By Dave Dyer
---- — Andover’s Scott McGrath has made quite an impact on the local running community.
A fine runner in his own right, the 26-year-old McGrath — who runs for the Whirlaway Racing Team — has won the Boston Prep 16-Miler in Derry, N.H., the last two years and has a top marathon time of 2:39. But the University of New Hampshire graduate is making more of a name for himself as a running coach.
McGrath joined the Merrimack Valley Striders as a youth coach and was soon promoted to a full-time assistant, largely working with the scholarship program. He also started his own running program at Bradford Christian Academy in Bradford, where he is a teacher. Previously, he coached at the Hopkinton, N.H., Middle School.
He recently took a group of students from Bradford on a hiking and canoeing expedition in the Adirondacks. When he returned, we caught up with him:
Why did you get into coaching?
“Pretty much just to help out kids who had no exposure to running. I found out I liked it.”
Do you have a general coaching philosophy about running?
“It depends on the athlete and what their goals are. But the staple of my philosophy is running form and technique. A leading misconception is that people run how they run and you can’t change it. You can change it and many times you should.”
What coach was most influential in developing your coaching philosophy?
“My high school coach (at Con-Val High School), Scott Jenkins, was a huge proponent of building core strength. His steadfast approach to training and speed development have stuck with me.
“But Robert Hoppler (at UNH) also had a big impact on me. He always said that runners are athletes so they should live like athletes as far as conditioning, discipline, nutrition and things like that. It’s become the core of my philosophy.”
When should youngsters start running distances?
“I’m no expert, but I think it can be dangerous to run more than a few miles per week before they’re 12 or 13. Kids are still growing and there’s the danger of getting burned out mentally and physically, especially if they’re being pushed by parents.”
What’s your best advice for avoiding injuries?
“I encourage kids to always run on soft surfaces. I caution against running on pavement and I encourage trail running. There are so many places around here, at parks, reservations, where you can do it.
“Footwear is also a big issue. Some parents purchase a lower-quality shoe for their kids and that’s a big mistake.”
What’s your opinion of cross training? Is it a valuable tool or is the best way to become a better runner just to stick to running?
“I think for those who can stand the stress and volume needed, they should spend their time with running. But if they can’t, (cross training) can be beneficial.”
What’s the best alternative sport to running?
“A lot of people will disagree with me, but I think it’s cycling. A couple of years ago, because of some injuries, I had to take some time off and I got into cycling. After I’d been doing it for quite awhile, I decided to run a 10K race and I ran around 33 minutes having done very little running. That told me something.”
Does coaching others help you with your own running?
“Absolutely. When I give others a workout, it reminds me that I should be doing the same thing. I see how hard others are working at it and I know I need to do the same thing.”
What races are you most proud of?
“I’m proud of my second marathon, finishing ninth at Cape Cod (in 2:39:13), and I’m proud of returning and winning the Boston Prep race.”
Any future running goals?
I want to improve my marathon time when I run in the Manchester Marathon (in November) and I want to do well in the New England Grand Prix (series).”