Interview with Amy Yoder Begley
by Alison Wade

Amy Yoder Begley competes at the 2002 USA Cross Country Championships.
Yoder Begley runs her first professional race at the 2001 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Yoder Begley en route to the NCAA 10,000m title in 2001.
All Photos: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners

An incredibly successful and consistent runner throughout high school and college, Amy Yoder Begley has encountered a few obstacles as a post-collegiate runner, but can still be counted among the USA's potential stars of the future. She was a three-time Foot Locker finalist in high school, including a runner-up finish in 1995. At the University of Arkansas, Yoder Begley won two NCAA individual titles (the indoor 5,000m in 2000 and the outdoor 10,000m in 2001), was a 15-time All-American and won 16 SEC individual titles.

Since graduating from Arkansas in 2001, Yoder Begley has dropped her 5,000m PR down to 15:38.60, won an Avon 10k national title in 2001 and was also named an RRCA Roads Scholar that year. Yoder Begley started off 2003 with wins at the Gasparilla 15k (52:21) and the Naples Half Marathon, where she ran a PR 1:13:39 before getting injured.

Yoder Begley currently resides in her hometown of Kendallville, Indiana, where she has found multiple ways to give back to the running community. She is coached by her husband and fellow elite distance runner, Andrew Begley. You had a good start to the year, you won two races, what happened after that?
Amy Yoder Begley: Well, I moved my mileage up and I was training really well. We went to Florida for winter training and I ran my first half marathon. The week after, I started having shin pain and I was hoping it was shin splints, but it ended up being a stress fracture in my shin. That took me out for a while.

FW: When did you find out it was a stress fracture?
Three days after [the USA Cross Country Championships]. I did not finish cross nationals and three days later I went to the doctor, and they confirmed that it was a stress fracture.

FW: How long did it take you out for?
About eight weeks, they just wanted to make sure it was totally healed.

FW: What did you do during those eight weeks?
I did a lot of aqua jogging and then four weeks after, they let me start biking, so then I was biking and aqua jogging.

FW: Did the stress fracture heal on schedule?
Yeah, it did, then I was back training and in May, I sprained my ankle twice in two weeks and I got my achilles really bad, so I had to take more time [off]. So it was really two injuries right in a row.

FW: So you haven't raced since cross country?
I haven't really raced, I guess, since February.

FW: Do you have plans to run any races soon?
Yeah. Labor Day weekend there's a race in Ohio that I ran last year — the Westlake Five Mile — and I told them I'd come back again. Then I'm going to go run [the Great Cow Harbor 10k Run] and [the Tufts 10k].

FW: How did the injuries and missing the track season change your plans for the next year? How do you figure out what to focus on leading up to the Olympic Trials?
That took me a while to sit down and plan. I was really upset that I was going to miss this track season, because last year, I ran the track season up until nationals — that's when they thought I had a runners' hernia but it turned out I had a torn external oblique instead. So I missed last year's nationals in track and I missed this year's; I missed two in a row. So planning for next year was really hard. By the time I was fully healthy and back training, I had 12 months until the Olympic Trials next year.

Since I'm getting in shape now, I want to see where I'm at and what I need to do. I'm going to race this fall on the roads, just to see where I'm at, and then we have some friends who are living in Melbourne, Australia and I'm thinking about going down and training with them in November and December, and maybe running a few track races just to see where I am. Since I haven't been on the track in so long, I'd really like to be on the track just one more time before the trials next year...

FW: Do you have a trials qualifier at this point?
No, and that's another thing I want to get when I'm down there in Melbourne. I'm hoping to get a trials qualifier and that way, next spring, it can just be about tuning up rather than chasing a time.

FW: Are you thinking 5,000 or 10,000?
Right now, they have a 10,000 set up in Australia. There's not a fast 5,000 set up yet. Right now, I'm just [planning to] try for the 10, and then next spring, I'll hopefully run Mt. Sac and Stanford and try to get a 5,000 qualifier. I'd rather go in the 5,000, but my husband, who coaches me, would rather I go in the 10. So we'll see who wins (laughs).

FW: Do you have an agent who sets things up for you or does Andrew handle that?
Andrew pretty much does everything for me. He kind of sets my travel and sets my races and that kind of leaves me free to focus on training and other things. He's done a pretty good job, he's always been able to get everything done.

FW: Is it hard when you define yourself as a full-time runner and you have big goals but can't train because of injury? How do you avoid going crazy?
That's a hard one (laughs), it's like getting laid off. I've read a lot of books. The first time I got injured, I started crocheting, and I continued crocheting the blanket that I had started [during the second injury]. When you can't do anything, and they want you to stay off your legs for a while, what do you do? I read a lot, I started crocheting, I have my two dogs that I play with... I've also worked with a lot of the high school girls around the area, we kind of give them advice. Especially when I was injured and just starting back, I was able to run with them, because I wasn't running very far or very fast. That kind of kept me sane, helping other people and helping them along with their goals. We run a camp in the summer, and putting that together is a lot and I did more with it this year.

