Track Talk #8 with Bill Aris

I’ve been catching up on podcasts and came across this one from back in April, a 90 minute interview with Bill Aris, who is regarded as probably the best high school track coach in the country.

Aris has a healthy, rational approach to training, using ideas that can be applied to anyone who is looking to improve. I imagine anyone who’s coaching would find this useful as well. His philosophy is based on fitting the training to the runner and making each runner’s goals about the process of improving rather than chasing after a particular race time.

I also loved this quote: “Running is all about delayed gratification.” Yet he somehow manages to productively coach teenagers, who are not always known for their ability to delay gratification. Probably because he applies a perfect balance of structure, compassion and respect for his charges. He’s passionate about what he does and it shows in the way he talks about it.

Here’s background on the interview. And here’s a link to the MP3 download.

Well worth a listen.

4 Responses

  1. I enjoyed the program. I like his attitude of running to the watch not for the miles and not going to the track. I would be interested in comparing his attitude to that of a top-notch HS girls coach from next door, Jim Mitchell at Bronxville. The success of that school — tiny B’ville has been 2nd twice in the Federation XC meet, the State XC champs — is a combination of culture and cross-class mentoring.

    I did think matters turned when he was asked to defend the lack of “success,” presumptively along the lines of NCAA and post-collegiate results of F-M athletes. I don’t follow the sport in that great detail, so I don’t know whether there is or is not success and I agree that the test of a “program” (I hate that word) is how its athletes develop over time, and not necessarily by fast times in college. But from that point in the interview he seemed extremely defensive and not quite so laid-back.

    • Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but Aris is a high school coach. Other than fostering the desire to continue to compete, I don’t see how he’s responsible for what his runners do in their post-high school running careers. From what I understand, a lot of people get to college and realize there are other things they’d rather be doing, or they’re just burned out after four years of competitive running/training and decide they need a break.

      Running isn’t everything.

  2. I liked his coaching philosophy. Some HS athletes will go on to successful college and post-college careers and some won’t. He doesn’t have them do a zillion track sessions and they have a variety of training in the winter months, so that would help keep them keen.

    One thing I didn’t like was how the interviewer (Rojo?) tried to take over the interview with his own experiences about half way through.

    • Yes, woe to the subject who encounters the boorish “yes, enough about you, let’s talk about me” interviewer. I try never to do that, unless I think some snippet about myself will elicit more information.

      Running with my just-barely-teenaged nephew this week (once, in extreme heat and humidity that as a Bay Area boy he has never encountered), I was thinking about how potentially counterproductive a track session would be with someone his age who’s just starting. Way too much pressure, and the focus would be on the wrong thing: hitting paces, when what anyone starting out needs to develop first is endurance and — more important — a love of running.

      I wonder how many people hate running because they were made to run fast around a track before they were ready to do so.

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