Rosemount Irish: There’s a Leader in every Locker

All pictures provided by Bill Peyton/Videos Kate Beckwith & Anders Roback

What are the keys to stress when you are a beginning cross country coach?  What does a beginning runner have to emphasize first to develop? These are some of the questions I asked when I attended the coed cross-country practice on August 27, 2019 at Rosemount High School.  I wanted to study their Head Cross Country Coach Chris Harder.  He has led 15 teams to the state meet in 22 years!  Last year the Irish girls won Section 3AA and finished 11th in state.

At Austin High School Chris Harder was a state champion in the MSHSL 3200-meter run and went on to get 3rd Place in the Big Ten Conference 3000-meter Steeplechase for the University of Minnesota.

When I met Chris Harder, who is now the coach of the boys and girl's cross-country teams, he was a third-grade halfback on a flag football team, and I was a referee. He went on to play most sports including tackle football up until his 8th grade year. But basketball was his first love and guided his coaching philosophy.  He was raised in Austin, MN, a small city of about 25,000.  The athletic trophy cases rival those of any school in the state for Austin has always been a powerhouse in sports. Their boys' basketball teams have been to state 32 times.  "It was just a great sports minded school and city." I was influenced by the great teaching staff there. Also, there were a lot of great athletes on my teams who pushed me and inspired me. Also, Dave Krejci was a teammate who pushed me hard and eventually wound up as the runner-up in the MSHSL state meet 800-meter run.

Among that teaching staff (Ellis Middle School) was his father Gordy who played basketball when he was in high school. "My grandfather told my father he could play any sport as long as it was basketball." The reason for that was he had to farm in the fields in the fall and spring.  My grandfather also said, "You had better be good too because if you are not the businessmen might not want to give you a ride home after practice!"

"So, that's the kind of environment I was raised in. My father, the farm kid, wanted me to work outdoors so I mowed lawns each summer. That way I could make some money and have my own schedule. It was business education and added to my base for sports."

"Besides my father I had Kal Kalenberger ---he played on the 1972 state tourney team---as my first favorite basketball player at Austin High School. The basketball coaches Oscar Haddorff (later Howie Strey) and Klem Haugen were often involved in cross country and track & field as officials and really encouraged me.  I also got personal handwritten notes of encouragement from AHS coaches during the year.

"Larry Gilbertson coached me as a distance runner.  We did interval training daily and we always wanted to finish each workout as well as we could.  Although he was the strong, silent type he said just enough and never overcoached me. I think he sensed I was self-driven anyway.  Gilbertson is in the Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame for both track & field and cross country.  Dave Scrabeck was a high school runner when I was in middle school.  When he was at Mankato State University, he would sometimes come home and run with me when I was developing as a high school runner." He encouraged me a lot when I would see him in town.  The longest run I ever did in high school was 6.2 miles in a road race. Doing long runs and threshold training helped me improve much more when I got into college."

"Roy Griak was my college coach at Minnesota.  He had an outstanding record as a coach and even was the head manager of the 1984 Olympic team and Pan Am Games coach one year.  One time when I was in high school before the section track meet when I was a senior, I had not signed yet, but he called me and told me that even if I ran a 5-minute mile he still wanted me.  He realized I already put a lot of pressure on myself. Griak was known as a great person, kind and caring.  He had also been a high school basketball coach at St. Louis Park and my recruiting visit was a game where Bobby Knight was still coaching for Indiana."

He was first hired at Preston-Fountain which later merged with Harmony to form Fillmore Central.  The schools combined with Lanesboro for track & field. Bill Bentson was the Principal there and Tom Hatleli was the Head Track & Field Coach.  "We won state the three years I was there, but they also won the state the year before I arrived.  However, I learned an important philosophy from there.  It was that Cross Country and Track & Field has individual training but a team first attitude. This was very important because Tom Hatleli's son Jay became our Boys Head Track & Field Coach at Rosemount and we've used the philosophy here.  Also, Sara Hatleli the Girls Track & Field Coach won both the MSHSL and True Team state championships last year using the same philosophy.  Many of our athletes play other sports.  At Rosemount our athletic director Michael Manning encourages sports to share athletes and students to play more than one sport."

Irish 8th grader Lily Peterson in action.

"After Fillmore Central I taught at Farmington for two years before I got a coaching job at Rosemount for the 1997 cross country season.  Later that spring in '97, I was hired for a teaching job at Rosemount and coached three sports. This also helped us share athletes.  Manning came to the school a year earlier and we have worked closely together.  We both struggled with a downsizing in our school because of an addition of a new high school in the district.  This greatly reduced our team size and our school had to hire many new coaches."

"We only had nine boys on the training trip my first year I was at Rosemount." But having a training camp has helped us a lot with creating teamwork. Manning was the one who convinced me that we were better off not having to have special qualifications for being able to attend camp. When I first started coaching some teams required a number of miles or practices to be made if you would be allowed to go.  The MSHSL does not allow anyone to have special provisions in the summer. As a result, our camp is a big plus for us, and we get good attendance every year."   

Cross Country is a great team and individual sport with success determined by the coach and how well he is able to pass on the correct information to his oldest runners. "We are family, it's not just the top 7 runners.  Everyone on this team is important and is accepted for having an important role," stated 2- time MSHSL state cross country meet entrant senior Kate Beckwith.

"There is a leader in every locker," is Harder's philosophy.  Although they have no one named as captain in many ways all, at certain times, have a role as a captain. Even the younger athletes. The team is divided up by ability for group running each practice.

