Wayne Feder: Coach of the New Richland-Hartland Cardinals

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After talking to Al Tappe, for a previous story called Planning Training for Distance Running, MilesplitMN decided to do a story on Wayne Feder, and New Richland-Hartland High School. What we found is a fun story about a little town that dared to challenge the big city teams in Minnesota's one class system in cross country and track & field from 1966-1973.

Since Feder is a writer himself having written, "He'll Never Amount to Anything," by Amazon.com, it seemed logical to ask him to write something himself on the Cardinals. Here is what he wrote:


RUNNING

"Let's run around the basement." No wonder I had so few friends; my idea of a good time was running in a circle around our furnace. Turn left at the water faucet, continue left past the coal bin, and back to the steps. That was one lap. The object was to run until you could no longer continue. Tightening your belt as far as possible helped reduce side aches.

I liked to run because I was pretty good at it, an excuse people use for many of the things they do in life. My elementary school memories are filled with running activities: tag, football, tackle tag, and racing. Naturally, when I reached seventh grade, I talked my parents into letting me go out for track and field.

Track practice, as far as I could tell, was little more than semi-organized chaos. All the boys from grades seven through twelve were herded from the locker room into the gym. A large circle was formed and, after a series of strange stretches and gyrations, someone blew a whistle. Everyone stampeded around the basketball floor. Heels were stepped on and backs pushed; eventually, as breathing rates increased and the pace slowed, the whistle was blown again. Everyone walked. This run-walk cycle was repeated a few more times until suddenly, two basketballs were thrown out and all the big kids began playing half-court ball. I guessed practice was over. The few younger kids present watched for a while from the bleachers and then went home.

Small variations on this theme continued for a couple more weeks until one warm spring day it was announced we were going outside. We were instructed to run to the football field. Downhill, and only a few blocks away, this seemed like a simple task, but many of the older kids thought differently and, at best, alternated walking with running.

Perhaps at some level a plan was in motion, but not for my age group. For the next three years we were on our own. We wrestled, played tag, and high jumped. We tried our hand at the shot and discus, barely getting either past the end of our toes. We didn't hurdle. We had no hurdles. For that matter, we had no track. Sometimes we joined the upperclassmen as they ran a prescribed number of laps around the football field; other times we just watched.

Occasionally the big kids were missing from practice; gone, I suppose, to a track meet, whatever that was. I had never seen a track, let alone a meet. I never challenged the system, never knew that somewhere junior high kids might actually be competing. I remember one day when I was a freshman, the senior high milers were participating in a time trial. I joined in and finished second, a few yards behind the school's number one miler. No one was impressed; the first, third, and fourth place runners were entered in the next meet. I was perfectly happy. I rarely missed practice; where else could one enjoy sanctioned fooling around such as this?

Things changed my sophomore year. Mr. Weihrauch became our new coach and began taking us to meets. God, I was scared. We went to Lake Crystal and ran under the lights; their track was an oval painted on grass. I ran the mile and finished in the middle of the pack. I had never been so tired in my life. I was often close to placing that season but usually came up just short. A total of five points was needed for a letter; the season ended and I had four and three-fourths. The season's final statistics were posted the last day of school. Mr. Weihrauch decided to round up. I was a letter winner, entitled to the jacket, the sweater, and all the accompanying honors and privileges I imagined were mine.

Mr. Nehowig became our new coach my junior year and greatly increased the number and quality of the meets we attended. Another change had taken place since the previous season: I had grown. The speed I had enjoyed in elementary school was gone but had luckily been replaced by endurance. I was certainly not a great runner but, over the next two seasons, won my share of races and broke all our school's distance records.

Coach Nehowig approached our group of distance runners shortly after school began my senior year. What did we think of forming a cross-country team? Surprisingly, we ended the season just missing the regional championship by a few points. Richard Ellingsberg, our number three runner, injured his knee the night before the competition and was unable to compete. My friend Dave Erickson won the race, and we both qualified for, and placed quite high, in the state meet.

A running craze spread through Madelia High School my senior year. This craze, started by me, was not as universal as it might sound. My friends and I began running to out-of-town ballgames.

Dave and I had last hour study hall. Madelia was playing football at St. James. We decided to run to the game. We signed out to the restroom, went to the locker room, changed into our running clothes, and slipped out the side door. It was a simple plan: run the sixteen miles to their football field, watch the game, and catch a ride home. The problem turned out to be that we were too fit and arrived in St. James far too early.

