Where Your Dreams Become Reality
Interview With Wisconsin Coach Mick Byrne - Badgers Season Storylines Include Returning All-Americans, Fab-5 Freshmen, And The Best XC Course In The Country
Plus Coach Byrne Gives His Fundamental Keys To XC Training
LRC: Coach Byrne, thanks for talking with us.
As I researched your team, and the other teams in the country, I think your freshmen are the best in the country hands down. Just in your freshman and redshirt freshman class you have four top-10 guys from Foot Locker or Nike Nationals in Reed Connor, Maverick Darling, Rob Finnerty and Drew Shields, plus Madison native Alex Brill who's a 9:02 guy plus 14:12 Pan - Am champ Canadian Mohammed Ahmed who might be the most talented of the bunch. Tell us about these young guys. How are they training, who looks really good?
Coach Byrne: So far we're only four weeks into the season. Some of them got an earlier start that the other guys. For example, Mohammed Ahmed was at Pan Ams in the middle of August so he had to take some down time after that. He's in the middle of Ramadan fasting right now so we're kind of taking things really slowly with him, just introducing him to some light workouts, but not rushing anything. He finishes Ramadan this weekend and we'll kind of kick it up a notch after that.
We've had kids come down with flu-like symptoms over the past week. So the entire freshman group is going through the same things freshmen go through in the first weeks of college. The increased intensity of runs, workouts, just getting to class, you know just the whole moving in process and adjusting to that first month. So I don't think they're any different than any other college freshmen out there.
Certainly Mohammed Ahmed, Reed Connor, Drew Shields (Drew got sick, he's just coming out of it now) would be the top-3 freshmen and you can throw in Alex Brill a local Madison kid (9:01 two-miler) most likely would be a candidate for a red-shirt along with some other young guys on the team. We'll have a clearer picture once we run that meet on October 3rd.
And then if you go back into last year's group, certainly Maverick Darling is ready to step in. Rob Finnerty - who basically missed the entire freshman year through illness - we need to take him along really slowly and not rush the process. Obviously he's a 4:01 high school miler and has a ton of talent and a lot of training. With him it will be a week to week decision of what we'll do with him. With him he already redshirted so it's not a decision of whether he'll redshirt but what he'll be able to contribute this season. In training he'll have flashes of excitement and brilliance but then he crashes so we're kind of just keeping an eye on the situation. I certainly don't want to rush that. With us we're familiar with taking on someone who has missed that much time so it's just about not rushing the process.
Junior Landon Peacock had a breakthrough season in 2008 as your team's leader in all of the important meets. In the '09 track season, however, Landon didn't do as well. What happened there and is he back to good form?
He's had a great summer. He got a flu right after we came back from the Washington Husky Invite, the indoor meet, and had some issues with his ferritin levels. He just never regained his form in the outdoors. He got flu-like stuff again before the Big 10 meet so we just shut him down after that. His ferritin had started going down again so there wasn't any point in chasing times when you're dealin' with all of that. But he's had a great summer so with him it's just about looking towards the championship part of the season. We're actually excited about where he's at. Some of his workouts have gone up to another level over where he was this time last year. We really expect him to be the team leader.
Senior Craig Miller was 2nd at NCAAs indoors, an All-American outdoors, has broken 14:00, 8:00 and 4:00 in the 5k, 3k and mile. He has been outstanding. He's been a solid cross country runner but do you think he can get better?
Yea hopefully, we're gonna need him to improve. With Craig it's a matter of gettin ahead into it. The last six weeks he's had some great training. It's a matter of being patient. You know, he ran a pretty good Big Ten meet last year at Michigan on a really hilly course that shouldn't suit his type of running. At the regional meet he looked UNBELIEVABLE last year over 10k because he was patient. We slowed him down and had him run with one of the other guys. And at nationals he just got too excited too early. He's much better holdin back and being patient. And that's something we've talked about and something we're certainly going to be workin on. He doesn't need to be up front stickin his nose in the mix early on in the race.
I would certainly say that overall his strength is at another level from last year. There's no reason why a good miler like him - there's a lot of good milers out there who run well in cross country so there's no reason he can't.
