Coach Jerry Baltes/GVSU
Coach Jerry Baltes/GVSU
Grand Rapids, MI
Jerry Baltes is the head Men's and Women's Track and Field and Cross Country coach at Grand Valley State University. In his six years at GVSU he has had 27 different All - Americans recieve over 70 All - American certificates. His women's cross country team was fifth in the nation his first year of coaching and have been there five of his six years, finishing no worse than fifth. His men's team has qualified the past three years and keeps getting better and better. All this was accomplished at a school who rarely was a conference threat. Read more to see how Coach Baltes turned the Laker's ship around.
RunMichigan: First off, congratulations on the turn around that you have made at GVSU. The men’s and women’s team went from being basically non-existent on the national and regional scene to being powerhouses. Why did you decide to coach at GVSU? What has been the process and effort to make the Men’s and Women’s programs so successful?
JB: I was very fortunate at a young age in the coaching world to have a lot of things fall into place for me. As I finished up my eligibility at Butler University in Indianapolis I knew I wanted to get into the coaching ranks. It was always a passion of mine. Even in high school I knew I wanted to teach and coach.
I was lucky that Joe Franklin saw something in me and gave me an opportunity to be a graduate assistant coach for his already successful programs. I had always planned on teaching and coaching in high school, but I knew if I wanted to give the college thing a shot it had to be now or never.
We had a very good year, and at the end of the year I had some great opportunities come up. Four high schools offered me positions and I was offered a position at the University of Wyoming. I was very excited about what we were planning on doing the next year at Butler so I decided to stay around and help finish what we started.
That fall our men won their first conference title in a while, and ended up finishing 16th at the NCAA championships. The women were still taking care of business in the conference as well. We went on to have a very good spring as well. At that point I had been applying to different openings and kept getting the rejection letters. I had applied to GVSU, though I had never heard of the school. I met the legendary Al Owens at the NCAA champs at the dome in Indy, and the next week I was called up for an interview.
I interviewed, the first two candidates turned down the job. Not enough scholarship, and too much work were the reasons. So they settled for the third choice and I accepted at the age of 24. I was very lucky to have Tim Selgo give me the opportunity, and decided at that point that I would make the most of it, since head coaching jobs at the college level are hard to come by, especially at the age of 24.
From there I just started from scratch getting things going. When I walked in the door on May 17th , 1999 there were about 30 total returners (track/ cross men and women)in the program. There was a stack of recruit files about a 2 feett high on my desk so I started calling them one by one. My questions were: have you applied, been accepted, do you have a pulse? If all three were a yes I invited them out for the team. That first year we had 90 on our roster. I was simply focused on people that wanted an opportunity to be on a team, and were willing to work hard while trying to achieve some success as a team and individually. We then grew to 120, 140,160 and have leveled back off at 140 as we are graduating more students each year.
From there we have tried to build a team environment that allows for all of our student athletes to be successful while bringing something to the table to help the team be successful.
That is the short version of how it played out. There are many more exciting things that took place behind the scenes, but that would take a while.
RunMichigan: In women’s cross country the past few years the Lady Lakers have been ranked as high as third. Obviously, you and the girls would like to win a national title. What is it going to take for your women’s team to beat out the likes of a Western State or Adams State?
JB: 7 altitude tents! No seriously, we will simply continue doing what have done to get at this point. Yes is our goal to win a national championship, and I do feel we will one of these times. Whether it is next year or 10 years down the road. We will keep knocking at the door and one of these times we will sneak by and knock both of them off. The tricky part will be knocking both off in the same year, both are great programs with great tradition, so it will not be easy.
I feel we have done a good job of getting where we are with the right mix of top end talent( 5:00 1600 runner) and the middle of the road student athlete(12:00-3200 runner) that comes into our program and works hard every day while improving enough to make that national squad. So from here we need to keep landing a front runner each year( O’Dell, Zemba, Ewing, Egan, Singleton), at the same time taking the 12:00 3200 runners and turning them into sub 18:00 5k’er( chouinard, doerr, antvelink, winters, budde). Hopefully one these times we will find the right mix and end up on top. 7 altitude tents may help speed up the process though.
