World qualifying runner brings personal experiences to coaching cross-country

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Photo Courtesy of Lena Blagg

Boy’s cross-country coach Stanley Peyton talks to the seniors on the team at a cross-country meet held September 21 at Grottoes Town Park.

Adrian Kavazovic, Print Managing Editor

Since middle school, boys cross-country coach Stanley Peyton has seen running in his future. Ranging from sprinting to long-distance running, Peyton’s done it all. 

“I first started running [at] age 15, but I started sprinting in middle school [during] seventh and eighth grade track,” Peyton said. “Once I got to high school, I continued to run track and field and then made the move to long distance.”

The beginning of Peyton’s running career primarily consisted of sprinting, however as time progressed, he then become a long-distance runner through the influence of his high school track and field coach. 

“I was kind of being forced to [run long distance.] I tell this story to everyone that I coach that has asked me about running. In high school, I was a sprinter and I came to practice one day in between indoor and outdoor track, and [my coach] said ‘Hey, all you guys have to do today is run a practice field,’ which ended up being close to 800 meters. They said you can do this and then go home. I ran that as fast as I could so I could use the extra time to play basketball,” Peyton said. “[The] next day [when] I got to practice, my coach, [the] athletic director and the girl’s coach said ‘Hey, you’re no longer running sprints, you’re a distance runner.’”

With many endeavors, there’s often a fork in the road preventing an individual from pursuing their desires. Peyton’s journey is no different. 

“[My experience with running has] been an incredible journey. Starting off as a sprinter and then not [being] able to run long distance, to where I am now. [There have been] lots of ups and downs through injuries [and] poor seasons, but the older you get, you learn to appreciate running and the cumulative effect that it takes,” Peyton said. 

All throughout his life, running has been prevalent and it still is to this day. 

“[Running] has just been something that I’m good at. When I was growing up, we raced at recess, we raced [during] the mile; it’s only natural that it’s progressed to where it has [from] running high school track and then leading into cross-country in college and where I am now [coaching],” Peyton said. 

This past summer, Peyton had the opportunity to compete for the USA Track and Field Masters in Finland. This opened up a whole new door for Peyton and his running career. 

“I just [returned] from Finland competing for USA Track and Field Masters. New masters [is] for [people] 35 and older, but that was probably the biggest meet [I’ve participated in while] getting to represent the United States,” Peyton said.

Although it may not be the Olympics, it’s a close second. Peyton’s experience was similar to what one may expect at the Olympic Trials for track and field. 

“It’s about as equivalent to the Olympic Trials as you can get without being quite [at] that elite level. It’s cool to go to a different country, get to meet different athletes and then also see other athletes that are running track and field representing the United States,” Peyton said. “It was cool to get to go there, but I got to run rounds, semifinals, prelims. If you’re familiar with the Olympic trials, everything was just about equivalent.”   

Prior to beginning his high school cross-country coaching career, he also coached other sports. Being a Bridgewater College alumnus, he occasionally goes back to support the current cross-country and track teams. 

“I’ve coached flag football, middle school track last year and now [high school cross-country], so those are the only times that I’ve officially coached, but [since] graduating [at] Bridgewater [College], I’ve been back and forth to talk to athletes, to help athletes and running with some of the kids that I know in the city,” Peyton said.

Peyton decided to coach high school cross-country as a way to do his part in the running community. Stanley Peyton

“I [participate with the rest of the team during] just about every practice because I think it could contribute to letting them know that one, coach can do what he’s asking of you, and two, I’m not asking you to do anything that’s outside of the realm of possibilities. [It’s important] just to let them know that even though I’m a lot more seasoned than them, the workouts are still effective,” ”

— Stanley Peyton

“I thought [coaching high school cross-country] was something that I could [do to] give back. Using my knowledge to help the program progress, to help some of the athletes here progress, it was just my way of being able to give back to the community,” Peyton said. 

Despite Peyton making running a career, it hasn’t always been his favorite thing. 

“[I haven’t] always [been into running]. I played basketball, football [and] different sports, but running came naturally. It was something that I had to work at to get better, but it was just a natural fit,” Peyton said. 

Peyton hopes to influence the next generation of runners by ensuring that they give more recognition to running as opposed to pushing it to the back burner. 

“[I hope to influence younger runners] by giving them the appreciation for lifelong running as opposed to a finite thing. One of the things that helped me when I was younger was having a coach that continued to run as well as him instilling the work ethic, the dedication to coming to practice every day [and] the desire to get better,” Peyton said. 

As a way to impact the students on the team, Peyton participates with them during workouts and practices. 

“I [participate with the rest of the team during] just about every practice because I think it could contribute to letting them know that one, coach can do what he’s asking of you, and two, I’m not asking you to do anything that’s outside of the realm of possibilities. [It’s important] just to let them know that even though I’m a lot more seasoned than them, the workouts are still effective,” Peyton said. 

With every experience comes setbacks. Something Peyton had to withstand was severe Achilles tendonitis. He thought his running career would be history.

“[The biggest difficulty I’ve faced with running is] the different number of injuries and setbacks [that come with it.] Going back to a year ago, I had a pretty significant Achilles tendonitis injury along with some bone spurs and I thought my running career would be over. The process of getting from that point of the injury back to where I was not only able to run but able to compete in Finland was a big ordeal for me,” Peyton said. It’s still a constant battle dealing with this type of injury and [its] setbacks, but you learn that A, you can get through it, B, it takes dedication and hard work and C, you really have to take care of your body.” 

Peyton’s greatest ambition for his students is to have them gradually improve over the course of the season. 

“I tell [the students] this every day: our goal is to get 1% better every day.  Trust the workouts, the coaches are here for a reason, myself and Coach MJ Saunders. We’re going to get you to where you want to be, but just trust the process,” Peyton said. “Don’t look at anybody else’s times or anything else, trust that what we’re doing is going to be beneficial for you and we’re going to put you in the spot to get 1% better every day.” 

The biggest thing Peyton has gathered through running is to never give up regardless of what comes your way.

“[Through running, I’ve learned] to continue to persevere with your setbacks. You could feel good one day, training can go well for weeks and then you have a bad day, but that’s not the end of it,” Peyton said.