What makes someone a Master in their field? In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says mastery in a field takes roughly 10,000 hours. Over the many years as a competitor and then a coach, Laura has accumulated more than the prerequisite 10,000 hours. Coaching middle and distance runners at the high school, college, and professional level, Laura has become a Master Coach in the coaching world. Her style ranges from the brilliant to the common sense. She knows the science of running, but excels in the art. To spend a season under the leadership of Coach Caldwell, you would be doing a Masters in Elite Coaching. Season planning, writing and executing workouts, the psychology of runners, goal setting, organization and administration would be your curriculum. Coach Laura Caldwell has the experience, the knowledge, and the grace of a Master.
As a runner, Laura ran at the college and professional levels, achieving both national and international recognition. When at Florida State, Laura Ledbetter Caldwell held the 800 meter school record. In her post collegiate career she ran as a professional distance runner, competing for NIKE. Among her many running accomplishments, Laura placed 8th in the 1987 USA Women's Marathon Championships, won the 1992 Seattle Marathon, won the USA Masters 5,000 Track Championship, and was the 1993 USA Masters Cross Country Champion. At age 43, she ran 1:15:52 for a half marathon. Her incredible talent as a runner allowed her success in events ranging from the 800 to the marathon!
Coach Laura Caldwell has been successful at the high school, college, and elite levels. She was a founding member of the Portland, OR, women's running club, Team Athena, and was their first president. As the cross country and track coach of the girls team at Lake Oswego HS, Oregon, her runners consistently qualified for the Oregon 6A State Meet, and reached the podium in 2007. In the 1980's she was the editor of the successful publication, Racing South Magazine. In 2010 she joined the coaching staff at Furman University, along with her husband Mike Caldwell. She currently coaches with the Greenville Track Club Elite.
In the interview below we get to glimpse into the world of running and coaching, as Coach Caldwell shares her insights, experiences, and knowledge.
Laura Ledbetter Caldwell - Runner
Running has been one of the loves of your life. Can you tell us why you have competed, coached, managed, written about and supported runners and running over the years? Why has it been such a passion of yours?
Growing up pre-title IX, I really didn’t have the opportunity to explore different sports and find one that I was attracted to. In high school, you could play golf or tennis (girl sports) or be a cheerleader—that was it! However, I was always a bit of a tomboy, playing sports with the neighborhood kids and generally running around all day long. So unbeknownst to me, I was actually setting myself up to gravitating to some organized sport. When I got to Florida State University, I accidently found running by enrolling in a track and field class run by Dr. Kenneth Miller, who was the former coach of the men’s track program. At the time he was coaching the women’s track club (not an official school team because title IX wouldn’t start for another year). It was here under his coaching that I discovered my love of running and I was “off to the races” after that. Title IX was enacted and FSU started a women’s track and field team my sophomore year. I walked on and became one of the first women to get an athletic scholarship at the school. During this time I found that I loved running and competing but also a sense that I had been offered this wonderful opportunity to compete and get an education. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was instilling in me this desire to help bring others into our sport and all it has to offer.
How did your journey as a woman runner to a women’s coach evolve? Did being an elite runner help your coaching? How did you get started in coaching?
As with how I sort of fell into running personally, my evolving into becoming a coach happened much the same way. After undergrad, I entered the masters counseling program at FSU—a two-year program—and was offered a grad-assistant position to help with the women’s track and field and cross country programs my first year. I found I loved being involved with helping the women on the team train and compete, and it allowed me to continue running as well. My second year I was hired to be an assistant coach at Florida High School (FSU’s educational school). Here I coached girls in the 400m on up. This was even more rewarding to me because I was helping new athletes who had never experienced track and field before. As I started coaching, I took what I was doing as an athlete and tried to adapt it to how I coached my runners. So I have to admit there was some early trial and error, which helped me come to a major realization that less is more training-wise!
You have been a coach for a long time. What are the changes you have seen in the acceptance and respect for women coaches?
I think when Title IX first came into being men rushed in to fill positions that were available because there were just not that many women participants, club coaches, etc.—men had been doing sport for a long time, women not so much! Now you have many women coaching other women, but just a few women coaching men. However, that would have been unheard of years ago. So things are changing, slowly, but they’re changing! The other thing I’ve noticed is women’s voices are given more weight than just 20 years ago. I still had to deal with a few bubbas when I coached at Lake Oswego High School just ten years ago. Luckily, I had a great head coach there in Eric Lider (since retired) who treated me with respect and kindness, while having my back if I needed him.
Coach Laura Ledbetter Caldwell
"I think when Title IX first came into being men rushed in to fill positions that were available because there were just not that many women participants, club coaches, etc.—men had been doing sport for a long time, women not so much! Now you have many women coaching other women, but just a few women coaching men. However, that would have been unheard of years ago. So things are changing, slowly, but they’re changing!"
