Art Siemers is the Head Coach of cross country and track & field as Division 2 Colorado School of Mines. Coach Siemers has coached numerous National Champions and All Americans during his tenure, as well as consistent top 5 finishes for his men’s cross country team at NCAA D2 Nationals. He is also an outstanding runner, with great range (4:01 mile and 2:18 marathon).
We had a chance to talk to Coach Art Siemers about his coaching philosophy.
Coach Siemers, Thank you very much for your time.
You had outstanding range; from the 800 to a 4:01 mile to a 2:18 marathon. Please tell me about your running background, how you developed such good range and have had such a long career.
Yes, I have some range in my running ability but I would have traded it to be more competitive in one area. In HS I was undefeated in dual meets in the 400m. I never ran faster than 50, but I’m pretty sure I could have if I ran it in college; same with the 800m, my best was 1:50, but I didn’t run it much after college except in small Colorado open races. I started out as a middle distance runner with the goal every runner seems to have, to break the four minute mile. I did not attempt the longer stuff until I turned 30. I came back from the summer 2002 CanAM series in Boston frustrated after I ran multiple 3:45 1500m races and decided to train for the California International Marathon. As a test I flew out to the Orange County Half Marathon five weeks before and won in 1:05:31. It felt great so I took on the marathon running very controlled the first half and negative splitting the race to run 2:18:51. After that I thought I was a marathoner, but I probably over trained my next few. It was sometimes tough to balance training as a full-time middle school math teacher and a coach at Mines.
It appears that your athletes have good range, like you did. How important is that to you? Feel free to talk about figuring out an athlete’s best event and working above it and below it.
Athletes in high school that have a little leg speed can add volume over their career and flourish in long distances. Also, athletes become more efficient with higher volume and tend to run some pretty fast times in shorter distances. Over the years we’ve had distance runners who couldn’t break 55 sec / 65 sec in the 400m in high school run 50 sec / 60 sec or faster in the 4x400m relay once they matured and started getting in the volume.
My coaching style emphasizes a proactive approach that addresses the needs of the individual within a team setting. On our collegiate team we have distance and middle distance athletes running from 40 to over 100 miles per week depending on where they are in their career as well as their background in running. My goal is to get everyone in my program to maximize their potential while also establishing a lifelong love of running and the sport. My staff and I emphasize complementary habits and training integral to successful competitive running including nutrition, general and specific strength development, flexibility exercises and plyometric drills.
Can we touch on those complementary habits and training?
Nutrition – We try to promote healthy eating habits and stress it throughout the season, but as adults they are the ones that make the final decision on what they consume. We try to get them to stay away from the junk food and reward themselves following the workouts with good calories and replenishing foods.
Strength Development – I believe hill work is the best strength work that correlates directly to running mechanics. The hill or incline intensifies the workout while still allowing for specific running form and mechanics. We also focus on isolated core strength (planks), pushups etc.
Flexibility – We do not put a lot of focus on static stretching. Active warm-ups through specific ranges of motion by way of sprint mechanic drills, and actual ‘warming’ of the core temperature is the focus. Muscle elasticity is important in maintaining running economy and eliminating energy expenditure.
Plyometric – As a team we warm-up 800m then work through two sets of drills ~60m high knees, back kicks, high skips, lunges (forward and back), karaoke, backwards running, straight leg bounds, strides –the set takes about 20 minutes with warm-up.
What do you do to improve basic (maximum top end) speed?
Coach Siemers: Once a week throughout the season, after a short run we run 3-5 short hill accelerations at near max speed with full recovery.
To truly love all aspects of the sport. As an athlete if you do not have the motivation to train at a high level it is hard to have much success in the sport. At Colorado School of Mines, we have very little scholarship money and our academic level is very intense so our athletes compete because they have a passion for the sport. That is key to a highly successful program.
When you are recruiting, what type of student/athlete do you look for?
Coaching at one of the top engineering schools in the country, my recruiting starts with the classroom. The averaging incoming freshman at Mines has a 29 ACT and a 3.75/4.0 unweighted G.P.A. Once we can identify a top academic student, then they have to have the desire to go into either a field of engineering or the applied sciences or mathematics. Next, I am mainly looking for a runner who is willing to be very dedicated and patient. Many HS athletes don’t have the patience to look past immediate results for the betterment of a career. It takes time to increase volume and intensity and many times an athlete’s racing can take time to catch up with their training. Our men’s team has grown so much that I had to put in a walk-on standard, which is loosely sub 10:00 3200m, 4:30 1600m, 2:00 800m for the men and 12:15, 5:35 and 2:25 for the women.
