The Internet Home of Track & Field

2007 XC Week 9/10

Coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood

Los Alamos NM

Throughout the 2007 cross-country season, the editors of DyeStat.com will choose an Eastbay National Coach of the Week to recognize coaches around the country for outstanding recent achievements in guiding prep athletes.

Coach of the Week Archive

"We got the boys together and asked them how important NTN was to them and the soft-spoken Tom Bowidowicz replied, “Damn important."

By Sal Gonzales, DyeStat Southwest Regional Editor

This week we are honoring Rob and Kathy Hipwood of Los Alamos High School as our Eastbay Coaches of the Week. The athletes that they coach finished second at the Nike Team Nationals and captured the 4A New Mexico State Championship.

Rob is a native New Mexican who attended both Roberson (Las Vegas) and Los Alamos High Schools. Kathy is a graduate of Westminster High School, which is a suburb of Denver. The two met at Adams State College in the fall of 1982. At Adams State, Kathy majored in Math and Secondary educations, while Rob majored in Business. The couple was married in the fall of 1987 and have been the head cross country coaches at Los Alamos for 14 years.

Currently, Rob teaches health to 11th graders at Los Alamos, and Kathy is a CAD and webmaster for Mosaic Architectural Solutions. Prior to her current occupations, Kathy taught math for 8 years.

Coach Rob and Kathy Hipwood Q&A

DyeStat: Finishing 2nd at NTN is an amazing accomplishment. When you started preparing for the 2007 season, what were your expectations for this team? Did the team stress over returning to NTN and being ranked #3 in the US by The Harrier? Did you two have stress?

The Hipwoods: Our expectation was to contend for the state title and our goal was to win. Honestly, last year at NTN Nationals, we agreed that it was absolutely amazing, but also agreed that we’d give it up for a state championship. With Albuquerque Academy (to race against), state titles have been hard to come by for our boys (this was their 2nd title, while the girls have 10 in the last 14 years). Of course, the kids wanted to go back to NTN, as did we, but our focus throughout the season was to get ready for state.

The regional format actually made that easier in that we could cross one hurdle at a time and not constantly be concerned or stressed about how a performance would impact our ranking/chances. We do sometimes get stressed during the season, but it mainly has to do with juggling time and everything that has to get accomplished. Another thing we stress about is injuries/illnesses. It seems like a constant juggling act to challenge them physiologically, yet keep them healthy.

The boys had the same primary goal – win a state title. In reality, we rarely talked about NTN during the season with the exception of them needing to make travel plans to Tempe. At the same time, we know that it was also a constant in the back of their minds. Gareth Gilna had struggled some in the month prior to state and the race at state itself was very difficult for him. He pulled through big-time for the team, but twenty minutes after its conclusion he was still hurting and we asked him if he still had one more race in him. He simply put up two fingers, sending the message that he very much wanted two more XC races this season – NTN regionals and nationals. Before we headed home that day, we got the boys together and asked them how important NTN was to them and the soft-spoken Tom Bowidowicz replied, “damn important.”

So we told them that NTN preparation started that night and that we’d need to put off celebrating our state title. For months, we had stressed the state meet and it had been everyone’s #1 goal, but they had no problem immediately refocusing on another goal. They’ve been an amazing group of boys.

Personally, we found regionals more stressful than nationals. It was do or die at regionals and we knew we were capable of qualifying for nationals – but it still came down to one race and making it happen on that day. We definitely like the regional format, but that morning itself was stressful in anticipation. Heading to nationals, we weren’t concerned about rankings. We had tremendous respect for the level of competition, but we were very confident that the boys would run well. They were ready to go both physically and mentally.

DyeStat: Discuss Los Alamos High School training. What are the basics? How do you deal with the altitude and the geography of Los Alamos? Are there any disadvantages to training in Los Alamos?

The Hipwoods: Hmmm…loaded question. Very basically, we follow a progression of varied mileage and intensity. Athletes are placed in training groups based on gender and years of experience, and increase from year-to-year. We definitely believe that the development of their VO2 max is fundamental to long term success, but try to balance (like everyone else) that component with other crucial training principles.

