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Coach's Corner|Jan. 5, 2021, 1:10 a.m. | 215

Q&A With Coach Rae Alexander (Olmstead Falls HS, Ohio)

From coaching numerous all-state runners at Olmstead Fall High School in Ohio to organizing the Guardian Mile road race and being a parents to a professional runner, Rae Alexander knows a thing or two about the running world. We had the chance to ask Rae about the importance of sports for kids during the COVID pandemic, what it is like coaching your own children, and much more!

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Ohio was one of the states that allowed Fall sports to compete this year. From your perspective, how important was it to allow kids to race again after the spring track season was canceled?

We were very fortunate to be able to continue to train and plan for a season. The Covid protocols were in some ways restrictive, but at the same time they allowed us to get an earlier start to conditioning and building our team. We adapted day to day to all of the changes due to county levels and health department guidelines for groups and sports. The kids were awesome and so were their parents who most often drove their athlete to practice due to limited carpooling and distancing. Everyone was motivated and eager to find some normalcy and a consistent outlet that was safe and positive.

I think that cross country provided a much needed social outlet for everyone. We wore our masks and distanced, but got outside and trained in a variety of locations. I know that I desperately needed to get out where I felt safe and could still be around people with similar expectations and support of the protocols.

Olmsted Falls is located near the Cleveland Metroparks and the Lorain County park system. We took advantage of running in all of these wonderful places without being sure that we would have a meet.

Fortunately our conference decided that we could have tri meets and provided a schedule so that we could race. Then as invitationals were added we ended up with more meets than we would have planned during a normal season.

Having been a successful coach for many years, what are the key ingredients for a healthy, focused, and cohesive team culture, particularly on a high school team?

I believe that being positive and finding creative ways to motivate and build trust is what makes a big difference in team outcomes and success. If you can provide an exciting environment where your athletes feel supported, they will respond to what you are doing and the work you expect them to do. When you mentor through positive knowledgeable communication and strong leadership that guides, you build trust. Trust is crucial to team building.

I saw that you coached your son Colby (3:34 1500m runner) while he was in high school to great success. Was it hard being both a mom and a coach, and did the experience of coaching your son give you any insight or change how you coach your other athletes?

When you are able to coach a family member it is a very special gift. I have been fortunate to coach or at least assist in coaching three of my sons, and I have been coaching my daughter now as a post collegiate runner. I think you have more control with all aspects of training when you can see what they're eating, how they are sleeping, and what they are doing outside of practice. That may seem restrictive to them in some ways, but at the same time they are developing healthy habits and skills that they will need if they continue to run beyond high school.

Colby has always been extremely motivated, competitive and willing to do what it takes to reach his goals. He set lofty goals for himself in high school and knew the sacrifices he would have to make to reach them. He also has worked his way back from multiple injuries and has more perseverance than anyone I know. One thing that we learned is that when you have an athlete that is so willing to push their limits, you have to be extra careful. When Colby would get hurt it often came at a time he needed to back off. He always came back at a new level, as if his body needed to adapt and then charge full steam ahead to new heights. I am very proud of Colby, he adapts and keeps fighting for his goals on and off the track.

I do use insight from all of my past coaching. You learn something every season and with every individual. Not everyone will have the same motivation or willingness to invest. Once in awhile you find someone who has amazing goals and ability, so recognizing this and adapting in ways to help them achieve while keeping them healthy and motivated is important. At the same time, you are also creating an environment where you are helping the rest of the team to stretch their limits while not separating or excluding anyone.

I also saw that you're involved with GOH Run, putting on the Guardian Mile in Cleveland and running a youth running program. How did that come about? Does that role give you a different perspective on the sport than that of just a coach or runner, maybe in terms of what gets people involved in running or how to grow the sport?

I have always been excited about getting kids involved in running. I started directing youth day camps and running camps over twenty years ago. When I retired from teaching it was time to take my dream of growing the sport to another level. So with the help of some family members and motivated friends, I started GOH Run. GOH Run is a nonprofit with the goal of providing running events and opportunities within our community, with an emphasis on youth fitness and wellness. Simultaneously, we also hoped to bring a competitive road mile to Cleveland. Colby has raced in a lot of places and with a love of the Hope Memorial Bridge and Cleveland we wanted to bring his friends to race here. The Guardian Mile was a dream that came to a realization through the work of a great team of volunteers and sponsors. We had to cancel in 2020, but have high hopes for 2021.

This year we were able to host one of our day camps. It was a huge success in numbers and also in what we were able to provide to a group of kids who had been shut in and distanced from their friends and teams. We had to manage all of the protocols and distancing with masks, but it was one of the best camps we have held.

We hope to get more people involved in running. We want to possibly host some small old school events in preparation for the Guardian Mile. We want to bring back our kids fun runs and add another day camp week or two. Eventually we want to grow the outreach to some areas in the city that don't have the same opportunities as communities like Olmsted Falls and Strongsville.

What is a bread and butter, go-to workout you like to give your athletes?

I would have to say that we do a lot of 1K's or segments that are 3-5 minutes of hard effort. These are initially done at threshold pace and then as the season goes on we work toward race pace efforts. In cross country we use grass loops and trails, and sometimes revisit those spots early on in track. During the winter, and our northeast Ohio snow covered tracks, we might be out in a plowed parking lot. We also build from quantities of "cruise" 200's with short recovery jogs to 300's as the season progresses toward competition.

Finally, how has the Trackster app helped you and your team?

I love using the Trackster app. I keep working to get more of my team on board with logging. I think the techie option, as opposed to written logs, is convenient and allows for team members to support each other with comments, likes, GIFS. This keeps everyone in touch with each other and allows me to send virtual support as well. I got some great photos from the team this summer when we weren't together and also get to see some long run efforts that point to great things ahead for 2021.

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