From Coach to Spectator

As the page on the calendar turns from August to Setpember, I can’t help but notice how different it feels this year versus the 9 years before it. 

There is a crisp edge to the mornings, the first few crunchy leaves are accumulating at the edges of the sidewalks, and the sun is disappearing a few minutes earlier each day. 

For the past nine years this is when coaching cross country would be in full swing. I’d be getting up at 3:45 in the morning, getting to the office at 5:30, heading to practice at 3:15, and I’d be with my team by 3:30. At that point we’d be talking about the practice at hand, or an upcoming meet and pasta dinner, then running around Madison together. 

Coaching allowed me to get a mental break from work in the afternoon to clear my head, get fresh air, laugh with a bunch of teenage girls. It was great to take life a little less seriously for a couple hours. 

After last year’s cross country season I hung it up. I had finally reached the point where I felt like my ‘real job’ couldn’t co-exist with my coaching job. I could no longer do both well. 

I also was tired of racing around from all my obligations, leaving little to no time for a social life, let alone down time for myself. And as a cherry on top, I was often training for a big fall race at the same time. I have no clue how I was able to manage work, managing a group in another state, coaching the girls AND running my first 50 miler this time last year. But somehow I did. Granted, I didn’t do any of those things very well, but I did them all. And I was the most exhausted I’ve ever been.

I had fallen into that trap of wearing ‘busy’ as a badge of honor. It was to the point that friends would rarely even initiate plans with me because they knew I’d be deep into my over-booked color-coded schedule from mid-August to Halloween every year. 

And so I scaled back. I ‘retired’ from coaching (for now). I took a break from running longer distances so there are no four or five hour training runs in my weekly schedule. 

Now I shouldn’t give the impression that this has been the easiest transition – I love my athletes. I love the excitement of a meet. I would tear up every single year at a JV race when I’d see the last few girls trickling in and you could see that they were trying their absolute hardest. I miss the moments with the parents at the end of the season when they’d thank the coaches for how much we invested in their daughters. 

I miss having the talk with the girls before homecoming and telling them that I’d keep my phone on all night in case they got in a bad situation and I’d come get them no questions asked. I miss getting to practice and seeing a handful of girls line up to tell me about the test they took / the boy they talked to / the new spikes they got. I miss helping teenage girls develop a healthy relationship with not just running, but their bodies. 

Coaching gave me the opportunity to be the person I wish I had when I was a fifteen. 

Coaching also made me clean up my act and become a better person. These girls are observant and they take note of who you are and what you do. I took that seriously.

And these wonderful girls have grown to be great friends in their years beyond high school. Now I get invited to weddings, 21st birthdays, and field questions to help then on their post-college job search. These girls have enriched my life in ways I never would have imagined when I was first starting out.

Coaching always made me feel like I belonged there, and like I was doing something good. It helped me grow a LOT as a person, and has given me some of my favorite memories.

But now, my time is my own again. I give work my full attention when I’m there, but outside of that I can build the rest of the day however I want. I treated myself to a membership at Dragonfly Yoga. I run by myself a few days a week, slowly building my endurance back up. I actually see my friends and am social on week nights. I sometimes stay up past 10 now because I’m not getting up at 3:45! I also have the time and energy to invest in my relationship. There’s a beautiful intentionality to everything in my life right now. 

This Saturday I am attending my first Edgewood cross county meet as a regular spectator. To be honest, it feels bittersweet. But I am thankful for the 9 seasons I spent coaching at Edgewood. 

I’m sure I will find other ways to give back to the sport of running. I’m thinking about getting involved with Girls on the Run, or possibly even taking on a client to train for their first marathon. 

For now I will enjoy cheering on the sidelines, the quiet of the miles I run on my own, and the gratitude I feel for spending nearly a decade contributing to something bigger than me. Good luck this season ladies! 

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