1. How many years have you been coaching high school cross country (and at your current school)?
On and off for the past 38 years as either a Head, "shadow" Head, or Associate Head coach. I am new at St James after almost three years at Montgomery Catholic as the "Assistant Head Coach" where I wrote training for all performance groups and directly supervised hurdles, jumps and throws. I also provided workouts for other schools and provided personal coaching for NBO Emerging Elite National Champion and 3x Alabama 6A Shot Put Champion Eric WIlliams from Carver (now on his way to Arkansas State.)
2. What do you attribute as the main reasons for the success of your program?
OUR Program! An exceptional institution with great leadership and support from the administration, a fantastic team of coaches, student-athletes of the highest quality, a deep caring for every athlete we coach, a passion for the all-around personal development of the athletes we coach, and a lifelong dedication to coaching education and the study of track and field science and psychology.
3. What would be the best way to describe your style and philosophy of coaching and working with high school runners?
The whole purpose is to contribute to the development of women and men of strong character - to empower these brilliant young athletes to understand that they are the masters of their future and that they can physically adapt and psychologically overcome whatever they apply their prodigious talents to. This is the philosophy that enabled Catholic-Montgomery athletes to earn more than 70 state meet medals in cross and track and field in the last 2 1/2 years - it is THEM on the course and track competing to the best of their ability with a relentless passion - once this is achieved and you have a smart, dedicated, driven student-athlete the coach is relegated to an ancillary role as a mentor - as it should be. The other key element is POSITIVITY. The rock weighs what the rock weighs, so the challenge is not to complain about the rock, but to figure out how to move it down the road. I have had a sprinter take two steps out of the blocks and fall down and my post-race comment was "yep, you fell down, but man those first two steps were explosive!" Reinforce success and provide positive tools to address failure. I SEE WAY TOO MUCH Woody Hayes style coaching - "You better run faster...." It doesn't help. During a race my athletes can usually count on three cues - "Relax!" early on, "Beautiful" in the middle of the race, and maybe "Big Arms!" with 300m to go - something that either reinforces behavior or cues behavior. I actually heard a coach at the state meet last year leaning against the fence 20m from the finish scream "pick it up!" to his runner! Towards what end? In another case I heard a coach scream 10 cues in about 20 seconds. "Drop the arms, pick it up, relax the shoulders, you're 6 seconds down, lift the knees, etc" - just a continuous stream. That young runner didn't know if he should keep going or pull into the closest Sonic for a hot dog! Obviously, a well-coached race would involve the coach saying or doing nothing - the runner would be trained, mentally prepared and execute!
4. What are your core beliefs in your training plan and workouts for your cross country squads?
I am an IAAF Level V/USATF Level 3 Elite Endurance Coach, so my program is based on the best available science blended with the "art" of experience. I don't "copy" workout plans - I look at the athletes and individualize to the extent possible - and then - with a high school athlete - I go to the last major competition of their senior year (which should be either NBO or Junior Nationals but might be the Junior Olympics series, state or sectionals) - and then I work backwards to make sure the right workouts hit the required systems in the right doses with built in periods of adaptation as well as rest. Complicated and painstaking but absolutely critical. Once this build is established it becomes a living document that must be constantly adjusted based on performance and situations like injuries (plan MUST minimize!) or illnesses. I draw heavily from my teachers and friends - legendary Dr. Joe Vigil, Joe Newton from York in Illinois (my home state), Gunter Lange (famed German coach), Dave Mills (now retired but volunteering at Boise State), Troy Engle (2016 US Oly Team Coach now heading up Coaching Education in Singapore), and I even let brilliant young coaches like Joel Pearson (Director of Track and Field and Cross Country at the Harrier Track Club (Olympic Development), Seattle) sharpshoot what I develop. THEN, the critical element is the application of this program with my superb fellow coaches - Greg Miles, Samantha Smith and Jeremy Turner - all of each who are equally dedicated. And then, we are blessed with an amazing support structure led by AD Jerry Browning and fully backed by our Head of School Dr. McLemore, and Principals Dr. Oliver and Mrs. Spivey.
5. How many runners do you return from your top 7 from a year ago?
We return the core of the program - all top 6 girls and all top 5 boys.
6. Who is your projected top 7 heading into the cross country season?
On the girls side we bring superstars Presley Miles, Sailor Miles, Virginia Williams, Amanda Grate, India Bond and Izabel Cabral - the top 6 from last year, all return. On the boys side the team returns superstars Jake Maddox, Hawthorne Ramsey, John Ramsey, Spencer Madore, and Harris Washington - the top 5 from last year.
