Supercoach Gary Howard

If you watched the 2018 edition of the City 2 Surf you may well have noticed an army of smiling faces adorned in Run Crew singlets and shirts. They were spread throughout the field, from the winner Ben St Lawrence, to one of the oldest female competitors in the race. It was hard not to see them amongst the 80,000 strong field! In just a handful of years Run Crew has become one of the most successful and inclusive running squads in Australia. They’ve achieved it by creating a collegiate and highly supportive community of likeminded people, that all work together despite quite varying goals. Some are aspiring Olympic level track runners, others are hoping to complete their first ever 10km fun run, and there’s an ever-growing number of trail and ultra runners in the mix too. Leading the way are the coaches, Ben St Lawrence and Gary Howard. Both have quite different backgrounds and bring with them varying experience and knowledge of the sport. Of the two, Gary is the one that most people don’t know much about. Ben has an extensive resume, including multiple Olympics and the Australian 10,000m record. So we thought it would be good to get to know more about the other half of this dynamic duo.

Have you always been into running?

I’ve always loved running and been a fan of the sport, I love the simplistic nature and purity of running. Most of my younger running was based around sprinting or fitness for hockey. My first memories of distance running was as a 15-year-old, obsessively training with a hockey teammate to finish the beep test. We were doing sprint/agility training in the morning and a 15km run every afternoon. We both finished the beep test, then just as we were expecting a pat on the back, our trainer told us fit people can finish it as a warm up before they do their hard training—no matter what you achieve, there’s always another level. I was hooked.


What lead to the transition to go from runner to coach?

I was helping injured runners with conditioning programs when they were returning from injury or beginners starting in the sport. Most stuck around and it grew very quickly from there. I’ll always be a runner but with managing our squad, operating a massage business and raising two kids, the days are pretty full and I’m not as focused as I’d like to be. But I get through enough running to stay fairly fit and I can get my competitive fix via our athletes.

What do you prefer, being the athlete or the coach?

Coach, easily. I started coaching hockey at 14 and my first full time job after finishing school was as a cricket coach. From day one I’d never accept the status quo and would always challenge accepted beliefs. I was a weirdly obsessive kid: I’d never watch sport like a normal person, I’d be taking stats, analysing match ups, predicting what was likely to unfold and hypothesising moves I’d make. Even as a young kid I was training twice a day, with my own program that I’d built from reading soccer, running, hockey, cricket and any other sport training manuals from the library. Actually, nothing has changed. I’ll always have a need to compete physically, but as a massive fan of our sport, I certainly never had the ability to achieve anything significant as a runner—coaching our great athletes has and will continue to take me to heights far beyond anything I could achieve myself.

What’s the hardest thing about coaching?

Injuries. I currently have several runners unable to run and several more on limited conditioning programs. It’s the biggest list I’ve ever had. Just when you think you have mastered biomechanics and managing programs you realise you’ve got a lot more to learn. Similar to the athlete though, we need to go through the disappointment and learning before transitioning quickly to healing and prevention.

What’s the best parts?

I love seeing the friendships and camaraderie within our group. When Ben and I started Run Crew, it was important that there was no pecking order within our squad. A common love of running brought all of our members together but it’s not a measuring stick of anyone’s importance to our squad; we value good people over anything else. I can’t adequately express how lucky I am to be surrounded by successful and highly driven people. As enjoyable and challenging as it is to help our fast runners become faster, the reward of working with our juniors and beginners is particularly satisfying. I also enjoy the relentless nature of coaching, if you’re not constantly working and developing your skills, there’s a big chance your opponents are. That suits me perfectly, I’d tear my hair out if I didn’t have something to do 24/7.

What’s the main difference, other than genetics, between elite runners and mid packers?

We’d never use the word ‘elite’ in our squad, but there’s a lot of differences, without over generalising. The most obvious is that our faster runners do a lot more running than our less fast runners. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and it’s never a volume competition, but it’s a pretty good indicator. It’s important to find the individual’s sustainable limit and try to extend it, provided their goal is optimal performance. How we manage the extension of the athlete’s load is the tricky balancing act.

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