2012 Iowa Conference champions
Head coach Joe Dunham and associate head coach Stephen Fyfe talk about Central cross country
What is your philosophy in coaching distance runners?
DUNHAM: It’s an athlete-emphasized model. I think it’s important, especially with distance athletes, because every distance runner is different and needs something special. The mental part of this sport is so big that it’s important that they have that mental preparation taken care of. You have to let them engage into that process. Allowing them to be part of the training program design process and making sure that they buy into it is absolutely essential to us. If they don’t believe in what they’re doing every day they’re not going to run well. So that’s an important part of what we want to accomplish with them. We are a high-mileage program, but it’s a progressive high-mileage program. We let them slowly build to that, and I believe that’s how success comes, by avoiding injury and things like that.
FYFE: I strongly believe in individualization within the team framework. We want to figure out what the individual needs within what we’re doing as a team. We expect that they are as passionate about the sport as we are and that they want to learn about what we’re doing, that they want to know why we’re doing what we’re doing so that they can give us good feedback. The more that they know about running and training the more they’re going to be able to give us feedback that we can use to make those little changes within the team framework to help them.
Why do you think training should be individualized?
DUNHAM: I think adapting to an individual is vital for a distance coach. There are subtle things that need to be tweaked and adjusted for individual athletes. The best way I think to aid that is to build close personal relationships with the athletes and really get to know them.
FYFE: An individual relationship I think is very important for adapting to each runner, and I think we’ll be able to do that better with two coaches because we can be more hands on with the athletes.
How do you train runners?
FYFE: As a distance runner it’s important to build on your past running. You need progression in order to make yourself a better runner. I think there’s individualization that needs to be done within the program for each runner, but the only way to really build and get better is to add mileage. That’s what is at the core of the program.
DUNHAM: We need to add mileage to be successful at the national level and that’s where we want to be. The key is to find the proper way to progress and add the miles safely and effectively.
Where do your coaching and training beliefs come from?
FYFE: Personally, given the passion I have for the sport, I read a lot. I’ve also gone to a lot of different conferences. I like to hear what other coaches have to say, what other people have done that has been successful. It’s not to be a copy cat but to take their ideas and to incorporate that into what I believe we should do. I don’t have a set feeling that I think there’s a certain way you should do something in order to get better. My thoughts are always changing. I have a core set of ideas, and high mileage is one of them, but I’m always taking new ideas and asking how does this fit into what I believe is important?
DUNHAM: I think I got some good advice when I was a graduate assistant at Trinity College (Conn.). Coach (George) Suitor told me that as soon as you get to the point where you think you’ve arrived and you know everything, you’re that much further from knowing anything. I think the point is that you need to always be learning and always be looking for new ideas and always look for advice from other coaches. Never assume you know everything because I can guarantee that you don’t. I think that’s kind of where we’re at. Much like Stephen I’ve read a lot, I’ve been to a lot of different conferences and coaching seminars and in the programs that I’ve been a part of there’s been the commonality of what we’ve brought here, of hard work and high mileage.
How will you both working together help the program?
DUNHAM: Working with another coach who is on the same page is an awesome opportunity. I have no concerns about the way Stephen is doing anything. We’ve both been to a lot of the same conferences and we have the same core beliefs, and I think that will make it very easy on both of us.
FYFE: Having two people with the same ideas and same vision about running and training techniques is great. We view things in very similar ways. With both of us working together it gives runners the opportunity to approach either one of us, so we’re not going to be overwhelmed or get burnt out.
What makes Central’s facilities good training tools?
FYFE: There aren’t many schools, Division I included, that actually have a cross country course on campus. So it’s unique. I feel that it’s most important as a training tool, not just a competition area. Most schools have to go to golf courses or soccer complexes to train on soft surfaces. Soft surfaces are vital for a distance runner and having that course on campus you only have to go 100 meters away and you’re running on nice grass. It’s a great training surface. It’s got variety to it with hills and flat places.
DUNHAM: Everyone I’ve talked to that’s been on our course for meets has talked about how nice of a course it is and how much they like it. I think it’s a testament to our school and a testament to our athletic program that has made efforts to separate our program from others. This is just one more thing that shows that our school cares about our distance running program. We want to be seen as a distance capital in Iowa and we want kids to see that. I think that will continue to show in the future.
What do you want runners to get out of being a part of this program?
FYFE: Specifically we want them to improve as a runner. We talk about progression in training as being important and we think that should lead to progress in their running. By the time they are seniors they should look back to their freshman year and see huge improvement. We think that if they follow what we want them to do that everybody should experience that. But beyond that I think we both really believe that running is a different sport and that there really are life lessons that you learn when you’re training and when you’re running. Not only are you getting better as a runner but you’re getting better as a person. Two specific things that I always point to with our team are discipline and sacrifice, and that they’re not evil words. Those are words that you learn through our training and through being a part of our program and you realize that they give you a better life because you are a disciplined person who can make sacrifices.
DUNHAM: It’s important that our athletes understand that being successful as a runner performance-wise isn’t necessarily what defines them as a person. The philosophy that we want to get across to runners is that what defines them as a person is the choices they make and the things that they do from day to day to make themselves better. Are you eating right, getting rest, and taking care of your body? Those are the things that we want them to find their definition in as an athlete. If something goes wrong in competition and you’re definition of who you are depends on that, then what do you have left? I want to them to define themselves by what they do in preparation and how they work. Results will take care of themselves if they are doing everything else correctly. I think that goes into life in general, too. If you do things correctly and you do things right you’ll be successful in whatever you do. Discipline, sacrifice and those things that we emphasize are lessons that will help them be successful in whatever they choose to do after they leave Central.
What does Central offers runners that other schools can’t?
DUNHAM: The distance program here at Central is moving forward. We are excited about the future. We have a lot of pieces of the puzzle already in place. We have our own course, we have made a commitment to the distance program and we believe that we will be successful. I think the facilities are second to none and I don’t know if there are facilities anywhere in this part of the country that put this much at your disposal. We’ve got multiple strength and conditioning coaches and multiple full-time athletic trainers. We have everything that we need: a great weight room and great indoor and outdoor training surfaces. We have big plans and I think we’re separating ourselves right now from the rest.
FYFE: It seems like many people I’ve talked to who choose to come to Central say that it’s because the people are just so friendly and they just like the environment and the atmosphere that they see at Central. I think that environment plays out in the cross country teams with our team environment. When we have people come in and spend some time with our team they realize that these are people that they want to be around. If you talk to some of the people on the team and ask them why they came to Central they’ll tell you that they came on their overnight visit and they just had to come to Central and be with these people. I can’t speak for other schools but I think that at Central we’ve worked hard to develop that environment and we try to continue that within the cross country team. We want an atmosphere that people want to be around and we want people that people like to be around.
What are your expectations for student-athletes?
FYFE: They are students first and that is why they are here, but we believe that running should be a very high priority. Our expectations are that they’re here because they want to be a better runner and a better person, and we expect them to work towards that.
DUNHAM: We want to develop the student-athlete fully, and I want them to have an experience here at Central that is going to prepare them for the next chapter in their life. I want them to have a great experience here. I believe that a big part of having a great experience is running fast and being successful in cross country and being highly competitive. Those are great experiences that they can have. But I also want them to have great experiences in the classroom. I want them to feel like they can go abroad and have a chance to experience other parts of the world. I guess the best word would be comprehensive. I want them to have a comprehensive experience that gives them a chance to try a lot of different things.