For so many of the running coaches descending upon Tucson this weekend to run in the popular TMC Meet Me Downtown 5K Night Run and Walk and to take part in Randy Accetta’s coaching clinic, the road to their jobs was much like the paths on which they work: Full of twists, turns, potholes and triumphs.
Some come to town to shore up on the basics, some are looking for advanced instruction. This isn’t a football clinic full of high school coaches all itching to become the next Art Briles. The range is vast.
For some, it’s professional, like Ryan Knapp of Boston, who operates his own running coaching program, Miles To Go Endurance. For others, like Ashley Guajardo of Dallas and Justin Skains of Northwest Indiana, who also will be here this weekend, the goals are as lofty.
They want to help their local running community.
For Accetta, it’s a calling. A dream gig, really.
Accetta travels the country — and soon the globe? — putting on coaching clinics in his role as director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America.
Last week, he was in Manhattan, teaching the New York Road Runners; the week before, he was at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. He says his 2017 challenge is to take the RRCA overseas: The group has course requests from China, South America, Europe and India, among others.
He’s been in the role for roughly five years; active with the RRCA, he was asked to provide an eight-or-nine-page review of the then-curriculum. He turned in 40 pages, and the job was his.
It’s as if Accetta spent his entire life preparing for it. In high school and college he was captain of his cross country and track teams, and he’s led a running group in Tucson for going on 20 years. He and wife Tia – whom the Star profiled during her recovery from a stroke last year – are active in the Southern Arizona Road Runners group and Run Tucson.
As much as he enjoys the travel, he is particularly enthusiastic about this weekend.
“It’s just awesome,” he says of his job, coaching coaches. “I just smile every day. Flying is annoying and all that, but the idea I get to be around some of the world leaders, and at other times I’m in a community hall teaching a bunch of volunteers for the San Antonio Roadrunners . All the way around, it’s an honor to be able to do it. I meet people who are even more passionate than I am about this stuff, and I’m like, ‘boy, settle down; you have a long life ahead.’”
That’s the thing, though. Talking to running coaches, you quickly learn that it’s impossible not to become infected.
“You get into running and then running gets into you,” Guajardo said. “A friend of mine promised me you get over the hump of hating it to needing it, and that’s way true.”
Guajardo will travel from Dallas, Texas, for the two-day Level 1 course, which runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
She got into endurance running in 2012, with little prior experience in the activity. She tried the gym, running by herself on a treadmill.
“It just wasn’t fun,” she said. “You last three days and quit.”
She was never particularly athletic in high school or college, but she decided to get into running shape for her 30th birthday. She joined a 5K class and loved the community, gradually increasing her mileage.
Guajardo eventually began mentoring groups; now she coaches a 15K class.
She decided to enroll in the course to help her better run the small group, where a pack of 10-minute milers keeps inching up to 9:30, and a pack of 10:30 runners seems to be falling a little behind.
She has questions.
“What is the line I draw?” she said. “Do I let them pursue 9:40 because they’re feeling good? Or do I coach them to stay at 10 and stay there, so maybe we can add some miles, or when it gets muggier?”
These are the challenges of a new coach, like Skains of Northwest Indiana. A former member of the United States Army, Skains did weight-lifting for years but developed shoulder issues. He loved to exercise, though, and decided to join a Saturday morning running group, which turned into Sunday mornings and Tuesdays and Thursdays.
He enjoyed the running and the people.
“I’ve never in my life met people like I meet in the running community,” he said. “Selfless, always willing to help, to share advice, to encourage, to show up at 5 a.m. so you don’t run by yourself. I just got hooked.”
He, too, began mentoring fellow runners at the local Fleet Feet, and he gained some experience in marathons.
He’s looked for months for course with open spots, and he’s seeking to learn more of the fundamentals, specifically to help new runners, who make up more than a quarter of his group. From here, who knows? He has the idea to combine his military career with his new passion, perhaps with a boot camp for runners.
“I totally love seeing people accomplish things they’ve never accomplished,” he said. “Seeing someone say we’re running six miles today? I’ve never done more than four, and then seeing the joy and achievement on their face. There’s nothing like it.”
That’s a feeling that Ryan Knapp of Boston knows plenty about. Unlike Guajardo and Skains, Knapp has coached for more than half his life, starting even before high school. He’s coached baseball, high school basketball and recently served a stint with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in Kansas City, Missouri.
Now he coaches runners across the country, working virtually and traveling extensively, with some runners vying for his services as far away as Sweden.
He switched from soccer coaching to running in 2013, growing his client base from two to four to eight to 16 and beyond. He wrote part of the webinar for the Level 2 course, which runs on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but he’s eager to take the full course and to break down advanced techniques with Accetta, who works with three other teachers in his courses: Dr. Bobby Gessler, Brent Ayer and Cari Setzler.
“There is still so much more to be learned, so I’m going to take it for myself, even though I created a small part of it,” he said. “I really look forward to the high-level discussion. I’m excited about talking about the nitty-gritty stuff.”
Knapp is far from the only professional coach who plans to attend: 1992 Olympic Women’s Marathon bronze medalist Lorraine Moller is expected to be there.
“On the one hand, we have some of the world’s best, but the primary person is a volunteer for a running club who is helping manage a training program,” Accetta said.