It’s A Great Day to Race; a farewell to coach Mark Thompson


Elizabeth Fox

Mark Thompson gives advice to runners on the Shen Cross Country Team

Aidan Watts, Journalism 2AC

To Mark Thompson, running is more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle. A distance runner by trade, Thompson has been involved in cross country and outdoor track as an athlete or a coach for the last 42 seasons. In his career he has worn many hats, impromptu coach of his highschool team, coach for Guilderland, Saint Rose, and Shenendehowa, and successful athlete under legendary coach and exercise physiologist Jack Daniels.

Under Daniels, and as a Cortland Red Dragon, Thompson achieved a nationals berth in the 1990 NCAA Division 3 Cross Country National Championship, covering the 8k course in Grinnell Iowa in 26 minutes and 48.1 seconds. In this same senior season Thompson also received the prestigious red letter award, marking his selection as the most valuable member of the Cortland cross country team.

For nearly 30 years, Shenendehowa cross country and track and field has been coached, in some capacity, by Mark Thompson. The 2023 outdoor track season will be the last ride for Coach Thompson and the Plainsmen, with whom he’s won numerous sectional, state, and national titles.

Alex Leuchanka, a transfer for Warwick to Shen, and the 2008 New York State Federation Cross Country champion spoke about his time under Thompson, explaining his more subtle coach style by saying ,”Most coaches out there, […] they’re hard liners, you know, they’re kind of you do this and it’s my way or the highway, but Coach Thompson isn’t like that, and that’s kinda what makes him really special.”

Bruce Armstrong, a junior in his first year running under Thomspon shared a similar view on the simplicity of his coaching style saying “He laid out his workout plan very simply with the mileage and everything. He just told me, “If you run your miles, you’re going to get better”, no one had ever explained it to me so simply before, and I really appreciate that advice.”

This simple style has yielded great success, including 6 state championships in Class A cross country, a New York state record, and 7 Federation titles. In 2006 alone, as a then assistant coach under fellow Jack Daniels disciple Matt Jones, Thompson helped coach former Shendehowa and later Syracuse runner Steve Murdock to an individual national title at Nike Team Nationals, behind a 4th place team, and a 3rd place finish at the Foot Locker National Championship a week later. This feat placed him ahead of 2 future olympians, including 2016 gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz, and marked the conclusion of what many, including Armstong, consider the most successful season in Shenendehowa athletics history.

 One of the biggest catalysts of this success, according to Leuchanka, is Thompson’s ability to build a special team environment, an environment that led to a New York state team title, Federation title, and 7th place team finish at Nike Cross Country Nationals his senior year.

“We had a great team and we were successful, but we also had a ton of fun too, which I think is the thing you need to mix, it’s hard to build that over time […] it takes good teammates, but it also takes a good coach that understands […] that’s how you build a team throughout the long haul,” he said.

 Leuchanka also said Thompson’s soft touches and subtle actions throughout the year ended up producing big effects later in the season.

 ”They’re cumulative you know, they accumulate onto another to the point where […] they change you as an athlete, they change you in how you think about your teammates and how you think about the sport as a whole, he’s probably a big reason why I love the team aspect of it, which is what I greatly miss now,” he said. 

Luchenka summed up his thoughts by sharing his appreciation for Thompson’s leadership and guidance, saying, ”You really realize all the things your parents have done for you or anyone has done for you and you don’t appreciate it enough until it’s way, way, way too late, and most people, even myself, probably don’t acknowledge it enough.”

Armstrong also shared similar appreciation for Thompson and his work ethic, stating his hopes for Thompson’s retirement. ”I just want him to enjoy his retirement, I know how hard he’s worked these last 30 years […] I know how many hours he puts towards our program” he said.