New York State Sportswriters Association   
→ Rankings
NYSSWA rankings are updated weekly.
See the latest plus the earlier weeks'
updates on our rankings page.

→ User tools


Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019: Author gives readers an inside look at F-M dynasty

   Leading off today: It took awhile to understand, but a cross country meet in 1993 reminded me to not let first impressions be lasting impressions.

   On an otherwise unmemorable November day in Newark, I watched the Saratoga Springs girls team obliterate the Class A field at the NYSPHSAA championships. Erin Davis, Tobey Kearns and Erin Karl crossed the line comfortably in front of the rest of the pack -- Davis was first by 400 meters -- as the Blue Streaks easily outdistanced Bay Shore, 19 to 87, for the title.

   The three were joined in short order by the rest of their teammates, and a noisy -- but certainly not obnoxious -- celebration ensued outside the chutes.

   From 20 or 30 yards away there was a sudden shout from one of their coaches: "Knock that crap off and go warm down."

   That was at a time of more than just casual debate in the New York running community. Saratoga was a week away from its fifth of 10 straight Federation championships, but the critics pointed to the demanding regimen and wondered -- often out loud and sometimes recklessly -- whether the coaches' vision of proper training was in the best interest of the girls.

   That single admonishment on that one day helped me decide for awhile whose side I was taking in that debate.

   Of course, time taught me I was wrong. Linda and Art Kranick now have more than three decades of results confirming they most certainly know what they are doing. Yes, there have been injuries and defections over the years, but the program is hardly alone in that respect. And they can proudly point to a long list of team achievements and a lengthy roster of runners who have gone on to all levels of college competition.

   They demand a lot of their runners, but it works.

   I mention that story because of an episode recounted by Marc Bloom in "Amazing Racers," his recently released book about the cross country program at Fayetteville-Manlius, which has become the standard of scholastic excellence nationally. F-M has qualified both its boys and girls teams for the prestigious Nike Cross Nationals for 11 straight years, and the girls have won the championship a staggering 11 times since 2006 -- often by mind-boggling margins.

   Bloom and coach Bill Aris spoke recently at a book signing in nearby DeWitt and one of them responded to a question from the audience by confirming that the story about "the video" was indeed part of the book.

   I know a fair amount about F-M, having seen the team run a few times and documented results from big meets in my blogs on this website, but this incident regarding a video was new to me.

   As Bloom explained in vivid detail in his 10th book, F-M absolutely crushed the collective psyche of every girls team scheduled to compete that weekend in Portland, Oregon, in 2008 without even setting foot on the course for what would be a 69-point victory over the next-best team.

   As part of one of the several pre-meet events for the qualifiers, Nike Cross Nationals organizers asked each team to create short videos that would give the audience a taste of their home turf and perhaps some insight into the competitors' personalities.

   Here's Bloom's recollection of what transpired:

   "When the F-M girls' video came on, this is what the audience was treated to:

   "Athletes in sleek matching black uniforms from head to toe. A thundering shock-and-awe score. Running in unison. Running fast. Running through a snow storm. Running in rain through deep puddles. Running in darkness. Running up and over hills. No letup. No expression. No talking.

   "Just watch."

   Bloom said the collective reaction of the room was stunned silence.

   "One hundred and ninety-two girls were shaking in their new Nikes. It was so intimidating that some girls coaches were angry and said so. Other coaches thought the video was a 'fake.' This brinkmanship further separated F-M from the crowd, frustrating a running community under siege from something they could not understand. Little girls presented like warriors -- anarchy!"

   "'It was Machiavellian, beautiful,' said Aris. 'All for psychological effect.'"

   You can view the video here.


   If that episode from 2008 is the lasting impression that the attendees have of the Fayetteville-Manlius program, then they've missed out on a lot in the past decade. Given unprecedented access to Aris supplemented by interviews with dozens of past runners, Bloom presents readers a deeper look into key contributors and defining moments in F-M's startling success.

   Digging deeper than newspaper features can go in 2,500 words or TV profiles in 120 seconds, Bloom fleshes out the

Bill Aris, Marc Bloom
Coach Bill Aris and author Marc Bloom.

characters to show us the leaders, the pranksters, the aloof and the participants Aris was never quite able to reach with the oft-cited "Stotan" approach that very few people have taken the time to understand.

