November 6, 2018 // New York, NY
I have the pleasure of spending the days leading up to the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon with team I Run With Allie. I am tasked with telling Allie Kieffer’s race story through the eyes of her coach, but I quickly realize I am documenting something more than that. I am following a blossoming relationship between a coach and an athlete. A partnership that has lead to not only personal records and wins for Allie Kieffer, but to personal and professional growth for an unsuspecting coach — Brad Hudson.
It’s 11:49:39 AM EST on November 4, 2017 and Allie Kieffer crosses the finish line of the 2017 New York City Marathon. If you are a part of the running community and don’t know the name Allie Kieffer, you do now. Shalane Flanagan wins to the arguable surprise of few. This moment has been building for a long time. The story many don’t expect is a woman from New York to place 5th overall, and 2nd American female. A breakthrough performance for Allie.
Skip forward a month when Allie, self coached at the time, reaches out to former coach Brad Hudson stating she wants to come to Boulder, CO to train for a month, which ultimately leads to him coaching her again. It’s evident she is in no way satisfied with her NYC performance.
She wants more.
This same relentless energy is also what sparks something in Coach Hudson, and what transpires over the next eleven months is nothing short of transformative for him, and changes the trajectory of his coaching. Allie has made Coach Hudson better.
A better coach. A better person. Simply, better.
Coach Hudson’s life is and always has been running. He has won state championships at the high-school level, All American honours as a collegiate athlete in cross country, and is a 2:13 marathoner. Coach Hudson ran under the tutelage of now legendary Colorado Buffalo coach Mark Wetmore as a youth, and he is a student of Renato Canova and Arthur Lydiard training methods. Long runs, with plenty of work.
He has coached Shayne Culpepper, Dathan Ritzenhein, Tera Moody, and other professionals. He currently coaches Parker Stinson, Hiruni Wijayaratne, and of course, Allie Kieffer among others. He is the author of the book Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach alongside Matt Fitzgerald, and has recently started selling his Little Black Book of workouts again. My point is, running is and has always been Coach Hudson’s life — from an early age — and he is a student of the sport.
He openly admits, “when I first started coaching it was for sure about me”. He assumes it was probably trying to fill the gap he didn’t achieve as an athlete having never reached the potential he displayed in his youth, but he’s grown as a coach and it is all about the athletes now. Allie has played a major role in this transition since they started working together again in late 2017.
Neither Allie nor Coach Hudson expected their relationship to grow like it has. Allie says that it has “escalated over time…it didn’t start this way.” Coach Hudson never expected to be pushed like this and claims that he was nervous about coaching Allie at first because he thought he would “wreck this girl.” He didn’t think he had the tools or ability to coach her properly, but they have found a way to walk that fine line this past year pushing each other, without ruining the relationship.
We talk about that dynamic between them. Coach Hudson is acutely aware that the coach-athlete relationship can create an uneven power dichotomy. Being coached by Mark Wetmore as a youth, he found himself at the short end of such a situation. Wetmore isn’t afraid to use arguably manipulative psychological techniques to get the most out of his athletes. Coach Hudson quickly admits that it’s not necessarily a negative thing but “it’s just not my style.”
This balanced power dynamic between Allie and Coach Hudson results in a collaborative working relationship.
Surrounded by a murmur of conversations in various languages in the hospitality suite the day before the 2018 NYC Marathon, it’s fun to watch them work together through the details of filling and taping Allie’s water bottles. They play off of each other as Allie mixes the three packages of Maurten 320’s she will consume on race day that are split between separate bottles for the seven aid stations on course. Coach Hudson tears tape that Allie marks the bottles with as they decide together; a strip of blue tape on top, and fluorescent orange on the bottom.
In Allie’s hotel room a few days before the race, Sally Bergesen and Bob Lesko join us to drop off some gear and check-in with Allie. The room quickly turns into a marketing meeting with everyone contributing in the room equally and comfortably — myself included — despite Coach Hudson nor I having ever met the pair from Allie’s sponsor Oiselle. The discussion is fluid and easy. They’ve created an aura of collaboration that extends to everyone around them as we collectively decide the best way to do some Instagram stories for Oiselle promotion. Everyone provides input, decisions are made together, and team I run with Allie is firing on all cylinders.
