|Revenge of the Nerds |
by: LetsRun.com staff
St. Mark's School of Texas is not your typical high school. First, the students are all male. Second, the students are a little nerdy or should we say intelligent (average SAT score of more than 1100). Anyway, the point we are trying to make is that the school is known as one of the top preparatory schools in the country, not for being an athletic powerhouse. But for a period of 8 years from 1984 through 1992, this tiny school (280 students in grades 9-12) in the metropolis of Dallas, Texas, was known for another thing besides its academics, and that was the success of its distance runners.
In that 8-year period, St. Mark's only had a total of 84 boys on its cross-country teams. Yet this small group of runners established a running dynasty that bettered the accomplishments of any other school in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, including schools with 6 times as many male students. Of the 84 runners at St. Mark's over the 8-year period, 2 were sub-4:20 milers, 4 more were sub-4:30, and 7 more were sub-4:40. At 3200m, 5 runners ran 9:36 or better. However, in the 8 years since 1992, St. Mark's has had 0 runners under 10 minutes in the 3200, and only 1 runner under 4:40 in the 1600 (4:37). (See chart below). What explains the difference in these two 8-year periods??? Coaching. LetsRun.com running guru, John Kellogg (JK), coached at St. Mark's during the first 8-year period, not during the second 8-year period.
Unfortunately for St. Mark's, private schools in the state of Texas are prevented from participating in state championships, so the runners at St. Mark's could never see how they matched up at the end of the season with the runners at public schools. John Kellogg's runners, however, were able to wreak their vengeance at a private school mega-conference meet that consisted of private schools from Texas and Oklahoma. In the 8-year span that JK coached cross-country at St. Mark's, his teams won this meet 4 years and finished second 4 years (to schools that were nationally- or state-ranked, some of which had athletic scholarship money, which St. Mark's did not). Individually, in cross-country, the Lions had 12 runners (out of 84 total) produce 23 all-conference performances, 6 individual titles, and on 4 occasions 1-2 finishes.
How did JK achieve such success? Not by going for the quick fix by having his runners run too many hard intervals in order to achieve short term success only to thwart their future development. JK believes that running is the world's purest sport and should be enjoyed for a lifetime. Thus he had his runners establish the proper base in order to foster their long-term development in the sport. Four of his runners went on to achieve all-conference and/or all-regional honors for Division I college programs. One of these four (LetsRun.com's Weldon Johnson) continues to run competitively post-collegiately, and he recently ran 28:27 for 10k after having previously won the Marine Corps Marathon in 1998.
Although JK now mainly coaches national class post-collegiate runners, he derives the most satisfaction from coaching high school and even middle school runners. In fact, we asked JK the other day if he could coach anybody in America who would it be? We were thinking of the normal big names in the sport - Adam Goucher, Deena Drossin, Suzy Favor-Hamilton, Bob Kennedy, Alan Culpepper but JK came back with a somewhat shocking response, "Some kid in 7th grade, any kid, who hasn't done any formal running but can break 5 minutes in the mile in one of those fitness tests. I want to get kids like that before they're ruined by some quick fix so-called training program."
JK enjoys coaching younger runners the most because in addition to causing them to be successful while in high school, he at the same time is doing something even more important - laying the foundation for them to be able to reach their ultimate potential later in life. It truly pains JK to see or hear about the average high school runner's training, because most often he sees that not only is the training not optimal, it also is truly damaging. He has noticed that many runners' careers are either irreparably harmed or destroyed before they really even begin because of training mistakes (normally training too hard on the track) made in high school. There's nothing more common in high school than to see some football coach coaching track and running his distance runners into the ground. JK thinks his training program is of the most benefit to those who start on it at the earliest ages as it lays a groundwork from which much greater future success can come.
If you are a high school runner or a high school coach and want to achieve the type of success JK has had, JK can help you. However, be forewarned, JK is very serious. There isn't a more serious or passionate person in the world as far as distance running is concerned. If you want to benefit from the best long-term training program available, you will also need to exhibit this type of devotion to the sport of running. There are no shortcuts to being the best you can be.
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Editor's note: Good news for St. Mark's. Since this article was written, they won the 2000 conference title in cross-country and three more in 2003-2005. Hopefully, they are on track to returning to the glory days under coach Kellogg (but they're still not running as fast)