Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Interview with Masters Runner/Blogger Jon Waldron

I recently stumbled across an impressive blog devoted primarily to High School Track and Cross-Country called NNHS Track and Cross-Country. The blogger is "almost 50" year old Jon Waldron, a part-time high school coach at Newton North High School in Newton, MA who also works for a software company. Waldron is an accomplished masters middle-distance runner who is preparing to advance to the national level once he hits the M50 age group. The more I get to know about this remarkable man, the more I'm struck by his unique and admirable approach to life. He seems to be a man who approaches everything he does – blogging, coaching, running – from the perspective that sees life in much the same way as does Colin Powell, who said that, "excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude." Here's what Waldron had to say in our recent interview:

Do you coach full time or do you have another career in addition to coaching?

I work at a small software company that makes speech recognition software for cell phones. My work schedule is flexible, but demanding, and it means I can only coach part-time. I don't coach at all during the winter.

What are your greatest rewards in coaching high school athletes? Challenges?

I enjoy the company of high school kids. I find them to be very eager and curious and open-minded. I'm biased, of course, but I think track and field is the perfect sport for teenagers because every single athlete can experience first-hand the connection between effort and improvement. Everyone can improve! I think the greatest reward is the moment when an athlete suddenly realizes that it is in their power to become better than they ever thought they could be. Tremendous!

The biggest challenge is, without a doubt, the fact that so many kids are over-scheduled. Their lives seem so booked with classes and activities that I wonder if they have any free time at all. I like to think that running can be free time for them, or at least a kind of release, but I worry that it will become just one more activity that has to be slotted into a schedule that would make a CEO weep.

What are your events? PRs? Titles? Competitive goals?

I have always run well at middle distances, especially 1M and 3000m. I had a really good year a few years ago and ran 4:33 for the mile as a 45-year-old. But I still feel like I can train smarter and race better. I'd like to be competitive at the national level in the 50-54 age group when I turn 50 next year.

What led you to blogging?

I've always liked to write. I also wanted a place to post news, results, etc. for the teams I have coached. Keeping up a web site became very time-consuming, but blogging was perfect.

How have you managed to persist in your blogging for nearly two years? That's not easy to do.

Well, I've had dry spells where I couldn't keep it up. I guess I try to have one or two "essay-style" posts a week on topics that really interest me in a deep way. The rest of the time, I just try to pass on news or respond to some event that has just taken place.

How do you get inspiration for the topics you write about?

I think I just find runners and running interesting for some reason. Every single day something happens that makes me think about the sport in a new way. Of course, I'm not always able to translate that feeling into something that would be interesting for others to read. Actually, I have started dozens of essays that I have never posted because I just haven't felt that I've found the right perspective or the right words to express my thoughts.

Do you have any other suggestions for new bloggers?

No. Well...actually Yes. I would suggest trying to write about 75% about other people and 25% about yourself.

What's your take on the state of track and field/running blogging in general?

I love the fact that there is so much information available online. I have always loved numbers as the language of track and field, and it is wonderful to have access to so much data. As for the state of track and field, that's way too big a question for me.

Who is the greatest Track & Field athlete of all time and why?

I think there are too many different sets of criteria in play to come up with a meaningful answer. I will say that I have always been fascinated by those athletes who changed the way other people looked at the sport or a particular event. I like the innovators.

What question did I not ask you that I should have asked?

How has the experience of training and racing changed for you since you were a high school runner yourself?

I would answer by saying that I am surprised and happy to be enjoying running as much now as I did when I was 17. Of course, I'm much slower. But when I was a kid I was always worried about how I FELT -- I mean, whether this or that muscle ached, whether I was over-matched or tired from a previous race. If I didn't feel just right, then I didn't think I could train well or race well. As I have grown older, I've realized that to a large extent we choose how we want to feel. Last night I did a track workout, and before the workout I was feeling pretty tired and I started worrying that I wouldn't be able to complete the workout that I had planned. Then I started laughing because I realized that I've felt that way before probably 90% of the track workouts I've ever done. I relaxed and the workout went fine. I think that kind of perspective is one of the things you learn with age and experience.

The kids at Newton North are lucky to have a coach like Jon Waldron. We're lucky to be able to get a glimpse into his world through his blogging. I highly recommend that you stop by and check it out.

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