It was a hot day and we were becoming dehydrated. We entered the city limits and finally found a gas station, a place to buy a bottle of pop. Neither of us had brought along any money. We somehow found something to drink, money for the game, and a ride home. A few days later, Mr. Jansen, our superintendent, stopped us in the hall. He had been driving through Madelia the Friday before and had seen two kids running away from the school. Convinced that he was going to catch students skipping, he followed us. "Then I saw it was only you two."

The winter season arrived and Richard and I decided to run the twelve miles to a basketball game in Lake Crystal. I remember being absolutely exhausted when we reached the school, with the game already in progress. It was a sellout, standing room only. Richard and I sat on some cement steps in the lobby, too tired to watch.

It was sixteen miles to Truman and a very cold day. I talked Lance James into making the run with me. This was a hard one; I remember our running being interspersed with a lot of walking. It grew darker and colder and fans began passing us, heading for the game. Several pulled over, and the adults inside wanted to know if we were all right and if we wanted a ride. It was tempting.

The spring of my senior year the region track meet was held in Windom. I was strong and confident; my qualifying time was the second fastest in the field. I knew I could make it to the state meet.

I still run the race in my mind. By the end of the first lap I was exhausted and by the third I had fallen from first to dead last. It was the slowest time I had run since my sophomore year. I was devastated. My running career was over and the last race of my life had ended in disaster. Little did I know that in a few years I would be competing for Mankato State College and would continue running for twenty-five more years with the kids I coached on my high school track and cross country teams.

I worked on our family farm with my father for three years following high school before deciding to attend college. I knew I wanted to become a coach and joined Bud Myers' great Mankato State program. Outclassed by many of my more talented teammates, I still ran well enough to earn several letters in cross-country and track and was able to learn how a first class program was organized and run.

I arrived in the small southern Minnesota town of New Richland, Minnesota in the fall of 1966, wearing a pair of green and white Adidas Italias and feeling overwhelmed by the idea of finally having to work for a living. My new teaching responsibilities included three sections of biology, two of eighth grade geography, assistant B team football coach and in the spring, junior and senior high track and field.

A few days into our pre-school workshop I summoned the courage to approach our intimidating high-school principal, Mr. Norswing with a proposal: "In addition to my football responsibilities I would like to start a cross-country program." He was skeptical at first but agreed after I promised it would not affect my football coaching and that I expected no monetary reimbursement.

Signs on hall bulletin boards and messages in the morning announcements attracted a small group of multi-grade, multi-talented candidates for the new team. I would meet with the runners a short time each day before football practice began and prescribe an easy workout that included a warm-up run, stretching exercises, and a prescribed number laps around the athletic fields, all observed with one eye as I attempted to help with the football team, a sport in which I had no previous experience.

No other schools in our Gopher Conference had cross-country programs so with the help of my Athletic Director, Tom Smith, we cobbled together several far-flung meets. Excused and unmissed by my football mentor, I would load the team into our school's old fake-wood-sided station wagon and drive us for our weekly pummeling.

I remember gathering my distance runners together at the end of the school year and encouraging them to run over the summer and also sending them a few letter follow-up letters of encouragement. This plan, I was to learn, is one often prescribed but seldom followed.

My second year of coaching at New Richland-Hartland High School, I suppose in a win-win agreement, I was released from the football program and allowed to coach cross-country full time. Now better known in school and teaching my second group of students, I was able to attract several more runners to the program. Our workouts increased in intensity and our team was definitely better than the previous year but I don't remember that we won many meets.

The summer of 1968 proved to be a turning point in my coaching career and ultimately in the success of the New Richland-Hartland cross-country program. I stayed in New Richland that summer and ran with my kids in the evenings. I also attended a coaching seminar in Ironwood Michigan and had the opportunity to learn from and meet several highly successful high school and college coaches. Most important to me was Joe Newton, coach at York High School, a large high school near Chicago Illinois.

Joe's teams had won many Illinois state championships but I noticed that while his runners often placed near the top of the state cross-country meet their track times were not as correspondingly outstanding. He was winning with less than elite talent.

It would have been easy to look at some of the amazing workouts his teams ran during the season and think that these were the reason they were so successful when in fact it was the great cardiovascular development the runners were bringing into the season that allowed them to survive and thrive on these workouts.

The runners from York were running a thousand miles in the summer to prepare themselves for the speed and repetitions that were to follow.  I returned home and thought about what a thousand miles was, how it would feel, and what it would take to convince runners to attempt such a feat.

I looked at the training of marathon runners and how many were running well over a hundred miles a week. If these runners were averaging five-minute miles for twenty-six miles, shouldn't well-conditioned high school runners be able to do the same for three miles? Most good teams were training hard during the season but few were coming up to that standard. I decided that long distance off-season work might be the key to producing these kinds of times.

