Want to run in college? This is What it Takes: Kelly Bean of Cal Poly, by Cait Chock

Molly Huddle, Oakley Mini 10k, photo by PhotoRun.net

Molly Huddle was a fine high school cross country and track runner, who developed in college at Notre Dame, and moved into the pro ranks at Saucony. How do high school runners learn what it takes to go to running in college? This is a series by Cait Chock, who speaks with a variety of coaches across the US on what it takes to be successful as a runner in university settings. 

Want to Run in College? This is What it Takes: Kelly Bean of Cal Poly

By: Cait Chock

Kelly Bean (nee Strong) currently Co-Coaches the Cal Poly Cross Country team and is the Assistant Track Coach for the distances. Bean is renowned for her ability to usher in new recruits and facilitate a successful transition from high school senior to college freshman and onward. 

Bean got her start in colligate coaching at the University of Washington, and helped lead the Huskies women to the NCAA Cross Country Team Championship title in 2008. Bean herself is a decorated collegiate, having set five school records while at Arizona State, matching with five All-American honors. Running as a professional for Asics, Bean lined up for three Olympic Trials and set the 2000m steeplechase American Record in 2008.

Adding patience to the competitive drive of a distance runner, Bean progresses each incoming freshman along exercising caution at first during such a major transition. Establishing goals from the get-go, Bean gets her team excited to reach high, raise the bar on expectations, ignites their competitive nature, and makes them proud to represent their school.  

1)   What catches your eye when it comes to recruiting high schoolers? And what year do you really start keeping a particular runner on your radar? (ie: soph, jr. sr.)

We generally look at progression through high school and certainly the potential they will have in college and beyond. It's fun to find runners who truly enjoy the sport and can continue to run after college. I enjoy looking for athletes who have a passion for winning. A big reason I ended up going to Arizona State was because of Walt Drenth, now at MSU,...he recruited me in large part because he saw a competitive nature in me from watching basketball tapes. We begin the recruiting search generally in their junior year. In most cases the athlete has had two full years of high school running behind them and you can get a good sense of what they will run their senior year at that point. Every once in awhile an athlete comes along and as a freshman, you know that you'll be eyeing them for years to come (ie: Jordan Hasay!) 

2)   What are some of the key traits you look for in an athlete outside of strictly fast times? Are there certain things about a particular runner that, even with great PRs, will stop you from recruiting them?

We look for a competitive nature, people who enjoy their team and the joy of competing both in cross country and in track, athletes who live a balanced lifestyle of academics and athletics which makes the transition in college much more manageable. Also, it's important to find the athletes who really want to come to your school and have great pride in your University and want to make a difference. 

3)   How do you factor performance times of a runner against their training volume? Do certain times carry more weight in your opinion if they're run off of lower miles or less intensity?

Performance times are sometimes hard to gauge because of the variance of training volumes. We look at mileage per week, amount of races per season, intensity in their training, other sports, etc. It's nice when an athlete comes in and can build their mileage per year to keep a progression going. We anticipate great improvement as upperclassmen, junior and senior in college, when they've had a couple years of steady mileage increase.

4)   Throughout the recruiting process, what are some important tips you make sure to give the runner as they prepare for the upcoming transition to college?

Some important tips we give incoming freshmen are to take a break after their senior season ends, to gear up for a solid summer of training, establishing a routine over summer with consistent training, preparing for school, dorm move in, tutors, etc. are all vital parts of being a first year college student. 

5)   How do you, if at all, individualize an incoming freshman's training?

We send a questionnaire that asks questions about what they have done in previous years. The questions vary from highest mileage total to long run distances to favorite workout. It gives us a better idea of where they are coming from so then we can adjust training for each person. On the women's side, it's worked to bring them in at or just above the highest mileage from their senior year. For instance, if someone ran 50 miles a week the summer going into their senior season with a long run of 11, and averaged around 45 during the season, we would have them get to 50 miles a week and stay there for a couple weeks, then build to 55. When they arrive on campus, I like to sit down with each athlete and have a game plan for the next four years with mileage and long run build up. Of course training and racing doesn't always work out perfectly and adjustments frequently need to be made, but having a plan seems to help them out a lot. I still have my running logs from college and I love seeing Walt's handwriting from my first year (40-45 miles a week. Long run 10 miles), to my 5th year when he wrote out 80-85 miles a week with 16-17 mile long runs. Establishing goals at this point is really important to me. Sometimes freshmen know exactly what they want to accomplish during their college years...but most times a little guidance goes a long way.

6)   In your experience, what's separated the runners who have successfully managed the transition to college and continued to improve from those who didn't?

The successful ones are extremely consistent and don't have too much on their plate, they don't spread themselves too thin. When we start training for cross country we aren't in school for a couple weeks, so everything seems relaxed. Once school starts in the quarter system, it moves FAST. The successful athletes are prepared for school to start, stay on top of everything and stick to the same routine each week. Hard to be great at more than academics and athletics. Sacrifices many times have to be made...

7)   After freshman year, what is your formula for successfully progressing the athlete through to the end of their collegiate career?

Gradual progression over time, 4 year plan, consistent training and racing schedule, patience!! 

8)   Finally, there's been a dramatic rise in high school performances over the last decade. Running Times recently did a feature on the girls' side (http://www.runnersworld.com/high-school-racing/why-are-these-teens-so-fast?cm_mmc=Twitter-_-RunningTimes-_-Content-HighSchool-_-FastTeens). Do you tend to agree with the major points made, do you have any personal opinions/theories about high schoolers (boys and girls) training more and getting faster? Do you see this trend as continuing?

I agree with Coaches Treacy and Procaccio in that there is much more information, or at least the option to gain information for coaches and athletes. You can find everything on the internet and build a whole training regimen based on the best athletes in the world. It's helpful even for motivation purposes to see workouts on flotrack. The sport is much more exposed, giving athletes more opportunity to improve. I also think all these girls, Alexa, Mary, Elise, Sarah, etc., have been able to feed off each other and help make each other better by raising the expectation. They have opened the door to faster running for US teens and have reestablished what is considered "fast". It's amazing to see the improvements in high school, college and beyond. 


Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.

Leave a comment

Wake up to RunBlogRun's news in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you informed about the Sport you love.

Subscribe to RunBlogRun's Global News Feed

* indicates required