The runners on the Fenton girls and boys cross country teams admired and respected coach Jesse Anderson before he placed 20th overall at the 2018 Boston Marathon.
But that performance definitely didn’t hurt his credibility.
“Like everyone else on the team, I was shocked and very proud when I heard the news,” Fenton senior Nolan Day said. “It’s so crazy to think that our coach that we see every day took 20th out of 30,000 in one of America’s most prestigious marathon races. We all feel very lucky to have him as a coach as it is, and this just adds to it.”
Anderson, who finished the marathon in 2 hours, 29 minutes and 19 seconds, is in his fourth year as coach at his alma mater. The 2008 graduate was a two-time all-state finisher and four-time MHSAA Finals qualifier for the Tigers. While he didn’t run competitively while attending University of Michigan, he wound up picking the sport back up on his own and competed in road races before making the jump to marathons in 2013.
“The (Fenton) position came open in 2015, and I was encouraged to apply for the spot because I was running a business in town and I had picked up competitive running at the time after college,” Anderson said. “I cared a lot about the program and wanted to have an impact at that level. It has surpassed my expectations.”
In his first three seasons, the Fenton boys have qualified twice for the Division 1 Finals (2015 and 2017), and the girls qualified in 2017. Both teams are projected to finish first in their regions by Athletic.net, although the boys hypothetical Regional meet sees the Tigers tying Highland Milford for first and just one point ahead of Walled Lake Central. On the girls side, junior Alexa Keiser – who earned all-state finishes in both of her first two seasons at Fenton – has a top time this fall that once again would put her on stage at Michigan International Speedway on Nov. 3.
Anderson gives a lot of the credit for the team’s success to his assistant coaches, Sue Larsen and Nathan Loersch.
“I couldn’t do what I do without those two,” he said.
He also said that both his experience as a high school runner and as a currently competitive runner are what he’s needed to be a complete coach.
“They kind of go hand in hand,” he said. “When I’m talking to the kids and communicating a workout, my experience as a runner in high school is more valuable, especially when it comes to racing tactics,” he said. “But training to be consistent over road races has really taught me about making consistent habits. I wouldn’t feel as complete as a coach without one or the other experience.”
While Anderson acknowledges training for marathons is different than training for 5Ks, he also points out that there are plenty of similarities, which his experiences make him uniquely qualified to see.
The mileage an athlete is running per week may be different, but he said the rhythm of that week – when to rest, what to work out – is very much the same. And, of course, he has a willing participant to test the effectiveness of his workouts – himself. That helps him communicate why his high school athletes are running what they’re running, and what it will do for them, something Anderson feels very strongly about.
His athletes appreciate all of the experience he brings to the table.
“As a person and a coach, we think very highly of him, and his decorated running resume backs his already trustworthy judgment and advice,” Day said. “Just when I think that I couldn’t have any more respect for him as a person and as a coach, his achievements keep on grabbing even more of my respect.
“When it comes to relating to his runners and understanding what they are going through, Coach Anderson’s skills are unparalleled. He knows the stretches and fixes for every injury, and knows how to push his runners to their highest potential while not being detrimental. For these reasons, among many others, I truly feel Coach Jesse Anderson is the best cross country coach in the state of Michigan.”
Of course, not all of Anderson’s lessons are taught from his successes. In 2013, he attempted for the first time to run the Boston Marathon and had to drop out. It’s the only race, Anderson said, he’s hasn’t finished.
“I didn’t prepare very well,” he said. “I was in the midst of starting up a business in town, and I had kept myself busy that weekend and drove out the day before. I didn’t drink enough water. I drank too much coffee. I made a lot of mistakes, and I use it as an example now for coaching.”
The 2013 race also served as a personal learning experience as Anderson prepared for the 2018 marathon, helping him to his biggest triumph at the site of what was previously his rare racing failure.
It was made more special by the group of Fenton runners he has been mentoring seeing that success.
“They’ve always been super supportive, and it was really heartwarming to have a bunch of people reach out to me,” he said. “I really try not to make too much out of it because a lot of circumstances went into being able to place that high, but I would like to think I was just trying to practice what I preach to the kids. This wasn’t the result of some Herculean effort. That said, it was pretty cool, and Boston is pretty recognizable to most people, so it was really cool to see the kids get excited about it.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Fenton coach Jesse Anderson is surrounded by his runners during their preseason camp at Sleeping Bear Dunes. (Middle) Anderson crosses the finish line 10th at the Aug. 25 Crim 10-mile run in Flint. (Top photo courtesy of Fenton cross country, middle by RunMichigan.com.)
BROOKLYN — On the same day Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein set a course record at Michigan International Speedway that has never been approached, Kurtis Marlowe of Richland Gull Lake had a performance that was overshadowed.
But Marlowe’s winning time of 15:02.5 in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in 2000 also stood the test of time.
Freeland junior TJ Hansen eclipsed the Division 2 record with his winning time of 14:52.8. Runner-up Solomon Kwartowitz of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood also nearly broke the previous record, finishing in 15:03.3.
Even though it was apparent from earlier races Saturday that perfect conditions made fast times possible, Hansen didn’t set out to break Marlowe’s record.
“No, my goal was to go out and win,” he said. “Play strategy from the front, let others do the work, then just push it. Whatever time I got, I was gonna get. I knew it was going to take a time like that to win it today.
“I usually run close to a (personal record) every year at this meet. It’s one of my favorite courses. It’s definitely unique here at the speedway, so I really like the course, I really like to run it.”
Hansen went through the mile mark tied for 11th in 4:54.3, but you could’ve thrown a blanket over the top 12 runners at that point.
It was a three-man race between Hansen, Kwartowitz and 2022 champion Connell Alford of Chelsea when they reached the two-mile mark in 9:46.
Hansen made sure there would be no drama coming down the stretch.
“I was just trying to stay calm, let them do the work, just sit back,” he said. “When I needed to go, I was gonna go. My goal was to stay relaxed.”
Kwartowitz had no complaints with his race.
“It felt really smooth,” he said. “It was great. I didn’t get a chance to race these guys a bunch this year. I did at Spartan (Invitational, in September). I was really hoping to end it with a victory.”
The boys Division 2 team championship was a toss-up between four teams for the second year in a row, with Ada Forest Hills Eastern coming out on top with 134 points. Pinckney was second with 156, East Grand Rapids third with 175 and Allendale fourth with 176.
Last year, 32 points separated the top four teams.
Junior Henry Dixon led Forest Hills Eastern, placing sixth in 15:16.0. Senior Liam Hinman was 29th, senior Brendan Hoving was 30th, senior Cooper Jacobsen was 38th and junior Tyler Endres was 82nd.
It was the first MHSAA championship for Forest Hills Eastern, which had a program-best finish of fourth in 2007.
PHOTOS (Top) Freeland's TJ Hansen approaches the finish of his record run Saturday at MIS. (Middle) Henry Dixon sets the pace for Forest Hills Eastern's first team championship. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)