Q&A with Coach Julie Stackhouse

Coach Julie Stackhouse, CEO of Stackhouse Fitness and USATF Levels I, II, III Certified Coach, has racked up quite the list of accomplishments: She is an NCHSSA Track & Field and Cross Country Hall of Fame athlete. She is also distinguished as the NC “100 To Remember” as her undefeated streak and record 16 individual state championship titles in track and cross country stands in events ranging from the 100m hurdles to cross country and everything in between. She has earned the title of the Gate River Run 15k National Championships First Coast Cup Female Champion four times as well as the top Masters Female in 2020. She boasts at 16:52 5k PR, 1:16 half marathon PR; and at 10:17 Full Ironman PR.

Coach Stackhouse has a Masters degree in Kinesiology from Furman University and competes as a Brooks ambassador. Professionally, Julie is a corporate wellness director in the Jacksonville business community and coaches athletes of all ages to achieve their personal bests at every level. She conducts strength training for Jenna Hutchins, a phenomenal high school student-athlete from Tennessee, who just set national records in cross country (15:58) and the 5,000m in track (15:34), along with several other promising young athletes throughout the southeast. Prior to founding Stackhouse Fitness, Stackhouse was an NCAA DI Coach for a decade at renowned institutions all over the country, helping to claim one Southeast Regional XC women's team title before making fitness and wellness a lifetime pursuit in the individual and corporate realm.

How did you decide to get into coaching?

I have always loved the sport and have been involved in some capacity since 3rd grade. I was competing as a graduate student while pursuing my Masters in Kinesiology at Furman University and helped to host the 2001 NCAA XC Championships. I had the opportunity to experience the sport at the highest level from a coaching and meet management standpoint. I was completely hooked. I've been coaching for 20 years (10 years NCAA D1; 10 years as a small business owner).

How does your experience as a top athlete influence your coaching?

While I do not think that you need to have experienced something to be a good coach, I do think it helps. Understanding a student-athlete's needs, their energy demands (as a student first), their mindset, how important their craft is to them and especially listening. As a young athlete I was exposed to numerous coaches and coaching philosophies, but eventually by trial and error and growth and experience, I developed my own strong set of beliefs. The opportunity to pass the baton to an athlete who has their entire career in front of them is so rewarding. It's a rewarding feeling to know that I could help them to navigate some of the pitfalls I experienced a little bit better.

What makes you happiest as a coach?

“Run Happy” is my motto as I am a Brooks ambassador. This does not mean that every day feels awesome or is a PR. Some days you just need to show up, put one foot in front of the other and know that it is all part of the process of becoming a better ____________ (coach, athlete, friend, parent, sibling, co-worker, human, etc .)!

There is no better feeling than challenging yourself and pushing your limits to become the best version of yourself and the connection in helping others work towards realizing their fullest potential. I get the same thrill watching an athlete work hard to surpass a perceived limit or shatter a record they were not sure they could achieve, as I do when they're crossing the finish line banner and breaking the tape. The beautiful part about what I do in fitness is that sometimes those banners are huge - cancer, overcoming a debilitating injury, overcoming the loss of a loved one, divorce, etc. We all have obstacles in our lives and running is an incredible vehicle for change and empowerment.

Which sports moment inspired you as an athlete and/or coach?

Joan Benoit winning the first Olympic women's marathon. This feat and her legendary status speak for themselves, but what she continues to do for women's running is commendable. Through the years I have been fortunate to get to know her as a friend and she continues to inspire generations of young women in our sport. But as far as in-person events go, I was enthralled by the Olympics in Atlanta in high school, the World T&F Championships in Spain when I was in college, and as an adult, attending the London Olympics. There is nothing like the thrill of the Olympic games in all its glory.

What's your best memory as a coach?

Watching Jenna Hutchins etch her name in history as she boldly set the national record in the 5000m on the track. Also, the pure joy and emotion in her dad's voice when he called me moments after she shattered the XC national record earlier this year. What I told him then with tears dabbing my eyes rings true now: the result is unlike any ever posted before but the way in which it was achieved is admirable and rare. Jenna is a true champion in every measure of the word, as she did things the RIGHT way during such uncertain times, bringing others up along with her in the process and inspiring so many along the way. There is no greater feeling as a coach.

What's the best coaching advice you've ever received?

The best coaching advice I have ever received is that, when an athlete is talented, you can learn just as much from them as they can learn from you (maybe more). I have carried this through in the way I coach athletes - I like for them to be active participants in the coaching process. Communication is number one, always! Especially when remote coaching is involved, which has been the name-of-the-game this year.

