Interview with Elizabeth DeBole – Stanford Women’s XC Coach

Elizabeth DeBole coaches Stanford's women's distance runners, and in her first two seasons as head women's cross country coach she led the Cardinal to a pair of top-five NCAA finishes, including a podium-finish of fourth in 2017.

DeBole, who has completed four academic years on staff, has collected two NCAA West Region Coach of the Year awards. She was Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2016 and Indoor Coach of the Year in 2017, the latter largely for her work with Elise Cranny and Vanessa Fraser, who combined to help Stanford to an NCAA runner-up finish in the distance medley relay.

The Loudonville, New York, native was a two-time USTFCCCA All-Academic selection and earned Big East Conference Scholar-Athlete honors. She then became a volunteer assistant coach at Georgetown before coming to Stanford. She is married to Matt DeBole, also a former runner at Georgetown. They have a son, George.

Bio taken from Stanford Track and Field website.

It looks like you have had a long career at the top level of track and field, including a PR of 15:15.27 in the 5k and top 10 at five US Championships. What advice do you have for young runners wanting to achieve a similar level in their running career?

Be patient and have fun! I always ran my best when I was truly enjoying it – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! Running is really, really hard so you better enjoy doing it! Patience is key in that it takes a lot of hard work to improve, and many times you don’t see the hard work pay off right away. You need to have a telescope AND a microscope: a telescope to keep your eye on your big goals and a microscope to help you get a little bit better every day. If you’re patient, you’ll be presented with opportunities to take advantage of and run fast!

What do you think parents and athletes should look for in a running program?

Look for programs where you feel like you fit in and can easily talk with the coach. Training is a piece of the puzzle but truly believing and trusting in the coach and his or her process is far and away the most important thing. And in order to be successful, you need to have open communication. If you aren’t comfortable talking with the coach about uncomfortable topics, it’s going to be really hard to improve!

We are always exploring ways to keep to keep our athletes healthy and mitigate injury. Do you have any exercises you use for your athletes to avoid injury?

We don’t have any specific exercises, but I go back to the importance of communication! For us, we don’t run a lot of mileage or do super hard workouts – we really focus on consistency over time. So when we write a workout, we need to be sure we’re talking with our athletes each day to be sure we are staying in the correct energy zone AND recovering afterward. When you stop fully recovering from workouts, you enter into potential injury territory!! Running easy, sleep, and building in time to have fun is so important!

From the perspective of a collegiate athlete, how did you balance academics and athletics?

It’s all about time management! We sit down with all of our freshmen and talk about what their goals are on the track and the process for how to get there. It is also very helpful for me to get on the same page with what the athletes want to accomplish. Then we come up with a roadmap of how to get there: how they are going to prioritize academics and training…and what they are going to say no to. There are only so many hours in each day and with having such big goals, many times that means they can’t do all of the extracurricular activities they want. It’s good practice for life after running! We can’t do everything! So choose what you really want to do and be really good at it!

What led to your decision to coach?

I love helping my athletes grow. It’s hard when to see your athletes struggle (which is unavoidable in track and field!) but watching the succeed on the other side is the absolute best. I had great coaches throughout my career – from high school to college and beyond – and they impacted my life in such a positive way. I wanted to be able to have that same impact on others!

 What have you enjoyed about XC as both an athlete and a coach?

Cross country is so much fun because it’s truly a team effort – you are fighting for every single spot because you know it matters for your teammates. You’re racing for something bigger than yourself. That was the best part of cross country as an athlete and it’s really carried over into coaching, too!

This past weekend was the Indoor National Championship. Elise Cranny was part of the 2nd place Distance Medley Relay (DMR) team and 5th place in the women’s mile. Elise was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of Colorado and has continued to improve and excel through her senior year at Stanford. This is not always the story for top high school recruits. What do you credit to her success throughout her collegiate career?

Elise is awesome. She’s definitely had her ups and downs, that’s just part of the sport. But I think her ability to stay positive and put things in perspective in times of hardship has been the key to her success. Elise really worked on that skill, it didn’t come easily! After the success she had her freshman year, she went through a tough year struggling with injury. But I really give her credit for working on herself and being a really, really, really good teammate — and honestly I think that helped her succeed individually!

Even this past weekend, she wanted more than anything to be on that DMR — even though she had the mile finals the next day. We talked about how racing on the relay (she had to run FAST, too!) could potentially impact her next day when the other competitors were coming in fresh. But she wouldn’t trade that relay experience for anything, and she still fought her way to 5th in the mile and ran a Stanford meet record, too!

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