With a love of running that spans nearly 30 years, MKE runner Aaron Pierce got his first taste of racing when he was only 4 years old. Today, he still trains and races competitively and also shares his knowledge with the cross country team he helps coach.
Read on to learn more about his training, a killer key workout and what he’s learned by taking on the role of coach.
Years running: My first race was as a 4 year old, a lap around the warning track at County Stadium (part of the old Police and Fire Run). You could say I have been running ever since!
Favorite workout: My long hill loop at Kletzsch Park. Racing the trains that go next to the Interurban Trail and Oak Leaf Trail can be an interesting motivator.
Favorite gear: Knucklelights for dark running, and my homemade ‘screwshoes’ that allow for the best traction in wintertime (slotted hex head sheet metal screws work very well).
Favorite distance to race: 8k
Pre-race routine: Get to the race (without being in a hurry to get there), warm up (usually I like to get in a 2-mile jog before a race that is 10k or less), change shoes, drills, striders and go! I can’t say I have any things that are good luck charms that make me ‘ready to race’. You are either ready or you are not!
Favorite post-race treat: Eating everything in sight. This year during a longer cooldown after the Firecracker 4, I ate 6 massive cookies from the refreshment area; it was an amazing experience. Sometimes I will enjoy an ice cream sandwich as well.
● Last ever Grape Stomp winner (2007)
● Deer Run 10k winner (2012)
● Guardian Angel Run winner (2008, 2012, 2013)
● Striders Indoor 20k, 3rd place (2013)
Why did you start running and what’s kept you running throughout the years?
As I mentioned earlier, my first race and probably longer running experience was at age 4. I started running because my dad told me to. I didn’t run a ton when I was a little kid, but I was active and I think I did enough to balance out my Nintendo habit.
Steady improvement has kept me running. When I was in high school, I was lucky to finish in the top half of a varsity race. I attended a small college and had an opportunity to run on the team so I did. I finished 3rd from last during the first meet of my freshman year. But I kept working at it, and in my junior season, I received the team’s Most Improved Runner award. In my senior season, I finished 19th in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference and was the team’s Most Valuable Runner. Interestingly enough, I had more improvement after college, setting 5k and 10k PR’s as late as 2012, nearly 9 years after my last collegiate race!
Being involved in coaching now, I consider all my runs/workouts/races to be continuing research for my coaching knowledge.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
Usually in the ‘off season’ I am around 45-55 fitness miles per week. At these points I try to fit in one ‘faster day’ and one ‘long day.’ When I am training for something, the mileage goes higher with every 4th week a little less intensity and miles. After a bit of base building, I will mix in some hills and track work and occasional two-a-days. I also like to mix in half mile “pickups” in my runs as a way to transition from base building to when I want to start to focus on faster workouts. My 5k and 10k PRs all came after training 70 mile weeks. In the past few years, I rarely go more than 7 days without an ‘off day.’ I have found that as the miles pile up, off days are pretty awesome.
Can you tell us about a workout you do that lets you know you’re ready to race?
I think it is good to vary the key workouts sometimes so you are not used to a same old routine. With that said, a fun workout is 6-8 x “Kletzsch Park Horseshoes” (about ½ mile). From the light pole that is just about across the street from the north driveway/parking area by the Pavilion and Little Free Library, run north on the grass along the Parkway, and then follow the trail that eventually goes up the long side of the hill. And then you walk easy down the front of the hill, jog back to the starting location and then do it again! If I can knock these out, while keeping the times steadily going faster, I know I am doing something right.
Along with your own training and racing, you also coach cross country. Why did you decide to start coaching? Can you tell us how your own experience helps you help your teams?
My coaching experience began while I was finishing my last semester in college (2004). I figured since I was still around the school, I might as well help the team out, and the head coach was welcoming in having me around. A lot of the knowledge that I shared with the runners was similar stuff that I learned the previous season (2003) when Matt Thull was an assistant with the team. Then I stuck around the next year, and the next year. . . and so on. I was an assistant with my college team for nine seasons. There were three different head coaches during my time there and they all asked me to return, which spoke of my positive impact with the team. We weren’t the biggest cross country team, but we had some great runners that I enjoyed working with. It meant a lot when during the off-season the runners would ask me to come by and run with them.
Now I am working with Head Coach Nicole Hengels at Dominican High School. It is my first season with the team and we are working on building up the program after Coach Nicole restarted cross country in 2014. We are having a blast so far! Lots of fun enthusiasm and improvement and the parents are involved as well. We are even hosting a Milwaukee Running Festival event on Thursday, September 24th, which will be a lot of fun! The best part of this is that I am a Dominican graduate and (obviously) former cross country team member.
What have you learned through coaching? Has it benefitted your own running?
I could write a book about what I have learned coaching! I have found that coaching is more than just having a binder filled with workouts plans. A lot of it is the psychology of running and helping a runner focus on long-term goals, rather than (relatively) instant success. Also, as a coach, you need to provide a lot of encouragement, especially to younger runners.
What running goals are you looking to tackle in the next few years?
I am determined to knock out an 8k PR at some point!
What’s on your racing bucket list?
I really need to do Bellin Run one of these years.
What are your favorite Milwaukee races?
Guardian Angel Run! (3 miles) It’s a lot of fun to race around Whitefish Bay on Memorial Day, and the block party after the race has many different ways to refuel after running. Plus, male and female overall winners get their name engraved on a big trophy that stays at the school, so there is some incentive to run fast. There is also a kids race, so you can see the runners of the future scramble around the block.
Port Washington Fish Day 8k is a challenging course and can test your fitness. If you go out too fast, you will be pretty wrecked after the 2-mile mark.
I also try to do Al’s Run every year. I remember running it in the swarm of humanity down Wisconsin Ave in 1993 and I thought, “Wow, I gotta get faster if I want to get in front of all these people.”
I enjoy watching the Lakefront Marathon and I try to spectate at a few different points between Grafton and the Lakefront (I am the one that you might see on the course with my green/white ‘GO’ sign).
What makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?
The running community is great; not many cities have so many events, groups, running stores, etc. Plus, we have a lot of trails and neat areas to run. Also, I think winter running is fun. Every day you can run with your footprints in the snow!
Thanks for chatting with us, Aaron!
As Aaron mentioned, Dominican High School’s cross country team is hosting a Milwaukee Running Festival event tomorrow, Thursday, September 24th. If you’re free, come check it out – it should be a great time for runners of all abilities!
If you’re a runner in MKE, we’d love to chat with you. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be featured or know someone who should be featured in an upcoming Let’s Get to Know . . . post.
Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!