Our key training practices include long runs of 20-24% of their weekly mileage often at 9000 ft+ elevation, tempo runs, long intervals, repetition work @ faster than race pace, and speed. We also supplement with some weights and plyos. Some aspects we try to hit weekly (especially tempo) and others every other week, and it can vary depending upon the time of year or season.

The combination of our altitude and topography provides unique challenges. Every run includes hills and the trails are generally uneven and rocky. The benefits are obvious. The difficulties include maintaining consistent training pace/leg turnover, as well as balancing high-intensity workouts with recovery. For tempo and interval/repetition work, we find flat or even slightly downhill options. We are convinced that our kids require more recovery than “usual.” Also, probably due to the altitude/dryness, we’ve had many athletes develop iron-store issues, so we strongly encourage iron supplementation.

DyeStat: Talk about working together as a husband/wife team. How often does your spare time (if any) center around cross country and distance training? How many of your vacations/travels center on running or watching former runners?

The Hipwoods: As most coaches would understand, coaching really is a lifestyle, not simply a job. Luckily, it is something for which we have a shared passion. We also work very well together. It’s amazing how much we think alike, probably due to having the same mentors. During the fall, life outside of our “real jobs” is basically consumed with cross country. Spring is a little less hectic because we are assistants in track, but any spare time with friends, family, etc., is cherished. We absolutely love what we do, but we enjoy our downtime, too. We usually take at least one non-coaching weeklong trip a year, plus some weekend excursions.

At the same time, several of our trips in the recent past have involved watching former runners, but that is great fun also. Last February, we saw Ryan McNiff (Adams State) compete in the U.S. Junior XC Nationals in Boulder. It was very exciting to watch the race unfold and see him make a U.S. national team. It was an incredible experience for us to witness. In May, we combined a trip to the North Carolina coast with time at the DII outdoor nationals, where Brittany Somers (Adams State) won the steeplechase title and Heather Wood (Adams State) made All-American in the 10k. We’ve also had the opportunity to see some of Kristen Hemphill’s (Colorado State) cross country and indoor track races. Our hope is to see her compete at either DI track or cross country nationals this upcoming year. We’re intending to go to the Olympic trials next summer, but if Kristen and/or Brittany make it in the steeple, we’ll be there for sure.

DyeStat: Prior to your arrival, Los Alamos did not achieve attention as a national cross country power. How was the current metamorphosis of Los Alamos into a major national power achieved?

The Hipwoods: Los Alamos actually has a long history of distance running success long before we became coaches. Individually, Los Alamos has had three national-class runners in Ric Rojas, Anthony Sandoval, and Lynn Bjorklund, who still holds the U.S. high school 3000 meter record. Larry Jeffryes had some very successful teams in the 80s, including two consecutive state titles for the girls in 1981-82, along with a string of four runner-up finishes from 1984-87 to the high-powered Gallup boys.

We always try to build/improve upon our methodology and hope that has been a factor, but we believe that the metamorphosis into national success during our tenure is mainly due to: 1) more kids deciding the sport is important enough to do year-round mixed with influxes of talent; and, 2) mental aspects, the idea of success breeding success. We are lucky to work with talent among our current group of boys, but teams we have coached in the past have been just as talented. This group is incredibly dedicated and not only tolerates, but also positively embraces the hard work. It is their mental approach that makes the difference. They came to believe that, as a unit, they could run with anyone. This group truly has synergy and the unit is better than the sum of the individuals.

DyeStat: You have taken 3 teams to NTN since its inception. Talk about the NTN experience and how special it is. What are your favorite aspects of NTN?

The Hipwoods: The entire NTN weekend is amazing. It’s a first class event from beginning to end. The people at Nike (Josh Rowe, Mike Donnelly, John Truax, etc.) and the NSSF (Jim Spier, AJ Holzherr, Paul Limmer, Joy Kamani) together provide an exceptional experience for the kids. We really enjoy the gathering of so many high-energy and inspiring people. But by far, our favorite aspect is simply the race. It’s awesome..

Congratulations to Coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood, the ninth and 10th Eastbay National Coaches of the Week for Fall 2007!
Eastbay Coach of the Week Coaches will receive a team color Eastbay jacket.

Coach of the Week Archive