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Track coach balances her passion

As an elite runner, Vicki Mitchell ran 60 to 70 miles a week, pounding her way to national championships in the '90s, going the distance for the love of sport.

Today, as track and field coach at the University at Buffalo, 39, Mitchell trains student athletes in middle and distance running. Before that, she taught physical education at Holy Angels Academy. Running matters to Mitchell. It helps keep her on track.

>PT: You live and breathe track, but what else occupies your time?

VM: In the last 10 years, I've learned balance. It took me a long time to separate Vicki the runner from Vicki the coach and Vicki the daughter. I had to learn there were other parts to me, because everything I did was validated by my running. That transition took time.

>PT: Where is your passion?

VM: Right now, it's in coaching. When I first came to UB, I knew I would reach a point where I would have to fully commit to running or coaching. I felt I could help and influence more individuals through coaching. There were other factors, too.

>PT: What did running do to your body?

VM: I ran into long-term fatigue issues, like chronic fatigue. I could sleep 16 hours and barely make it through a workday. That was eight years ago, and I took a long, long time off from really any type of working out. Now I've learned balance, so I still exercise every day, but it's not near the intensity level of what I used to do. This morning was a combination of walking and lifting. I had fun, and I feel great when I'm done.

>PT: You are intense.

VM: I've been told that before. Coaching is a very dynamic lifestyle. Everyone is upbeat and positive. How do I unwind? I haven't mastered that part, yet. I live by myself, which is great, so when I come home and want to work, I do. I'll make some recruiting calls. There's nothing better for me than vegging in front of the TV, or listening to some nice music. I'll hang out with my parents. To me, that's one of the most important aspects of life.

>PT: Music also motivates you, too, right?

VM: Music has been a huge part of my life. I'm a violinist, and have played since I was in third grade. It's very different from running, but in terms of training, I do a lot of running on the treadmill, and it's always with music.

>PT: When did you fall for running?

VM: In college. I was very late in developing in just about everything, so in [Amherst] high school I ran outdoor track and cross country, but I was mediocre. I ran because it kind of got rid of a geeky nerdy image of me being a music person. I started running after doing the 1-mile fitness run in 10th grade. My teachers told me I needed to run cross country, and that's how it all started. If anyone told me then that I would be a college coach and elite runner, I would have laughed.

>PT: What kind of a student were you?

VM: I grew up thinking I was stupid. In grade school, I had remedial reading classes, and I was afraid of the world. In high school Regents classes, I worked my buns off to get Bs. I studied hard, but I was easily intimidated until I found running. In college [at Cortland State], things started to click, and I graduated with honors.

>PT: As a runner, what was your greatest achievement?

VM: Winning cross country nationals, NCAA championships in 1990. I was a senior in college. It was something I never thought I would do.

>PT: How cerebral is running for you?

VM: If I'm on a run or even in a race, chances are my mind is completely free, and within the movement I am doing. There are very little distractions I will let come in. It's my time. If I'm on the treadmill running, or I'm doing a cardio workout, don't come and talk to me. I don't want to be interrupted. It takes me out of my little place, which is a zone.

>PT: Since you were in school, what has changed?

VM: Electronics, for one. We have a rule: No cell phones in practice or at a competition, and I think some of our athletes go through withdrawal when that cell phone stays in their bag. It's that immediacy they have grown up with -- "I want this now, therefore I'll get it now." Whether it be their iPhones or their cell phones, they are constantly distracted. Fifteen years ago we didn't have those distractions.

>PT: Who is your running hero?

VM: Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon. It was the first year women ran the marathon. She is one of the groundbreaking women distance runners. She is very proactive in the sport, even today in her mid-50s. She's also somewhat of a mentor to me.

>PT: What's the last vacation you took that was not work related?

VM: I don't enjoy just going away. Maybe if I were married and had someone to go away with I would do that. I travel so much with the team that my vacation is coming home, hanging out at home -- cleaning painting, things like that, and I'm an avid baker, too.

>PT: Baking? You don't hear that often.

VM: All birthday cakes come from me. I like making novelty cakes. My nieces and nephews get to choose the cake they want, and I get to make it. I've made a four-car train, a Cinderella cake. I am the family baker.

-mail: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com

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