It was just 10 years ago that Abby Self was an record-setting All-County runner for Grayson High School’s girls cross county and track teams. Now, the 28-year-old is back at the Loganville school in her first year as a teach and as an assistant coach with both programs. She recently spoke with staff writer David Friedlander about the transition from student-athlete to coach, her continuing passion for distance running and other subjects
DF: Was coaching something you’ve always wanted to do?
AS: Oh yeah. I always hoped that I could coach. I didn’t really think that I’d come back here and coach, but eventually yes, I wanted to teach, and wanted to be a coach.
DF: Why didn’t you think you’d ever return to Grayson?
AS: You know, just being back at your old high school is not something that you think that you’ll end up doing. But I ended up student-teaching here and they just kept me on.
DF: Now that you’re mostly through your first year back, are you past the strangeness of walking the halls of your old school as a teacher yet?
AS: (Laughs) I still get mistaken as a student.
DF: Do you ever get asked to show a hall pass or something like that?
AS: (Laughs) Oh yes. All the time. I get kicked out of the teacher’s lounge quite a bit.
DF: That all said, are some of your old teachers finally getting used to the idea of having you back as one of them?
AS: Yeah. Coach (Rick) Wood is here, and Mac (Bradbury) was actually my track coach. So they kind of help me out.
DF: How strange was it those first couple of practices? Or was it strange at all?
AS: Very, very strange. I couldn’t think of them as my colleagues. I still call him Coach Bradbury. He was my coach.
DF: What do you think you’ve brought from your years as a runner at Grayson to your coaching?
AS: Just being able to run with the kids is nice. I brought back a lot of the workouts. We did 400 (meter runs) every single Monday, so we kind of do the same things. We try to alternate a little bit, but 400s were always the workouts that we did. But yeah, just going out to Tribble (Mill Park), we still go out there and run (during the cross country season).
DF: Anything in particular that you learned from Mac that you use in your coaching today?
AS: Oh yeah. He was always straight to the point, very serious with the workouts. It wasn’t playing games. He took running very, very seriously. That’s something I’ve brought over. It’s fun, but you’ve got to take it seriously.
DF: Given your success during your career at Grayson — you were All-County, you finished top 10 at state and set a school record, if my memory serves — do you think that gives you a little extra credibility or gravitas with the current runners?
AS: Yeah, you know, I had the (cross country) records here until Nely (Yanely Gomez) broke them. She broke every single one of them. Being here and watching her being able to break them was really cool. So that helps. The kids knew who I was. I would run past them when they had practice. So getting to know them even before I was a coach was nice.
DF: Obviously the job brought you back home, but having grown up here, I imagine there’s obviously something about Grayson that fits you, no?
AS: Actually, I had planned on not being here. Like I said, they brought me back here for student teaching because I had to be in Gwinnett County where I was (finishing) me degree, and I started student teaching, my teacher left and they brought me on.
DF: You know, we’ve talked about your high school career, but you also ran in college, didn’t you?
AS: I did at UGA, just for a year.
DF: What was that like? I’m sure it was a little bit of an eye-opener.
AS: It was overwhelming. Yeah, very eye opening. Obviously, it’s not something that I stuck with, but yeah, it was great. It’s nice to bring it back to (Grayson’s current team) and kind of tell them (about it).
DF: I have to think you’ve got some great stories to tell the kids to use as motivation.
AS: Right, and to put it into perspective. It’s life once you get to college. Running is it.
DF: Obviously, you still run with the kids in practice and you keep in shape. Do you still run competitively, like in the Peachtree (Road Race) and other races?
AS: I do ultra marathons.
DF: For those, like me, less educated, how are those different from traditional marathons?
AS: Right now, I’m doing 31 miles and 50 miles.
DF: That takes a lot of dedication and hard work to train for a race that long. How do you find the time to work that in between teaching and coaching?
AS: Well, I run with them and then I go home and pick up my dog and go running again.
DF: Do you ever see yourself trying high-profile marathons like the Boston or New York or Atlanta marathons? Of course, you’d have to scale it back from the ultras.
AS: I did the Boston in 2012. I’d love to do it again, but I just love being on the trail.
DF: Yeah, road racing is quite a bit different from cross country, or from being on the track, for that matter. So you prefer the cross country trail, eh?
AS: Yes. … I just want to be in the woods.
DF: What’s so alluring about it to you compared to the track or the road?
AS: Just being in the woods. Going around in circles is not really my thing. (Laughs) I commend (the current runners) for it.
DF: What’s the difference in coaching each style?
AS: I never thought my first coaching position would be as a track coach, but I’m learning a lot more than I’ve ever before. I’m looking up (different) workouts all the time and talking to the other coaches. It’s cool to kind of see it from a different perspective than being a runner.