   It's the Stotan ("Stoics" plus "Spartans") princi- ples adapted from Aussie Percy Cerutty, the coach of legendary miler Herb Elliot, that dominate the book. In that sense, "Amazing Racers" is more of a psychology textbook than a how-to manual. Aris will be the first to admit that he rarely writes anything down, so there are no detailed workout sche- matics to be found in the book. It wouldn't matter anyway, since more than a few of the high-mileage, high-intensity practices are improvised as Aris adjusts on the fly after taking the pulse of the room.

   But the physical aspect of top-shelf running -- every coach has a preferred weekly mileage plan and a mid-season taper schedule -- has shared top priority with the psychological component since Aris became the head coach in 2004. Bloom documents Aris helping newcomers understand both the value of proper nutrition and the need to march on in the span between when fatigue kicks in and exhaustion finally conquers -- "Pain is the purifier."

   He also sheds light on how Aris dealt with seasons in which two or more runners thought they were the alphas and the years when none were ready to lead. Risky as it may seem when dealing with teens, his way of ending sniping and bickering has often been to tell his charges to close the door behind them and not come out until they've worked out the issues amongst themselves. The best work on the trails gets done once athletes hold themselves accountable to each other.

   Woven in between are many small but interesting details beginning with the 2004 training camp. Personally, I finally got my answer regarding why F-M went missing from the McQuaid Invitational one year to spoil what would have been a huge showdown against a California girls team that had traveled to Rochester "under the radar" hoping to catch F-M off guard.

   In total, "Amazing Runners" is a good read. There's enough in it to inform and entertain, whether the reader is an aspiring high-level racer, a coach looking for insight into motivation or simply a high school sports junkie.

   Closing thought: Aris has his detractors, but it's fair to ask how much of that is rooted in envy. He accepts that cross country has never been nearly as popular as lacrosse on school grounds and can find room to laugh off outsiders who whisper that he's built a cult rather than a team.

   The bottom line, however, is that he hasn't held his athletes hostage to the sport during an impressive 15-year run of success. He built an approach to the sport that few others were trying and has demanded dedication as the foundation, but he gets results and sends a steady stream of athletes off to college prepared to take on the more complicated challenges of higher education and life.

   Memorable quotes: There's more than a little bit of wisdom as well as a few zingers to be found in the book. They're probably best viewed in context, but I'll provide some of them here for better or worse:

    • Bill Aris: "Cookie bakes and sleepovers don't build team unity. Suffering together does." (pg. 48)

    • Runner Andrew McCann: "Diet was what people harped on. There were no magic beans. We just ate good, clean food. When people saw how close we were, what we ate, they would say, 'You guys are weird, a cult.'" (pg. 68)

    • Runner Molly Malone: "He talked about the magnitude of our united potential. I'd eaten candy before races and now you're telling me I could contribute to a national powerhouse? We were sitting there looking at each other, like 'This guy's gone mad.'" (pg. 121)

    • Runner Tommy Gruenewald: "Give everything you have, and you can have it all." (pg. 140)

    • Runner Mackenzie Carter: "Don't let the hype of the race get to you and risk blowing up. The race happens in the second half when everyone is in a lot of pain. That's what we were trained for." (pg. 143)

    • Runner Jillian Fanning recalling the end of another demanding practice from atop a scenic perch: "It felt good to yell. We always had targets on our backs. Screaming out all together felt empowering." (pg. 253)

    • Aris explaining why he didn't give a last-minute pep talk before the girls won at Nike Cross Nationals in 2014: "At this point all I could do was screw it up." (pg. 292)

→ Recent blogs and news     NYSSWA RSS feed
  • 12/8/23: It's not Christmas but we have ties
  • 12/1/23: Bennett controversy takes unexpected turn
  • 9/29/23: Massapequa files lawsuit over mascot mandate
  • 9/26/23: Soccer association fitting refs with body cameras

  • This Site

    ©2007-19 Abbott Trento Online Media. All rights reserved. Contact us via e-mail.

    → Twitter
       Get all the latest:

    Follow the NYSSWA on Twitter

    Road To Syracuse H.S. football in New York   Ten Man Ride H.S. lacrosse in New York
    Road To Glens Falls boys H.S. basketball in N.Y.   Road To Troy girls H.S. basketball in N.Y.