26 Feb 2018
Husband and wife coaching team: Caroline Yarnell and Tony Wong
Sydney Striders is one of Australia original and most successful running clubs. A key pair in the development of this running institution has been the husband and wife coaching team of Run C&T - Caroline Yarnell and Tony Wong. In this interesting profile we learn about some of their innovative ideas like encouraging the parents to participate in the training session and a number of the stars to emerge from their tutelage. The sport is fortunate to have Caroline and Tony, two business professionals off the track, guiding our next generation of talent and youth.
How did you become involved in coaching and how did the transition from athlete to coach/athlete evolve?
When our sons joined Manly Warringah Little Athletics, we started coaching the middle-distance group. Then in 2007, Caroline started the juniors section of Sydney Striders, providing free training for all who joined, targeting the Athletics NSW races. Two innovative sessions per week were scheduled to keep training tough but fun, with an element of competition involved.
As athletes, we have always been active members of clubs and training squads, which we think of as communities we feel a part of, and belong in. When we were living in London (pre-2000), we were both part of legendary distance coach Frank Horwill’s South London Squad, with people from all different walks of life. There were professionals, students as well as the unemployed, all training together happily under Frank’s guidance. As coaches, we are known for creating an inclusive community, where a wide variety of young runners come together to train.
During your running career were you thinking about coaching?
Tony: Not really, but I did mentor a few young athletes.
Caroline: Not specifically, however it did fit well with my background working in IT and People Development Training, and teaching group fitness classes on the side.
Now coaching, do you see your own athletics career and coaching differently?
Tony: Yes, if I knew then what I know now. When I was running competitively, I just ran. I didn’t think about my core, cross training, injury prevention and the like.
Caroline: I wish there had been something like our training on offer when I was a girl growing up, as I’d have absolutely loved it. I often remind our athletes how lucky they are!
Has being an athlete helped you in your coaching?
Yes, we feel this is invaluable to understand how training and competing feels, physically as well as mentally. It is also important to understand how running can enhance your life as you live through the various stages. We can offer advice on all aspects of running, as we know the ropes.
What events do you coach? Where do you coach?
We are Sydney Northern Beaches based and call ourselves ‘RUN C&T’, which stands for ‘Run Cross Country and Track’, and ‘Run Caroline and Tony’. Our current squad has 400m runners at the one extreme, and 10k runners at the other. Most of them are active cross country runners in the winter. Parents are welcome to join in for free as long as there is a child in the session – this also helps them appreciate how hard their kids are working.
The standard training week consists of:
Shorter sessions on Monday/Tuesday on the track at Narrabeen.
Longer sessions with hills on Thursdays either around Manly Beachfront or at a local oval.
We encourage everyone to go to Park Runs on Saturdays when there is no competition.
We also hold specialist session on the weekends on style correction and steeplechasing.
Training plans are prepared for those who have reached a certain stage to provide more structure to their training.
Is it fulltime or combined with a career?
Not currently. For 10 years our training was free for Sydney Striders Juniors, so we certainly couldn’t give up the day jobs (Caroline is an academic and Tony is a finance professional). We began charging in 2016, but it is still not going to pay the bills.
Can you tell us about some of the athletes in your squad?
We are in a transition phase at the moment with a few of our older boys graduating into senior men’s squads elsewhere. We currently have a very talented girls’ squad from age 11 to 16. Most of them have competed at National level on cross country and track.
In your career as a coach can you tell us about some highlights or special moments?
There were many since our humble beginnings
Our under 12 and 14 boys winning the State Cross Country Relays for the first time.
The under 14 girls winning the under 14 girls 4x800m at the State Relays and breaking the State record in 2016.
An overjoyed David Gardiner phoning us from the track to tell us he won the NSW Little Athletics 3000m and setting a new state record.
And seeing the athletes support each other.
We also feel very proud of the athletes who came through our “stable”:
Hannah Gibson, member of the 2013 Athletics Australia under 19 Talent Squad.
Lachlan Cooper, 2012 Australian Under 16 boys 1500m champion
Kieren Tall, member of 2017 Australian World Junior Cross Country Team
Nicola Hogg, who won Under 14 girls’ 800m and 1500m at the 2016 Australian All Schools
Josh Phillips, who joined us aged 10, member of the 2015 Athletics Australia Under 16 Development Squad and member of 2017 Australian World Junior Cross Country Team
As an athlete, how do you schedule in coaching and your own training?
Tony: I don’t run as much anymore. After 35 years of running, the body isn’t what it used to be. I try to fit in the occasional runs, bike rides and gym work where I can.
Caroline: I participate in the Tuesday session after leading the warm up. I also run with the newer runners in the Thursday session if at all possible. Then I fit in a long run, parkrun and cross training without too much difficulty. My philosophy is ‘less is more – quality over quantity’ these days.
Why coach? Enjoyable aspects of coaching?
It is very rewarding, not just from seeing great results at the pointy end, but also from seeing improvement in novices and everyone having fun at training. It also keeps us in touch with young people.
Coaching philosophy? Who have been your coaching mentors?
Our philosophy ties in with that of Athletics Australia: create lifelong love of running and exercise, an inclusive community, safe, age appropriate etc. etc. Not at the beck and call of pushy parents.
Frank Horwill is the closest we’d have to a mentor, but we have created our ‘own thing’ – it evolved. Caroline makes the training just what she would have wanted as a young person herself.
Do you have any advice for other coaches?
This would depend on their motivation. If it is their full-time job, we couldn’t really advise. We are not good at making the most possible money, sadly. If they want to be good coaches, keep up to date, try innovative ideas (some may be a flop, but others can become legendary), and keep it fun but competitive at the same time. Don’t talk to kids as if they are twits, and deal with pushy parents firmly.
Your own athletics career highlight/s?
Tony: I didn’t start running until my late teens and never had any real talent. Through hard training, I went under 2 minutes for 800m on the one hand and mid 31s for 10k on the other, as well as picking up the odd medal in County Championships in the UK. Since my 30s, I have run mostly on the roads and travelled overseas to race, which was lots of fun. With the demands of the day job and having a family, the training was wound back and I became a fun runner until the last few years,
Caroline: I was delighted when I came third in the World Masters Athletics W55-59 2K steeplechase in 2016. I was ranked first in the world going into the race, so had hoped to win, but bronze is good. I have won or placed in many events at the National and State level – all when over 40. Before that I worked for British Airways and travelled the world competing in inter-airline races with their athletics club – an example of the opportunities running can give you in life.
Background - Your family/career
Tony: I was born in the U.K, and grew up in Hong Kong. I work as a Finance Professional most of my life, in London from 1988 to 2000 and then in Sydney.
Caroline: I am from sunny England, where my father and one brother still live. My working life began in software engineering, which took me to work for American Airlines in the US for six years when I was 21. I also taught aerobics during that time. I then had a stint of two years living in Barbados, organising the Miss Barbados Beauty Pageant. After that I went back to London to work for British Airways, which is where Tony and I met – at the running track in Battersea, South London. We married in 1993, and have two boys. In 2000, on coming to Australia, I gave up the corporate world and began to ‘reinvent herself’ as an academic. I currently work at the University of Sydney.