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Last Lap with Brad Hudson: The Marathon Whisperer

The 48-year-old coach has become one of the top marathon minds in the U.S.

At the 1979 Gettysburg Marathon, Brad Hudson crossed the finish line of his first 26.2 miler in 2 hours, 50 minutes and 35 seconds, a sterling debut by any competitive measure. The catch? Hudson, a New Jersey native, was only 12 years old at the time, and he was disappointed to have missed the American record for a boy his age by a scant 3 minutes and 26 seconds.

The now 48-year-old Hudson—who was coached by current University of Colorado headman Mark Wetmore as a grade-schooler—would go on to set a national high school record in the indoor 5,000m as a junior, and later garnered multiple All-American honors at the University of Oregon. He set his marathon personal best of 2:13:24 at Cal International in 1990, the high point of a professional career that was cut short by injury and burnout.

But where Hudson has really made his mark is as a coach. A lifelong student of the sport, Hudson has coached Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Jorge Torres, along with Jason Hartmann, Tera Moody and others. In 2012, Hudson had 11 of his athletes qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, with three of those runners finishing in the top-13. The Hudson Training Systems train continues to pick up steam heading into 2016, as nine of his athletes have already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Los Angeles next February.

What drew you to coaching?

I love the sport. I wanted to stay in the sport, and I just have a passion for it. Even when I was competing, I was always trying to learn other people’s training and asking questions about how they did it. So I always had a passion to try and do it better than I was and I’ve always loved studying training, seeing what I might have done wrong and how I could use that knowledge to help athletes train better for what they are doing.

Who have been some of your biggest coaching influences?

Renato Canova is my biggest by far. There’s no one who is probably even close. Maybe a little bit of Jack Daniels. I try to study everything and all the workouts and stuff but Renato Canova is by the most influential to me. Mark Wetmore was my first coach when I was a kid, and I’ve been coached by Pat Clohessey, Arturo Barrios, Mike Manley, Bill Dillinger, so I’ve had tons of different coaches and seen a lot of different approaches.

What is your favorite event to coach?

I would say the marathon for sure is my favorite, but honestly I like coaching all the different events. I’ve been trying to concentrate on the steeplechase more because I don’t have very super talented athletes and I think we can make more of a dent in it, even though it’s gotten more competitive this year. I like all events but if I had to pick one I’d say the marathon.

What is it that you love about the marathon?

I think it’s a very, very hard event because the training matters. It matters a lot, more so than probably most other events. You can’t get by just on talent because you’ll run out of fuel. The training very much matters. It’s a hard event to coach because there are so many different approaches and so many things to balance—if you go over the edge, you go over the edge and if you under train ‘em, they bonk. It’s a tough event to race, even when you’re in shape and running your best. It’s scary when you’re standing on the starting line thinking, “How am I going to run 26 miles at this pace?”

What are biggest mistakes you see coaches and athletes make in regard to marathon training?

Not being specific enough in their training and not looking at the demands of the event, whether it’s a hilly course or a flat course, or hot weather, or whatever it might be. A lot of people misjudge fitness with specific fitness and think they’re in better shape than they are based on something that doesn’t really correlate. There are people that get in very good shape and might be in great 5K or 10K shape or they’re doing good workouts, like 8 x 1K or mile repeats, so they think they’re amazing marathon shape. The marathon is a very specific event. Just because your VO2 max is high and just because you’re in good 10K, 15K or even half-marathon shape does not mean you’re ready to race a marathon with the demands that it has.

What’s your proudest moment as a coach to this point in your career?

When I first got into coaching I definitely wanted to prove things and like most coaches, I wanted to be successful and now, more than anything else, I think I just want to be valuable. I’m proud that I’m assembling a group of athletes that want to train together and make an impact—not only at the competitive level, but also on people’s lives.

What’s the best piece of coaching advice you’ve ever received?

That’s a tough one. I’ve received a lot of coaching advice. The best is probably just to keep learning from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to experiment but also look back at what you could have done better and go forward. Just when you think you have some sort of formula figured out for your athletes, try to find ways to do it a little better. Never be satisfied with what you know now because there’s always more to learn.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing training or coaching practice?

Right now, it’s studying poker. I just like studying the math probabilities of it, stuff like that. I don’t play it, I just study the game. And I love watching sports, almost any sport. I love watching everything.

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