Beckwith, senior with a 19:28 personal best; Taylor Heimerl, freshman-19:18; Daisy Islas 8th grade-18:28; Gerrit Livingston, senior-16:57; Getinat Asfaw, senior-17:28; Elliott Nicholson, junior 16:41; and Anders Roback, junior 17:43 were of tremendous help in supplying details about the teams. They are not the only standout runners, but Nicholson, Beckwith, Heimerl, and Islas have already qualified for the MSHSL state cross country meet in the past.

Coach Harder indicated that summer running in Lebanon Hills is mostly for creating a base of miles, but they do mix in harder stuff throughout.

Islas, Nicholson, and Livingston articulated that the regular season training went like so, with changes for the inevitable meet days:


Monday:  Segmented minute runs.

Tuesday:  Long recovery runs at close to 65-75% of Max VO2.  Distance is determined on the training age of the athlete.

Wednesday:  Hill repeats (In general they go hard up and still run pretty fast downhill for recoveries.)

Thursday: Like Tuesdays.

Friday:  Tempo runs or sprints if there is a meet the next day.

"Day before Race - generally about two-mile run, drills, 4-6x100 strides, and a hollow 400.  We are just trying to stimulate the cardiovascular system.  After practice we have a Spaghetti Dinner at someone's house.  The carbo loading is probably not necessary for a 5k run the next day but being with the team has many benefits.  Depending on their academic load for the night dictates how long members of the team stay," says coach Harder. 

Saturday:  After a Friday race we do a recovery run of about 8 to 12 miles. If it was a Thursday meet, we have other options.

Sunday:  No practice and a recommended day off for most. 

We also do Flying 30s on a consistent basis. This workout is followed by an Aerobic Run of 3-5 miles. 

Islas said, "This balance helped me because I often over trained."

Livingston volunteered that the summer before his 8th grade cross country season he did half marathon training. This included 40 miles per week with a long run of 12 miles.  Even though he had been a good runner since 3rd or 4th grade that really was a breakthrough summer for him.

Irish senior Getnat Asfaw

What was the camping trip like at Hackensack, MN?

Asfaw: We ran two times a day and we also went canoeing.

Elliott Nicholson: We also have team tournaments in activities such as volleyball, basketball, Bocce, ladder golf, and Cup stacking.

Beckwith:  Between runs we do a lot of team bonding stuff.  Some of it involves running but most of it does not.  Our favorite game is What are the Odds which is kind of like Truth or Dare without the Dare part.  No running is involved in that one.

Does your team work on race strategy?

Heimerl:  We have the Irish Pack where we run in a group for the first mile or 1 ½ miles in the race until we have to just do our own thing.  This helped me a lot last year because I was kind of a raw runner and started too fast.

Irish boys "C Squad"

How did you get involved in running?

Beckwith:  I was a swimmer but my 6th grade teacher got me out for the sport.  He is a great coach and taught me a lot.  I was not built like a skinny runner and was not in shape but after lots of effort I eventually got better and gave up swimming which was my main sport at the time.  After some hard work I really started to enjoy it, so I gave up swimming because I love running so much! 

Asfaw:  I was a varsity soccer player for two years.  My English teacher got me to run the mile in track.  I ran 4:58 my first year.  It was hard running every day.  But I got used to it.

Roback:  I started out as a football player. But then in 8th grade I switched to cross country because my mom was a college runner.  I had an ankle injury last year as a sophomore and it basically ruined my whole year.  My best time in XC was as a freshman.  But I'm running varsity this year as a junior so it's fun to be back.

Nicholson:  I started running in 7th grade because my 6th grade physical education teacher saw I was good with the Pacers, so he suggested I go out for cross country.  I surprised a lot of people because I was good right away finishing as high as top five for middle school races.  In 9th grade I started out with the JV team but then made the varsity by the end of the season.  I also improved last year and ran more varsity races. I trained hard this summer and expect a good season this year.

Livingston:  I started out in 3rd or 4th grade and was always the 1st or 2nd runner.  My big breakthrough as a runner happened during the summer before my 8th grade cross country season.  I trained for the half marathon by 40 miles per week including a long run of 12 miles.  I also completed my goal of finishing the half marathon! 

What is RAAA?

Heimerl:  That is our elementary school program in which kids can get in shape for any sport and learn how to run better.  It's also an opportunity to meet other kids and have fun.

Irish eight grader Daisy Islas racing this season.

What about Academics?

Beckwith:  We put school first and our coach knows and supports that. I am keeping my 4.0 GPA going and taking AP classes. 

Roback:  I take 5 AP classes and had a 3.85 GPA going as a sophomore which I hope to raise to 3.9 this year.  This is very important for me to make the colleges I want to enter.

Islas:  I do my homework before I do anything else.  I have not started taking AP classes yet, but my favorite subject is probably science.

Does the team have any goals for 2019?

Livingston:  The Rosemount boys went to state 8 years in a row 2010-2017.  So, we know what it takes to make it to state, and we have a coach who knows how to get us there. And we have been working very hard, running 6 days a week all summer, so we will be a team to watch out for!

Finally, Rosemount has a total of six assistant cross country coaches. The varsity includes Brian Fendrich, Sara Hatleli, and Charlie Lorch. Middle School is manned by Nate Isle and Ted Siefke. The RAAA is directed by Anne Knapp.