It took Paul Pilkington, the head coach of the men’s and women’s cross-country teams at Weber State University, two hours, 11 minutes and 13 seconds to win the 1990 Houston Marathon, an event that changed his life forever.
“I was teaching school at the time and not making a lot of money,” he said. “All of a sudden, I made more in one race than I had made the whole entire year teaching. That was big. Houston allowed me to go to graduate school, run full-time and get a master’s degree.”
Pilkington was an elite runner back in the late ’80s to early ’90s, but it all started in the irrigation fields of Blackfoot, Idaho.
“I started running during the summer while moving the irrigation pipe,” he said. “We would get strong enough that we could run the 32 rows while carrying pipe. We only had a short period of time to get the job done, so we would have to run pretty fast, but I did not even realize that I was training. But I only ran my senior year, but luckily I had a coach that helped me out a lot. He had faith that I could run in college, so that is what I did.”
That was the start of a lengthy running career that included an All-American award in the steeplechase while running for WSU, representing the United States of America in the World Championships, and winning the 1994 Los Angeles marathon. Being an “elite” did have some huge obstacles for Pilkington, such as food poisoning for seven months or the pressure of running fast enough to take care of a wife and three children.
“I had pressure to perform well, but it was positive pressure,” he said. “I had the mindset that I was going to hurt real bad today, because I want my kids to have what they need.”
Through his experiences from running around the world, Pilkington was able to help others, both in high school and college, reach their full potential.
“I came from moving irrigation pipe to running in the World Championship, and there is a transition that happens mentally,” he said. “For certain runners, something just clicks, and they are able to exceed all of their expectations.”
Since bringing his talents to the men’s and women’s cross-country teams in December of 2006, Pilkington has had a great deal of success, most recently by leading the women’s team to participate in the NCAA National Championships last year. He said he gets the same joy from seeing his runners succeed as he did when he competed well in races.
“The most satisfying moment would have to be was when Lindsey Anderson made the Olympic team back in 2008, just because that is so rare,” he said. “Also, I get a great thrill at seeing walk-ons doing things such as scoring at the conference championships, because they have progressed and they may have developed their talent as far as it goes.”