by Mike Byrnes

For more than 33 years I was a coach. During the school year it was at the high school level, Wantagh HS, on Long Island. In the summer it was the Long Island Striders, later the Long Island AC. The latter two teams were made up of local high schoolers plus a goodly infusion of college and college graduates who needed some help during their off-season. More recently, I worked with Sarah Bowman and then Logan Collins, a good 800/1500m kid who's gone on to Virginia Tech.

In EVERY major race any of my kids ran we had two race plans. Just as every practice session should be planned out, so should every race. I say 'major' but in point of fact, almost every race had a plan. Some were more formal than others. For instance, in a dual meet where my kid could run 4:20 and best kid for the opposition came in at 4:55, the plan was often about planning for future competitions. But, there was always a plan. Now it might be something like, 'OK, let's think about the "counties" in three weeks. I want you to take it out really fast and take the finish out of Joe Jones. So today, let's hit the 800 in about 2:06, then try and pick it up through the 1200 and don't worry about the finish. The goal is to plan ahead, you know you're 'gonna' win, so don't worry about it."

At other times, for major races, the plans were more elaborate. At a race in Madison Square Garden, the plan was for Sarah Bowman to run as close to the #1 kid in the US, so close that every time she brought her arm back, she'd bump into my athlete. With 2 laps to go, the opposition broke and we took over the lead. But as the great Scot wrote, "The best laid plans of mice and men, do sometimes go astray." Coming from far back, a kid whom I never figured to be a factor in the race, came flying up, passed my kid and we settled for the silver.

Sometimes a race plan goes misunderstood. Usually by the runner. In the case of the aforementioned Bowman, it was me. During her outdoor season we focused almost entirely upon the post-season. The dual meets, league, district and states would present her with no competition. Accordingly, our plan was to run all the dual meets to merely win and save the bulk of our hard work for practice. I was her private coach and the high school coach vigorously opposed my involvement. This created a plethora of problems but that's another story for another time.

Before every race Sarah and I would talk. Prior to her first dual meet we decided to just run easily during the duals. Due to the hostility of her high school coach, I rarely went to any of the dual competitions. Sarah and I would talk after the race but the plan was always to 'Take it easy.'

After her first dual meet she called. It had been a cold, rainy day, pretty typical for Virginia in early spring, and I expected nothing in the way of quality work. "How'd it go? I asked." She replied "Pretty good."

What did you run?

"2:11 and 4:51"

I exploded! "I thought we agreed you wouldn't run hard?"

"I didn't."

"Baloney! 2:11 ranks #2-US and 4:51, #3."

"Well, I just sort of jogged."

It was my first inkling of just how good she was…and could be.

She finished the season as the USL in the mile, the USL over 800m (2:04.94 in early April) and somewhere in the top FIVE in the two mile. But our planning paid off. At the Nike Outdoor Nationals, she ran the fourth fastest time in high school history, 4:36.95. Then went on to win the USATF Juniors as well as the Pan-American 1500m, 4:17.61. All this minutiae is not to brag on her accomplishments but rather to show how good planning can produce great results.

As a coach, it's your responsibility to get the best out of your athlete. In order to do that, it's imperative that you have a race plan. And not just for your best kid, for ALL your kids. They all train hard, they all deserve the best you can give to them. If you think that's too much trouble, find another job.

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