Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Catching up with Redwood HS Nykky Graydon

Today we catch up with Redwood HS coach, Nykky Graydon. She has been the cross country and track and field coach for the past few years after the retirement of Laura and Jake Schmitt at the end of the 2019 Track and Field season. Under Graydon's tutelage, the Redwood cross country teams just swept the MCAL races and will be among the top teams in the NCS Division II races. Thank you to Nykky for the following in-depth interview!

1)What was your own athletic experience before and during high school? What sports did you play? Highlights?
I grew up doing Martial arts, I’m a 5th-degree black belt in Taekwondo, and spent middle and high school competing year-round (photo to the right courtesy of Redwood Bark). I won a few State Champion and National Champ titles while I was competing and competed for World Champion as well. In college, I kept doing martial arts and also started rowing. Rowing was surreal to me, I loved being on the water and racing with my teammates. Made all my best friends do it, I loved everything about it, pushing thru hard workouts, technique work, learning the boats, racing, it was all-around amazing to me. As for running, I started running in high school as part of being fit for competition, and in college, my rowing coach sent us on tons of 6 mile runs (always 6). Lead me to do some silly half marathons like Disney Stars Wars and also do the Gold Gate Relay a few times, but I never was a Cross Country runner.  

2) Who were the coaches that had the biggest impact on you as an athlete and what did you learn from them?

My taekwondo instructor Senior Master Josh Segal. He cared so much about all of us, he wanted us to be great regardless of whether or not we were on the competition circuit, that matters to me a lot as an XC and Track coach. There are so many kids who joined because they love running or they love the team feeling, I want them to have that. I don’t need them all to love the competition part in the same way.  In martial arts, we spent a lot of time talking about doing the right thing, being respectful, how to show integrity, discipline, and perseverance. I learned how to teach from him, how to treat people and stand up and do the right thing. I hope I’m giving the kids I’m coaching the confidence to do the same. 


3) What led you into coaching and what sports did you coach before taking over the Redwood XC and TF programs?

I coached middle school Track and Field during my student teaching. At my first teaching job, I coached high school badminton for 5 years and Freshman Volleyball for 5 years. I started helping coach Track and Field in 2018 at Redwood during my first semester teaching there, I became the high jump coach and helped with sprints for my first two seasons. Then my first full year I got hired as Redwood Freshman Volleyball coach and did that for 4 years, I helped at varsity games too, we won State last year. This was the first year I didn’t coach Freshman Volleyball and Cross Country at the same time since taking over the Cross Country program. I missed volleyball a lot but it was so nice to devote everything to Cross Country. 


4) Aside from coaching, what is your other occupation?

I’m a Physical Education teacher at Redwood. I love my students and the curriculum I get to teach. 


5) What led you to coach the cross country and track and field teams at Redwood? How daunting was that following the Schmitts (photo to the left courtesy of Marin Independent Journal)?

When I got hired at Redwood our AD asked me about coaching. She had Laura Schmitt call me and she hired me over the phone, she said she could tell right away I had good energy. I had Track and Field experience and was an assistant coach for two seasons before taking over however, I didn’t help with Cross Country my first year because I was coaching Volleyball. Laura and Jake gave me a training plan for XC and me and my two assistant coaches just went for it. It was really hard, I had a ton of people doubting me, I don’t ‘look like a runner’ and that still comes up. I was getting emails from people whose kids were still in elementary school questioning my ability to coach. It was crazy. As far as my XC knowledge at that point, it wasn’t amazing but I did so much to prepare and learn. Coming in at a big disadvantage made me work really hard, I know I give everything I can to my athletes so that part has paid off. Came a long way since then and still always learning. 


6) How did it go during the first year? Highlights and what did you learn from those experiences?

During my first year, I really wasn’t sure what I was getting into, I’d been given some warnings I shouldn’t have taken. But from the second I was got the job all I wanted was to be good at this, to do right by the kids I’m coaching. I read over 30 different running coaching books, I spent COVID zooming with other coaches, attending anything offered that I could, watching recording coaching classes (watched McFarland), went over strength plans with physical therapists to try and injury-proof my athletes, talked other coaches about plans and philosophy and strategy. I am still doing everything I can to learn more about the sport, reading, still going to zooms, clinic’s and bugging lots of other coaches.

I had 4 runners who made huge difference Hudson Grace,  Sahil Kapila, Helena Janku and Tyler Woods who all ran prior 1-3 years. While there were growing pains with them too, their support and leadership was huge. They were all amazing, positive leaders that really stepped up to help their team and me.

