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Olympian Amy Rudolph is Coaching Champions at Iowa State

The former American record holder shares her passion for the sport as associate head women’s cross-country and assistant track and field coach at Iowa State University.

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At the beginning of each season, Amy Rudolph sits down with each of her athletes. Together, they write out goals and plot out how to reach them.

Even in a non-pandemic year, she emphasizes the need for flexibility. “We have a plan, but it’s not written in stone. Most of the time you’re going to have to deviate and be flexible,” she says.

Done well, coaching works like a puzzle. Rudolph thrives on taking the pieces apart, learning what training method and mental approach works for each athlete, then reassembling them into a team effort.

Times and places matter, of course. “When someone has that breakthrough race or that breakthrough workout, you just can’t put a dollar amount on that,” she says. But Rudolph derives even more satisfaction in sharing lessons they’ll take beyond running, to their next adventures. “It’s just so much fun to watch them blossom.”

Early Inklings and Lifelong Friendships

Rudolph ran her first race at age 6. “I was hooked instantly,” she said. Starting in middle school and high school, at Kane Area High School in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, she began to take the sport more seriously.

Though she saw success at an individual level, the collective aspects of the sport fueled her. “The team aspect of cross-country and track, the relays—I loved getting everybody fired up,” she says. “I think that was probably the coach in me at a young age.”

She went on to run at Providence College, where she was a 10-time All-American. In 1994, she won the NCAA National Championships in both the indoor miles and outdoor 1,500 meters.

Her Providence coach Ray Treacy, who now coaches Emily Sisson and Molly Huddle, continued to guide her professional career. Over 13 years, she twice won the U.S. Indoor Championships in the 3,000 meters and represented the country seven times at the World Championships.

In 1996, she placed 10th in the 5,000 meters at the Olympics in Atlanta and also set the American record at the distance, a 14:58:04 in Stockholm. She went to the Olympics again in 2000, where she placed 21st in the 5,000 meters in Sydney.

Along the way, she cultivated a group of professional runners and coaches who were mentors and confidants. “Women who were at the top of their game when I was first getting out of college were very gracious and took me under their wing,” she says—Olympians like Suzy Favor Hamilton and Mary Decker Slaney. “They gave me a lot of great advice I still use today and pass on to my athletes.”

Women’s distance running was gaining momentum, and high-profile athletes like Deena Kastor, Jen Rhines, and Carrie Tollefson also became friends. With them, Rudolph shares a passion for the sport of running and for giving back to future generations. “I’ve been doing this for so long. I love being able to share what I’ve learned in my experiences, to help young athletes get better,” she says.

Amy Rudolph leans over a chain-link fence
Coach Amy Rudolph at the 2018 Big 12 Outdoor Track & Field Championship.

Flipping the Stopwatch

Rudolph married Providence teammate Mark Carroll after college. His career as a professional runner included two Olympics representing his native Ireland, but it ended before hers. When he got a coaching job at Auburn University in Alabama in 2009, Rudolph moved with him.

By that time, she figured coaching was her future, too. All the paid positions at Auburn were filled, so she volunteered for eight years. There, she learned the ropes of the coaching role, everything from team meetings to scholarships to training.

“I was a sponge during that time, soaking up all the different aspects of it,” she says. “It’s not just going out to the track and holding a stopwatch. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.”

Though it wasn’t always easy, the experience confirmed it was the path she wanted to take. When Carroll was hired as the director of track and field and cross-country at Iowa’s Drake University in 2017, Rudolph was hired as an assistant coach on the women’s side. She was just wrapping up her first year when the Iowa State job opened up.

“It was something I wasn’t sure if I was ready for, because I had only had one year where it was like, ‘Yeah, this is my job, I’m getting paid to do it,’” she says. “But everything just kind of fell into place, and it was something I couldn’t turn away.”

Iowa State’s Cyclones were already on a roll, winning the Big 12 cross-country championship the month before her arrival (and placing 20th at the NCAA National Championship the previous year). She spent much of her first year observing and taking notes, not wanting to interfere with the way the athletes (especially the seniors) were working toward their goals.

Soon, though, she began instituting small improvements. For instance, she noticed many athletes had glute and hip issues. So, she introduced a pre-run activation—5 to 10 minutes of body squats, lateral walking, and kicks, with a resistance band—that the athletes immediately responded to. It’s something any athlete could replicate, and that she herself now does regularly before her runs.

Whether it was those small tweaks or her overall philosophy, Rudolph extended the Cyclones’ streak. In her first two seasons at Iowa State, Rudolph guided Cailie Logue, now a senior, to six Big 12 titles, including two consecutive individual cross-country championships and wins in both the 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters in indoor track. Logue and three other athletes have earned All-American honors under her tenure.

While she and her athletes await word on the next year and season, Rudolph has encouraged them to stay connected, view running as a gift, and take the long-term view of the future instead of dwelling on what might have been. For them—and for her, as a coach—she suspects the best is ahead.

“As an athlete, I always wanted to get better. I’ve always said that the day you stop learning about your craft, it’s probably time to hang the spikes up,” she says. “Now I’ve used that mentality in coaching, always trying to get better, always trying to learn and find the balance. One day at a time—it’s a process.”

This story is part of a series on women in coaching, where we highlight female running coaches and their individual paths to success. Find more here, and discover tips from these women to improve your own running here. Feeling inspired? Check out our in-depth look at how to become a college running coach with advice from the coaches featured in this series.