Chris Schrader has shared his knowledge with teens across the globe
Chris Schrader knows how to run a long race—but not just on the track. Going the distance takes meticulous planning, determination, and the courage to ask for help. It’s a strategy Chris has used throughout his life. When he wanted to build a house in Georgetown, Chris scoured hundreds of architectural plans, took countless pictures of other homes in the city, and talked with builders in order to design—and help build—a custom home for his family.
But home building isn’t why dozens of teenagers and their parents wake up in the wee hours on Sunday mornings and drive ten, twenty, or even seventy miles to meet him at the Williamson County Regional Park. Or why a thousand kids before them have turned to Chris.
They come because Chris Schrader knows how to run a long race.
Learn, you must
Chris learned the secrets of distance running halfway around the world. When he was ten, Chris’s family moved from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Melbourne, Australia. The 5,000-plus-mile trip took him from living on a sprawling thirteen-acre property with gardens and fruit trees—a young explorer’s paradise—to squeezing into a house bursting at the seams. “We went from this ginormous property to a house that was a thousand square feet with six boys, one bathroom, and a kitchen where the dining table took up more space than half the cabinets,” Chris remembers.
In Sri Lanka, Chris was a Dutch Burgher, a descendant of Dutch immigrants who flocked to Sri Lanka in the 17th century and became the ruling class. After Sri Lanka gained independence from the British Empire in 1948, the political climate changed. In 1963, the Schraders followed other Dutch Burgher families to Australia. Suddenly, Chris was a poor foreigner whose accent and darker skin made him stand out.
“Anybody that called me a name, I’d fight,” says Chris. He needed to excel in something where superficial differences like skin color didn’t matter. When Chris started at Heidelberg High School, he discovered it: distance running.
Cross country running is popular in Australia. At Heidelberg, only the ten fastest runners made the school’s team. Chris had never run long distance before, but that didn’t stop him from challenging his peers to a race. He came in third place and learned something. “I realized that I can run, but I’m going to have to work,” Chris explains. “I dreamed up these workouts, and I worked out for two months. When track season came, I beat the people who beat me before.”
At sixteen, Chris joined the Ivanhoe Harriers, a running club for teens and adults. He gleaned training wisdom and practices from more experienced runners, including the importance of having a plan for a race. “Taking on a race without a plan is like someone planning a trip without a map or knowing how far they have to go,” says Chris.
But a plan only works if hours of training back it up. During his senior year, Chris averaged sixty-three miles a week. His hard work paid off when he broke the Victorian Steeplechase record in 1971 by seven seconds at the State All School Championship and placed 4th at the Australian Championships. Chris also placed 2nd in the 1500m steeple and 3rd in the 1500m at the Victorian State Championships. His wins caught the eyes of several universities in the United States.
But poor grades sidelined his university running dreams, or so he thought. “I’m driving back from the tech school with my best friend, Greg Baker,” he recalls. “He goes, ‘You know if you go over there, you’re going to flunk. You’re just not smart enough.’ And I said, ‘I’m going.’”
In August 1972, Chris began attending Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. He ran for two years and helped his team win the Southwest Junior College Conference Championship. Chris also won the heart of Gina Leigh Miles, who became his beautiful wife of forty years.
Chris accomplished a great deal in his running career, but that’s not what makes him so remarkable. Yes, he knows how to run a long race. But more importantly, Chris knows how to coach a long race.
Coach, you must
Chris was sixteen years old when he coached his first runner. Noel MacDonald was a fourteen-year-old sprinter. Chris needed a training buddy and challenged Noel to a sprint race—even giving Noel a head start. If Chris beat him, Noel would switch to distance running.
They began by setting a goal for Noel: to win the 1500m at the Victorian All Schools Championship. Chris created blistering workouts, and they trained for months. At the 1970 Victorian All Schools Cross Country, Noel took the cross country championship; four months later he won the 1500m title. Soon, seventeen-year-old Chris was coaching twenty runners.
“Because I was coaching all these young kids, I would pick the brains of anybody who knew anything about running. I’d bug them until I got information,” says Chris. Eight runners qualified for the 1970 State All School Championship and won three gold medals and set two state records. No one finished lower than 8th place. Even after moving to the United States, Chris mailed workouts to Australian runners until 1977.
At Blinn, Chris trained the cross country team—his coach didn’t have experience training distance runners. They won first in the 880 yards, mile, and three-mile at the conference championship. In 1973, Chris started coaching local teens he’d met at a practice track meet. Before long, Chris was mailing workouts all over Texas.
His coaching philosophy is simple. “You do what’s right when no one’s looking,” Chris explains. “You can’t hide from not working out. If you want to perform, you’ve got to work when no one’s looking. If you say, ‘It’s raining,’ that’s not going to help you because somewhere else it’s not raining, and some guy’s training.” This from a man who for the last thirty years has worked full time, including many extra, graveyard shifts, and been a father to his own four kids. Excuses are not part of his vocabulary.
Runners have to come to him—Chris knows that if they decide to train with him, they’re more determined. Runners write a one-page autobiography describing themselves, their family, and their goals. This ensures that “they can communicate in writing. I coach them in writing. If you don’t understand it, you’re going to have a problem.”
Each month, Chris sends his runners workouts that he spends six hours crafting. On Sundays, they meet at the Williamson County Regional Park for a group run just as the sun peeks over the horizon. Occasionally, the kids will have a race the day before that didn’t go so well. Chris doesn’t let them wallow for long. “That’s yesterday’s race; let’s put that behind us and go forward,” Chris says. As a group, they also attend several local and out-of-state open track meets and run in the Schrader 1600—a free one-mile race Chris has put on for the past eight years.
It’s hard to argue with his results. Chris’s mentality and methods have resulted in eighty-two state championship gold medalists, three runners qualifying for the Olympic trials, and countless other medal winners. He’s coached multiple state record holders, including the 1983 top distance runner in the country. Nearly all his runners have gone to college—most on track scholarships.
People may look at Chris’s “side job” and wonder why he does it. “I’ve gotten more out of coaching than I’ve put into it,” Chris explains. “I get a lot of satisfaction when the kids climb to whatever level they want.”