line with more confidence.

Colorado men’s XC rankings, 1998-2013

YearPreseasonPre-NCAAsNCAA resultNCAAs/Pre-NCAAs
difference
20133312
20125734
20117633
20106T-715-8
20096660
200831012-2
2007227-5
20063211
2005235-2
20045413
2003636-3
20021541
20011110
2000312-1
1999357-2
1998*3431
Net difference: -8

*Earliest season for men’s data was 1998

Colorado women’s XC rankings, 1995-2013

YearPreseasonPre-NCAAsNCAA resultNCAAs/Pre-NCAA
difference
20131457-2
2012132324-1
20114611-5
201013862
200921620-14
200823NRDidn’t qualify
200732223-1
20062624
20051624
20046312
20034752
2002535-2
2001168-2
20003110
1999558-3
199841376
19975431
19962422
19952523
Net difference: -4

All data according to USTFCCCA polls (http://www.ustfccca.org/assets/rankings/div1/2013-xc/Div1_XC_Week-By-Week-ByRank-ALLTIME.pdf)

Two Things You May Have Not Known About Mark Wetmore

By Mitch Kastoff

Mark Wetmore Is A Big Formula One Fan

Wetmore has an affinity for things that are fast. That quality isn’t just limited to running: pretty much the only other sporting event he follows is Formula 1.

Right before he steps into his MINI Cooper S, he explains the sport’s appeal with a simple story. Take a go kart. You know, those little things with a small seat and no body? Now picture a go kart on steroids.

“Imagine,” he says, “a go kart handed to the most brilliant engineers in the world. They’re paid tens of millions of dollars to make it as fast as possible. That’s a Formula 1 car. It’s the most sophisticated racing car on the planet and the pinnacle of motor sport.”

The connection between Formula 1 — with its cars and engineers —  and track and field — with the athletes and coaches — is almost too easy to make. But for Wetmore, the only parallel between the two sports is scientific.

“The years of three guys in a garage banging on something with hammers are gone. Highly educated engineers now build the cars. It’s all throughly scientific. There’s no witch doctorism involved in it anymore. I think in track and field, in distance running particularly, there’s quite a bit of witch doctorism.”

“Are you just dreaming this up or is it scientifically sound?” he adds.

Mark Wetmore Does Show Emotion Behind The Scenes

Emma Coburn has always known Mark Wetmore to be a even-tempered person, but also kind and gentle.

“If there’s a bad performance, he almost always takes full credit for it,” she says. “If there’s a great performance, he gives all the credit to his athletes.”

Whether it’s an amazing or awful performance, Wetmore is always there to keep his athletes levelheaded. Even after she broke the American 3kST Record this summer, Wetmore was there to both pop the champagne and clean up afterwards.

“He first said that it was a beautiful race and that he was proud of me. Then he told me that we could celebrate, but we also had an hour run the next morning.”

Although she remembers her coach for his “hilarious stories” that he would share while the team was stretching or doing drills, there’s one moment that stands out.

It happened on June 29, 2012, Mark Wetmore’s 59th birthday. That afternoon, both Coburn and Colorado teammate Shalaya Kipp would qualify for the 2012 London Olympics in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

After her win, Coburn vividly remembers taking her victory lap with Kipp. As the two rounded the Bowerman Curve, they looked to the crowd. At Hayward Field, Wetmore almost always stands at the start of the 100-meters. The two Buffaloes spotted their coach in the stands and went running to him.

“We came running around and gave him a big hug,” she recalls. “I was crying. Shalaya was crying. Mark was not crying, but he was definitely very, very proud. I could see that in his eyes.”

Not a bad 59th birthday present for Wetmore.

“That was a really special moment for us to share,” she said.

It’s easy enough for athletes like the Torres brothers to take the start line with confidence — they had been among the best in the country since high school. But Wetmore also had the ability to build up the belief of lesser talents or walk-ons such as Shayne Culpepper (née Wille) and turn them into All-Americans or, in Culpepper’s case, a two-time Olympian. The key is that Wetmore explains to his charges exactly what they’re doing and why. That way, when the big race rolls around, they bring with them a confidence in their training unmatched by anyone else.“When we showed up to NCAA cross, there was never a doubt in our minds that we were ready for that race,” Ed Torres said. “We knew we were prepared. It wasn’t like ‘Did we do enough speed work? Did we get enough rest?’ Mark knows how to get you tuned up for that one race so that you can perform.”

Simpson said she believes that Wetmore has a gift for getting the most out of his runners in the biggest races, which stems from a trait discussed in the previous section — honesty. Like most coaches, Wetmore will discuss time goals with his athletes before races. Wetmore has come to know Simpson so well over the years that he can predict almost exactly what she will run in a race.

“He has an uncanny ability to look at our workouts and our personalities and what we’re facing in a race and know exactly what we’re going to run,” Simpson said. “It’s not just that you had a good workout and that transfers on a form chart to what you can run.

“Indoors in 2009, I ran the mile at our conference championships instead of the 3k. I really wanted to get the [NCAA] indoor mile record; I think it was 4:26 or 4:27. It was a strong time, but Mark told me that if I could get on the pace early, I could run 4:24. I got on the pace early, and it was the first time I beat Sally [Kipyego] in a race and I ran 4:25. And to know that he believed that was what I could do, it creates a lot of confidence in an athlete. He’s not feeding me lies — he really knows what I can do.”

Jorge Torres would question Wetmore frequently throughout his career at Colorado. Not because he doubted Wetmore’s methods, but because he wanted to learn more about them. It can get to the point where, after a few years in Wetmore’s system, an athlete possesses enough knowledge about his methodology that he can essentially train himself.

“Most of his athletes are probably as well-prepared to be self-trained as anybody,” Smith said. “He always makes a point of making sure you understand why you’re doing something. You’re not just doing it because he told you to do it. You’re doing it to try and increase your oxygen capacity, your native speed, whatever.”

Looking back on that day in Terre Haute last November, it now seems appropriate that Wetmore wasn’t on the podium. If the final stage of Wetmore’s system is reaching the point where you know enough to train without him, shouldn’t the athletes celebrate on their own as well?


Special thanks to Chris Lear for help on whom to contact for this story. Want to know more about Wetmore? Read Lear’s book on the Colorado program: Running with the Buffaloes.

Want to know more about this year’s Colorado men’s team. Read Mitch Kastoff’s piece: LRC The Gunslingers of Boulder

Discuss this article in our forum: LetsRun.com Investigates: What Makes Mark Wetmore So Special?

Mark Wetmore prior to last year's NCAAs

Mark Wetmore prior to last year’s NCAAs

Martk Wetmore with agnet Mark Wetmore in Boston this year

Mark Wetmore with agent Mark Wetmore in Boston this year

 


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