In men’s track and field coach Ron Warhurst’s office on the upper floor of Weidenbach Hall, it is difficult to find any empty space on the walls. There is so little room on the walls — which are covered with plaques honoring All-Americans and national champions — that a picture of 1984 Olympic bronze-medalist Brian Diemer lies on the back of a chair, waiting to be hung.
Each of the athletes whose names appear on the plaques and most other distance runners who have run for Michigan during Warhurst’s tenure have endured his famous grueling training run: the Michigan.
“Incoming freshmen are scared to death the first day we do a Michigan because they have heard about it,” Warhurst said. “It is probably one of the most challenging things we do, but the kids love it.”
Completing a Michigan entails running a 4:14 mile on the track and then going for a 4:32 mile loop around the athletic campus. The athletes then return to the track to run 1,200 meters in 3:04 and then repeat their loop around the campus. After returning to the track, the runners complete 800 meters in 2:04 and complete the loop one more time. After the loop, the runners finish the drill by running 400 meters in 0:53.
Warhurst can adjust the workout by adding a half-mile to the loop or swapping the placement of the 400 and 1,200-meter runs.
The Michigan was developed in 1979 by modifying one of Oregon track coach Bill Dillinger’s workouts, which involves a 1,200-meter run on a track. Under Dillinger, the runners would run three miles to a park where they would run one additional mile. Then, the athletes would run the three miles back to the track. After hearing about the Oregon workout, Warhurst changed the run to follow the structure of a typical cross-country race.
“It combines a lot of different training methods into one,” Warhurst said. “It simulates what a race is like. It has an element of a timed run because it is seven miles. It is like a fartlek because you are going fast and slow. It is like an interval session, and it has a little bit of a hill.”
The effectiveness of the workout is evident in how other schools have copied it.
“A lot of college coaches use it,” Warhurst said. “A lot of high school coaches use it as well but tweak it for high school kids.”
Warhurst would not identify a single athlete who excels in the Michigan.
“Anybody that finishes the workout is the star of the workout,” Warhurst said. “When I was young and excited, I would ask the kids to see how fast we could go, but do it more controlled.”
Many of the athletes cannot complete a full Michigan workout until later in their career, if at all.
“I did not do a full Michigan until my third year here,” junior Rondell Ruff said.
Around the track team, the athletes’ opinion of the workout varies depending on the individual.
“It is one of my most enjoyable workouts,” sophomore Nick Willis said. “It fits into the style of runner that I am. The harder surface of the road and the track suit me better than the softer surfaces of the golf course.”
Ruff does not get the same satisfaction out of the Michigan that Willis does.
“I hate that workout,” Ruff said. “I would rather do a cross country race than the Michigan.”
The athletes that can complete it realize the magnitude of their achievement.
“It is an accomplishment to finish the Michigan,” freshman Victor Gras said.