Nos. 101 & 102 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

I wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity to talk with Ron Warhurst and Maverick Darling on my trip to Ann Arbor, but these two allowed me to listen in on their conversation and ask questions. Beijing Olympics 1,500-meter silver medalist Nick Willis also popped in briefly to do strides on the indoor track.

Warhurst became the Michigan cross-country coach in 1974 and ended up guiding more than 40 All-Americans and 12 Olympians during his time as XC and track and field coach. He retired in 2010 but continues to coach post-collegiate runners in the Ann Arbor area, including Willis and 3:51 miler Will Leer.

Darling won three straight MHSAA D3 cross-country state titles at Ovid-Elsie and went on to be a multiple-time All-American and Big Ten champion at Wisconsin. He has a 5K PR of 13:27, and I’m looking forward to his progression at the professional level.

After running 8:01 at the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile in 2013, Warhurst talked about his adventure at the same race in 2014:

“I said, ‘I’m coming back, and I’m gonna run seven minutes next year [in 2014].’ … So then, I started training for it. I had two stints put in my heart eight years ago, so in the last week of July, I started getting a pain in my neck again, and I’m going, ‘Dammit, I know what that feeling is.’ And my doctor said, ‘You don’t need a stress test—you’ll know the feeling when you get it.’ … So I’m starting to train pretty good, and I’m getting a pain in my neck, and I’m feeling shitty and thinking, ‘Dammit, I know I can get through September.’ So, it’s getting worse, so I’m training shittier. So I get there and I do it anyway. And I already had an appointment set up with my heart specialist four of five days after the race, so I get there, I’m doing it, I’m warming up. The day before [the race], I’m going, ‘Dammit, I can feel it…’ So I’m running my ass off, and I didn’t feel it, probably because I was thinking too much. About 100 yards out from the finish, here’s [Will] Leer and the Minnesota guys and all the girls, all the pro guys and pro girls, and they’re yelling, ‘Come on, coach!’ So I’m running, and I’m kicking my ass off at seven-minute pace, ya know? I’m in an all-out sprint.

“So I see them hanging around the finish line, and I started to smile and went to flip ‘em off, and the next step—right in front of them—I hit the ground, bang! I’m laying on the ground going, ‘Did I have a heart attack?’ I don’t feel any pain, but my knee is killing me, my elbow is killing me. And all I can hear is, ‘Get up! You gotta finish! Get up!’ Leer’s screaming, they’re all yelling at me. So I get up and I’m going like this, ‘OK, it can’t be a heart attack. I don’t hurt, I’m still going.’ And it’s like slow motion to get to the finish. So I ran 7:42, and I was a mess. I still got a lump on my elbow—it’s all skinned up and shit. … I got back on Sunday, and my appointment was Thursday with the doctor. I didn’t do anything all week; I was too sore and stiff. So I get in there, and they took my blood pressure. I was waiting for them to start telling [I raced]. I walk into his office, and he goes, ‘I understand that you and John U. Bacon are running Boston.’ I go, ‘Well yeah.’ He says, ‘Well I want in.’ I go, ‘OK.’ Then he looks and he goes, ‘What’s this 140 blood pressure? How ya feeling?’ I said, ‘Well pretty good. I got this pain.’ He says, ‘You asshole!’ Because he knew I was gonna tell him. He goes, ‘How long have you had it?’ I go, ‘Two, three, four, five, six weeks…’ He says, ‘Get your ass, we’re gonna go get a stress test.’ So I get a stress test, and then he says it’s blocked and don’t do anything till Monday. So I put another stint in, and I ran with that thing. And now a week later, I’m feeling like a bitch, man, I’m running hard. So I was a half-ass to run that race, and I had half a heart. Now I have a big ass on me, and my heart’s full.”

No. 100 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“This past summer has been very disappointing for me, because—even though I didn’t have any huge bombs—I didn’t feel that I was reaching my potential, and I struggled with some injury. Overall, I was pretty much just disappointed every time I touched the track in races. So it was a hard summer. But this fall has been really good, and I think one of the big things that’s helped me was working with a sports psychologist. She’s helped me to focus on the right things and enjoy what I’m doing and love myself. I don’t have any races to really show that I’m out of that yet, but I don’t really need to prove it to myself because I know—I can tell that I’m happier and I’m enjoying my training and things are going well. I feel full of hope.”

No. 99 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“My most frustrating running moment was my junior year at Hillsdale [College]. I had suffered a series of three stress fractures between my freshman and sophomore year, so I was out a year of racing. I came back really slowly. My junior year in cross-country, I was still running pretty slow. Hadn’t PR’d in two years. I had raced at our home course—ran the worst I ever finished on our team. And I just felt like my running career was going nowhere. … Immediately getting through that, my coach decided to have me do more of a fun race, a shorter one. Get out there and just feel the point of racing again: to enjoy it. I ended up running pretty well, felt a little bit more competitive, came back three weeks later and finally PR’d by 45 seconds in the 6K. … Since that point, it’s been kind of a steady progression where I keep putting the work in, and I am seeing the results. That’s keeping me motivated. … We do have a tradition at Hillsdale College. It’s called the Cider Mill Run. Our coach [was] Wild Bill Lundberg, who is just a crazy coach, and what he has us do is we run for a couple miles in the woods, and we pick up all the glass bottles we can find. He’s got a pedestal that we’re supposed to put them on, and we’ll get rocks and take turns chucking the rocks. And whoever breaks the bottle gets a free pair of shoes. So this is what we do every year as our fun run the week before regionals.”

