Coaching Profiles: Conant’s Erin Kelly & Portsmouth’s Mike Lyford

Erin Kelly, Conantconant

Years coaching XC: 4

Other coaching gigs, sports, schools: Indoor and Spring Track at Conant

What got you into coaching?

I started coaching in the Bronx because a) there were no school sports teams and b) kids knew I ran before school and asked if we could have a running club. I did a club one year and then hooked up with the New York Road Runners the next and was able to get us into some meets. When I moved to Jaffrey the cross country position opened up and I jumped on it.

Where did you get your coaching philosophy?

Experiences with coaches I loved and did not love + some teaching ideas + hanging out with other coaches + reading all the things + being a philosophy major (just kidding)= a synthesised philosophy that  I’m excited to keep improving.

Favorite Coaching Achievement:

Getting kids who have never run before and getting to watch them turn into athletes and make HUGE gains.

Greatest Coaching Moment:

Generally watching kids learn to run and make huge progress. It warms my heart every time.

Strength of Your Program:

I get to coach the best humans and it is wonderful.

Favorite Workout To Do/To Coach:

Ladders. They’re so much fun! Probably LSD runs where I get to spend time with athletes.

Words of Wisdom:

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Great ability for all areas of life, not just running.


m lyford picMike Lyford, Portsmouth

Years coaching XC: 8

Other coaching gigs, sports, schools:

I’m the head Boy’s Coach for PHS XC, Indoor and Outdoor Track.

What got you into coaching?

My father is a track and XC coach as well, so I am just continuing the family “business”. Initially I started coaching in 1995 at Portsmouth High (my alma mater) as a UNH sophomore.  I was a jumps coach with no idea about how to coach jumps. Many books and videos later I became ok at it, but one of my first acts when I became the head coach was to hire someone much better than me. Coaching track led to coaching XC which was a more natural fit.

Greatest Coaching Achievement:

Still waiting for this category in XC, but my Indoor team winning the D2 Championship this past year was incredible. The delays and mental fatigue that every team dealt with made the win that much sweeter. Winning the Outdoor title on our home track this past season was surreal as well.

Biggest Disappointment:

A few years ago I had an incredible top 3 and I thought we had a legitimate shot at an XC title in D2.  My #1 guy was arrested 2 weeks before D2s for transporting alcohol. This crushed our title hopes as well as team morale, and my memories of that season still leave a sour taste. The margins of victory can be razor thin in this sport, and one runner or one decision makes all the difference.

Greatest Coaching Moment:

Watching Eric Jenkins and Aaron Watanabe (Hanover) go head to head in the 2009 D2 XC Championship at Derryfield. At that time I wasn’t sure Eric could beat someone of that caliber (given what Eric is doing now that sounds crazy!). Eric ran a 15:32 to Aaron’s 15:39.  I’ve never seen anything like that and may never again.

Strength of Your Program:

Big numbers and a sense of family/brotherhood.  The whole team is connected and included in everything we do, and the guys at the back of the pack get the same coaching and attention as the front guys.  Those front guys are also very invested in supporting and encouraging the younger and less achieved runners in practice and in meets. We also try to reach out to our feeder middle schools and have joint practices 1-2 times a season to show them how much fun we have and how supportive the team is.

Favorite Workout:

I  don’t get to do it much because it’s essentially a race quality workout in a season stacked with a ton of races, but 3×1600 at desired (maybe a reach time) 5K race pace with 5-7 mins walking in-between. Easy warmup, cooldown and stretching as well obviously.  Another part of a daily workout I’ve found incredibly helpful in injury prevention is 400m of “mixed bag” defined as any dynamic stretch that isn’t slow jogging, switching exercises every 10m or so. Exercises that emphasize lateral motion are encouraged, as is creativity in selection. Side shuffling, Karaoke, backpedaling, skips, serpentine runs are just a few examples.

How do you pump up the team before a big race?:

I don’t do much of that the day of a race; I just try to keep things light and stay away from intensity. XC teams often have diverse personalities so if an athlete responds well to a “pump up” speech or words of encouragement then I’ll do that. Otherwise I tend to let my athletes focus on their jobs. Upbeat or off the wall practices in days leading up to meets seem to have a greater effect on teams than a speech the day of a race. But once the race starts I’m trying to be the loudest guy out there, sending support to the team that way.


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