The Mark Wetmore Interview at tips4running

tips4running is excited to welcome Coach Mark Wetmore for an interview. He continues to be very successful as the Head Cross Country and Track Coach for the men and women at the University of Colorado. He began coaching as a volunteer for the Buffaloes in 1992. By 1995 he was the head Cross Country Coach for both the women’s and men’s teams. Since then, his teams have won numerous NCAA championships. He has also coached nine different individuals to individual championships in either track or cross country. Before he coached, Mark attended Rutgers University, and earned a masters degree from Columbia University.

David Tiefenthaler - Let’s start with your running history. When did you first start running?

Mark Wetmore – There was a junior high track meet sponsored by the Rotary Club in my hometown. The gym teachers had us train a couple of days for it. I won the 440 in :67 and thought, “Hey! I don’t suck at everything!”

DT – Did you run track or cross country in high school or college?

MW – I was on a good high school team. We won the NJ state championships for the smallest division all four years I was there. I was varsity the last two years, but only the fourth or fifth man.

DT – What do you consider the peak of your personal running career, and do you ever enter into any races now?

MW – There were no peaks. I haven’t raced in a decade.

DT – What is your favorite part about being a runner or running?

MW – I’m happy to stay fairly fit. Since I’m 55, and approaching middle age, I had a physical recently. All the blood numbers were good. EKG was good. No guarantee of course that I won’t get hit by a garbage truck tomorrow morning. And I’ve run in some cool places: the Alps, the Black Forest, down the Champs E’Lysee, through Beijing at dawn, too many to list really. I still enjoy that.

DT – Let’s focus on the Buffaloes now. You have been incredibly successful as a coach for the University of Colorado. Did you ever imagine working with so many great runners and teams when you first began coaching?

MW – Probably, when I was much younger, I imagined even more. But I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity. I won the coaching lottery.

DT – Did you coach anywhere else prior to working in Colorado?

MW – I worked at my former high school as an assistant for 12 years, then Seton Hall University for three.

DT – What motivated you to be a coach at the college level?

MW - One year after high school, my old coach asked me to take over the municipal junior Olympic-level team. It just kept growing from there. Don’t let Barringer know that she’s coached by an elementary school coach.

DT – I read the book Running With The Buffaloes recently and found one part very intriguing. The book mentioned you read a book by Tom Wolfe called The Electric Kool-Aide Acid Test and that it had a big influence on your life. What is the book about, and how did it change your thinking?

MW - Actually it’s about drug-crazed maniacs…. A strange book for my father to give me. But I guess he was confident that I’d see beyond the obvious. I liked that these characters were willing to live on the periphery of society (what the protagonist Ken Kesey called “Edge City”), out where it is scary and lonely, to be true to themselves. But remember that was when I was 19. Now I just think, “What a bunch of drug-crazed maniacs!”

DT – One aspect of Division 1 athletics that I don’t fully understand is how scholarships are distributed particularly when it comes to cross country. How many scholarships for the cross country team do you get, and do they count towards track, or do the scholarships all count towards track, but some are meant for distance runners?

MW – Great question! There are no scholarships for Cross Country. If a school wants to have a CC team, they have to build it out of the 12.7 men’s and 18 women’s T&F scholarships. Some schools give a single scholarship to one big hitter, generally from Kenya; some give all they have to just CC. We spend more than most, but still try to run a complete program.

DT – Does the amount of scholarships change if you give a full scholarship to an in state student-athlete compared to an out of state student-athlete?

MW – Well, this is a little complicated… some schools have both a scholarship budget and a dollar budget, and must have some balance of out-of-state and in-state scholarship awards to stay within the dollar budget. That’s our case. We couldn’t afford to give 12.7 out-of-state grants. Some schools have enough dollars to give all out-of-state grants. Some schools seem to have unlimited money. I’d like to know how they do it.

DT – I have a decent grasp of your coaching philosophy because of what I have read, but without getting too complicated, can you explain your training program?

MW – Honestly, within this format, I can’t. But, as simply as possible…. 1) Emphasize the aerobic metabolism, 2) be patient, 3) avoid death-defying workouts, 4) minimize the effects of my own ego.

DT – The following assumptions are gathered from what I read, so correct me if I am wrong. You have a calm attitude going into races. No big speeches or rally calls. Why do you think this is effective before a race?

MW – I’ve never been able to think of any speech that is motivating enough to last fifteen or thirty minutes. So I just try to get them to the line on time.

DT – I wasn’t very successful running a lot of miles in college for cross country. I also was a 400 – 1500 runner in track. Every time I went over 45 miles a week, which isn’t much, I ended up with tendonitis in my knees. A little background, I had arthroscopic knee surgery on both knees in high school. My point is what can you do for a runner that gets hurt often when they get their mileage up? Have you ever had an athlete like this that you had to adapt their training so they can still be healthy enough to race?

MW – Well, every runner is a unique puzzle. I’ve had my share that I never figured out. We do a fairly high amount of mileage here, but there are occasionally people who can’t stay well up there. Then we have to decide what recipe of running and cross training might work.

DT – Your runners have to do all their training at a higher altitude compared to most of the other teams in the NCAA. Do you consider this to be an advantage or a disadvantage for your team?

MW - Training at elevation is a disadvantage, but living at elevation, the other 22 hours a day, is an advantage. It all takes some management. Another twenty or thirty years and I think I’ll have it nailed.

DT – Both the men and women have been very successful for you at the University of Colorado. What are the biggest differences in the training plan for the women compared to the men?

MW – The training plans for a 4:40 man and a 4:40 woman aren’t really that different. But the communication is often different.

DT – What is your favorite part about coaching, and what are you most proud of as a coach?

MW – Winning stuff and having people run fast is still fun, but I think the best part is seeing the athletes take their character, their souls if you will, out to a scary place and managing it well… learning courage. And that happens more in training and lifestyle than in racing.

DT – What off season training do you suggest for a high school distance runner who is planning on running competitively in college? What are some things they can do during their Junior and Senior year to prepare for the next level?

MW - They should communicate carefully with their high school coach. No one knows them better. Let him or her know that they are willing to be fully committed, and ask, am I doing everything you think I am capable of?

DT – I coach at the high school level and have been lucky to have some runners go on to run in college. How I can help a runner make a smoother transition to compete in college? What are some of the best things a high school coach can do to prepare a high school runner for running in college?

MW – Teach them patience. So many runners fail in college because they go into shock when they encounter good teammates and better opponents. Tell them, “We’re so proud of you. We love you. We expect you to get killed for awhile.”

DT – I have read that you believe that high school runners race too much. How can a high school coach change their training program because their runners compete on average every week of the track or cross country season?

MW – It would be presumptuous of me to dictate to high school coaches. They have to work within a system they’re handed. But I guess they could look very critically at the tempting, extra meets. Where I’m from, back East, there is some Invitational or Relay meet every weekend. Are you going there for the development of the athlete… or for you?

DT – You basically took a moderately successful collegiate program and made it into a dynasty. What suggestions do you have for a high school coach who wants to take an average team and build a highly successful program?

MW – Be patient. Be physiologically sound. Be humble. Be there.

DT – Thanks very much Coach Wetmore for your time. I wish you continued success in the future.

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