I returned to New Richland-Hartland for my third season and worked my team harder than the two previous years. Our summer mileage, along with having more talent and experience, began to show. The team managed to complete the season undefeated, albeit against less than top rated teams. We showed up at the district meet unheralded in our raggedy sweats. I remember the shock and surprised look on the faces of the Big Nine coaches as the team scores were tabulated. We had defeated Owatonna, Faribault, Northfield and won the district title. Not yet strong enough, we had a poor performance in the Region meet, but we were beginning to believe.

Following the season I began talking with my kids about what a good team might look like and what it would take to gain that status. Many of my kids ran all that winter and I began to talk seriously about what it would feel like to run on a top team. Throughout the winter and the following track season I continually talked summer running, planting the seed of a thousand-mile summer.

The summer of 1969 I again stayed around New Richland. I ran nearly every day and met with my runners two nights a week to encourage their running. I brought a big chart and once a week recorded everyone's miles.

No emphasis was placed on speed any pace was fine, as long as each run was at least three miles in length, a distance I thought was required for their bodies to grow blood vessels throughout their muscle tissue. I wanted everyone to have fun and encouraged them to run together whenever possible. The runners came back to school in great shape and in high spirits. They began winning. A half dozen had reached the thousand mile mark. They had averaged 11 miles a day from June first to August thirty-first.

My college coach Bud Myers was ahead of his time and trained his runners far harder than his competitors. Unfortunately, Bud believed in a one-fits-all program and refused to allow for individual differences. I remember one year on the first day of the cross-country season, we ran sixteen 440s with a short rest interval. I was a weak runner and this kind of training wore me down and I usually ran poorer as the season progressed.  I resolved to develop a system at New Richland-Hartland that avoided this kind of tiredness and disappointment.

My first goal was to make sure that, if possible, each runner would finish each workout feeling good about himself and never feeling physically or mentally crushed.  Following are the steps I took to try to make this happen:

  • Each runner's condition and ability would determine the pace at which each workout was run.
  • Each repetition in a workout would be as fast or faster than the previous repetition. If the workout was properly planned, each runner would feel good about himself and his accomplishment at the end of the day's work.
  • If a runner felt unusually tired they were encouraged to drop out of the workout.
  • Some runners required more rest to improve and were held out of some workouts or some meets.
  • The number of meets we ran was kept to a minimum. I felt that well controlled workouts were usually more beneficial than meets.

It is important to know that by this time the improvement and success of our team was becoming a two-way street. Much of the time the enthusiasm and drive of my athletes was carrying me as much as I was helping them. I know their were times they weren't too happy with me and I know there were others when I wasn't all than enamored with some of them but, all in all, we had become a team and for the most part we trusted each other.

Following is an example of an interval workout series (this explanation is a little lengthy but understanding it is key to understanding my system and my philosophy).

In mid-season we usually ran a series of quarter mile intervals, key to priming us for the district, region, and state meets. These workouts were spaced about three days apart but varied depending on how our meets were interspersed. Some years were ran sixteen quarters with a ninety second rest between each and some years twelve quarters with a sixty second rest interval. All were run on the track.

I will use twelve repetitions with a sixty-second rest interval for this example. I time and record each quarter run by each runner. This is easy to do. I read out the times as the runners cross the finish line and while they are recovering, call out their names and record the times on a chart on my clipboard.

First day of quarters: Every runner runs the first eight of the twelve quarters at what ever pace he wants. No pressure or even a suggestion of time is given. For the last four quarters he is encouraged to run the fastest mile he can but with each quarter run faster than the previous one.

Second day of quarters:  I have added up the total times of the twelve quarters from the first day and divided by twelve to get each runners average time. Again I time each quarter. The runner must try to run his average time for the first eight quarters and again attempt to run the fastest mile he can for the last four.

This is repeated two or three more times, about three days apart. You can see that, depending on his ability, each athlete is running at a different speed and determining his own times based on his ability, not on some arbitrary time set by the coach.  Some years we ran these quarter intervals four times and sometime five. I had to be careful to not reach the point where the last four quarters couldn't be run faster than the previous eight.

The runners took tremendous pride in that last mile time. The last thing I wanted to do was dampen their enthusiasm, and take away their sense of accomplishment.

If on any day a runner couldn't keep to his schedule and ran slower than his prescribed time twice in a row, he had to drop out of the practice. Obviously he was not feeling well or his body was somehow out of sync. The runners developed great pride in their work and I don't think any of them ever purposely slowed down so they could drop out.

