Paul Cummings, the Olympic distance runner, stands on the side of the Highland High School track, arms folded across his chest, watching runners stride past him one after another. He studies the runners intently, occasionally glancing at his watch, taking note of technique and fatigue.
"How do you feel?" he asks one woman runner, one of about 20 runners on the track this evening. The runners vary greatly: there are housewives, gray-haired men, teenagers, road racers, track athletes; there are the very slow, the very fast, the overweight, the underweight. But all have one thing in common: they have hired Cummings to coach them.After warming up, the runners gather around Cummings for workout instructions. "Today what I'd like you to do is four 800s (eters) at about 70 percent effort, and then we'll see how you feel; if you feel good, you can do it again." With that, the runners line up and go.
"This is something I enjoy," says Cummings. "I went to school to be a coach, but you have to teach to do that, and I was never real fond of the teaching aspect of it. Now it looks like I can coach without having to teach."
For years, Cummings, a full-time professional "amateur" road racer, has been frequently asked for training advice by road racers, but it was only this year that he decided to set up a formal coaching program - which he named Personal Coaching Services. Already he coaches about 70 runners for a monthly fee of $30. Twice a week, Cummings meets personally with his runners to oversee their training sessions on the track - on Tuesdays and Thursdays he meets his Salt Lake runners on the Highland track, and on Mondays and Wednesdays he meets his Utah Valley runners on the BYU track. (o break the groups into manageable size, Cummings has three different sessions each day, at 1 p.m., 6 and 7.) There are still other runners he coaches long distance - for instance, Maureen Custy-Roben, America's top female marathoner last year.
Cummings hopes eventually to have 200 runners and to set up a track club. Already he is making plans to set up a franchise, simply because he can't be everywhere at once. Paul Pilkington, a 17th-place finisher in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, has agreed to coach Ogden-area runners. Cummings hopes to set up similar situations outside of the state, probably in Boston, San Francisco and Phoenix, each using Cummings' coaching philosophy.
"I'm really optimistic; I think it's going to work," he says.
And why not? People hire tennis coaches, piano teachers, take swimming lessons, art lessons. Why not a running coach?
"There is a real lack of people out there who know what they're doing," Cummings complains. "Most of the high school and college coaches haven't a clue."
Cummings, who took a degree in physical education from BYU in 1976, draws his coaching theories from more than two decades of wide-ranging competitive running experience and rubbing shoulders with other world-class athletes, trainers and exercise physiologists. If nothing else, his credentials as an athlete are certainly impressive. Despite the ups and downs of allergies, Cummings has been the U.S. Olympic trials 10,000-meter champion, the NCAA mile champion, the U.S. national indoor three-mile champion, a top-ranked road racer and an American and world record holder at everything from the indoor 1,500-meter run to the half-marathon. At 34, Cummings thinks there is still more to come.
So why turn to coaching now?
"I've enjoyed running, but I don't know how much longer I can do it," says Cummings, who has earned his living off road racing for eight years. "I haven't made much money the past eight months, because of illness and injuries. I can still run for a while longer, but I know the time is coming when I'll have to do something else."
And that something else might well be coaching.
Last winter, Cummings sent out 2,200 letters to road runners around the state. Nearly every week has brought him a new client. Word is spreading, if slowly. A high school runner from California called recently to ask Cummings to coach him.
"Most of them (is runners) have been running a while and want to run faster," says Cummings. "And others just want to get in shape or lose weight."
Before Cummings' clients run a step for him, he meets with most of them individually, usually in their homes, to discuss their goals, their background and Cummings' training program, which probably will include intervals, road work, technique, diet, exercises, stretching, injury prevention and care.
"I set up the program based on what their program will allow," says Cummings.
Once on the track, Cummings does a little of everything. He times each runner. He massages sore muscles. He talks to each runner individually, mostly acting as a sounding board while they describe their latest aches, pains, workouts and races. Some of the runners also call him at his home in Orem for advice during the days they don't meet on the track, when they're doing road work. Such exchanges help Cummings set up workouts accordingly for the rest of the week.
"I am there to consult with, and I'm going to want to know what they've been doing," says Cummings. "My purpose is to help them achieve their goals.
"A lot of people try to coach themselves, but it's hard to motivate yourself," Cummings continues. "If nothing else, they feel a commitment (ith a coach). Also, there's a lot of misinformation out there about training. And I really believe I can help people recover quickly from their injuries. I've had a lot of experience with them."
Cummings hopes this is only the beginning of a long coaching career, perhaps one that will ease the pain of ending his competitive career. "I enjoy this more than anything I've done," he says. "I get a lot of the same satisfaction I do out of running. It's exciting to see their improvement. And it's exciting for them, too. It's fun to be a part of it."