* A runner competes at the OHSAA State Track and Field Championships
Photo Credit: Shane Flanigan/The Columbus Dispatch/USA Today Sports
"When you allow yourself to have fun because you're doing something you love and something that makes you better, that's a process you can carry with you for your entire running career."
By Lilah Drafts-Johnson - MileSplit Correspondent
At the end-of-season meeting of my freshman year, I set the ambitious goal of winning an NCAA championship with my coach, Jason Hudson.
That goal became the motivation I drew upon when things got tough in training.
Seven years later, I sat down for another end of season meeting with Coach Hudson to guide MileSplit readers through what can be a challenging time for young runners: the summer.
Hudson has spent over 20 years coaching NCAA Division I and Division III track and cross-country collegians in addition to working with youth and high school athletes through his summer club team, the Oberlin Spikes. He uses his background in counseling and psychology to understand how to best motivate his athletes. His passion for the sport has inspired All-Americans and newcomers alike.
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Lilah Drafts-Johnson is a graduate of Oberlin College, where she was a double major and a 2018 NCAA Division IIII champion in the 400mH. She is currently a Master's student at the University of Maryland and has written for D3 Glory Days.
As regional, state and even national championships conclude in the month of June, many athletes cross what will be their last finish line for months. It can be difficult to approach the long stretch of summer without a race each weekend, or a daily team practice to hold oneself accountable.
"There's only four times a year when you have the opportunity to get better: Winter, spring, summer, and fall," Hudson joked.
Hudson does, however, emphasize that getting better doesn't always entail a high-intensity workout or lifting session, particularly during a transitionary time like summer.
"Ideally, you've had a long season," he said. "You've been out there grinding and one of the most important things is recovery, from a physical and a mental aspect."
If it feels like a slog to get through practice, or if heading to the track produces more anxiety than release, Hudson says he reads the room, figuratively speaking.
"There's only four times a year when you have the opportunity to get better: Winter, spring, summer, and fall."
"Summer is a good time to take a step back in order to take a step forward," he said.
Hudson sees end-of-season meetings as a launching point for summer training. He routinely asks his athletes to reflect on what they learned about themselves, to celebrate their successes and to identify what training areas need more work. It's also a time to adjust previously set goals and check in about mutual expectations.
Hudson seeks to empower his athletes to learn how to self-evaluate by providing them with 'the why' behind different drills and workouts. This helps his athletes to develop an inner coaching voice that can be relied upon even when they're away from a coach's supervision or the camaraderie of teammates.
"Summer is when I want my athletes to take the time to get attuned with their bodies and what they need," he said. "I tell them to pay attention to the little things while they have the time."
These little things involve cultivating good habits with drills and running form and taking the time to heal nagging injuries. Hudson also says he suggests that athletes discuss how they plan to maintain their dedication during the summer.
"Some people really need motivation," he said. "They need to be in regular contact with their teammates, or sharing runs on Strava or other apps, to get them going. I'm a big believer that you should write down your goals and put them where you can see them."
Photo Credit: Juan Carlo/Ventura County Star/USA Today Sports Images
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For Hudson, the summer will be spent with the Oberlin Spikes Track Club, which he started in 2016 for youth ages 8 through 18. Hudson takes the foundations of movement seriously with his young athletes.
Most kids learn to run in gym class or in team sports growing up, but rarely do they receive feedback specific to their form. This means many athletes arrive at a college program with a lifetime of bad mechanical habits.
"We're teaching the basics of running, jumping, and throwing to the kids as opposed to saying, 'Hey, let's go out and pound workouts and try to get to the USA national championship,'" Hudson said. "Track and field is really the fundamentals of being athletic. And you can then take that to any sport for the rest of your life, because you've learned about coordination, jumping for height or distance, flexibility."
Coaching youth athletes is a different challenge than working with his collegians at Cleveland State University, but Hudson says he believes there is something to be learned from watching the exuberance of his youth team practicing.
"At that age, you just want to race all the time and be faster than everyone else," Hudson said. "I try to set up their track and field journey with excitement and joy for the work ahead. Yeah, it's going to be hard, there are going to be challenges.
"But when you allow yourself to have fun because you're doing something you love and something that makes you better," he added, "that's a process you can carry with you for your entire running career."
Developing that process is the key, through intentional reflection and recommitment to the sport.
Then, it's time to log those summer miles.