tips4running presents an interview with Mike Mulrooney

Mike Mulrooney - WCCCA Hall of Fame Member

tips4running is very proud to introduce Coach Mike Mulrooney. He is a very successful high school cross country and distance running track coach. He has coached numerous individuals and relay teams that made it to the state track meet. In cross country, he has had two Division 1 championship teams, five runner-up finishes, and his team has qualified for state 14 years running. In 2004 he was inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame. I had the pleasure of running for Coach Mulrooney at Hartland Arrowhead in the early 1990’s. I was a part of the teams that placed second at state in 1992 and 1993.

David Tiefenthaler – It’s good to hear from you coach. Let’s start with some questions about your running background. What do you enjoy most about running?

Mike Mulrooney – Running is my release. It is a great physical release in that I can run and come back exhausted but feel very refreshed later. It sounds contradictory but anyone who is a runner, knows what I mean. Running is a great emotional release as well. Most times I am able to completely erase my frustrations by just going for a run. Running is also a great time for me to think clearly. I am able to sort my thoughts and usually come up with solutions for whatever might have been on my mind. There are many physical benefits gained through running, mostly just maintaining great health. I especially enjoy running with people – running is a great social activity for me as well.

DT – Do you still enter in any road races?

MM – I still enter races and enjoy competing. It is still fun to set a personal goal and compete to achieve it. I am a middle of the pack road racer and I still like to race as best I can and compete with others in the race.

DT – How did you first get into running? Did you run track or cross country in high school or college?

MM – I ran CC and track all four years of high school. That was in the 60’s and training methodology was almost non existent. Many times my coaches would just have me try to beat my mile time or CC time (2.2 miles then) in practice. I was about the 3rd best runner on the CC team at Prairie du Chien HS. My senior year in track, I ran my PR at the sectional with a 4:49 mile. There was no 2 mile then – it got added about two years after I graduated. I went to college at UW – LaCrosse. I competed for three years but was injured my senior year and didn’t compete. I was able to just make the varsity in CC but in track I only got to make the traveling team a couple of times. It was about my junior year when the level of competition on the team got really, really tough. Jim Drews along with some other talented runners came in that year as freshmen. We had won the conference my freshman and sophomore years and although we had more talent on the team my junior year, we had some injuries and didn’t win it. There was definitely a spike in the talent level that year and it has continued ever since. That was Phil Esten’s first year at LaCrosse. He is a hall of fame coach and truly one of the best coaches in the country. I had Buck Jones the year before that and he too was an awesome coach.

DT – What do you consider the peak of your personal running career?

MM – I actually ran better after college. I probably ran my best race five years out of college when I ran a 2:36 marathon. I was single and had the time to train twice a day and that really paid off. The year after that, I had a great summer of training. I was hoping to beat that time but ended up injured instead.

DT – When and where did you first start coaching track and cross country?

MM – I was pretty fortunate in that when I first graduated from UWL, I was able to help with my high school CC and track teams. It was a great experience and I got my feet on the ground before I had a head coaching job. I got hired at age 24 as the head track coach at Pardeeville HS. Two years later, I also got the head CC job. Pardeeville was a great place to coach and teach. In 1980, I got hired as a math teacher and also the head CC and track coach. I remained the head track coach until 1994 when I stepped down to be the distance coach. I have been the head boys CC coach at Arrowhead since 1980. In 2001 and 2002, I was also the head the head girls CC coach.

DT – What do you enjoy most about coaching?

MM – That is a tough question. I think I enjoy most, the satisfaction that I get in seeing an athlete come in as a freshman and grow into a successful runner. Some of them make it to state but it is just very rewarding seeing these runners become self disciplined and goal oriented and just seeing their confidence grow in themselves as a person.

DT – My wife enjoyed coaching both cross country and track, but her favorite event to coach was the 800 meter run. What is your favorite race to coach?

MM – I don’t really have a favorite event. I enjoy CC a great deal and all the track events. The 4 X 800 relay is a very special event. I believe what I enjoy most is trying to get our runners to perform their best at the biggest meet of the year. We obviously aim for the state meet for our varsity athletes and the conference meet for our JV/frosh athletes.

DT – I thought it was great that you ran with us when I was in school. Do you still run with your athletes?

MM – Yes, I enjoy getting out and running with the team. I can keep pace with the beginning level runners and that is my goal – to be fit enough coming into the season to accomplish that.