7. Who are your team captains or leaders and what stands out about them as examples for the rest of their teammates?
Jake Maddox and Sailor Miles lead the team. Long before you even discuss running, these two superb student-athletes are FANTASTIC young LEADERS. Their entire life is committed to the Fellowship of Jesus Christ, contributing every spare moment they have to community service and leadership, mentoring youth, and making life better for others - oh yeah, while maintaining fantastically high GPAs. Both are already CHAMPIONS in life - the entire team is blessed to have this kind of leadership. Oh yeah, they are also AMAZING runners.
8. Who have you been most impressed or surprised with their improvement and/or fitness from their summer training?
Presley and Sailor Miles stand out because they aggressively executed the last 15 months of their training without fail and the positive adaptations show. Presley took 4th at the National Junior Olympics with a 10:14 3000. With 1000m to go she was with the lead and I believe she could have won it if I had wired the last couple months of training a little tighter. Coming off her 2:15 800m at State and a 61 400m shortly thereafter I knew she could run with any 14 year old in the Nation but I think I left her a little short on the VO2 side - we have already made an adjustment on that. I believe Sailor is poised to end her senior year with a spew of PRs which will put her in good stead at state competitions. Spencer Madore has also been a hard worker over the summer and will easily run PRs from the beginning of the season. Lana Harwick, a 400m/800m runner, scored a number of PRs this summer and will make her initial foray into cross country - I expect big things! Of course most of the athletes I trained with this summer with Capitol Track Club were Catholic-Montgomery athletes as well as athletes from six other schools - now my competition (ugh!) - but I am committed to building a culture with the student-athletes at Saint James of year round participation in sport . That said, almost all of our other runners have put in some good work over the summer by themselves and I expect big things from the Ramsey Twins, Harris Washington, Virginia Williams (super hard trainer!), India Bond, Izabel Cabral and Amanda Grate. Of real note has been how Jake Maddox handled some severe shin splints this summer. He was smart and took care of his health. I think we will see record breaking performances from him for the next nine months!
9. Any impactful freshmen or transfers to join the team this season?
None that I know of YET! We are still recruiting from amongst the student body at Saint James. I think Lana Harwick will be a great addition to the squad!
10. What are the top invitational meets that your team will be attending this season?
I do not believe in racing every weekend - we will train hard so that we can do our best as the State Championship. We will run five meets prior to sectionals including the Memphis Twilight up in Tennessee and then Jesse Owens.
11. What will be the biggest obstacle or challenge facing your team this season?
We are a small squad. The biggest obstacles in our way are the awesome teams like Montgomery Catholic, Trinity, LAMP that we have to face!
12. What will be the biggest reason why your team is successful this season?
THE FACT that we have superb young women and men of the highest personal qualities supported by the exceptional institution that is Saint James.
13. What is a favorite annual or common pre-season workout or run for your team?
We just don't have anything like that in the program - the program addresses max Vo2, heart-stroke, vascularization, chem exchange, some lactate buffering work and a little bit of speed dosed throughout. The workouts also vary depending on where they are in the program - year 1, year 2, etc. Some constants would be hard 20 minute runs surrounded by a series of increasing workloads, easy 30 minute runs for recovery, and a series of "minuters" that evolves in duration and rest. We do some longer runs (a relative term!) but of course they evolve with adaptation and are surrounded with other work. We periodically integrate some hard hill training, and a good dose of constant supplemental work combined with a focus on nutrition and recovery. The key is to constantly monitor the load and ensure times is allowed for supercompensation to occur - so 17-21 days for each measurable adaptation. We will train through virtually every meet with the goal - again - being State and post-State competition.
As far as question 14 and 15 are involved, long ago I realized that the running endurance world had misapplied Verkoshansky and Bompa's models of periodization. These models were designed for high-intensity training like weightlifting where neural exhaustion was a factor. Not so with endurance training. So, we do not do a standard Lydiard-type training program - base, transition, speed. It is amazing to me how many people are STILL doing this - we don't. We work the systems as science dictates and look for the periodic adaptations year round - one of the reasons I like to minimize "max" competitions.
14. What is a favorite annual or common mid-season workout for your team?
15. What is a favorite annual or common championship season or end-of-season workout for your team?
16. What are your top 3 goals for this year's squad?
Realistic or otherwise, each and every year our ultimate goal will be to have the 4A Boys and Girls Individual and Team Champions. I think with Presley and Jake we can deliver on the first two - no disrespect to so many of the great runners out there - but the team championships will be a big ask given the depth and quality of the competition. That said, we DREAM BIG and, even if we fail, we WILL be THAT much CLOSER TO THE GOAL! St James 2017, Small but MIGHTY!