How hard is it for your kids to balance academic and athletic demands and perform at a high level in both?
For the most part, our athletes do well balancing school and training, but we have our share of stress and sleep deprivation which doesn’t mesh with a heavy training load. The average student athlete at Mines is a very high achiever so they demand so much of themselves. Sometimes you have to reassure them that they don’t have to be perfect.
The only difference may be in how some athletes respond to racing at altitude. It takes most sea level HS athletes a little longer to learn how to race at altitude and also how to recover here. Like most things in life, with practice athletes get better at it. Another difference is that altitude HS runners run slower times due to the altitude and tend to get overlooked by sea level college recruiters.
What, if any, kind of mileage progression to you try to use with your kids? (Both men and women) I suppose you get kids with all sorts of training history.
My experience is that most HS men run about 40-50 miles a week and women 10-15 miles a week less than that. My goal is to have athletes increase their mileage over their career which is a very individualistic thing. My philosophy is to increase mileage in the off season (summer or winter) when the athletes are training at a lower intensity and do not have the stress of school. During these periods I try to have the athletes run up to 20% more volume than during the competitive part of the season.
I have had All-American distance runners running as low as 70 (women – 60) miles per week and some well over 100 miles per week in their base building phase. Typically higher mileage has really benefitted athletes that didn’t have all that much success in HS.
What kind of mileage do you think is good for high school boys and girls?
It all depends on the program they are in. One thing that I had success with when I coached HS was to make sure the kids had fun. If you really enjoy the sport it’s amazing what can be accomplished.
What are some of the differences between how you coached high school kids and college kids?
The main difference I have found is the average high school athlete needs to be motivated to train in the off season. Also, as a young person develops physically I think it is important to pay attention to what kind of mileage volume they are asked to handle.
How many races per season do you race your kids?
It’s hard to race and train at the highest level, so we race to get experience and add some excitement to our season. In cross we race 4-6 times including Nationals, in track the middle distance runners need more races to sharpen as we close in on our peak season.
How do you manage peaking three times per year and have your kids taper for Championship meets?
My program consists of distinct periods of training depending on what part of the season we are in. First, our team concentrates on aerobic conditioning (mainly medium to longer runs at comfortable to medium effort) including regular hilly runs where we attack the hills in a fartlek style working on aerobic capacity training, and tempo runs of up to 10 miles. As we progress in the season our next period of training includes hill repeats of 30 second to one minute hills, along with interval sessions ranging from 800m to 2000m repeats. In the last period of the competitive season we phase out the hill repeats and tempo runs and utilize anaerobic capacity training (shorter faster intervals). In this stage we cut out our plyometric drills and core and strength work while decreasing our mileage based on the individual and competition distance. We try and peak twice a year—for cross country and for outdoor track. After these two championships, athletes can take a break and then build up a base for the next competitive season. For indoor nationals we just have a small taper.
After your outdoor season ends, what do your kids do for the first couple weeks?
Everyone is different, some take two weeks completely off, some a week off and some take off a few days and then start jogging. As long as mentally and physically they are ready to get back into it I am happy.
How do they build up their summer mileage? Do you recommend some type of tempo running or other workouts during the summer?
Our National Championships are in late May, so I have the athletes take their time getting back into training and building up their mileage with little structure except for a weekly long run and strides at least a few times a week. If they feel like running harder on a run, I am fine with it as long as it is not planned. In the middle of July I incorporate tempo runs, hilly runs, and plyometric drills.
What kinds of tempo runs and hilly runs do you use? If they do tempo runs up to 10 miles, how do you assign pace?
Early season hills vary from fartlek-style attacking the hills at Matthew Winters Park, to 5.1 mile (women 4.6) tempo style effort up Lookout Mountain/Mt Zion 1400 ft of elevation gain – average incline 6% to hill repeats from 1 min to 30 sec average incline ranging from 8-12% jog recovery down. Tempo runs are mainly run on effort, making sure to keep them under control, comfortably hard.
Interview by Mick Grant.
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