RunMichigan: In men’s cross country the past few years, your team has also been climbing the ranks, reaching 6th at the national meet in 2004. What are the men going to have to do to reach the level of the elite three of Western, Adams and Abilene?
JB: 7 more altitude tents!!! Just kidding again.
We will have to continue doing the same as the women. We have done it more on the men’s side with the middle of the road talent-9:30-10:00- 3200 runners. We have only had one sub 9:30 3200 runner in our program coming out of high school. We rely much more on the average walk on runner and focus on developing them to be a solid 8k-10k runner by the end of their career.
Nate Peck is a great example, he did not even make the state meet his senior year in cross country. He had a good spring his senior year running 1:55, 4:20, 9:35, but nothing out of this world. He came here his freshman year and bought into the system and dedicated himself to getting better. He has handled the mileage, and done all the little things very well from rest/ recovery to nutrition to strengthening. Once you get a nucleus of people working for the same goal and on the same page things tend to move forward quicker and smoother. Nate is only one of our examples of individuals buying into the system and putting the time into getting better.
We will get there, we have a great core of guys in the program right now. I really feel the next couple of years are going to be quite exciting.
RunMichigan: Do you feel that your men’s and women’s team have the same goals or is there a difference in the way that they think and dream running?
JB: The one thing we really talk about is doing everything you can to reach your full potential. Whether it is as a student, runner, or as a person, make the most out of the opportunities in front of you. So as a whole I think our programs are very similar. Everyone wants to run fast and win championships, but is everyone willing to commit to the whole project is always the question. I think the difference is we have all types of abilities, attitudes, and passions toward running. We try to give everyone an opportunity to fit their situation into our program as long as they are making the most of their given abilities, and committed to the team environment.
Some of our greatest success stories have not been the people who have won us championship on the track/ course, but those that have gotten the job done away from the track. People like Aaron Alexander, Rebbeca Winters-Wiltzer, Diana Martin-Painter, Kenny Bader, Mandi Zemba, or the Fuji twins each have their own story of bringing something special to the table that has allowed this program grow in more ways than just running fast. That is what I feel is most important and most special about our programs.
RunMichigan: On the Stanford track in late March, Ryan Cole ran a personal best and national qualifying time of 29:42. When did you guys decide to head out to Stanford and did his performance surprise you? In addition, how will his training look now that he is in the national meet for sure?
JB: We had been thinking and planning for it for some time. We did not decide what to race until around the indoor nationals. We wanted to wait and see where we were strength wise. We had planned on racing Pabst the whole time as he red shirted the indoor season. We entered Pabst at 30:00 and he ran 29:58, and Cole at 29:40 and as you mentioned he ran 29:42. So we were confident that they could do that. We also feel that they can race much faster yet. We have put all of our focus in the National race. Their mileage has bumped back up, and cycled back through a strength phase of hill, and tempos. We will attempt to race a fast 5k at Hillsdale, race the 10k at GLIACS for points, and then be ready to go at NC’s in Texas. We just have to hope we can acclimate to the heat while in Michigan to prepare for the hot nights in Abilene!
RunMichigan: For those of us that do not know how your guys and girls train, could you please give some insight into your philosophies as a coach (mileage, speed vs strength, downtime).
JB: 10 x 400 everyday!!! Just kidding. I try to explain our system as a mix between Lydiard and Daniels. I would say the cornerstone of our program is strength and the Sunday long run. Of course we want our mileage to be as high as we can get it while still allowing us to stay healthy, and race at a high level. We try to be as individualized as possible with our runners while still keeping the team philosophy in tact. That is a challenge with as many athletes as we have, it also takes some time( months/ years) to figure things out for some. It is something that I think we have improved a bunch at in the last year.
