Bill Aris Track Talk Page 4: Stotan Racing Team, Lopez Lomong vs. Dominic Luca, Alex Hatz And the Sub-4 Quest

April 14, 2010

Editor's note: 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

Back to Page 3

Page 4 of 4

Stotan Racing Team

Rojo: I'd like to talk to you briefly about the Stotan Racing.

BA: Sure.

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.

BA: Sure.

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.

BA: Yep.

Lopez Lomong vs. Dominic Luca

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 Sub-Four

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.

BA: Yes.

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, this is Robert Johnson signing off. Good night, everyone. Keep running, stay healthy, run fast.

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