No. 98, Revisited [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“One of my biggest setbacks in high school would be having a stress fracture from my last season of track. This was going into senior season, big goals ahead. I had already committed to Michigan, but I still had times I wanted to get. … I had a really good indoor season, then two meets into the outdoor season, my shins just completely gave out on me. So I got an MRI, found out I had two stress fractures. So that kinda put a damper on training right away. I got to the Golden Triangle Meet at Saline, kinda like a state meet preview, and I got to run the 8 [800 meters] there—it was the last thing I did before taking a month-and-a-half off. So I spent a month-and-a-half in the pool. I’d get up in the morning and swim with the swim team. Then after school, either elliptical or bike and then get back in the pool. I did that all the way up to the regional meet, so I got to regionals, and I hadn’t been on a track up until like the day before, and that was just a couple of strides. So I got through that, qualified with a time, made it to the state meet. My coach from there had me doing workouts every once in a while. With 200 meters left in the state meet race though, I felt something shift in my shin, and it just gave out on me. So I went from being third with like 250 to go, to dead last. I got a pity clap coming in the homestretch—probably one of the worst moments ever. … So that was my transition into collegiate running.

“I got back for cross-country [at Michigan], and then same thing: double stress fractures again right before indoor started, except it was both legs this time. I kinda rushed back into training because I was really eager about starting college running. I felt like I had a little bit of ground to make up. … It was one of those things where you got to know the pool, the bike and the Ann Arbor swim club that comes in between 11 and 1. I knew their times, they knew me. We were on a first-name basis in the diving well. So that was one of those things where you didn’t really get to see the team very much freshman year, which was difficult. … But with maybe two months left in outdoor, I started training again, so I got to do my base mileage, and the upperclassmen girls were really good about bringing me back. I got to race one meet at the end of the season. It was just an 800, and I literally had not touched a track since doing a race [simulation] 600 indoor back in December. So [Coach] McGuire came up to me before, and in terms of life advice, McGuire is a pretty quiet guy, very few words. And the only thing he said to me was, ‘If you go out and try to lead this in a 60 or 61, I will run out onto the lane and tackle you’ and walked away. So I pretty much went out, sat back the first lap and then picked up the second lap again. Took his advice, and it went really well. I think I got second in the heat and broke my high school PR. So I went 2:14-low, and I was really happy with it for a first race back.”

Nos. 95, 96 & 97, Revisited [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

Right: “I want to do a road mile. I want to break 16 in the 5K. I have wanted to break 17 in the 5K for a long time for cross-country, and I did it in my 6K on Sunday. I was so happy when I saw the time. Because that was my high school PR [17:00.2]. And we don’t run 5K very often [in college]. For so long I was like, ‘I can’t break my high school time.’ But I finally did it.”

“Talk about Coach McGuire. What has he taught you that you’ll take with you beyond Michigan?”

Right: “Tough love, don’t feel sorry for yourself, and just work hard. … There’s a level of accountability on the team, and so whenever there’s a period of no leadership and no seniors making sure everyone’s running enough miles, then the team’s way worse for a few years. … He really lets us create our own culture. He knows that even if he tried to create our culture, he couldn’t. You know what I mean? He’s one person, there’s 30 of us.”

Center: “He’s not really that involved in every single aspect of our training. He doesn’t tell us how many miles to run—it’s up to us. We adjust it to how we feel and how our bodies are reacting to it. … [Coach McGuire] is old enough and wise enough to know that this is the best way it works.”

No. 98 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“I’m an 800 runner, and long-distance running is not my thing. But I think doing a marathon on every continent would be amazing. I love traveling and meeting new people. It’s definitely something I want to do—it’d be cool to incorporate running to traveling. And then racing a race in each state, whether that’s collegiately and traveling for that, or post-grad. It’d be cool to do an any-distance-in-any-state type of thing. So anywhere from 5K to 10K, half marathon to full [marathon].”

No. 97 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“My darkest times have been both of my freshman years. In high school, my freshman year, it was my first season running cross-country, and I played soccer at a pretty high level, so I did both at the same time. I was on a state runner-up soccer team, as well as being an all-state cross-country runner. It was a tough balance, and it was my first year of high school. I remember one day in the middle of the season just going out for a normal run with my senior captains and all my best friends, and I just remember breaking down, crying, stopping, and I just curled up in a little ball. I look back to them picking me up and pushing me through it all, teaching me that everything is gonna be all right. I correlate that with my freshman year here, because I had similar leadership in our captains. I had some pretty awful races my freshman year. It was just as similar, even though there wasn’t soccer involved. College is hard, classes are hard, training at this level is really hard. So those two freshman years were hard.”

