Paul Pilkington, the head coach of the men and women’s cross country program, knows all about winning. It started much earlier than the dominance his teams have shown in winning back-to-back-to-back championships on the women’s side. Pilkington has helped his runners reach their potential because he has been there and done that. He has represented our country on the highest platforms and has coached athletes who have competed in the Olympics.
“I came from moving irrigation pipe to running in the World Championship, and there is a transition that happens mentally,” Pilkington said. “For certain runners, something just clicks, and they are able to exceed all of their expectations.”
Pilkington, who starred his senior year in high school out of Blackfoot, Idaho, only took up running his senior year after spending a lot of his time moving pipe. That manual labor gave him extra training outside of running. With his talent and hard work, eventually Pilkington caught the eye of college coaches.
After attending the College of Southern Idaho and earning All-American honors in the steeplechase, Pilkington brought his talents to Weber State University and in his short, two years he earned an All-American honor in the steeplechase before graduating in 1981.
His success goes past the two All-American honors that he earned in college. As Pilkington got older he started to take on the longer distances and eventually settled on the marathon.
His coming-out party just happened to be at the start of 1990 during the Houston Marathon. A race that would change his life forever, it not only allowed him to pursue a professional career as a runner but allowed him to further his schooling as well. His time of 2:11:13 put him on the map and gave him the boost he was looking for.
“I was teaching school at the time and not making a lot of money,” Pilkington said. “All of a sudden, I made more in one race than I had made the whole entire year teaching. That was big. Houston (marathon) allowed me to go to graduate school, run full-time and get a master’s degree.”
One of his most famous moments came in 1994 when he was called on to be a rabbit for the Los Angeles Marathon. A rabbit is someone who is hired to get the elite runners through splits at specific times either predetermined by the event or athletes. That marathon was also designated as the U.S. track and field marathon championships.
As he noticed that the other runners weren’t going to go with his surge, he just continued and ended up winning the race. Pilkington’s win in the marathon marked the last time an American won the Los Angeles Marathon.
Pilkington’s win came as a surprise to Luca Barzaghi of Italy, who had already picked out the color the luxury car that he thought he was going to win. Barzaghi was quoted as saying, “The reason why I didn’t go was because it was my strategy to stay with the elites. I was told the `rabbit’ would drop out.”
Even after that victory and representing his country at World Championship events, Pilkington still feels that some of his best moments have come as a coach, watching his athletes accomplish things that they felt may not have been possible just a season earlier.
“The most satisfying moment would have to be 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.”