Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Coaching at Hampshire College

For the past year, I've been coaching the Hampshire College running team - for cross country in the fall and 'track and trails' in the spring.  It's been a fun experience - I really do enjoy working with runners, getting them excited about running, watching them improve, and hopefully inspiring them to continue to run after college. 

Anyway, one of the athletes, Gwyn, is a sprinter so I only got to work with her on occasion - but she wrote the essay below for her 'Intro to Coaching' class where she had to observe a coach in action.  

By Gwyn Burns
“How many more ‘till no more?” Amy says to the conglomerate of sprinters that are located outside of the Hampshire College multisport center. “Three more ‘till no more!” We all shout back.

Today we are asked to work on our starts, which involves running down beside campus way, on the grass since Hampshire’s un-sporty attitude can be seen through the lack of an outdoor track. Eric, the normal sprinting coach is gone for the day, probably off working his other job as an electrician, which means Amy is our coach for the day.
 You wouldn’t think that Amy Rusiecki, at 5ft. 6in. would be an imposing force, but she is. She is someone that finds a way to compete in 50k as well as 100k races, a distance that some would shy away from, but one that Amy faces full on. With her welcoming smile, and joking attitude, some might forget that she can be intense, often making the workouts harder than they need to be, creating competition between the runners. You can hear her feelings in her voice, when she is excited it increases an octave. When she is serious or disappointed, her voice will lower, but she is hardly ever disappointed. She walks with power, probably from all the running she does, or with the confidence of someone who can run for longer than others.
 “So guys, today there are two options for practice, to do the sprint workout, or come snowshoe running with me!” She says as her voice slowly raises in excitement. I am a mid-distance runner, who is often scared away from the longer distances, but I am intrigued about the prospect of snowshoe running.

“Do you think I should go?” I ask Lily, my teammate and best friend. “Maybe, Gwyn, you can do whatever you want,” she replies. Amy was, as always overhearing this conversation. “Well, if you’re thinking about this decision so much, might as well come snowshoe running with distance.”

“Ok, Amy,” I reply. Turns out snowshoe running is quite fun, running down the snowy hills was the best part, and in the words of Amy, “it always makes me smile, like a child.”
Amy often leads by example, she will go off with the distance crew, and run with them up seven sisters or just a standard trail run. These runs are often her second workout of the day, something that most coaches wouldn’t do for their athletes, but Amy isn’t like most coaches. She is a coach that will often come up with ways to make a negative a positive, like when talking about a hard workout, she will bring it back to the overarching goal of getting better, and beating the PRs. She always makes sure to check in with her athletes, making sure that they are feeling well and are ready to run. Hearing Amy talk about running and coaching, you can just tell that she enjoys her job.
“You know, this weekend, I am racing in a 50k and I’m nervous about the bib number that I received,” Amy said, “I got bib 101.” We are standing in the RCC gym, just after practice finished, everybody was stretching and cooling down, but Amy and I were standing off to the side talking. She continued, “Which means that I am the first seeded female, which is something that I’m nervous about.”

I think back to a time when I was in the same position, and think about the advice that I would give myself in that instance. “Well, I know that being seeded number one for females, can carry a lot of expectations and nerves. But sometimes you have to run your own race, and just not think about those expectations. If you’re happy with your race, then why do the results matter?” I reply to her worry.
 The next week in practice, we are sitting in a circle, in the multisport right outside the weight room, conducting the daily check-in. When it was Amy’s turn she is talking about her race.

 “You know the best piece of advice that I got, had to be from Gwyn. I took your advice and I ran my own race, and you know what, it was a good race. So, I would like to thank Gwyn for her advice.
 “Thank you Amy,” I reply.
Amy has never been to one of the track meets. She has never seen the Hampshire College track team race, never seen our 4x400m relay perform the best. I wish that she would come to a meet, but I understand, only really crazy people would want to spend a Saturday at a track. But she still asks about it, and always gets the low down from Eric.
“I was talking to Eric on Sunday, and we were talking about the Smith meet,” Amy says as we are waiting for more runners to show up before we begin practice. “Obviously, having Lara win the steeple, was amazing for her as well as for Hampshire. But I think it is really great to see everybody improving.” She continued, “… Like I was talking to Eric, and all I could think about was how everyone was PRing, or setting school records, or just generally improving. It’s really great to hear about.”

 All we can do is sit and listen, and though I knew we were getting better, not everyone on the team might have realized it quite yet. Amy’s words of excitement definitely reached the runners, and she concluded, “I am just really proud of all the hard work everyone puts in, it is really showing.” I wonder if she is just saying that because she feels like she needs to tell us.
Amy has the special talent of getting people to try distances out that they never thought that they would ever do. I know from personal experience. “Listen up everyone, this weekend Amy is hosting a pancake breakfast at her house for anyone that would like to join,” Eric tells us before practice. “But before the breakfast,” Amy exclaims, “there is the option to run 5 miles’ up the local mountain range with me!”
“Should I do it?” I ask.
“Yes!” Amy replies.

Well turns out once the day arrived, I did end up running the 5 miles, on trails, up hills. Something that I never would have done if Amy didn’t push me. To say the least, the 5 miles was hard, something that I was expecting. But when there was a time where I had to walk, Amy told me that it was ok to walk. That phrase is almost never heard in running, it is often expected that once a person starts running, they are supposed to not walk. Without Amy there, I would have finished the 5 miles with a lot less confidence, or not started in the first place, but in the end I was able to complete a distance that I thought I wasn’t ready for because I had a coach who believed in me, and pushed me to go farther.

This is my first season with having Amy as one of my coaches and overall she is a great person to be a part of the Hampshire community. By listening to her talk about her own races, and what she has done in her current running career, it provides an example for me to follow. Even though I am a sprinter/mid-distance runner, her drive to improve and be the best coach and athlete that she can be, is amazing.

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