I have read you were diagnosed in 2006 with celiac disease. Has living with this disease helped you to be a more intuitive and sympathetic coach? Many of our readers deal with athletes who have serious medical conditions, such as celiac. Could you give any advice on how to support and coach an athlete with a serious condition?
I think that having celiac and the issues that came with it helps me to notice things in others.
The best support you can give an athlete is the confidence that you are there for them for the duration, the confidence that your support of them does not depend on their times or marks but on their dedication to doing their best.
You can help them find the best support system to deal with the condition. You can help them navigate the information when it becomes hard to make decisions.
Andrew and I want to help the athletes become great athletes and people. We want to give them more than just athletic experiences.
Andrew (Begley) coached me during my senior year in high school. I was 2nd at Foot Locker and qualified for Junior Worlds in Sydney Australia in the 5,000m.
How have the coaches you have had over the years influenced how you coach today? What do you remember about your high school, college, and professional coaches that motivated and inspired you to reach such a high level of achievement in running?
A local female runner inspired me to start running. I would see her running around the park when we walked the dogs.
I have had all male coaches during my career. In middle school, they only had a boys team, and I loved racing with the boys.
In high school, my coach was a former football coach who really tried hard to give us direction. I had an AAU club coach, Jim Mills, who really taught me a lot about running.
Lance Harter was my college coach who introduced me to a great network in the running world. I loved my college years and career at Arkansas.
Andrew (Begley) coached me the first 6 years of my pro career.
Alberto Salazar coached me from 2007 to 2011. He taught me how to work hard. I thought I knew how to work hard until I joined the Oregon Project. I think it would be hard on a marriage to have your spouse work you that hard.
I tried to run for another year after that, but the body was done.
Coaching is an intense career. The stress and hours are hard on coaches and their families. What do you do to alleviate those stresses and time commitments? What advice do you have for coaches to help balance out their lives?
Finding a partner and support network is key. If you don’t have people in your corner to help you or encourage you to keep going, it is very easy to leave the sport. Coaching with Andrew allows us to divide things up or take on more or less if needed. I am very lucky to be able to coach with my spouse.
When Andrew and I need a break, we try to stay 1-2 days after a track meet or road race to see the city or see a National Park. We have stopped at layovers for a day to see a National Park or visit family. That is doable for pro coaches, but college coaches don’t have that opportunity due to traveling with the team.
At home, we have the dogs.
My advice for college coaches is to come up with a compromise on a schedule that will keep you sane. For example, you can work from home half a day to take care of the dog and things like laundry.
What advice can you give to a young woman who wants to become a running coach? What is important to you as a coach that you could pass on to another female coach?
If you are a college athlete or professional athlete, start networking at meets. Ask your coach to introduce you to race directors and other college coaches. My college coach, Lance Harter, did that for me. At the time, I didn’t even realize what a gift it was that he introduced me to other coaches and meet directors.
Getting involved with USATF will also introduce you to people and the inner workings of your sport.
Learn about the physiology and biomechanics of the sport. If you want to be more valuable as a coach, learn other events so that you are not just a distance coach or jumps coach. You can also read the books of many of the current and former great coaches.
There are also coaching classes and certifications, like USATF and RRCA.
What makes you still passionate about our sport of running?
I enjoy helping people of all abilities work toward their goals. I enjoy helping a new runner develop a love for the sport, as much as I like helping elite runners chase their Olympic dreams. Our sport has a lot to offer to both of these groups, and everyone in between.
I also enjoy watching the sport evolve. We have learned so much over the years. Technology has allowed people to share information and helps us to further the sport. It is rewarding to help young athletes to avoid some of the mistakes that we have made over the years.
Finally, it has been rewarding to watch women take a more prominent role in our sport. After college, there were very few options for professional women. In today’s world, there are many options. After college, a reporter interviewed Andrew and me about our goals as professional athletes. I was asked when I was getting a “real job” and when I wanted to have kids. Andrew didn’t get any similar questions. It was eye-opening. We have made good progress in accepting that it is okay for women to chase their dreams, but we still have a long way to go. It is easier to recruit talented men because more men stick around after college. One of my goals is to continue to help more women stay in the sport.
It is also inspirational to see more women coaching. I want to do everything that I can to perpetuate this trend.