What's your go-to resource for inspiration?

I am an avid reader, so I love running, coaching, and leadership books. I think I have read most every book out there on these topics! This year I have been on a big Brene Brown kick. I also enjoy talking to the coaches at the highest level in the profession I respect and who have become friends through the years. Lately, I am delving into podcasts more.

How do you wind down from coaching?

Hmm ... this is where I am supposed to say how I find balance, right? In my experience, those who truly love what they do and are working hard to do it at the highest level possible do not often have "balance" in their lives. Because my hobby is my passion, is my job, is my business, is my livelihood, it can be all-consuming (as I also know from my experience in the NCAA).

I think the key is to make sure that you have a good support system and to slow things down when necessary. I know ... we don't really like that phrase. This was the year we all had to slow down though, right? Good and necessary things can come out of that time. I used the time creatively to write more, read, cook, hike, spend quality time with family and acquire some new certifications.

How do you keep athletes motivated and energized while ensuring that they take training seriously?

Most athletes I work with are very serious, dedicated and driven, so more often than not it is less about motivation and more about helping them to also find ways to disconnect and relax. Reminding them that rest is a critical component of training, which includes mental rest. Sometimes less is more, or as I like to say, "addition by subtraction."

What's your best advice for preventing athletic injuries?

In addition to the rest element, listening to your body. Staying healthy and demonstrating consistency over time is the best way to improve in the sport and to have the best experience possible.

My entire coaching platform is built upon this premise. I am a believer that the “small things” add up to make big differences, over time. My coaching is very much geared towards not just the big workouts but the attention to detail in these small things. No stone is left unturned, so to speak. Control the controllables, develop potential options for the others, and let the rest go! 

As for the bigger issues, sound nutrition and proper mechanics are top priorities. How we fuel our bodies is vital not only to success but health and longevity. The beauty of running is that it can be a lifelong sport if the athlete truly enjoys it and remains healthy. I want them to be able to continue in the sport long after they have left my tutelage. I always have the long game in mind and am very patient.

What do you wish more athletes knew or did before they started working one-on-one with a coach?

I think a lot of athletes (of all ages) compare too much to what other athletes are doing on social media. Workouts, training, GPS trackers, etc. are more accessible now than ever, which can be great - but also very damaging. 

I like to say that literally every body is different. What works for one person may not apply to another. There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to training. It is both a science and an art. So, while some beneficial plans do exist online as valuable resources, I think an athlete serious about achieving the next level should write down their goals and seek to find a coach who most closely aligns with their values ​​in helping them to develop a road map to safely and effectively achieving them (with some “run happy” along the way, of course!). To achieve a new result, you have to be willing to try something you've never done before.

Do you have any pre-race rituals, like visualization, for your athletes or yourself?

I do! I am an advocate of visualization and strongly believe it was (and is) responsible for most of my success as an athlete. It's something I work diligently with young athletes on. Even more so this year, I have learned about the importance of breath work. The breath controls the mind, the mind controls the body. I believe that you can develop mental toughness and flex your mental muscles just like your physical. I like to reinforce these good habits and exercises in training, as I believe that your confidence on race day comes from your preparation. My mental exercises will mirror the progression of the training plan and season.

What about the industry most excites you?

It is evolving constantly. This year specifically, the fitness industry was rocked and reinvented. I love the challenge of adapting to people's needs - the work-from-home or home school demands, or just ever-changing schedules means that flexibility and a positive mindset concerning "going with the flow" is critical more now than ever in terms of success. Equally exciting to me is what is happening with the advancement of women's running, and I feel privileged to have a leadership role in helping to shape and expand these opportunities for young women.

What's your top tip for those who are interested in coaching?

For those interested in coaching, I would advise you to put some time and thought into what your philosophy is. I wrote mine out as a young student-athlete when I was still competing as an undergraduate at Clemson University and had a total of 9 coaches in a two-year span there.

I think it is natural that a lot of coaches tend to coach the way they were coached, initially. This can be a disservice to the athletes you are working with though, remembering that no two people or two teams from one year to the next are exactly alike. If you have the time, seek out the coaches at the programs you respect - and those do not always have to be the "best" programs. Look to coaches who have taken athletes who may have been mediocre and really helped them to improve. Take an online course - or several. Ask if you can observe some sessions. Pick up a rake or stopwatch and volunteer at a track meet. Remember, the "small things..."

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