What’s Your Gear?: Chris Zeller, Cross Country

Chris Zeller’s running career began with a Spokane tradition. His dad signed the two of them up for Bloomsday when he was just five years old. The duo practiced one-mile loops around their neighborhood and eventually worked their way up to the big race. Bloomsday became a family tradition, and before he knew it Zeller fell in love with running.

“I think I passed my dad running when I was in the second grade,” Zeller jokes. “He wasn’t a runner, but for whatever reason he took it upon himself to get us into it.” Zeller’s running career has never truly stopped growing.

He ran cross-country for Mead High School and Western Washington University. He’s now in his fifth year as head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country team at Eastern Washington University.

“I knew I wanted to be a lifelong runner,” Zeller says. “I just have this huge love and passion for it and coaching has helped cultivate that. Teaching encompasses so much more than in the classroom, and I figured what better venue than to educate kids and people by doing something that I love.”

Zeller’s coaching career began at both the middle school and high school levels in Port Angeles. He and his wife worked on creating a community of runners while there, but moved to Spokane for graduate school. He spent a brief stint volunteering for the cross-county team at Eastern before being offered the position.

The transition from high school to collegiate coaching was somewhat nerve wracking, but nonetheless exciting. “I spent a lot of time reading and getting inside the various philosophies and training methods,” he says. “I studied coaches like Bill Dellinger and Arthur Lydiard, but when you get down to it there’s no huge secret. You just have to get out there and run.”

Zeller has approximately 30 students on his team, training distances anywhere from 100 to 30 miles per week. Their cross-county season is already one month underway, and preseason polls predict the men’s team in fifth place and the women’s team in eighth place. Eastern Washington University will even host the 2010 championships on October 30 at the Fairways Golf Course in Spokane.

In between training and coaching, Zeller still finds time to run with his wife. He’s comfortable back in Spokane where a rich running community and running history fosters his desire to do more and become a better coach.

“Coaching helps me facilitate the love that I have for running,” he says. “It’s amazing to be back in Spokane where so many people exercise and do outdoor activities.” Here’s the gear you’ll catch Zeller running in between a busy season of meets and practices.

SHOES: The track team is sponsored by Adidas and the entire team, including Zeller, wear Supernova Glides. When he’s not at school Zeller prefers Brooks Adrenaline shoes. “I had injuries off and on last year, and as I was rehabbing the Brooks felt so right biomechanically,” he says. “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” He’s even dabbling in the minimalist running phenomena. Although he’s not down to bare feet altogether, he spent an enjoyable year running in road flats. “It make sense,” he says. “I’ve bought into the science but I just haven’t gotten there yet.”

SOCKS: Any pair of running socks will do for Zeller. Nothing too fancy or crazy, he says, “I’m old school in that way.”

SHORTS: Zeller prefers running shorts with the slit on the side for less restricted movement. As far as material is concerned, he’s not too specific. Polyester will do. “I like to tell the team we can wear basketball shorts when the basketball team starts wearing cross-country shorts.”

SHIRTS: The team usually wears dri-fit material jersey tops but a long sleeve cotton shirt will do for Zeller. In the colder seasons, Zeller layers with tights, a long sleeve shirt and a vest.

GLOVES: Anything that is thin and will keep his hands warm.

HEADBAND: Something simple that covers his ears. “As long as my ears are warm I’m a happy camper,” he says.

LIGHTS: Zeller wears a headlamp when it’s fairly dark outside and a reflective running jersey his mom gave him in high school. The very thought of this makes him chuckle.

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