TTR #29: For the Love of Coaching

About twelve years ago, at the age of 38, I was still playing a lot of team sports.  I was a marginal varsity basketball player in university and was still playing in local men’s leagues and some weekly pick-up games and was playing touch football in a solid league.  However, I was realizing that this was something that couldn’t go on forever and was looking for something to fill the void.  Around the same time, my wife started running while attending medical school. 

She had worked as a nurse for a number of years, and had decided she wanted to go in another direction, and she was lucky enough to get into Dalhousie in 2006.  She started running with a friend and eventually ran a half-marathon.  Then she decided she wanted to do a marathon.  During training, her uncle said to her, “If you qualify for Boston in your first marathon, I’ll take you there and pay for the whole trip,” thinking she wouldn’t stand a chance as it’s pretty rare for someone to qualify for Boston as a hobby jogger running their first marathon.  She qualified by three minutes and ran her first Boston in 2009.

I was watching this whole scenario unfold from a distance and saw how hooked she was getting on running.  The physical, mental and spiritual benefits she was getting were obvious, so I decided to give it a whirl.  Gradually, I got to the point where I was running a few days a week, ran a half myself and decided to run my first full in 2009.  I was hooked.  Running took over.  I not only started running myself, but I wanted to share my love of running with everyone I possibly could. 

I started coaching cross country and track at the school I was teaching at, and I cranked up my own mileage.  When we moved back to PEI, I called my friend who was AD at the high school I was going to teaching at.  He asked me which basketball team I wanted to coach, and I replied, “I’ll help you out with whatever you need, but what I really want to do is build a cross country and track and field program.” 

He was very supportive, and it’s really paid off.  We’ve built a real culture at our school and in our community where a lot of people are reaping the benefits of running.  It’s totally normal for us to have upwards of 60 athletes on our cross teams and 75 involved in track and field.  I absolutely love going somewhere around town and seeing a pod of our students running, or a huge number of them on the start line of a local road race, or when one of them has a great run and posts it on Strava, not to mention the large number of Colonel Gray High School students who have gone on to compete at the Usport level.

In 2014, my friend the AD took the next step in his journey and was hired to take over the helm as AD at UPEI.  Shortly after, he called me and said, let’s build the same thing at the collegiate level.  I took a year to get things up and running, but it was too much to coach two programs and do it well.  I had also just finished my masters and had undertaken a counselling role at my school, and my wife and I had just had our third child.  So I handed off the program to long-established local coach, and he took care of things until last year, when I felt I was ready to take things on and do it right.  Now, I’m trying to build something at UPEI. 

We took some big steps last year, and I’m hopeful we can continue to keep moving in the right direction.  Along the way, I’ve managed to run 19 marathons, 3 ultras – including my first 100-miler last year – and countless other road and trail races.  I’m getting older, but I’ve managed to keep taking chunks off my PBs – we call then PBs in Canada – and was pretty happy with the 2:47 I ran in Chicago last fall just 8 weeks after the 100-miler. 

It was pretty cool when I searched up the results and realized I was the first Canadian in my age group;)  I love running.  My family loves running.  And we are doing the best we can to help everyone around us love it too.