BY SAMANTHA JONES
Track and Field coaches at Drake University put in months of planning and effort to ensure their athletes are at their best before Relays arrives.
Coach Mark Carroll, director of track and field at Drake University, has been working with his athletes for months to prepare them for success on the track. This includes early morning weightlifting, afternoon workouts and weekends on the road with the team.
Relays is the exclamation point on Drake’s track and field program, but it isn’t the only meet the coaches must prime their athletes for.
The Relays are an important building block in their preparation for the conference meet, which takes place two weeks after Relays. According to Carroll, while this schedule doesn’t change the training regimen, it affects the team’s mental approach to the season.
“We’re very lucky that we have such a big meet as the Drake Relays here,” Carroll said. “We have a high-level meet right outside our door with (40,000) spectators, and it’s one that you want to be on top of your game … We should be race-sharp, and we planned the season deliberately so we could be ready.”
This type of planning is a large part of the coaching staff’s responsibilities as they head into the bulk of their outdoor season. Intentional schedules and workouts are set to make sure athletes are race-ready and injury free. Ngonidzashe Makusha, assistant track and field coach, said he carefully structures the workouts to ensure his athletes are at their best when Relays rolls around.
“Every coach has a different philosophy in terms of how they want their athletes to develop and be prepared at a certain time of the season,” Makusha said. “For me, I structure my workouts so that I give them enough time to rest and recover during the week. Even the intervals when we are doing speed work during practice, I try to structure it in a way that I try to protect them as much as possible.”
Amy Rudolph, assistant coach and women’s distance coach, keeps an open dialogue with her athletes to make sure everyone is mentally and physically prepared going into the Relays. This includes mapping out goals early in the season and being a positive motivator.
“Each athlete is a little bit different,” said Rudolph, a two-time Olympian and experienced collegiate distance coach. “Some people like a little bit more tough love, some athletes you need to be a little bit more comforting with … When athletes start running well, when they start running PRs (personal records), they start to trust the process you’re taking them on a lot more.”
Building that trusting relationship between athlete and coach plays a major role in the success of a team on and off the track. For Makusha, his personal experiences as an athlete shaped how he coaches his athletes today. With seven career NCAA titles, national records in the long jump and 100 meter dash in his native Zimbabwe and a fourth-place long jump finish at the 2008 Olympics, Makusha says it was his coach’s guidance that helped fine-tune his abilities.
“Since it’s an individual sport and you are functioning from your own lens … it’s easy to get lost,” Makusha said. “As an athlete, I was able to take my own lens but also take my coach’s lens and see where he was coming from, and how he had a vision for me to get to the next level. That’s the amazing thing about having someone trusting in you, having someone see the potential in you and take you to that next level.”
Reaching the next level doesn’t always come right away, either. As a professional athlete, Carroll personally experienced the ups and downs of the sport, facing exhaustion at the enormous volume of work he was putting into running without seeing results.
His coach continued to remind him that exhaustion and lack of success was all part of the process. With this continued guidance, Carroll eventually went on to become a two-time Olympian and six-time World Championships qualifier.
“Our sport is a tough sport. You have to train hard,” Carroll said. “Success doesn’t just fall out of the sky. You have to put the work in, you have to put the time in, and over time the results will come. That’s where that belief starts to come into the athlete-coach relationship.”