Coach Hudson and Allie go over her training plan every ten days together as a way to check in and ensure they are on the right track. Coach Hudson doesn’t simply hand over workouts for Allie to execute, they work together to find the right mix and adjust based on results and how her body feels.
Allie is comfortable coaching herself and feels that “as you get older … you should have more input in your training.” Allie has strong opinions and Coach Hudson understands this. He doesn’t fight it, he works with it. Coach Hudson takes a page out of the Meb Keflezighi and Bob Larson playbook and feels that “if your coach is open minded, and you can keep the relationship good enough to keep learning,” you can foster success. I believe their power dynamic, and collaborative approach is the secret to this teams success.
Allie views Coach Hudson as a father figure citing the time she was heading to Mammoth, CA and Coach Hudson forced her to take his new-to-him car because he didn’t think hers would make it. When I am with Coach Hudson and Allie in Boulder, Colorado back in early September of this year, they joke about some of the matches Allie has on Bumble, the dating app. Coach Hudson not only suggests that Allie should date, he goes as far as swiping left or right as he figures he knows who would be a good match for her, but ultimately admits, “there is no one good enough for her” — most definitely a dad statement.
Allie knows that Coach Hudson cares about her well being, claiming he is “not just interested in my results, but that I am happy too.” Coach Hudson confirms stating, “there is no one who was happier when she ran New York last year and she coached herself.” He genuinely just wants her to be happy and successful, even when he doesn’t have his chips in the game.
The most profound statement Allie makes in my time with them is prior to the pre-race gala when she asks Coach Hudson to join her explaining that “it feels more comfortable with you there.” This is what their collaborative approach has led to. Coach Hudson makes her more comfortable.
Allie has all the attributes that Coach Hudson looks for in an athlete. “It’s a combination of how hard she works. It’s her psychology when she’s working out. She’s a racer…she can even train poorly and race great.” I feel Coach Hudson really does thrive on their collaborative approach. This frees him up to grow, and to learn, admitting to reading multiple hours a day on a Dig Deep podcast in April of this year. I can confirm this when I witness Coach Hudson reading during his entire workout in a small 90 minute gap of Allie’s Schedule on race weekend.
With Allie’s comfort and needs being priority number one, Coach Hudson has to sneak pockets of time for himself. He’s been hitting the gym for an hour every day, and doubles down by utilizing the time to educate himself in the pages of multiple books.
In another free hour or two, Coach Hudson seeks out the business center in the hotel, and gets to work on his coaching plans and making calls to other athletes for updates on races this weekend. Despite being in New York, and this weekends focus being Allie, the rest of his athletes aren’t ignored. Coach Hudson does what he needs to in order to find time for everyone.
“The best athletes are not easy to help” Coach Hudson explains, and thinks that “you have to have a little angst to be great.” Allie’s strong personality forces Coach Hudson to be a better coach. To find new ways to motivate, facilitate, and improve Allie’s fitness. He can’t simply dole out the same old workouts. Allie can do that herself, he knows he needs to bring more to the table — every single day.
Throughout the days leading up to the 2018 NYC Marathon, Coach Hudson says a number of times in our conversations, “I want to be a better coach.” He feels Allie is an athlete that facilitates that; “I don’t know how she does it, but she pushes me. She makes me better.”
"If I can coach Allie for a couple more years, I'll be the best coach ever."
Coach Hudson isn’t implying that he will be the best, but the best coach he’s ever been. Coach Hudson is adamant that Allie makes him a better coach, and will make him the best coach he can be. He also truly believes that he is the best coach for Allie at this point in her career. Their relationship as a coach and athlete is symbiotic in Coach Hudson’s mind. This is indicative of their collaborative efforts thus far.
He says that “he gets a lot of enjoyment training Allie with some pacers”, but that she isn’t necessarily best suited to train with a larger group. It isn’t that she needs to be the only athlete, or that she is starved for attention, but that she seems to thrive without a large group around her. As we discuss what Coach Hudson would see as the ideal situation for him, he realizes he is setting himself up to reduce his group further. It becomes apparent he might be fully realizing this for the first time during our interview.
He goes to Buffalo with Allie for four weeks of training at sea level prior to New York. He is going to Kenya with her for a month or more a few weeks after New York. He admits that “no other athlete has gotten him out of Boulder.”
"If I had to choose between coaching my group and her, I'd choose her."
It is now 5:35 AM. Race day.