DT – You always have teams with over 50 runners for cross country and a very large distance running group for track. How do you manage such a big group so effectively?

MM – First of all, that is not an easy task. I have the absolute best co-coach in the state in Mike Ray. This past season, we have also been lucky enough to have Mark Johnson, who ran on a state runner-up CC team and a state champion 4x800 relay team, working with us as a volunteer coach. Just prior to Mark we had Pete Emmerich another all state runner come back and help as a volunteer coach. We work hard to set up structured routines and have the upper classmen be leaders. We work to have everyone on the team to establish goals for themselves. When we have everyone focused on a positive outcome, it is manageable and productive to have so many runners on a team.

DT – Besides having a large team, what is the most challenging part of coaching for you?

MM – The most challenging part of coaching is getting runners to realize their potential. That is probably the most obvious aspect of coaching as a whole, but it is true. It is necessary to have a runner have some success in workouts and meets such that he will believe in himself and compete to his potential. It is necessary to push and challenge runners to compete at the next higher level and sometimes they don’t want to or believe that they can compete at that level. It is necessary to teach runners that the mind plays a very important part of competing and they must stay focused and positive throughout their race.

DT – What accomplishment are you most proud of in your coaching career?

MM – I take the most pride in hearing feedback from runners or their parents about the positive things they learned from running with the Arrowhead program. It is very rewarding when a parent or athlete will say how much they appreciated learning how to set goals, to gain confidence in themselves and the self discipline that they learned. These and other qualities that they learned from the Arrowhead program validate that we are doing a good job in our program. I am very proud of the successes of our teams and all the accomplishments of our runners, many of whom have been all state runners. However, the life long characteristics that the runners take from the sport are the most important qualities that can be learned from the sport.

DT – I just finished reading a copy of your book, Great Workouts of Wisconsin Coaches. When did you get this great idea to compile all these workouts from Wisconsin High School Coaches?

MM – I am always searching for new ideas and workouts that can enhance our program. I thought it would be great to put together a book of workouts from some of the best coaches in the state. I knew that many other coaches would also be interested in gaining more insight into training ideas. I just thought I would go for it and if it didn’t workout then so be it but at least I had an idea and tried it.

DT – Was it difficult to put together?

MM – I have found that CC/Track coaches are very open and eager to help in sharing to make our sport better. When I started contacting coaches they were very willing to share and be part of this project. I was able to put it into Microsoft Publisher so that was a very readable and easy to publish form.

DT – How did you come up with the idea of putting together a book like this?

MM – The book is a book on CD. I had previously purchased an e-book and I thought a book on CD would be very affordable. I was afraid that if I had it published in a hardcover book, it would be way too costly and I would not have been able to include pictures and as much data that I had in the book. It is a year since this book came out and I have had a lot of positive feedback from coaches who have read the book.

DT – How much does a copy of this book cost, and how can someone purchase their own copy?

MM – You can purchase a book by emailing me: mulrooney@ahs.k12.wi.us or calling 262-367-3474. The cost for the book is $10 or $15 with shipping.

DT – Do you have any other books in the works?

MM – Right now I am working on a book entitled Training Profiles of Great Wisconsin Runners. I am contacting some of the best HS runners that have competed in Wisconsin and asking them to write a profile of their biography and their training. It chronicles their training before during and after HS and also includes many candid answers about their road to success. I hope to have it finished by the end of this track season (2009).

DT – You recently retired from teaching. Are there any other activities that keep you busy besides coaching, running, or writing?

MM – Those things are my primary outlets but I still substitute teach and tutor students in math. I have done some home remodeling projects and read a lot. I am also trying to learn some musical instruments. I just have a lot more time with my family and that is priceless.

DT – Do you plan on retiring from coaching any time soon?

MM – No, I am still enjoying the coaching very much and hope to continue coaching for years to come.

DT – Before I let you go, I'd like to thank you again Coach for your time. Also thanks for creating such a wonderful resource for high school cross country and distance track coaches with Great Workouts of Wisconsin Coaches. I hope your team continues to be successful. Well, except when you run against my team. Any thing else we didn't cover?

MM – I want to compliment you on putting together your website which will be a great resource for both runners and coaches. I was really fortunate to have you and your wife as assistant coaches. I take credit in the fact that it was the coaching that brought you together.

DT – I really should thank you more for that. You gave me three months to work my way into dating her. I am truly lucky to have run for you, coach with you, and grateful for setting me up with my lovely wife. Take care Coach.


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