by Steve Taylor
Gordon University Head Cross Country and Track & Field Coach Patrick Rich is used to balancing many tasks on a daily basis. Between family life, coaching obligations, and a competitive racing career, Rich rarely has a moment to spare.
However, on July 6, he will take some time to accomplish something he has never had the chance to do before; compete for a collegiate national championship [Editor’s Note: Rich placed 5th in the collegiate division and won $250]. Since Rich is currently enrolled in a Master’s program, he is eligible to compete in the newly formed Collegiate Running Association’s Mountain Running Championships, held within the Loon Mountain Race in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
After graduating from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School (MA) in 1994, Rich went on to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor where in 1998 he earned his undergraduate B.A. in Organizational Studies. Currently, Rich is enrolled in a Master’s program in Coaching and Athletic Administration through Concordia University-Irvine (CA).
Like most runners, Rich has been on a remarkable journey with many twists and turns that led him to this moment in time. “I started running recreationally while I was at the University of Michigan in the fall of 1994”, said Rich. “I gained some weight my first semester at college and was looking to get in better shape as well as add some healthier habits to my life. I had grown up around running most of my life - my dad started running road races around the time I was born and both of my younger brothers ran cross-country and track in middle school and high school.”
In the summer of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games Rich ran his first road race; a 5-miler he covered in 33:16. By 1999, Rich was training in earnest towards what he felt was the ultimate running achievement at the time, running under 30:00 in a 5-mile race.
Reflecting on his first time breaking 30:00, Rich says: “I remember the first time I did it was at a race in Swampscott, MA. It was a 5k and a 5-mile that started together and the 5k went left and the 5-mile went right about one mile into the race. There were several people ahead of me early on, and I assumed they were all running the 5k. When I finished (in 29:26), out of breath and utterly satisfied - again, I thought that a sub-30:00 5-mile was something that only a select few people ever achieved - I thought without a doubt that I had also won the race. I was absolutely baffled at the awards ceremony to find that I had placed third!”
Though Rich had only just begun to learn about the sport of running back in the late 90’s, he has since continued to learn how to test his limits and push himself to new levels he never thought possible. Racing over a variety of distances and expanding to competing over different terrains, Rich has continued to pursue his biggest driving force: a desire to challenge himself and push his boundaries. With mountain running races, Rich finds that inner challenge and the rewards of pushing his body to its limits while managing the terrain and obstacles he faces on the course. “As I get older, it becomes more and more difficult to get faster, but I am always looking for new challenges (like mountain running) that give me an opportunity to compete in a whole new realm. Also, as I have gotten older, it has brought a sense of urgency to my training, because I don’t know how much longer I will have to be able to continue to improve.”
Balancing family life and competitive racing are a challenge many athletes juggle, however for Rich the juggling performance became magnified in 2012 when he took on the head coaching duties for three sports at Gordon College. After serving as an assistant cross country coach for Hamilton-Wenham Regional and assistant track coach at Ipswich High School, he was offered the head coaching duties at Ipswich in 2007. In 2010, Rich enrolled in the Master’s program at Concordia with his eye on the Gordon College position. Two years later, when the Head Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field position opened at Gordon College he anxiously applied. “It was a case of God’s perfect timing being different from my own plans”, said Rich. “In the two years I spent preparing for a chance at the position, I learned to be more relentless about the pursuit of excellence. This paid dividends for me as a coach and a runner.”
While Rich’s personal performances continued to improve, making him a threat among the regional races he competed in, and as he excitedly accepted the responsibility of being the head coach of the cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field programs at Gordon College, his family continued to grow. He and his wife Heather added daughter Emma to their family with Grace and Benjamin while he continued working on his Master’s degree. As Rich balanced the tremendous focus, drive, and training to become a competitive distance runner along with his family and coaching responsibilities, he found comfort in knowing his priorities. “My first priority is to live out my faith in Jesus Christ with authenticity”, Rich said. “Coaching at Gordon College (a non-denominational Christian college in Wenham, MA), where I can encourage my athletes in their spiritual life as well as their athletic and academic pursuits, helps me keep a proper perspective as I examine my heart, my habits and therefore, my priorities.”