Mileage is based on the person’s background coming out of high school. We have had guys step in and handle 80-90, but most we try to get in and handle 60-70 their freshman year. Women some have come in and handled 50-60 but most of are between 40-50. We want to try to get our guys up to 80-100 mile range by their junior year. The women we would like to see in the 50-60 range by there junior year, but we are much more flexible with the ladies. Racing 6k is a bit different than racing 10k so we can get away with a bit less if needed. Mandi Long-Zemba has stayed between the 40-45 range her entire career, and had pretty good success with it.
As I mentioned, I feel strength is the key to any program. If you do not have the strength to carry what speed you have been blessed with it will be a long 10k race.
We meet almost every Sunday morning through the school year at 7:30am for our long run which is anywhere from 9-14 miles on the women’s side, and 12-20 on the men’s side. Our guys worked their way up to 2 hour runs just in the past year. The other thing I would say about our long run is that it is not slow. If it is the day after a race we will make sure it is recovery, but on off race weekends we will take the first half of the run at a relaxed pace (men= 6:15-30 /wom= 7:00-7:15), and then the second half of the run we like to spend 20-40 minutes at threshold or what Daniels would call marathon pace. Those paces often get down in the 5:30-20 for the front guys, and 6:30-30 for the ladies.
We spend a lot of time on hills in the fall both during our hill cycle phase, and over reps where we are focused on race pace rhythm. The first 4-6 weeks of the season we are on the 40th street hills every Tuesday going up and down the dirt road. The men will do 25-40 minutes of reps sandwiched in between 20 minutes easy, and the ladies will do 20-30 minutes sandwiched in between 20 minutes easy. These are not treated as hard for the whole session, but more at a tempo rhythm. The last third of workout might get a bit heated if people are feeling good.
We do a lot of Tempo work throughout the season in numerous different workouts. Anywhere from a cutdown tempo of 6-9 miles for the guys to 3-6 miles for the ladies, to a team fartlek we do a threshold pace 1 up to 4 back down to1 and back up to 4 minutes for the women and 1-5-1-5 minutes for the men all on 1 minute jog recovery, to Thursday on meet weeks we will do a 2 mile tempo followed by 200’s at rhythm.
The final 6 weeks of the season we spend time working on race pace. We try not to run too much faster than race pace. Something I am learning more to keep the crew under control on workout days. We let them run fast at points in the workout, maybe the last two reps of 6-8 x mile for the men or 4-5 x mile session for the ladies, but the first 2-4 were at threshold pace and we work down from there. We do a version of THE MICHIGAN which we call ROHO bouncing back and forth from the track and the grass for the tempos. Men go 1600 on the track/ 1.5 mile tempo/ 1200 track/ 1.5 tempo/ 800 track/1.5 mile tempo/ 600 2-4 x 200. I would say that is our cornerstone workout for the cross season. We do it twice a season. Late in the season we will bounce from race pace to fast. One we have used the last couple of years is 3-5 x 1200 at race pace rhythm- 30-60 second rest, and crank a 600 taking 2-4 minutes between the sets. We have done the that 8 days out from the regional meet the last couple of years. Our shortest race pace workout is k’s on Tuesday of race week, and we do those at race pace rhythm on 1-2 min jog recovery.
In cross the only time we do “SPEED” is we do fast 200 hundreds at the end of workouts to work on turn over and efficiency when we are tired, and during our sharpening phase we do short fast strides(50-100 meters) with longer recover(150-350 meters) to wake up the fast twitch muscles that we have hidden away. Late in the season we add jumping rope 2-3 times a week as well.
Recovery is the most important part of any program, both from a training stand point, and body stand point. We all want to do more, more, more, and more, more, more is not always better. The hardest part is getting these young adults to understand the importance of nutrition, sleep, ice, stretching, massages. They do not understand that they are training at a lot hard/ higher level than high school and asking their body’s to do a lot more taxing stuff both running wise, school wise, socially.
We never meet on Wednesday, and do not meet on Saturday on non meet weeks. Both are recovery days, and everyone is doing something different depending on their needs. Could be a 45-60 minute run for an upperclassman, a 30 min swim, a 40 min cross train, 10 min walk, to a total day off.