FW: I've read a couple articles about your involvement with young runners. You have the regular running camp, but then you also did a separate camp for top runners in your area?
We have a summer camp for middle school and high school kids — it was our fourth year this year. And then some of the girls in our area are really running well, and they would like to break the state record that I hold (10:24.29 in the 3,200m), and I want them to do that too, so I just said, 'Hey, come over for a week, let's just go over everything — stretching, aqua jogging...' So they just came over and we kind of had a big slumber party for the week with a bunch of girls. I just wanted to get them excited about this year.

FW: So they just stayed at your house?

FW: Wow, that's really generous. It seems like a lot of runners would be too focused on their own running to do something like that... You possess a selflessness that's rather rare.
Well, every time I've gone to a new level, there haven't been many people willing to say, 'Hey, why don't you try this?' or 'This didn't work for me, don't go down that road.' There aren't that many people willing to do that, and I'm not sure why. I've even asked people for advice sometimes and they just don't give it to you, and in not-too-nice ways sometimes. I don't want to be like that, I want to help people. Plus, helping them gets me excited about running too. Kids are so excited at that age, they want to do it, they want to learn. And sometimes when you get to this age, people start getting tired or burned out. It kind of gives you the excitement of that age again, working with them.

FW: Will you keep in touch with these runners over the course of the year?
Yes... When we're going to Melbourne, we're leaving the week before the state meet in cross country. I'm kind of sad to work with them all fall and then leave right before their state meet, but that's alright, we'll keep in touch and we e-mail all the time.

FW: How did the other camp go this summer?
It went really well, but it rained every day, it's like the year of rain, I guess. The goal of our camp is to bring in a lot of people who have achieved a lot. We brought in Alistair Cragg, Sean Kaley and Christin Wurth. We bring in people who have excelled at NCAAs so the kids can meet them. We think that if you're around successful people, then it can rub off on you. [The kids] can see that they're not any different than they are, they just work a little harder and have a little more dedication. Plus, we want to help out our friends and give them a little extra money in the summer. We try to give the kids a good time and make sure we have some of the best counselors.

FW: Did you have any strong role models when you were in high school?
I always looked up to a lot of the college runners, and then when I got to college, I was kind of amazed that they weren't any different... Suzy Favor always ran well and I looked up to her... Deena (Drossin) was at Arkansas and I ended up going there...

FW: But there was no one helping you out like you're doing with the current crop of high school runners?
No. My dad read a lot of books... My coach in high school was an ex-football coach (laughs) so tried. My dad helped a lot, [we used] trial and error a lot, and that's still what I'm doing.

FW: And Andrew is your only coach now?
Yeah. Well, I work with physical therapists and trainers in Indy and they're kind of helping me with strength and conditioning.

FW: But Andrew gives you your workouts.

FW: How does that work, are there any problems with being coached by your husband?
I've been out of school two years now, the first year was a lot of trial and error. He knows me better than anybody else, he knows when he can push me, probably better than most people. It took a while to get past the coach/athlete husband/wife thing, not taking it home with you from the track. But other than that, after the first year, I think we've developed a really good schedule and a really good communication.

FW: I spent some time looking at your web site. You have this entity — Yoder Begley Track. It looks like in addition to the camps, you also offer coaching services and do public speaking engagements. Why did you start this?
We were getting calls all the time to do stuff when we moved back to Indiana. The first year, I was saying yes all the time, doing everything for free. It did not work, because I was constantly putting things ahead of my running. Finally I decided we needed to do something about that. I've given speeches throughout the state to different high school and track programs... just about motivation and pursuing your dreams, finding your passion in life and going for it.

A lot of people have asked us to coach — even some schools have asked us to coach — but we just can't, we don't have time. We did coach a junior high for one cross country season, but there are just so many races and other things... That just became hard to do, so we developed the coaching and training program for people — if they want personal attention or training programs...

FW: So are you doing much coaching right now?
We don't work with the kids during the school year unless their parents are the coaches of their team, or if the school asks us to. We don't want to get [too] involved and step on anybody's toes, so we mostly work with the kids in the summer. We have a couple kids we're working with [whose] parents are the coaches of their school. We have a couple older road racers that we're working with too, and then I'm just working with the girls around here.

FW: So it sounds like you're keeping pretty busy.
Yeah. Some days I think I ought to simplify and do less, but I like to stay busy, it keeps me going, I guess.

FW: So Andrew is also from Indiana?
We're both from this area, Northeast Indiana. We were actually born in the same town, Topeka — it's really small — and then I moved to Kendallville, which is like 30 miles away from where his parents still live.

FW: When did you first meet Andrew?
We raced together when we were in middle school — he was like one of three boys I never beat. We didn't have a girls' program, I had to run with the boys. We just kind of knew each other growing up. We didn't start dating until my junior year in high school.

FW: So you've been together for a long time.
We've been together for eight years now.

FW: You train in Kendallville but you go down to Florida during the winter. Is that a yearly thing?
Well one year, we went Arizona, and then last year, we went to Florida. When I first graduated from college, my goal was to actually train with some girls. Actually, Begley Track started because we wanted to start a training group, and we did. We had three girls training and we went to Arizona — there were three of us, plus Andrew, that went. That only lasted a year because it was too expensive and too hard to keep up. Now we just go to Florida, there are great trails in Tampa.

