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Jerry Schumacher On Race Day

 Bowerman TC pro coach Jerry Schumacher (right) offers words of encouragement to a young harrier. 

Bowerman TC pro coach Jerry Schumacher (right) offers words of encouragement to a young harrier. 

The 2013 USATF Outdoor Championships took place in Des Moines, Iowa. I had a front row ticket. Not to the action on the track, but the show behind the curtain. I lucked into a rare gift: an impromptu apprenticeship at a national championship meet under the tutelage of Jerry Schumacher, coach of the famed Bowerman TC stable of America's current distance running pedigree. 

For a professional athlete or coach, championship meets are the yardstick which their worth is judged. It is the harshest annual performance review I know. Anything less than a podium finish and you walk away poorer for the effort. Those who finish top 3 get to keep their contracts and the likelihood of higher pay. Those who don't, lose their contracts or are subject to reduced pay. Careers are continued or ended at those meets. With this understanding, championship footraces are akin to Roman gladiator bouts: stark dramas of survival. 

For some reason, Jerry invited me to stay at the same hotel with him and his team that meet. He let me tag along with him anywhere he went. I was like a puppy dog, loyal and didn't stray far. I am sure he was tired of me by meet's end. But he never showed it.

Those days in Des Moines under his wing provided me a depth of education no combination of books or classes could. I was a pig in mud, witnessing a master at work in the heat of battle. Each night I'd record everything I learned in a notebook. I still review those notes annually. 

The most useful takeaway? On race day, bite your tongue. 

Jerry doesn't cheer for his athletes when they race at championships. Wisely, he removes the temptation to open his mouth by positioning himself high in the stands where he intently observes the drama unfold. 

I asked him why. He answered, "It's hubris to think anything I say could influence the race's trajectory. When the athlete steps on the track, I'm of little use. By then they've already decided if they are going to race like a champion or mid-packer. All my coaching happens before the race moment, not during."

He paused, allowing me to digest the wisdom of his approach. 

And then added, "Besides, I got tired of losing my voice by the end of meets."

 

Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm

Jonathan Marcus