The highlight was how things turned out. There was so much joy at our ended of season banquet, the kids had fun and felt they had a successful season.

                For the girls, we got off the waiting list for Clovis somehow, went and the girls won first place which no one was expecting even though we’d done well. Suddenly it was like shit we are good and the girls loved each other so much, just made for a successful season, they just kept winning. They won MCAL’s my first year, scared me at NCS and took 4th and had a blast at State.                                   

The boy's side was rougher, they were dealing with a new coach and Liam Anderson just having graduated so finding a team identity took a little longer there but it was a solid season. We laid a strong foundation that year and the boys team culture is a total 180 from that first year, everything is competitive, focused and fun and they are racing so well. 


7) This past week, your teams won both MCAL varsity races. Was that the expectation before the meet and how do you feel about your team's chances at NCS and beyond (photo to the right courtesy of Marin Independent Journal)?

It was definitely the goal to win both but our league always has great runners everywhere. We’ve had a rough last month however for the boys and a rough season for the girls injury-wise. Essentially all of my boys 2-9, have been sick in the last month and just recovered enough to run. We were still confident about them doing well, just always that healthy amount of nervousness. 

On the girl's side, we knew Archie Williams was a big threat, they’ve got a lot of great young runners, then on our side one of my top 7 girls had a knee injury that ended her season a few weeks before. They knew they really had to fight for it, I’m really proud of how they did. 


I’m so excited for post-season, I think NCS will be fantastic for both teams. D2 is a rough division but I think both teams will hold their own at State, it was great for the boys to get the experience in the Championship race at Clovis, now they’ve already raced with the big names and worked through that and the girls took 3rd in large school which is a nice confidence builder. It’ll also be Daegan Cutter's first year running State since last year and illness took him out so I’m excited to see him run. 


8) Since you have been coaching the XC and TF teams, what coaches have been the biggest mentors for you? What have you learned from them?

Warren Lanier from Terra Linda and Robyn Berry from Archie Williams. I call them all the time.  Robyn has such a successful program and her boys are always having fun while working really hard, she also took over for a big name, so she’s had a lot of insight for me. She is always willing to listen to me and talk through decisions with me. Warren is freaking smart, he has so much knowledge about the sport and the rules. He’s also incredibly kind and willing to share. Talking to both of them always gives me so many ideas and helps me find the best ways to help my athletes. They both have supported me a lot, there were some outside-of-my-team factors at the end of the last school that was hard. I almost didn’t get to coach the boys, but my boys made sure that didn’t happen, and Robyn and Warren helped me during it all.  Also, have to shout out my wife, she is one of my assistant coaches and our head merch designer, while not a mentor she’s a huge support. 

9) What do you feel are some of the advantages the Redwood teams have had that have made them so successful in distance running all these years (photo to the right courtesy of Redwood Bark)?

I think running and being active is part of the Marin culture from a young and that has really helped, along with some good middle school feeders where the kids have fun doing XC. It is also one of the most beautiful places to run ever with so many trails. Also, all the XC coaches in Marin get along and like each other, we want each other’s programs to do well so there's good support. Being able to kick off the season with the Stinson Beach Relays and support each other at invites helps everyone, kids want to join a positive and competitive culture.  


10) What are your expectations of your runners during the summer? Team Camp?

Run. Cross train, don’t get hurt. I give a general training plan, and we meet a few times a week in different spots around Marin. We are hoping the big new tradition will be attending the HSU Distance Camp, we are rallying everyone to do that. We did a Tahoe camp year before last, and it was a blast but it limited the number of kids we could take and it is really important to me that the whole team can be involved. 


11) What does a typical week look like for your runners? Typical mileage for your experienced varsity runners? Repeated workouts? Weightroom work? Length of longest runs? 

Favorite repeated workout is the ‘race workout’ 

800m - 1600m - 800m - 1600m - 800m on a 800 loop. 

The first 800 is ‘400 kick, 400 settle’, then 1600’s at at tempo, middle 800 is 5k pace, then 1600’s at at tempo again, and the last 800 is 400 settle pace and 400 finish. We do a shorter version for the younger runners at the start of the season and modify it in different ways with different focuses. 


Monday: weight room, easy run, hill sprints. 

Tuesday: Quality Day + Band work 

Wednesday: Long/Med Easy Run and Strides + Med Ball work 

Thursday: Quality Day + Band Work 

Friday: Med Easy Run and Strides + Med Ball Work 

Weekend: Long Run with captains 


12) Anything else you would like to add?

I think I talked too much already, thanks for this! 

 (Cross Country Express)

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