FW: But then you're going to Australia this year, will that be instead of Florida?
Actually, when we go to Australia, we're going to move, and I don't know where we're going to go after we come back. Andrew and I both need training partners now. We're going to go to Australia and train with the Australians for a couple months, then we're going to go to Florida again, and from there, we're going to move somewhere permanently I think. We both need training partners, since the group didn't work and the girls have left, now I don't have training partners anymore.

FW: Do you have any ideas as to where you might end up?
I'm not sure, we're going to take a trip out to Colorado next month... We both have never been, so we'll go out there and check it out and see if that's where we want to [settle]. We're not really sure where we want to end up, but we both need to run with other people to get to the next level, I guess.

FW: Since you graduated from Arkansas, you've done quite a bit of road racing. Is that something you prefer to track racing, or is it just more convenient?
It's probably more convenient, because in this area there are a lot of road races, but I grew up doing road races, too. From the time I was 10 until I went to college, I did a lot of road racing. I like track better, I think, but I really enjoy the all-women's races too... The women's road races are really fun. It's fun seeing the men carrying the kids around (laughs).

FW: Have you thought about moving up in distance at all — you did well in your half marathon last winter — have you considered running a marathon?
I keep saying I will when I'm 30, but Andrew would probably say when I'm 28. Yeah, I think I will eventually move up to marathon. The half marathon was definitely an experience, it wasn't as bad as I anticipated it being. I ran seven miles of it by myself, I'd like to be in one where I wasn't running alone. It was a good experience and I think I definitely will move up, but getting the stress fracture a couple weeks after didn't leave a great taste in my mouth...

FW: Was that your first stress fracture ever?
It was my first one. I was hoping it was shin splints, but after a while, I knew better (laughs). I've never had shin splints either.

FW: But the 5k will probably still be your focus, you hope, in the near future?
I hope so. I need to get my 1,500 time down before I can really compete at the 5k.

FW: And the 'A' standards have gotten so fast now, anyone who wants to make the Olympic team will almost definitely have to run under 15:08.
I know, but that's good. Everyone needs to be challenged. The standards need to be raised so that we're not just competing against ourselves, the standards need to be pretty tough. I mean, the college girls are now running faster than half the post-collegiates (laughs), we need to get in gear.

FW: So tell us about your latest setback, the bee sting. What happened?
I was weeding out the yard and I stuck my hand in a bush to pull out some dead branches, there happened to be a beehive in there, and I got stung. I don't ever remember getting stung in my life, but I guess I must have once when I was little. I just swelled up really bad — within ten minutes, I was having trouble breathing and I had to be rushed to the emergency room. I got pumped full of drugs to get the reaction to stop, so that was scary. I had to take some downtime to let my body repair from the allergic reaction. Now I have to carry an EpiPen with me wherever I go. It's kind of scary knowing I could get stung and my body could just shut down. It's going to really make me think about long trail runs now, where I'm really far away from things.

FW: Is the EpiPen something you can bring with you on a long run?
Yeah, I might have to start carrying a fanny pack and looking kind of funny (laughs) but it's either that or run within a couple miles of a hospital all the time, I guess. But being 25 and only getting stung once or twice in my life, it's not that big of a risk.

FW: Changing gears, can you tell us what your training is like, and what kind of training you benefit from? Are you a high-mileage runner?
Well I never was, until last year. Right before the stress fracture, I was doing 90 miles a week. I was in a base phase, pretty much, at that point. I was [doing] repeat miles, repeat 2000s, long runs, steady states, that kind of stuff. That's where I'm starting at again right now, except my mileage is starting over.

I've been working with the physical therapists and the doctors and we've decided — since I have one year until the Trials — to decrease my risk of getting injured again, I'm just going to run six days a week and always take one day off. I'm going to cap my miles at 80 and that seventh day would be crosstraining or a day off, depending on how I feel. My long run — I was doing 18 miles — we'll probably get back up to 16- or 18-mile long runs again. We do two workouts a week. At least right now, one's longer, like a steady-state tempo or a long fartlek and the other one is a shorter workout. Right now, we're doing ins and outs, just to get my turnover back.

FW: What was your mileage like prior to last year when you reached 90 miles a week. Is this comparable to what you were doing before?
Oh no. In college, I was hardly ever over 60. My first year out, I moved up to about 70, 75, and then eventually moved it up to 90. But I was always really low-mileage, even in high school...

FW: Even though you got injured, did you feel like you gained strength when you experimented with the 90-mile weeks?
Yeah, I felt a lot stronger. I felt the best I'd felt in a long time... I had gotten my mileage up and I was just starting to see how I was going to do in workouts and I got injured.

FW: Do you have any sense of how you're doing now compared to then, how your workouts are going?
I think I've been slow coming back, just because I got injured again in May... But I'm also doing a new [strength training program], so I'm feeling stronger overall, not just with running... I feel like I'm getting back what I had in February, the strength in running, I just have to slowly get the speed back.

(Interview conducted August 18, 2003.)

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