I arrive at the hotel as Allie finishes up breakfast, armed with her race issued clear plastic gear bag, coffee in hand, we walk the couple blocks to get to the elite bus that takes the runners to Staten Island. Allie is all business, and wants to be at the front of the line. Coach Hudson is in full on support mode. His job is to keep her comfortable, and to make sure she is on the bus by 6 AM.
As they sit on the curb waiting for the bus to finish preparations for the runners. The pair smile and chat on the side of the dimly lit New York street. There is a calmness to the whole situation. I feel nerves, but this athlete and coach don’t appear to. Allie is calm, Coach Hudson patiently waiting for his logistical duties to be complete.
Once the buses start loading, Coach Hudson turns his attention to one final task before the big dance, Allie-head assembly. This is the dedication Coach Hudson has to Allie on race weekend, and another example of the collaboration between Allie and Coach Hudson. As a result of their time spent together, the two have come up with some pretty unique and fun ways to promote team I Run with Allie, including these massive “fat heads” on a stick. The plan is to hand them out to fans on course.
Throughout the past eleven months of training, both Allie and Coach Hudson’s Instagram are flooded with fun photos and videos. Coach Hudson driving the car, music blaring with Allie’s dog Winston chilling in the passenger seat, rolling alongside Allie as she completes her workouts.
Not only has the vast amount of time they’ve spent with each other resulted in a fluid and collective training block leading up to the marathon, it’s provided some brilliant marketing content as well. Ultimately I determine that this creative freedom they seem to thrive with, is merely a result of them having fun. Coach Hudson confirms, “I’ve never had more fun in my life.”
As the gun time of 9:20 AM approaches, we are back in the hotel lobby lounge with Coach Hudson, Bruce (Allie’s Dad), and Beth (Allie’s cousin) — team I run with Allie headquarters. Coach Hudson isn’t nervous, but his energy level is definitely turned up a notch or two. He is typically outgoing and gregarious, chatting with most everyone he sees on a regular day, but this morning even more so. As the splits come in, Coach Hudson is obsessively checking his phone. He’s in tune to what is going on at the front of the pack, theorizing about what the lead group is doing, and going to do — despite there being nothing he can do at this point.
Coach Hudson is a racer too, and even though today is about Allie, his mind is out on course with her.
"I've got the right amount of buzz."
Near the halfway mark, Coach Hudson heads to Central Park to find a spot in the grandstands to watch the rest of the race on the big screen, and to be there for the finish. I head to the base of the Queensborough Bridge to get some on-course photos at mile 16. It gives me a straight shot down 59th St. to get back to the park for the finish.
"She's rolling now."
By the time I find Coach Hudson in the grandstand after ripping out to 1st Ave for a few shots of the leaders on course, Allie is moving quicker. A lot quicker than the first half of the race. All miles are now clipping by at sub 5:30, getting into the low 5:20’s. Coach Hudson is getting excited as Allie chases down Des Linden. Mary Keitany and Vivian Cheruiyot roll through the finish in the order Coach Hudson predicts at the beginning of the day.
Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle are next in as the first two Americans, followed by Rahma Tusa. Coach Hudson’s eyes still burning a hole through his screen trying to determine if Des is going to emerge around the final bend before the stretch to the finish line in front of the rawkus crowd before or after Allie.
It’s not obvious disappointment when he spots Des Linden before seeing Allie, but his body language slouches slightly. It’s evident that the 20 second lead Des has, is going to be enough to hold onto the last spot on the American women’s podium. Allie will finish in 2:28:12, a 1:27 PR, 7th overall, and 4th American woman.
"I'm happy with that. It's a good 90 second PR, and that should be a really strong negative split."
He’s happy with the result, but I sense Coach Hudson is holding something back. It’s not excitement, it’s acceptance in how he conveys his thoughts to me. We chat a bit about the race while more women come through, and the men’s leaders break the tape. Then the phone rings, it’s Allie.
It is almost instantaneous, Coach Hudson transforms into Brad, and is off down the steps of the grandstand. Something isn’t right. I scramble to grab my gear and head off in pursuit, careful not to lose him in the busy grandstand area. It’s not frantic, but Brad is not walking and in a gentle jog, trying to locate Allie. By the time I catch up to him we are almost in the media tent, but struggle to find anyone who might know where the elite athletes will come out.