Could you recommend running resources to other women coaches? Books, research, websites?
I read a lot of articles on training, nutrition, recovery, etc. and then try to find other articles to back up the ones I’m reading. This is so I can get an idea of where the information is coming from (thank you Goggle!). However, if you need one resource on training that I think is the best for giving you ideas on how to train distance athletes (800m on up), that would be Dr. Jack Daniels’ Running Formula. I’ve found myself referring to it often for help. Then, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my greatest resource—my husband Mike, who majored in exercise physiology and is relentless in keeping up with the latest research!
You have coached men and women, boys and girls. What are the similarities and differences (if any) in coaching two genders?
I would like to say there are no differences—I have found both to be incredibly competitive and hard workers. However, what I have observed is that girls and women are a little easier to coach as far as the process goes. They listen and usually do what is asked. Boys and men tend to pay attention more to the sport, read up on everyone’s training, and know all of their competitors (thanks social media!). This can be a blessing and a curse. I often hear, “so and so did this workout” or “this runner ran x-amount of miles per week” from the guys. So you do get some that need to learn to stay in their lane! The other issue that can arise with women is a need to pay attention to menstrual cycles. For most women and girls this is not an issue, but for the ones that it is, I like to keep up with where they are in their cycle as it can impact their effort for that particular workout or race. So these are my own personal observations during my many years of coaching both sexes.
Do you goal set with your athletes for the season? And do you goal set prior to a race or competition?
Goal setting is an integral part of our Greenville Track Club-Elite program. After all, if your athletes don’t know what they are trying to accomplish, training can become tiresome and even a “grind”. I’ve used goal setting for every athlete I’ve ever coached—from high school to the elite level. Anyone should be able to state what they want to do. The important thing as a coach is helping them to verbalize and then follow through on the training needed to reach those goals. In sitting down with an athlete to discuss goals, I like them to have thought before hand what these are. Then together in our meeting we discuss long term goals, short term goals, pie-in-the-sky goals, small goals and the minimum that would make them feel successful. I even had one young lady who broke her goals down into 3-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-24 months and included every day goals like getting enough sleep and making every run intentional and fun! As for individual races, I like my athletes to own what they want to get out of a competition, but in a realistic way. Then, we can do a visualization exercise so they see themselves performing the way they want, usually the day before a competition.
"I’ve used goal setting for every athlete I’ve ever coached—from high school to the elite level. Anyone should be able to state what they want to do. The important thing as a coach is helping them to verbalize and then follow through on the training needed to reach those goals."
How do you work with different abilities on a team? Do you individualize or customize workouts? Could you give us an example of how you create workouts in a team situation?
When I coached high school, I found you have to be creative and adaptive in your workout creations. At Lake Oswego HS we had almost 100 kids on our cross country team, from new runners to seasoned veterans. I was also fortunate that we were able to combine the boys’ and girls’ workouts and break down into 4-5 different training groups by ability. At the beginning of the season we would run a 3000m cross country race that would give us an idea of where each runner fell on our training grid. Then we’d break them down into comparable groups for each workout. I would re-evaluate everyone after each meet. This worked out well and I never had any problems, fortunately, with egos.
What is a “signature” Laura Caldwell workout for cross country you could share with other coaches? What part of the season would the athletes do this workout?
I’m a big believer in the 1000m distance as a standard for interval work. At Lake Oswego HS, I liked to measure a 1000m distance in a park across the street from the high school (our home course for XC and very hilly) with each 200m marked. At the beginning of the season, I’d start the stronger kids on 3-5 x 1k at threshold pace with 2:30 minutes rest. These are the runners who trained over the summer break and are ready to build back up quickly. For my other training groups I could customize the workout to be more to their abilities, such as fewer and slower 1000m’s or shorter distances anywhere from 400m-800m. Everyone enjoyed getting off the track and taking a run through the woods. However, if no trails available, you could easily do this on the track as well.
In having coached many young women over the years, how have you handled the young ladies who struggle as they go through puberty? How do you keep them involved and supported?
I’ve seen this happen enough times to young ladies over the years and it tugs at my heart each time. Puberty is harder for some than others. This is such a personal matter with each athlete—some handle it and some don’t. I found that letting them know that other young women have been in the same place helps, along with recalibrating their goals for where they are now and recognizing how much they mean to the team. When dealing with my high school athletes, I always let them know I was available whenever they needed to talk about anything. I tried to be intuitive as well and step in to remind them that I’m available if it looked as though they needed some support and encouragement. We also had team building activities throughout the season to help create a sense of community and bond between our athletes.
On athletes going through puberty -
We exist to support, unite, inform, inspire, encourage and empower women coaches at all levels of our sport.