We would like to introduce you to Steve Vernon; the man behind Team New Balance Manchester. From idea, to inception, to coach; we spoke to Steve about his journey up this point and his passion to professionalise the running scene in the UK.

What is your background as an athlete?

My background is cross country, I started as a school boy running cross country. I wasn’t a member of a club, just ran a lap of the field and the first 4 got picked for the school team. I love sport and love being outdoors, and I just took to XC straight away.

From there on, I joined an athletics club when I was 12 mainly because I fancied a girl round the corner that was going and she asked me to come. I started at age 8 but from 12-13 that’s when I really started with Stockport Harriers. And then from there, I was just lucky that I had a good coach, he was very enthusiastic, made us enjoy it but gave us discipline as well. But I was lucky that I was talented as a youngster and I was running for England by the time I was 15 as a school boy. Then my first time representing GB was as a junior boy at the XC in Belfast in 1999. I was just known as a XC runner, I wasn’t a great track runner and I didn’t enjoy it really. I went to mountain running in the summer, someone got me into that in my early 20s. So I spent my winter doing XC and summers mountain running. I was particularly good at the uphill only races which sounds like everyone’s worst nightmare running up a mountain for an hour but my sick sense of humour found it painfully enjoyable.

How did you become a coach?

So mountain running was my things, but I suppose I was interested in coaching from my early 20’s as a student. I was into the sport and absorbed and read every bit of information I could. Dave (my coach) would tell us what we were doing and I always asked questions to understand why. From then on I studied it at university, I did a masters degree in Physical Activity and Nutrition.  I moved on to lecturing at a Uni which was partly sports science based, and then I went on to work as a Performance Director at British Orienteering but all along I knew I want to coach in elite running.

When my own running was done, before I actually took on a professional coaching role, I was coaching Jonny Mellor, Ross Millington and Andy Davies. So I was coaching three athletes already towards the end of my running career who were at a high level. Then I sort of retired, but I hate to use the word retired because I still run. I had a goal in mind that I wanted to win the most national XC or get the most national XC medals ever, and the record was 7 and I won 8 individual medals and 2 x gold, 3 x silver, 3 x bronze across a narrow 9 year period. And once I had done that I knew I had done enough. I didn’t feel like I could coach at the top level while running at a high level myself.

My coaching journey has really come from a love of the sport and a passion for helping people improve. I love helping people and this is my way of helping people to be the best they can be. I got so much from my coach and I’m lucky that I get paid to do it but when I started I did it as a voluntary role anyway. If I lost my job tomorrow I would still coach because I love it so much.

How did Team New Balance Manchester come about?

We started the professional team, myself and a good friend Pete Riley. It was always a dream of mine to start a professional running team but you need support, you need backing and luckily New Balance put athletes at the forefront of what they do and here we are. 

Pete and I did a lot of running together, we used to talk all the time about if we won the lottery we would buy a house, we would start this professional team and everything else. I suppose you look at East Africa, some of the best distance runners in the world, they are all in groups, in teams and they work together. You look at the next best after Africa and that’s the US. The US has a great collegiate system and if you are then at the top of the pile you move into a pro team. In Europe there are very few, so we knew this would be a great way to help people carry on their running career after university. We wanted to create a great environment that was totally about getting the best out of the athletes. A real performance environment.

So I suppose what we are trying to achieve at Team NB is this perfect environment or near perfect, for young athletes to invest their time and take away the stresses of full time jobs etc. So our guys are supported by NB in the athlete house to take costs away. Some have small part time jobs to pay for food etc, but we wanted to make it so people could train hard, recover and be a pro athlete. This has proven successful across the world and we knew it would work if we got the right infrastructure there to create this.

Stockport is a place where I grew up, there are miles and miles of off road trails, we’ve got a track, got the support from a gym partner on our door step. We’ve got support from OTE and in terms of technology Garmin help us, so we have created this environment for these guys to be the best they can be. And that’s what it is all about really.

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