Out of the park and onto the street we go with more calls attempted. He’s not panicking, but really does want to find Allie. It’s now more than twenty one minutes since Allie has crossed the line, and about seven minutes since the call came in. Frustration sets in.
We figure Allie will head back to the hotel so we start heading south down Central Park West where we finally connect with Allie at Columbus Circle. Amongst a sea of people trying to make their way around the packed South West corner of Central Park, Allie is obviously disappointed and Brad, having found his friend, reverts back to Coach Hudson and slips into an immediate debrief with his athlete. After a quick hug from a friend oblivious to the anxiety Allie, and Coach Hudson just experienced for the last fourteen minutes and eleven seconds since the first call from Allie comes in, we start walking back to the hotel.
You can see Allie’s facial expressions in the photos progress from upset, to relaxed. Her brow no longer furrowed. An occasional smile pops up on her face while I float around with the long lense trying to capture the pair as they make their way through the throngs of spectators.
Coach Hudson is doing his job. He is making Allie feel comfortable.
The debrief continues while the pair walk down W 54th St back towards the hotel. All that time they’ve spent together over the last eleven months, and especially the last four weeks living and training together in Buffalo, is coming into play. The quality of their relationship is evident.
I have to leave the pair when we get back to the hotel as Allie has requirements I’m not privy to as media, and I head off to take notes, and digest the events of the morning. It isn’t until an hour and a bit later that I reconnect with the duo, along with the rest of the Oiselle family at Radio Amsterdam. It’s as if many hours have passed and Allie is back to her old self. Smiling, laughing, and joking with familiar faces.
Allie signs some cards Oiselle is handing out to fans, we have a drink, and all talk about the race. I think back to earlier this morning after the buses leave for the start line when Coach Hudson tells me Allie was in such a heavy sleep the night before the race that she almost slept in. This young woman is mentally tough, and emotionally sound.
"She's a racer."
Disappointed and frustrated by her result that was hindered by the pace of the lead pack stuttering during early nutrition stations, and a tactical error that Coach Hudson takes full responsibility for, makes today’s effort “feel much harder than last year” Allie admits. The collaboration continues during a debrief Monday morning with a closer look at the splits, Coach Hudson acknowledges that they went over a number of scenarios, but they didn’t cover what happened in the first half of the race when the lead pack surged.
“The data said she should have gone when they went, but back off if the pace got too hot.” Allie held back. “She listened to me and ran great, but I’m taking ownership for this…it was a tactical error, but we are learning” says Coach Hudson.
He happily says that the way Allie closed in the second half of the 2018 NYC Marathon told him one thing, “god damn, she can make the Olympic team.”
By late Monday morning, Coach Hudson is already in his car, headed to Buffalo, NY to pack up and take his things back to Boulder, CO in preparation to head to Iten with Allie in a few weeks. He already has a list of items they can work on, and things they did well.
“We need to be a little more detail oriented. We tweaked things just enough to learn from them,” but he acknowledges a better routine is necessary.
We. The two of them. Together.
This is something Allie also mentioned to me a couple days earlier in the hospitality suite. This team is on the same page. They communicate well and they are learning. Despite being happy with the decision to come back down to sea level from the 8,228′ up that Allie was living at in Nederland, CO for a large portion of this training cycle, the unfamiliar surroundings of Buffalo led to a lack of ancillary services and that hurt their routine. They will remedy that for the next training block.
“I don’t know anyone I’ve ever coached who was more in” than Allie, Coach Hudson offers me.
What impressed Coach Hudson most about Allie this weekend, “is how she handled it.” By the time the sun comes up on Monday morning, Coach Hudson tells me that she is “super fucking pumped to come roaring back.”
"I grew as a person in the last four weeks at sea level with Allie, and hopefully as a coach."
After spending the better part of a week with Allie Kieffer and Brad Hudson, I can without question state that what they have going on at team I Run With Allie is special. I got a glimpse in Boulder and absolutely had to turn this rock over and explore here in New York for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon.
From the race course to the Instagram videos of training runs, foam fingers, and Allie heads, these two are having fun. Their coach-athlete relationship is a magnet for people because they are not only entertaining, people are genuinely interested in their relationship. A relationship that Coach Hudson is certain makes him a better person and a better coach, but the real question is, will it make Allie Kieffer an Olympian? That answer will come on Feb. 29, 2020 in Atlanta.