My goal is for this website to have content that matters. I want coaches, runners, and running enthusiasts to find relevant information that they (you) can use, discuss, and enjoy. Throughout the year I’ll be posting different interviews with different coaches; some college, some high school, some pro, and some recreational… And so, with that in mind, I’m very excited to post our first High School Coaches Interview.
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing one of my best friends and one of my closest coaching peers…Coach Robert Reed (Rob for short) is currently the Boys and Girls Cross Country and Track coach at Plano East High School in Plano, Texas.
I would bet that Rob and I speak on average 5-6 days per week and usually it’s about training, workouts, and upcoming races. I personally believe that Rob is one of the best high school coaches in the country, especially when talking about training runners for the 1600 / 3200 meters on the track.
It’s a long-winded interview, but I believe there is a lot of great information in here!
1. How long have you been at Plano East High School and what is your official role / title?
This is my third year at Plano East – I am he head cross country coach and head girls track & field coach.
2. What is your educational background?
I received both my degrees in Kinesiology & Sports Studies from Texas A&M University-Commerce. Afterwards, I served as a graduate assistant, interim instructor in the Kinesiology department and ultimately assistant cross country/track coach.
3. What is your running background?
I started running in middle school on top of playing basketball and football. I went to a new high school and we did not have cross country until my junior year. I was your average “2:00/4:30/10:00” type in high school and decided that Division II was the best route for me to go. I had 4 different coaches in college so I never had a consistent training program for more than 2 years. I ended my college career with modest PRs of 1:54/3:53/15:11.
4. If you had to sum up your coaching philosophy, what would it be?
As an athlete – I was trained a bunch of different ways in college and I learned from each one. I had the most success under Daniels VDOT, but I also think my improvement was due to the fact that I was simply training consistently. I was always lower mileage in college (60-70) and never pushed the envelope as much as I wanted to in terms of volume due to nagging injuries popping up throughout my career.
My coaching philosophy now at the high school level is try to make kids as well rounded as possible to handle all events 800-3200 in track and of course the 5K in cross country. I try to work all paces year round and just change the emphasis based on what time of year it is. I believe it is very important to work on speed with high school athletes as it’s one of those things that if you don’t use it you lose it.
A more generalized philosophy is I simply want to keep the kids healthy while steadily increasing their training load over the four years that I coach them. I think we could always be doing a little bit more volume, or one more rep in a workout… but I’ve found that “leaving one in the tank” has kept our team relatively healthy.
For those kids who hope to run in college, I want to help them realize their potential and send them to off to their next step as an athlete with a high ceiling where they can continue to add volume throughout their career and see their times drop.
5. What is your favorite XC workout?
I like tempo runs and split tempos that I have been fine-tuning since I was an athlete.
With the high school season being a little shorter than college – we have to have our peak for the Regional Championships. I did not really take this into account my first year so we were not able to get into as much specific work as I would have liked.
One of the bread and butter workouts we always did when I was in college during my early years was a 20 minute tempo. We would build to this throughout the later parts of the summer with split tempos so now it’s developed into something like this…
4×5′ @ Tempo
3×7′ @ Tempo
2×10′ @ Tempo
15′ + 5′ @ Tempo
20″ @ Tempo
Next year we are going to push that number to 25 minutes for some as I believe I have some kids who can handle it.
Something we did this year as a ‘connecting’ workout was a 3 mile tempo followed by 1 mile at their 5K pace. I like blending paces as much as possible within a workout or working different ends of the spectrum (10K/3K pace, etc). It’s not reinventing the wheel by any means but I’ve found it to be effective for us.
Another thing we’ll do is sprinkle in some faster running before/after our tempos as a way to wake their legs up and then work on running fast while fatigued.
6. What is your favorite Track workout for a 16/32 kid?
I think every coach has their favorite area of events and the 1600/3200 is probably mine. I have the most experience with this type of training and you know I am always tinkering with workouts.
Early on in the season I really like 9-10×300 @ Mile Pace w/100 walk-jog in between. I try to get them to find the rhythm early on and just stick with it the entire workout.
I’ve also had success with blending multiple paces within a workout. We had to do a workout in the indoor the other day because of the cold conditions and we did 2×5′ at Tempo, 1×3:30 at 10K, 1×2:30 at 5K, 2×1:15 @ 3K and 2×30″ @ Mile-800 Pace all with 90 seconds recovery. This is something I did early on at Commerce as a coach and shifted the emphasis towards faster paces during indoors.
I’ve found that high schoolers need specfic work a lot sooner than the kids I coached at Commerce because we have to be peaked for the area meet which is the 2nd-3rd week of April.
The 3200 is one of those events that I’ve only been coaching for 3 years so I’m still discovering what really works for high schoolers. I like breaking intervals up into sets so we’ll do 3x4x400 w/45 seconds rest between reps and 3 minutes between sets and then repeat the workout later on as 2x6x400 with same recoveries.
All workouts we “keep one in the tank”. Too many times as an athlete I would leave my best efforts on the track on Wednesday and the concept of not racing workouts is something I try to instill early on.
7. What’s the most challenging part of your job as a high school coach?
When I was at Commerce I would have 25-30 kids any given year. As the head coach of a high school team this year that number more than doubled to 63 athletes. We all workout at the same time so my job during workouts has become more of a manager than scientist trying to tinker with workouts.
I give kids ownership of their warmup and workout and by the middle of cross country season I give the paces, prescribe the workout and can just sit back and monitor/adjust as needed. I am not able to give as much individual feedback as I would like but it’s something that the kids enjoy having a large team/family to work with each day.
I think with any high school coach – the logistics of managing practice is the most difficult thing. During mileage days – I have kids that will run 9 miles in an hour and other kids who run 6 miles in an hour. Managing the logistics/routes to make sure everyone is monitored is the most difficult part for sure.
8. What’s the most enjoyable part of your job as a high school coach?
I love seeing the cumulative effect of training over a long period of time and the effect it has on kids physically and most importantly mentally. With training their confidence grows and they are able to run times they never thought possible.
The best analogy I can come up with is that when kids go to college as a distance runner, they are like a pre-made pizza. You have the crust, sauce and cheese already on there and then it is the coaches job to put the toppings on.
With a high school athlete, you are getting the dough and it’s your job to make the pizza crust before worrying about what type of pizza you are going to make.
My goal is for each kid to find a lifelong passion with running and to continue when they leave.
9. Favorite coaching memory?
There’s three that stick out in my mind – Ricky Romero placing third at NCAA National Championships where he dropped his PR from 1:50.XX to 1:48.74 in a single race. He skipped the 1:49 barrier and I still remember him running people down on the homestretch and almost catching Drew Windle and Robin Butler.
I had a runner named Terra Truitt at Commerce from a small town in the Panhandle called Pampa. She was a 12 flat 2 miler coming out of high school but was tough as nails. During the LSC T&F Meet her freshman year, she ran faster than her 3200 PR three times in a row en route to a 37:12 5K to get third. It was the culmination of training and staying healthy that got her there and it was an amazing race to watch as she just kept gaining momentum throughout the race.
Lastly – Martha Brown placing 15th at state XC meet in 2016, where she PR’d through 2 miles and caught about 20 people over the last mile. I remember telling her that she PR’d in the middle of the race which could have backfired but she looked great and every girl that she caught after that I was cheering louder and louder. It ended up being a 20 second PR in the most important meet of the year and I just remember looking back at the season and realizing we stayed true to the process despite any little bumps in the road.