After 24 years at Iona, you moved to Madison. Very different schools but both programs are both very focused on cross-country success. At Iona you recruited internationally a ton. Here at Wisconsin you seem to be placing much more of an emphasis on US talent. Tell us, is there a big difference recruiting at Wisconsin versus Iona?
I think it's true to an extent. I think that the objective in both places is - I'm passionate about winning. We always believed at Iona that we could win the national championships. It was my dream, it was my passion, I went to work every day believin that. And it's the same here!
Here the sales pitch is a little bit different. You're talking about at the University of Wisconsin tremendous academics. You talk about the city of Madison just the great form college town. Camp Randall football games on a Saturday afternoon, you're talking about hockey games and basketball games at the Kohl Center. So the sales pitch is different and I think most 17, 18-year-old American high school kids are looking for that complete college experience and certainly the U of W has that to offer.
And if you go back to the Iona days it's just a different sales pitch. You were selling Iona college and my experience and our reputation in cross country. Obviously good academics but in a much smaller, family oriented type of environment.
You mentioned a couple weeks ago your new cross country course in Madison and you called it the best xc course in the country. Do you hope to host a big meet there? What makes it so great? We think a huge thing for xc courses is are they spectator friendly?
What makes the course so great? We have a tremendous group of facility people out there at University Ridge. The course is adjacent to the golf course. The facility group out there is led by Aaron Hogden and he's passionate about making it look like a true championship course just like the golf course. And I would just say that Aaron and his staff have just done a tremendous job in one year's time to put this course together. It's a rolling terrain. The course is very similar to Terre Haute where we've run the nationals over the last several years. It's not an easy course, it's a challenging course. It's a great spectator course. And the footing, I just think the footing, the grass, the thickness that it has come in, it's just great terrain for running. I thought last year we went to Terre Haute and they just cut the grass too short, there were lots of bumps in the course. I just feel like we've got a course that offers very smooth running and it's all happened in just one year.
So the course is placed on some ground that was unused last year?
Yea. So the teams that are coming: Arkansas, Michigan, Auburn, BYU, Duke, Georgetown, Illinois, Iowa, Lamar, Marquette, Nebraska, Syracuse, Texas A&M, UW-Lacrosse and us. So I think it's a good representation of the different regions. We don't have anyone from the West which we would love to have but hopefully that will happen down the road. I think the other great aspect about this meet is there's great excitement in Madison, there's great excitement in Wisconsin with the tradition of success out here the public are looking to come to the meet to support UW athletics and support our team so we're very excited and actually expecting a lot of spectators out there on the course.
Will you host Big 10's there soon?
Oh we'll be hosting Big Ten's in the next year or two and we're certainly putting in a bid for regionals and nationals down the road. That's why the course was built and that's the intention.
Many people read LetsRun.com for training advice and to read about the best coaches and runners in the world. I think you're one of the best, most experienced coaches and your advice carries a lot of value. Could you give us some of your fundamental training advice?
I think we're very much an aerobic type of program. I'm a big believer that aerobic strength builds speed. We do a lot of the typical stuff. We do a lot of hill work. A lot of progression runs. And I'm a big believer in - and people look at our program and go "why are you doing progression runs in the summer?" - well a big part of my philosophy is "we start early". We don't necessarily go fast but we start early and we progress into everything we do whether it's a hill session, whether it's a tempo run or track stuff. We include a lot of low-key track stuff even during the fall, after we finish our runs on the field. We do stuff like 150s, 200s, 300s. We don't call 'em workouts, it's just a part of what we do.
So I'm a big believer in startin early and I think that's an accumulation of knowledge over the years. I've found that over the years maybe coaches, we'd come in and say "Ok it's September we've gotta start doin tempo, rhythm runs, whatever you want to call them, threshold workouts." And the kids aren't ready for it because we're starting too fast and they crash halfway through the plan period. So we really believe in startin whatever we're dealin with, doin it over a longer period. We started hill work five, six weeks ago and we progress into the hill and we typically do it right through October. God, I feel like I'm ramblin on about it so maybe I'll stop there before I give away too many secrets.
**The Wisconsin adidas Invitational will be held on the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country course on October 3, two weeks before the pre-NCAA meet in Terre Haute.