No. 96 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“The harshest [running] times are when you go into a race and you’re really fit and really ready and really excited, and you just run awful, and there’s no reason why. You question everything. You question your talent, you question your preparation, you question if you’re cut out for it, you question if you’re mentally tough. You just question everything, and it’s really hard to bounce back from those [races] more so than injury. You just have no idea why it went so horribly. It’s hard to go into the next race after that happening. How do you get your confidence back? How do you feel ready to race again? Those have been the darkest times, but I’m lucky because Coach [Mike] McGuire has invested a lot of time and energy and resources in me, and helping make sure I’m prepared. So usually when that happens, I’ve been able to either get stronger the next year from it or get stronger the next race. It’s just been a huge learning process.”

No. 94 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“I was injured my sophomore cross-country year and my junior year, so I went two consecutive cross-country seasons of battling injuries, trying to help out my team to win Big Tens—it’s always been a back-and-forth battle between Michigan State. It’s been really, really tough. For some reason, I train too hard in the summer after track season, and I end up getting injured in cross-country. I think the hardest moment for me was my junior year when I ended up fracturing a bone in my foot after just months and months of trying to avoid that. And I did that at Pre-Nats, and the following weekend was Big Tens, and our team ended up winning [Big Tens]. It was really bittersweet for me, because I wanted to be a part of it, but I was so happy for them. And at the same time, I was like, ‘Gosh, you don’t get a championship every year.’ We’ve been battling the last two years, and we’ve gotten beat by Michigan State the last two years. I think my teammates wanted to share it with me, but at the same time, it’s different when you’re not in the race or you don’t get to run. After that, I was hungry—I wanted to help the team, I wanted to be a part of a championship. Finally last year, my senior year, I was healthy, and we almost won the Big Ten meet, but the biggest thing was that we got fourth at nationals. That was really, really incredible. That’s almost as cool as winning a championship. It was nice to finally share that with my teammates.”

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“Describe that feeling of being fourth at nationals.”

“You know what, we got done, and we were so cold and so defeated in a way, that we were like, ‘Wow, that wasn’t good. Man, it was so tough.’ We’re all just freezing cold, and we got out, and everybody was like smiling and so happy, and we’re like, ‘What happened?’ And then we hear we got fourth, and we’re like, ‘There’s no way we got fourth.’ And we ended up actually getting fourth. We just were ecstatic—that’s what happens when everybody finishes a race and feels like they couldn’t have given anything else. It was defeating because we all were so tired, and we felt like it didn’t go well because it was one of the hardest races that we had ever run. It was 19 degrees, there was ankle-deep mud and water the entire race, so when you get done, you don’t know how you did, because the times aren’t fast, you feel like you’re drowning the whole time. … To share that with your teammates is something that you never forget. It’s hard to explain what it does feel like. It’s unlike any individual thing that I’ve ever accomplished.”

“What’s still on the running bucket list?”

“I don’t have an outdoor season anymore, but I specialize in the steeplechase, and I ran 10:02 last year. I would do anything to break the 10-minute barrier. I’d also like to go to USAs this year. I do think I’m going to give it another run.”

No. 93 [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“My darkest running moment was from my sophomore year during track season. I had a really bad ankle sprain. I was working out and going over the barriers, and on the water jump on one of the intervals, my foot was just twisted there, and I came down on it and sprained it really bad. Everyone thought it was broken, but luckily it wasn’t—it was just a very severe sprain. So I had to go through about six to eight weeks of rehab. I was in a walking boot, on crutches. Eight weeks later was when I was able just to start jogging, very light jogging. During that month-and-a-half to two months, it was pretty frustrating because I was just out of the loop, and it was hard to see the end of the injury. What kept me seeing through it all was continuing to be on the rehab and making sure I was doing everything I possibly could to get better and as fast as I could. I would try to put myself into team situations or events and just talk to people as much as I could. Without running, without practice every day, you don’t get that aspect as much. … Coach [Mike] McGuire is very supportive, and he’ll tell you to listen to your body and make sure you’re not overdoing it our pushing too hard. He doesn’t want [an injury] to get worse, obviously. He’s very encouraging, and he believes in you, which is the biggest thing that helps you get through something like that.”

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“I definitely want to do a half marathon officially in a race. We do [13.1 miles] in a long run every week, but I’d like to do a half marathon race. After that, I want to do a marathon. Eventually, I would like to do at least one triathlon and one Ironman. This is kind of the sequence of events that I eventually want to get done. I want to do all those things at least once, and then after that maybe see if I like one particular thing or the other. I definitely still want to have that competitive edge when collegiate running is done.”

“I’m a high school senior, I’ve narrowed my college decision down to Michigan and three other schools, I want to run. How would you pitch Michigan to me to convince me to come here for running and academics?”

“I could relate, because I was down to Michigan and a few other schools, and what really sold me was the academics here and just the history and the tradition of all the athletic programs—especially women’s cross-country in general, and with Mike McGuire being such a highly respected coach. To be an athlete under him, I knew I’d be able to reach my potential, and he’d be able to turn me from being an average high school runner to a pretty good collegiate runner. I’d tell a high school senior to look at the history and all the runners he’s coached and what he’s done.”