We take a 10 days to a 3 week break after cross, a 3-10 days low key session between indoor and outdoor and then 10 days to 4 weeks after outdoors again depending on the person, their training, and their needs. I do not like to take total time off unless needed for an injury. I have found the best down time is going every other day with activity. Using either cross-training or a 20-30 easy jog. Too many people take two weeks totally away and then start back to quickly and the body is freaked out from taking too much time away and jumping back to fast.
The bottom line of our training is consistency over time. I would much rather see one of our guy distance runners working up to 80 miles a week and spending 12-15 weeks there than run 2 – 100 mile weeks and then being hurt or too tired to continue with the workouts or sessions scheduled. Nate Peck did a great job of this all last year. He spent his freshman year working up to 80 miles a week. Once he got there in December he spent most of the rest of the year between 80-85. He took some down time after running 14:44 at Hillsdale, and then built up to the 90’s and spent 15 weeks from the middle of July through October between 95-103 miles a week. He average 98 miles a week over that time.
There is all this new information out there on the ECHO Boomers who want/ need instant gratification on everything. That is probably the hardest thing to do is getting these athletes to understand that it will take time to become good or great runner. We try to get them to understand they have to get up each day ready and willing to put the time and work in the become better. Right now we have a group on both sides willing to do what it takes to get better.
RunMichigan: Many good running programs go mostly unnoticed to the faculty and student body at colleges all over the country. How does the faculty and student body react to the success that your programs have had in the past few years? Is everything your guys and girls accomplish overshadowed by the success of the football team?
JB: We are very fortunate at Grand Valley to have a great athletic administration and great administration above Tim Selgo our AD. They understand the importance of athletics and the importance of being well rounded. Last year we won the Directors Cup the all sports trophy for NCAA Division II, it took a lot of teams getting the job done to earn that. Much like it is in track, you can not win a conference meet with just distance runners, or just throwers, you have to be balanced across the board.
Tim Selgo and the rest of the administration has allowed all of our sports the opportunity to be successful. Each year since I have been here he has worked to get increases in our budget, scholarships, and coaching staff. It is a total team effort from top to bottom, and across all of sports. I was the first full time head coach for the track program here at GVSU, and now we have 2 full times assts, and 3 GA/ part time positions. That is what helps our student athletes reach their full potential when it is all said and done.
So no I do not think we are overshadowed, people know who we are and what we are doing. Just yesterday I spent 10 minutes chatting with one of criminal justice professors who was out at the track, and he was asking about a recruit from last year that he helped show around. In a couple weeks we will have dinner over at the president of the university’s house celebrating our GLIAC championships from indoor. Everything is done in a first class manner here, we are all very lucky.
Now we understand that we are not going to be on ESPN for our track championships, but we are on Run Michigan which is the next best thing!!!
RunMichigan: How hard have you found it to recruit student athletes over the years? What are the selling points that interested high school athletes should know about GVSU and its running programs?
JB: The biggest challenge is getting recruits to understand that we have a great thing here relative to DI. I am not saying DI is not great, I ran DI at Butler for 4 years and was a GA for 2 as I mentioned. So many recruits hear DII and think down upon the opportunities we have to offer.
When the fact is that we often have just as good or even greater opportunities. Such as, opportunity to compete at a National championship every year, 3 times a year for our front runners, opportunity to compete and win at the conference level each and every year. I am not saying we always win because the eagles of Ashland have knocked us off a few times, I think you had something do with a couple of those, but we are always in the mix. Last, an opportunity to get a great education from a pretty neat place, and an opportunity to be a part of something very special team/ training wise.
Other thing that we talk about is the opportunity to create balance in the student’s life to allow them to be successful in all areas of their life. We talk about family, education, athletics, social, and faith as being the cornerstones to have success as a total person. Our location is pretty nice, 20 minutes from the lake, 20 minutes from downtown, plenty of trails and dirt roads to train on, and great facilities.
We try to sell the total package not just the running. A few have taken the chance on us, and a few have gone elsewhere. We will take who wants to be a part of what we have going on and make them as good as we can make them as student, runner, and most importantly as a person.
Thanks for the great interview coach! (Interview conducted by Nick Cordes)