When Michigan men’s cross country coach Ron Warhurst first arrived in Ann Arbor almost 35 years ago, he started his own Michigan tradition. One so good that it has spread across the country.
“When you have a good program, people want to emulate you,” Warhurst said.
After coaching a four-time Olympian, the male and female winners of the Boston Marathon in consecutive years (1983-84), and a team that won seven conference titles, there’s no question Warhurst is a legendary coach.
And one of his best drills, the “Michigan” workout, is no longer being used just in Ann Arbor. The training regiment is meant to imitate a cross-country race, in which runners start fast to get their place in the line-up, slow to a steady rate, sprint to get out ahead of the pack, slow down again and then break for the finish line.
“(When a race starts), they are all in a big line and everyone runs like a bat out of hell to get a good position,” Warhurst said.
The “Michigan,” the name Warhurst gave the drill, helps with the timing of races. It is a seven-and-a-half mile run starting on the track. The Wolverines run a 4:30 mile, then run a steady rate until they approach the football stadium, at which point they start to speed up again and begin the 2,000-meter loop around the stadium, a 6:15 split. They run back to the track to run three additional sprints.
The workout Warhurst invented has been used in schools around the country.
The Wolverines also run timed, interval and strength training workouts six days a week, sometimes twice a day, and run 10-12 mile endurance workouts. All the exercises are meant to build up to the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
“There is structure in the program,” Warhurst said. “But there is a lot of flexibility in the structure.”
Warhurst allows one free choice day a week, in which the runners choose their workout, as long as he approves it. The team gets a day off because NCAA rules restrict teams to holding organized practices just six days a week.
“They run on their own,” Warhurst said. “Very rarely does a distance runner take the day off. They are very stubborn.”
On average, the team runs 90-95 miles a week, which, translated into time, is 14-18 hours of running. The team starts to cut down on its mileage near the end of the season in preparation for the bigger meets, including the NCAA championships, if it advances that far.
“Mileage will definitely be less, but quality will increase,” Warhurst said.
The Wolverines have captured seven conference titles and 13 individual championships since Warhurst has been head coach at Michigan, so it seems his “Michigan” is working.
In the meantime, the Wolverines will continue to cover nearly a hundred miles a week in the pursuit of more titles to come.