The above system could also be adapted to 880 or 220 yard intervals.

Following is a general plan for a season: Most days begin with a three mile easy warm-up run followed by twenty minutes of stretching and calisthenics and then the day's workout. Workouts vary from year to year based on my whims or my experimentation and from day to day to provide variety for the runners. I think runners get stale with too much of the same thing and also subconsciously begin to hold back when they learn at what point a particular workout begins to hurt. The workload assumes that the runners are coming into the season with a backload of conditioning that will allow them to handle the workouts. New or younger runner's programs are scaled back accordingly.

I. Early season (the two weeks before school starts).

Runners usually total around eleven miles a day as most are still working on their June 1 to August 31 summer running total and need to average eleven miles a day to reach their goal. Some work at this time intersperses the following:

Two days we run three two mile runs with a ten-minute rest between. No specified time except that each run should be run faster than the last.

*Two days we ran our hill workout. We ran three and one half miles to our hill, then ran four sets of the workout. Each set was: four times 110 yard accelerations, each followed by a 110 yard recovery jog, a hard 440 up hill, four 110 yard accelerations, each with a 110 recovery jog, and finally we turned and ran the 440 back down the hill at almost top speed. The four parts of a set were continuous running, there was no stopping between each phase. We rested five minutes and repeated this three more times, then ran the three and one half miles back to school. This workout was a total of eleven miles.

Two days, we run moderate to hard seven to ten mile runs, including two miles of accelerations. (Our roads all had electric poles at 110 yard spacing. We would accelerate to nearly top speed over 110 yards, then jog the next 110 yards until one mile was covered and later in the run we would run the second miles of accelerations.*

I believe the fall of 1969 was the first year the state meet was three miles.  I remember a few days before the region meet all the schools, even those that didn't have cross-country, voted to keep our region meet at two miles. I couldn't believe it. It was like playing half court basketball in the region and then playing full court at the state.

(Dave Lyndgaard felt that shortening the distance down to two miles that year favored the teams who were not in as good of shape at the region meet. Lyndgaard qualifies as one who might know as he was the MIAC champion in the 5 mile cross-country race in 1972.)

The change from two to three miles was driven by the state Track Coach's Association. We didn't have a state cross country coach's association until 1973. I remember I was the second Cross-Country Coaches Association president in 1974.

1970, '71 and '72 were great years for our program. We placed second, third and ninth in the one-class state meet. Dan Lyndgaard was undefeated in '70 and '71 after placing fifth in the state as a sophomore. We had several all-state runers during that time period and won many of the big in-season invitationals. I think our ninth place finish in 1972 was one of our best meets ever. Unranked all year, we had several great performances that race, including a third place finish by sophomore, Dave Tappe.

Al Tappe had the distinction of running on our varsity for all five of our District Championships.

It seems strange for me to talk about individual performances. We were a team. We had less talented kids that became good runners and a few average kids that became great. We all worked together, supported each other and became friends.

I loved the fact that our team had so much support from their parents and from our student body. Many of the parents never missed a meet. We had our own cross-country cheerleaders and almost always had a full busload of students following us to our meets.

We had some nice track teams even though we didn't have the numbers to compete with the Big Nine schools. My last year at New Richland-Hartland we placed third in the first-ever two-team state meet, a half point behind the two teams that tied for first.

I began coaching at New Richland-Hartland with a team that had no returning letter winners and had scored five points in conference meet the previous year. There was no pressure and no expectations. I coached 7-12 and was able to get the young kids to four or five junior high meets as well as taking my varsity kids to their meets. We had no track, no pits, and three hurdles. I made 40 hurdles in the shop after school during the winter.

In the early spring I took my pole-vaulters to junk yards and collected foam from old car seats and stuffed it into large sheep shearing wool sacks to make landing pits for the high jump and pole vault events. I measured a track on the grass around the football field and held New Richland-Hartland's first-ever home meets. I had an excellent 180 yard hurdler, Terry Winegar, who ran barefoot until a new rule required him to wear shoes.

The third year I was there my superintendent called me into his office and told me they were going to build a six-lane track that summer. Great news, but I was surprised he had asked for no input from me. Like most tracks in the area it was a clay (Kaolite) surface. This type of surface was made from fired clay that was crushed into small pieces. I suppose they were a step up from the old cinder tracks that pre-dated them.

