Amy, we know you as an Olympian, an All American, a National Champion, a Record Holder and inspirational athlete. We’d like to hear about your transition from elite distance runner to coach. Was it a hard transition to make?
It was a hard transition because it was not on my terms. I had an injury that would not heal. At this point I was almost 34 years old. I had been running “professionally” for 12 years. I say that because I had a lot of part-time jobs when I was training and racing.
I had an Exercise Science/Biomechanics degree from Arkansas. My plan had been to go to Physical Therapy School. My science classes were too old, and they wanted me to retake Physics and Organic Chemistry. I didn’t like those classes the first time, and I didn’t want to take them again.
I started applying to coaching jobs and other wellness-type jobs. In 2012, all of my job applications were turned down. Andrew and I had a plan to coach together in college. We thought it would take 10+ years to get to a position that we could do that.
The USOC had a great program to help athletes transition to the working world. They helped with resumes, networking and online classes. During that time, there was a lot of buzz about the first women who competed in marathons, road races and track & field.
I was networking with all my contacts for job opportunities. The RRCA was in the process of doing an Oral History Project on the Women Pioneers of Running. They hired me to interview as many of these women as we could find. This job ended up being just what I needed at the right time.
I was able to talk to all these women who fought for the right to compete and paved the way for the rest of us. It was the best therapy for me at the time.
In 2013, I was contacted about the Head XC and Assistant Track Job at the University of Connecticut (UConn). I was hired in August, with very little time to move from Oregon to Connecticut. It was a very steep learning curve that year, but it was a great start into college coaching.
In 2014, Jack Wickens sent me the link to the job opening at the Atlanta Track Club. He said I should apply and thought I would be a great fit for the job. I can’t thank him enough for leading me to the Atlanta Track Club. When I read the job description, I knew there were very few coaches who could or would want to do the job. It entailed working with kids, beginner runners and elite athletes. The job covered everything I had worked on and wanted to continue working on.
It was a hard decision to leave college coaching. There were not many women coaching, and I hated to leave it. However, I was also entering a coaching world that had even fewer women in it. There are only a handful of women who coach post-collegiate groups.
In 2014 you were appointed as the first full time coach of the Atlanta Track Club along with your husband Andrew Begley. How have the past 4 years been? What is it like to be a coach of 21,000 plus runners? What are your other responsibilities, both for you and Andrew?
The interview process was long for this job. The job was a brand new position for Atlanta Track Club that Rich Kenah put into place. When Rich called to offer me the job, he said that all the applicants had told him this was more than a one person job. He wanted to hire me, but he also wanted to hire Andrew. Our 10-year plan came to be in just 18 months.
In December, I moved down to Atlanta with a few post-collegiate athletes who Andrew and I were coaching. Andrew moved down in January after he finished teaching that semester in Connecticut.
Andrew has been coaching longer. He is a year older than I am and coached me during my senior year in high school. He also coached me for the first 6 years of my professional career before I joined the Oregon Project.
We agree on 90% of the coaching decisions. We each have our strengths and have learned to divide and conquer. That took a couple years to settle out. He is the physiology guy. I am the biomechanics person. He does the budget and apparel. I work with our medical support to make sure the athletes are seeing the massage therapists and physical therapists when needed. I work on mental prep for races. We both work on travel and race plans. He travels more with the team due to my other job responsibilities.
Andrew and I both coach Atlanta Track Club Elite. We also have other duties with the club.
Andrew started the Youth Team and the Cross Country Camp. I am in charge of the In-Training programs for Atlanta Track Club. We have three seasons of training. The fall is Half Marathon and Marathon training. The summer is In-Training for Peachtree. The winter/spring is Publix Atlanta Marathon and Half Marathon training. We have also done beginner 5K and Women’s 5K training programs. We are going to start an online version of the training programs as well. I have In-Training practices every Saturday for these programs. I also have mid-week speed workouts for the programs.
On top of those coaching duties, we also help with the events. AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4th is our biggest race. It is the largest 10K in the world with 60,000 participants. We have 30+ events a year from mile races to the Publix Atlanta Marathon. Our favorite event is Wingfoot XC. Andrew and I measure and oversee the course setup.
The club also hosts free Kilometer Kids Mile races and school programs. The elite athletes on the team help with every aspect of the club including setting up events, cleaning up events, attending school programs and pacing the kids’ races.
We both oversee the Masters Team with the help of Andy Carr. The Masters team has been around for over 40 years. Atlanta Track Club is known for its Masters team. We want to continue that tradition and add the Elite Team to that reputation. We won our first Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championship in 2017. We are looking to win a Masters Indoor Championship soon.
