The Women's Running Coaches Collective exists to support, unite, inform, inspire, encourage, and empower women coaches at all levels of our sport
The WRCC Newsletter will now be twice monthly. We have a new Co-Editor, Laura Caldwell, and along with Charlotte Richardson and the W.R.C.C. Committee, we will continue to bring you articles that will be educational, inspirational, and will support you in your job as a coach. There will be interviews with women coaches from the youth, high school, college, and professional levels. We hope to bring you articles about building a team, planning workouts, incorporating strength and conditioning into your programs, coaching leadership and much more to help you as a woman running and field coach. We want to build this community and we need YOUR input to do that!
PLEASE contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us what you think, what you know, and what you would like to learn.
ALL perspectives are welcome and encouraged, and we will try and publish some of the emails. We are looking for good ideas and suggestions!
This is your journey too!
You ARE the Women's Running Coaches Collective.
Charlotte Lettis Richardson
The Women's Running Coaches Collective is excited and honored to bring you Part 2 of our interview with distance runner and cancer surviver, Serena Burla. Her strength, courage, and running talent will inspire and help you understand your role as a coach in an athlete's life.
"I am motivated to do the hard work because the heart knows when you are pushing yourself for growth, and when you are settling. Walking away from practice or a race when you know deep down you didn’t give your all or let negativity win, is the worst. Also, as an athlete the daily sacrifices are so great that you owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. When I didn’t know what my future would hold after my cancer diagnosis, one of the things that gave me peace was that I didn’t have regrets. I had put my heart and soul into everything I had done up to that point and looking back, the journey has been a messy beautiful ride for which I was grateful."
Biography by Laura Caldwell
If it seems that Serena Burla has been running for most of her life, she has. Having a father who has coached the Waukesha West girls’ high school track and field and cross country teams for the last 43 years while growing up in Waukesha, WI, encouraged her to begin competing in short distances in the third grade. While at West, Serena led her team to one runner up and three state cross country team titles. After high school, she competed for the University of Missouri in distance races. While a Tiger she was two-time Big 12 Conference runner-up and attained all-American status in the 10,000 meters in 2006.
After college, she married her college boyfriend, Adam Burla, a shot putter at Missouri, moved to St. Louis and hung up her competitive racing shoes, running just for fun. However, as with any competitive spirit, her running career was far from over. Coach Isaya Okwyia of the running group, Riadha (Swahili for athletics) discovered how well she had run in high school and college and felt she had potential. Burla wanted to try the marathon and Okwyia recognized her potential for success.
Planning on training for a few years before running a marathon in the spring of 2010, she started on Okwyia’s training regimen. However, in the fall of 2009 what began as an intermittent pain in her right hamstring escalated and became constant. After hobbling through the 2010 USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston in January, where she still managed to finish second (1:10:08) to Shalane Flanagan, her coach insisted she seek treatment for what Burla assumed was inflammation.
Burla traveled to New York City to see specialist Daniel Hammer, who initially thought it was bursitis. After a scan, she was told that it was a malignant tumor, synovial sarcoma, that had replaced one of the muscles in her right hamstring. At the end of February 2010, she returned to New York for surgery to remove part of her hamstring. Her surgeon could not find any athlete who had had this surgery. He also could not guarantee Burla could run again, let alone compete, but did believe the prognosis was very good.
Being just happy to be alive and have her leg, and wanting to be with her husband and young son, Boyd, running was no longer what was important to her. However, by April 2010, Burla was able to walk-run for the first time since her operation. And she has been moving forward ever since. In January, 2013, she won the USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston. Then at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, she placed 10th in the marathon with a time of 2:31:06. She followed that with a PB of 2:26:53 for 4thplace at the 2017 Osaka Women’s Marathon.
Through all of the adversity and ordeal in her life Burla has become an inspiration and motivating presence for others, and often speaks about her life and running experiences. She is, in her own words, “a two-time cancer survivor, wife, mother, loud laugher, positive thinker and lover of life.”
"My coach knows me better than I know myself. He knows I operate best by focusing one day at a time on the task at hand. I put my faith in him and the training. When it comes to the big race days, things have gone well when I followed the race plan and listened, and not well when I improvised."
The Serena Burla Interview
by Charlotte L Richardson
What is your favorite coach story? Something that a coach of yours said or did that made a difference in your life and running?
I have so many stories I could write a book, but it is the relationship we built and the ups and downs we weathered together that made a difference in my life and running. It all centers back on the love and caring component of a good coach.
There was a distinct time when I wanted to knock Isaya off his bike because he was being so hard on me during a training run, but the PR and hug at the finish line several weeks later more than made up for it.
Both my dad and Isaya cared and loved me no matter what and have always been there for me. Neither let me quit when the going got tough, neither felt sorry for me when I was struggling, both used tough love to equip me with a toughness and truth about life.
My dad and Isaya have been incredibly patient as coaches, always making time to talk, and are there with open arms for a hug when needed. They both believe and are two people in which I put all my trust. I recently had a conversation with Isaya about how much a coach sacrifices to be a great coach and he was quick to put a spin on this thought; he said something to the effect that coaching is not a sacrifice because it is something that you love.
How do you and your coach talk about your training and racing goals for the year ahead? How do both of you communicate and work together to achieve these goals?
My coach knows me better than I know myself. He knows I operate best by focusing one day at a time on the task at hand. I put my faith in him and the training. When it comes to the big race days, things have gone well when I followed the race plan and listened, and not well when I was improvising, he can sense my energy and attitude in my body language and sound of my voice. Communicating about things on your mind outside of running is important too and helps a coach coach you as a whole.
Finally, if you could describe yourself with one word (or two) what would that word be? What word would you use to describe your coach?
Can we all go hug a great coach now instead?-haha
I would say the word “crazy” describes me pretty well. Good old Webster’s online dictionary defines crazy in several ways: 1. Full of cracks or flaws, 2. Being out of the ordinary and, 3. Distracted with desire or excitement
My word for my coach Isaya would be “hero”. If I can be even half the person he is in life, I will have made a difference.
We exist to support, unite, inform, inspire, encourage and empower women coaches at all levels of our sport.