One of the most amazing cross-country running stories of 2017, was the Battle Mountain Huskies (Edwards, Colo.) girls cross country team taking third at Nike Cross Nationals back on December 2nd, in Portland, Oregon. A small high school in the mountains, took third in the nation, competing against schools of all sizes.
Coach Robert Parish is also the principal of Battle Mountain High School (BMHS). While at BMHS, they have won 19 regional titles in boys/girls xc and track, five state titles and have had one individual state champion. Thanks to Coach Parish for answering some questions from the Colorado Coyotes.
Coach Parish, you grew up in Carson City, Nevada and ran at Montana State University. Tell us a little about yourself and were you a good runner back in your prime?
Cue Springsteen’s “Glory Days”! I did run Track and X-C for Carson High School back in the day. I was fortunate enough to win three State Championships in the largest division (X-C, 2 mile, 4 x 800 Relay), and our top team finish was 2nd, by 2 points by Senior Year. I was a serviceable runner at Montana State, peaking as the team’s 5th runner a few seasons. Nothing too fancy there, but we did have a great time!
The Battle Mountain girls cross country team, running as Vail Valley Running Club took third at Nike Cross Nationals back in December. A school with an enrollment of 940 is not only the top girl's team in Colorado but the third best team in the entire country. That is truly amazing, tell us about your magical season and was making it to nationals even a goal to start the season?
It was an amazing season in every sense. Coming off a strong season last year, and knowing that we were bringing back everyone for this season, we set our goal a year out of making Nike Nationals. We had many other goals along the way. We wanted to repeat as CO region champs (7 times in a row) and defend our 4A State Title. Another key season goal of ours was to enjoy every part of the journey. We wanted to enjoy the training process and races along the way. We knew that a race would take only 20 minutes of time, but we were going to invest much of our lives into the chase. We wanted to enjoy every step of the process. I think we achieved this goal as well.
How do you manage training and specifically tapering when you have the 4A state championships on October 28th, the Nike Cross Southwest Regionals on November 17th and Nike Cross Nationals on December 2nd? Those are three huge meets you want your runners to be peaking at but over a fairly long time period?
This was a challenge for sure. The initial plan was to basically train through our Colorado Regional meet and only do a slight pullback for the Colorado State meet. Unfortunately, our team was ravaged by a nasty cold about 10 days before Regionals. This forced us into pulling way back the week of Regionals, and then at State as well so the athletes could go into those races as healthy as possible. We knew it was a good sign when they ran decently well despite less than perfect health. I felt that they were starting to lose some fitness coming out of the state meet, so we ramped up big time for two weeks after the State meet. That was then followed by a “peak week” going into NXR SW. They hit it out of the park in Arizona, but qualifying for NXN then threw us into another situation where we hammered hard for a week, and pulled back for a week. Peaking 3 times in a 5-week time frame is not an ideal recipe for success, but our team accepted the reality and fully bought into the plan, as they always do. The result was the validation of commitment to the plan, which is also one of the keys to our success.
At the start of the cross country season, how many kids did you have on the boys and girls team? I am assuming your participation numbers have grown along with the success you’ve had over the years?
We typically have around 70 athletes on our team. We usually have some strong, fast runners, but it’s equally important to our team culture that we welcome and encourage athletes of all speeds, backgrounds, and abilities to our team. We have a wide mix of athletes on our team, and we celebrate and value every team member. We really try to promote the inclusivity of our group.We took great pride that our JV team went undefeated this past season as well.
My experience with a lot of great high school programs is that they have a middle school program or a youth club program that helps get the kids ready for high school. Does Battle Mountain have anything like that or are the freshman coming in with little running experience?
We do have middle school X-C programs at our two feeder schools. Most of our varsity team consists of athletes who found their love of running after the start of high school. However, most of our fastest and strongest upperclassmen usually come to us to run as their “2nd or 3rd sport”. We take and encourage all sorts of multi-sport athletes. Often times they start to catch fire and make running their number one sport. We’ve found that this style of allowing athletes to find their love of running might initially put them behind some of their counterparts, but usually has them hungry, eager and fresh for their later years in our program.
As a male coach who coaches both the boys and girls program, can you discuss your coaching style and how it may differ when coaching and motivating different genders?
I really enjoy coaching both the boys and the girls, and think it would be strange to only coach one group. There are many stylistic differences between coaching boys and girls, and both respond differently to different types of motivation. However, relationship building is still the cornerstone of coaching any distance runner. In order to really coach an athlete at the highest level, they have to trust and believe in you first.
Tell us a few of your favorite cross country workouts and one of your favorite taper workouts?
A hallmark of our program is our summer and fall trail runs. We have 8-10 of our “classic” trail runs, and every athlete has a favorite one. Our mile repeat loop along the river path is also a workout that every athlete that goes through our program knows well, and probably has some war stories to tell. Our Oregon drill with a few accelerators at the end is our “go-to” peak week workout.
I can’t think of any other high school principals who also act as a head coach, how difficult is it balancing the two?
No lie – It is tough. My only chance at pulling it off is staying ultra organized and doing as much pre-planning and work ahead of time as I can, as well as some long Sunday nights. I’m also very fortunate to have an extensive support system. First, my wife Kelli and my boys Riley and Logan, are very patient and understanding of my time commitments. Our assistant coaches are fantastic and handle all sorts of facets of coaching and logistics. Our captains and upperclassmen leaders are well versed in our program and culture and do a great job of pushing the team forward. Lastly, our Assistant Principals and office staff are strong, capable leaders who are helpful and patient with my crazy schedule. I am very lucky to have people who support me trying to do both.
Battle Mountain also has a Nordic ski team in the winter. How many of your cross country runners also compete in Nordic and how do you think Nordic impacts their running?
We work hand in hand with our school’s Nordic program, and fully believe that both programs benefit from each other. I’d guess that close to 2/3rd of our X-C athletes participate in Nordic in the winter (others do Alpine skiing or other winter sports). Run training conditions are tough in the valley in the winter, as the trails, fields, and tracks are all covered in snow, and the roads are usually icy and dangerous. Nordic provides the athletes with a non-impact, strong cardio workout as well as a mental and physical break from running. We’ve found that athletes are well positioned for a great track season if they focus on Nordic with a few days of running and lifting per week. We enjoy watching our runners compete well in Nordic too!
How have you evolved as a coach over the years with regards to say coaching style, temperament, and actual training methods?
The old timers from our program would say that I take it way easier on the current teams than the groups from my mid 20’s. There probably is a lot of truth to that. I think as a program, we have become more intelligent about maximizing every step we run, and not adding unnecessary mileage or pounding on the body. We have also maximized injury prevention measures in every part of our training. We probably employ more speed training then we did 10 years ago as well. We also have moved toward a “volume over time” approach, looking at the development of our athletes over a 4 year period. Looking at the development of our athletes in this way enables us to focus long term, and not get too caught up in small setbacks or training interruptions.
Final question, after an amazing 2017, how does the future look for the Huskies as you lose seniors to graduation and the younger runners funnel in?
Graduation is always tough on our team (as well as any other team). Not only do we lose many of our fastest and most experienced racers, athletes, but also we lose our leaders with strong team connections who are able to form the heart and soul of our teams. There are many younger athletes looking to step into leadership roles and carry on the tradition we started At this point, the team culture of hard work, expectations and staying focused on team goals will continue. And of course, we’ll look to have a good time while working toward our goals!