When Charles Mark Wetmore joined the University of Colorado’s cross country coaching staff 24 years ago, he never imagined his coaching style would detonate into the unbounded success that defines his career today.
“I think you can argue he’s the best in the business,” associate head coach Heather Burroughs said of his accomplishments.
The statement may seem a bit biased coming from the woman who has spent the past 12 years coaching with Wetmore. She also ran for him during her last two years of college. But when it comes down to his achievements, the stats don’t lie.
Wetmore took over as CU’s head cross country coach in November, 1995 after spending three years assistant coaching the team. Since then, Wetmore has won various titles in the cross country world.
As it stands, Wetmore is the only NCAA Division I coach to win all four possible titles at the same school: men’s team, women’s team, men’s individual and women’s individual. In 2004, CU won both the men’s and women’s team championships, making Colorado only the third school in NCAA history to earn both titles in the same year.
Since 2000, he’s led his numerous teams to seven national titles. And in his 20-year span as head coach, Wetmore has won NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year twice. Likewise, he’s earned the award for the men’s category three times.
Before Colorado’s switch over to the Pac-12 from the Big 12 in 2011, Wetmore held the honor of being the winningest head coach in the conference across all sports. Part of that accolade included 23 conference team titles and 16 individual titles. In addition, he left the conference with 19 Big 12 Conference Cross Country Coach of the Year awards.
So what, then, is the answer behind all of Coach Wetmore’s success?
“There definitely is no secret,” Wetmore said. “The secret is that there’s no secret. It’s just a lot of hard work and time and patience.”
He’s also a bit more humble about his achievements than many of his stature would be.
“I guess I can’t say that I’ve seen (my career) explode, but I was happy to see it continue,” Wetmore said. “I never would have imagined that it would have gone on 20 something years here. So I’m happy to have the longevity, happy to have the long line of motivated, talented, personable athletes and great assistants.”
The hard work of the athletes, he believed, was the true reason behind his successes.
“Hard work of some of the original men and women here back in the ’90s attracted better candidates and the interest of some of the better people around the country,” Wetmore said. “Some of them came and trained hard, and it just kept spiraling up. So now we’re lucky that we get to talk on the phone to some of the top recruits in the country, and some of them choose us.”
Burroughs, who has seen both sides of Wetmore, both as her coach and later as her boss, attributes his success to the continual adaptation of his techniques in an ever-changing running culture.
“I think his methods (are) totally sound and innovative—he’s a combination of consistent and relentless,” Burroughs said. “And yet he’s not so confident and so arrogant that he’ll take the 2005 NCAA championship training booklet and say that’s sufficient for 2015. He’s always analyzing other methods and analyzing the talents of his group and adjusting his training differently.”
His methods, she said, focus on both the physiological and psychological sides of running. Physiologically, he takes each athlete individually as they come and allows them to adapt to his expectations at their own pace. Psychologically, Wetmore can quickly adapt to the demands of each separate race while simultaneously ensuring that the pressure of bigger races doesn’t get into the heads of his athletes.
Connor Winter, a senior cross country athlete at Colorado, appraised Wetmore for his one-on-one coaching style based on his own personal experience.
“That’s the nice thing about Coach,” Winter said. “He’s so good about taking the individual and making them the best they can be, and not just have a cookie-cutter training plan for everybody. It’s very individualized.”
When Winter first arrived at Colorado as a redshirt freshman four years ago, he could only run 40 miles a week coming out of high school. But Wetmore had bigger plans for him.
During that first year, Wetmore helped him ease into a larger regimen of running 90 miles a week by encouraging him to ease into it. He suggested increasing the 40 miles to 50 or 60 miles a week. That way he would be ready when the time came for him to burn his redshirt.
“The first year, he was really good with just saying ‘Low miles, let’s just get you to be comfortable. Run 12-mile runs.’ And now I run 18-mile long runs. He really builds you up every year until now, when you’re doing really well,” Winter said.
Winter recalled that, from the start, Wetmore always struck him as the kind of coach who always knew what to do in any given situation. That mindset, he said, was ultimately what drew him to the University of Colorado to further pursue his running career.
“He just has a very calm mindset about him,” he said. “I remember him talking to me when he was recruiting me, and he just seemed very intelligent and he knew just kind of what to say at the right time. He always has that aspect of just being calm and being aware and being confident in what you can do and your abilities, but not doing anything crazy or outside the box.”
Wetmore and his men’s and women’s teams will begin their competitive race schedule on Saturday, Oct. 17 in Louisville, KY at Pre-Nationals. Heading into the season, the Buffalo Boys are ranked No. 1 in the nation whereas the Lady Buffs are sitting at No.2 behind New Mexico.
After a strong start to the season in the Colorado State Invitational, Burroughs said she thinks Colorado is poised for yet another strong season.
“Our men are good, they’ve proven that over the past couple years,” she said. “Our women, I think, can be a surprise and can be one of the best teams in the country. My aspiration is that when we go to conference and we go to the NCAA, that’s confirmed.”
The feeling, Winter said, is something that Wetmore’s athletes have grown accustomed to over the years.
“I think it comes with experience,” Winter said of the team’s high-level competition. “I think that once you’ve done it once, it’s a little easier to do it again. And once you’ve done it twice, it’s a little easier again. So we kind of know what to expect, and you don’t worry about what other people are going to do.”
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Alissa Noe at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on twitter @crazysportgirl1.