How did being an elite athlete help or distract from your role as coach? What strengths from your career as a premier distance runner help you as a coach? Is there any downside to having been at the very top level of your sport, and now being on the other side, as coach?
Rich Kenah is the Executive Director. He is an Olympian and a 1:43 800 meter runner who medaled at Indoor Worlds during his career. Afterward, he was an agent. He knows the sport. During my interview, he asked me about being an athlete and now a coach. He wanted to know if any jobs were beneath me. I told him that I didn’t have assistants or GAs at UConn. I made my own Gatorade and carried our team tent. He laughed.
Going from athlete to coach or any job is hard. As an athlete, I had a daily to-do list. I had a set workout, mileage, lifting routine, stretching routine, nap, etc. I could check it off and be done at the end of the day. In the working and coaching world, however, the to-do list is never done. That is the hardest part for me.
Being an elite athlete helps me to understand what the athletes are going through and what they want to accomplish. I also got to see and know what the other coaches and clubs were doing. I am able to use my experience to help them along the way. I like to say that I want to help them avoid the mistakes I made as an athlete so that they can accomplish their goals faster than I did.
Andrew has been a part of my life and career since 1995. He has coached me and watched me achieve big goals. He also knows first hand what it is like to train hard.
You took the Atlanta job with your husband Andrew as coaching partners. You must bring different skills and experiences to your partnership? Could both of you describe the co-coaching relationship you have, and how it works?
I answered some of these questions above. I am the extrovert, and he is the introvert. We work well with different athletes and situations. We are opposites who complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Andrew’s thoughts: You have to believe in your assistant or co-coaches. There is a fine line between adding input and second-guessing what the other coach is doing. It works best when you truly divide the tasks. Amy manages our strength training and form training. I will give her advice or input, but in the end she always makes the call. I will never second guess what she is doing.
The other piece is to give new ideas or new strategies a chance to play out. If you over-analyze what you are doing, you might change things up before there is a chance for success. We always let things play out for a season, and then evaluate the season and overall team progress. We talk to the athletes and do a hard self-assessment at the end of each season.
Working with your spouse and doing an honest post-season evaluation sometimes requires thick skin. We are a team, and we both want to help our athletes reach their goals. When you start off the conversation with this in mind, it helps you to understand that both people are working toward the same result.
Amy and Andrew, what are your individual coaching philosophies? How do you work together to highlight each of your strengths and experiences? How do you differ as coaches?
Our coaching philosophies match up pretty well. The guiding principle is that everyone is an individual. There is no “right way” to coach every workout. Being a successful collegiate and professional coach is as much about recruiting athletes who respond well to your coaching style as it is getting talented athletes. It works better to get athletes who respond to your style of training than it does to find a style of training that fits your athletes.
We approach middle distance coaching from a strength perspective. Our athletes run from 50 miles up to 85 miles per week. During the fall, we focus on strength. This is when the athletes will hit their highest mileage and do their longest session. They all get up to 12-16 miles for their long run. Workouts are focused on strength (longer repeats and tempos). We do want to maintain their pop and turnover. In the fall, we do short sprints or a few fast repeats at the end of workouts.
During track, we try to limit the volume of speed that they have to do. We will do some aerobic work first and then work on speed. It is common to do 800s or miles, and then a few all-out repeats at the end. During the track season, their mileage will get a little lower. They typically hit the lower end of the range (50-70). For early season races, they will do workouts after their races and also take less time between workouts so that they are prepared for racing through the rounds.
Our marathon runners go through three phases. In the first phase, they build their mileage. The second phase is a preparation phase, where we do some faster work (5k and 10k pace). We do this to make sure that the marathon pace feels comfortable. Finally, they do the marathon block. In this phase, they do a lot more volume, but we focus on half marathon and marathon paces.
We try to get through two of these build-ups each year with our marathon group. If time permits, we like to do a short track season with them, so they can work on their speed a little bit. They typically enjoy running the shorter distances, and it gives them a break from the long grind of marathon training.
As this is a newsletter for women coaches, what has your experience been as a woman in a predominately male profession? Any advice you could give to our readers that would help them be better prepared to navigate the coaching profession?
I would ask that women be more open to helping other women. I have been disappointed in the women I have reached out to for advice. In my experience, the male coaches and athletes have been more supportive. I think that this is changing as more women are becoming head coaches.
I would also suggest doing your research when networking or talking with coaches. There are some amazing coaches who don’t tell you all they have accomplished. Some of their accomplishments might have been before you were born. The history of our sport is not passed down.
My biggest piece of advice would be to not waiver on your beliefs and morals. It may not be easy to stand up for what is right, but in the end you will be glad you did.
Part 2 will be published in the October 25th Newsletter. Stay Tuned!