“When I am in-season (from mid-August through early May), the demands of being a coach are the hardest. Between organizing and executing practice every day and spending time with the individual athletes and assistant coaches to make sure we are functioning effectively and understanding one another, there is not a lot of spare time.” Fortunately for Rich, his schedule allows for some time to run nearly every day during lunch break. Occasionally, he joins team members for an easy run in the early morning or afternoon and once summer arrives, running increases which lends itself to mid- to late-summer and early fall races. During the school year and winter months he will log 50-60 miles in a week, though admittedly there are often weeks that are significantly lower. In the summer, however, Rich can usually consistently log 70-80 miles per week with Sunday his one chance each week to spend time with family. “I am constantly trying to find the appropriate place for my own running in the midst of it all, wanting to do my best without compromising family relationships. At times, I consider abandoning my own running career for the sake of my family, but my wife will tell you that when I’m not training I’m not much fun to live with. Fortunately, she is also a runner and understands that running is important for my overall well-being. We support each other’s desires to get out and run although, admittedly, she is the better supporter. It would be a tough row to hoe if one or the other of us wasn’t a runner.”
Rich has certainly seemed to figure out the balancing act in recent years, as in 2011 he won the Cape Cod Marathon (also the USATF-NE Grand Prix Marathon) in a time of 2:28:54 on a tough course under less than ideal weather condition. Last year at the 2013 Cranmore Mountain Race, which served as the U.S. Mountain Running Championships, he finished 13th overall in a field that included numerous world-class mountain runners. There’s no question as the future continues to provide opportunities that Rich continues to set goals with the focus of a coach, athlete and father.
“I would love to lower my marathon PR before getting too much older. I think a 2:25 or 2:26 might be a possibility with ideal race day conditions. Plus I haven’t raced a 15K since 2000, so I’m hoping I can lower that one later this summer in Burlington, VT. At the other extreme are mountain races, where having a goal time is not even possible a lot of the time. At Cranmore Mountain Race last year or Loon Mountain Race this year I have no idea how long it will take to finish; it is all about maximum effort and racing. Finishing Cranmore last year was one of the most satisfying race experiences I have ever had. Knowing I had given everything I had and fared pretty well against some of the top mountain runners in the country was a great feeling.”
Though Rich is putting up times today that many traditional college students would love to attain, his late start in running never afforded him the opportunity to compete for a national championship in collegiate running. However, with the recent creation of the Collegiate Running Association’s National Championships in road, mountain and trail racing, athletes like Rich who are taking at least one college course now have a stage to compete for national titles with similar athletes, along with the traditional students. “I think the Collegiate Running Association has a very cool idea to support collegiate athletes as they run. Having championships in road, mountain and trail racing is a great way to get collegiate athletes interested in racing off the track and XC courses. The fact that the Collegiate Running Association is inclusive enough to allow athletes like me means that old guys who missed out on racing in college can still have a chance to compete with younger guys in a race that means something. Athletes who have just exhausted their NCAA eligibility have an incentive to continue to train and race and that ought to help with the ongoing development of American distance runners. It seems like a lot of collegiate runners end their careers at their NCAA institutions and then essentially retire. Some come back years later to join clubs, but the Collegiate Running Association provides them with a reason to stay active, fit and competitive. I will encourage my own athletes to take advantage of opportunities like the Collegiate Running Association Mountain Running Championships in the future, because it is a great strength race a couple months out from XC. For a DI Athlete, who can accept prize money and also have a chance to travel the world with their running (by making the US Team), it seems like a worthwhile summer pursuit. I hope as the word gets out about what the Collegiate Running Association is doing, we will see a great increase in the number of runners who take advantage of these Championships!”
Though Rich is okay if word doesn’t get out too soon, as he said with a grin, “although, I don’t mind if the word doesn’t completely get out until after Loon, so I still have a shot at Top-5 prize money!”
The LVL originally featured Rich in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of our magazine.
For an update on how Rich did at Loon, read his first person account by clicking here.
Thanks to Steve Taylor of Collegiate Running for submitting this report.