CC meets were started and scored much as they are today, long chutes with names and numbers being recorded upon exiting. Our first home meets were two or three teams team competitions run around our school athletic complex. Soon we progressed to having an invitational meet at our local, St. Olaf Lake, east of New Richland. We ran two laps around the lake to make a 3.2 mile course. (They ran that course for several years after Feder resigned from New Richland-Hartland. This was real cross-country, not like the golf courses you usually see kids run today. This course had logs, rough terrain, steps, and even a few rocks near the finish line!)

We also began competing in many of the big invitationals including Northfield, Austin, Duluth, and Mankato. I didn't believe in running a lot of meets, often only five or six before the district meet.  We ran in Region Two all my years at New Richland-Hartland. I think CC went to classes the year I left New Richland-Hartland. I remember coaches could vote and I voted to retain a one-class meet.

So many coaches coach for the now. They spend most of their time coaching their A team and forget that it is the interest shown and the bonds developed with their young kids that is more likely to produce the truly good teams. Also related, is that if the top runners are not held to the highest behavior and highest effort standards, the trust that must be developed between the coach and all members of the program will begin to crumble. No member of the team, at any level, is more important than any other.

I always coached to this: First come the boys, then the program and then this year's team. If either of the first is sacrificed for this year's team you are going backwards.

The Minnesota High School League had a rule that a runner could not run more than one race of 880 yards or longer in any one day track meet. I know there were times that I would have loved to double a 4:20 miler or a 9:30 two miler but on the whole I believe changing that rule has been detrimental to the development of distance runners and distance running programs. I believe that doubling slows the development of the bottom half of your cross-country varsity by not allowing them key competitive positions in large track meets.

Nowadays I go to meets, especially small meets with unlimited entries, and see coaches doubling many of their young and undeveloped kids and think, what a crime. I am tempted to tell these coaches, "you go out and double in two distance races and see how you feel." When asked, they say that the second race will help the runner get in shape. What I believe it will do is break their competitive spirit and consciously or unconsciously cause them to run slower in both races, retarding their development throughout the season.

I don't think young or undeveloped runners should ever double and I think highly talented, highly conditioned athletes should only double occasionally. Many coaches are so caught up in scoring meet points that they forget distance runners need rest. A light race schedule and carefully planned practices will keep a runner fresh and excited for the next race, not exhausted and dreading it.

I quit teaching in the early 1990s and my wife Lynda and I started Feder Prairie Seed Company. We grew and sold native prairie seeds for State and Federal habitat restoration projects. In 2001 we sold our company and I officially retired.

In a way I am still a coach. Pigeons have been a lifelong hobby. I train and compete in National and World flying competitions with my Birmingham Roller pigeons. Three times in the last six years my teams have placed in the top ten in the World.

New Richland-Hartland graduated about 70 students a year during the late 1960s and early 1970s. At one time or another five sets of brothers ran on our state meet teams: Dave and Dan Lyndgaard, Gary and Bruce Himmerich, Al and Dave Tappe, Bob and Joe Yerhot, and Rick and Greg Swenson. In 1972 our top eight runners were 4 pairs of brothers.

Here are the boys that ran on our varsity teams from 1968 to 1972. Two runners who ran very well for our earlier teams were Denny Prescher in 1966 and Dave Liane in 1967.


YearTeam MembersPost-Season Finishes
1968

David Lyndgard -11, Dennis Byron -11, David Winegar -11, Mike Berg -10 Brad Finseth -10, Dan Lyndgaard - 9, Al Tappe - 8

District 4 - 1st

1969

David Lyndgaard -12, Dennis Byron -12, Mike Berg -11, Gary Himmerich -11, Brad Finseth -11, Dan Lyndgaard -10, Bruce Himmerich -10, Al Tappe -9

District 4 - 1st

Region 2 - 4th
1970

Mike Berg -12, Gary Himmerich -12, Brad Finseth -12 Dan Lyndgaard -11, Bruce Himmerich -11, Al Tapp -10, Dave Tappe -8

District 4 - 1st

Region 2 - 1st

State Meet - 2nd
1971

Dan Lyndgaard - 12, Brian Greenwood - 12, Bruce Himmerich - 12, Gary Himmerich - 12, Bill Bartholmy - 12, Al Tappe - 11, Dave Tappe - 9

District 4 - 1st

Region 2 - 1st

State Meet - 3rd
1972

Al Tappe - 12, Bob Yerhot - 12, Rich Swenson - 12 Mike Shurson - 11, Dave Tappe - 10, Dave Shurson - 10 Greg Swenson - 9, Joe Yerhot - 8

District 4 - 1st

Region 2 - 2nd

State Meet - 9th


Read interviews with several athletes and opponents from Wayne Feder's career

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