Josh Kerr and Danny Mackey, considering the Athlete/Coach relationship
I have been working on this piece for about a year now and could not figure out how to finish it. I felt that the untold story about the ability of Josh Kerr and Danny Mackey to plan and execute a two-year plan, delayed by the pandemic, is fantastic. I hope that I have given it the respect that it deserves. It should be read by a coach and athlete planning to succeed in the competitive world of track & field.
The coach/athlete relationship is critical in our sport. There are so many things that can keep an athlete from reaching his or her limits, and for many, having a coach/advisor who gets the athlete and who can help the athlete build, over several years, to the pinnacle of the sport.
It takes eight to twelve years from when an athlete begins in the sport to when they start to dabble at the elite level. Athletes are lucky to stay with a brand-supported club at the elite level for several years. Danny Mackey was the founding coach of Brooks Beasts TC, which began in 2013; Danny realizes, more than most, that athletes have only so many years within which they can shoot for their dreams.
When an athlete reaches the pinnacles of the sport, the World Championships and the Olympics, it has been, for many, a journey that has taken nearly half of their lives. That is the case with Josh Kerr, the Scottish athlete who runs for Brooks Beasts TC and is coached by Danny Mackey, who ran his perfect race at the Tokyo Olympics.
On August 7, 2021, Josh Kerr changed his life forever. Wonderfully positioned in the final, Josh Kerr made a brilliant move with 250 meters to go, moving himself into third place and missing Timothy Cheruiyot for the silver. Josh Kerr ran 3:29.05 to take the Olympic bronze in the delayed Tokyo Olympics. Josh Kerr’s last three hundred meters was furious, and he charged down the final straight, eating up the track, one centimeter at a time, making his dream his reality.
Of this fantastic race, Josh Kerr had this to say: “My favorite memory from Tokyo was coming down the home stretch of the 1500m final. I ran the best race of my life on the biggest stage, in the fastest Olympic 1500m to date, and I accomplished exactly what I said I would do, which was to run in the Olympic final for a medal.”
The truth is this, after an Olympic medal, anytime Josh Kerr competes, Kerr is a player in all his races, and his confidence increased with his exciting success. Josh and Danny had achieved part of their dreams.
In 2017, Josh Kerr took the gold in the NCAA Division 1 Champs at 1,500 meters. At his first World Championships in London in 2017, Kerr did not make it out of the heats, ranking 34th. This writer met the young Scottish runner at a meet in Europe. I always introduce myself, but I believe his poor parents thought their son was being stalked outside a Birmingham hotel.
In 2018, Josh Kerr signed with Brooks, giving up some NCAA eligibility. Josh told this writer that he and Danny Mackey hit it off well from the start and brought together a group of athletes from 800 meters to 10,000 meters and worked with them near-daily.
I found this quote from Josh Kerr on his choice of Brooks Beasts TC and Danny Mackey as club and coach, site unseen in 2018. This is a very telling quote (from Josh Kerr’s Facebook site):
“I got asked by a reporter in Tokyo if I was happy with my decision to leave college early to join the @brooksbeaststc and @dannytmackey. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to fully express my thoughts at the time, but I can now.
I’m someone who trusts my gut with big life decisions, such as moving to the US without a visit and signing with the Beasts without needing to visit Seattle. I could tell that Danny was a hard-working, caring, and honest coach, and that was exactly what I was looking for to start my professional career, and to join a company like brooksrunning just felt like a match I could only dream of.
On August 7, my decisions in 2018 paid off. Danny and I formulated a plan to run sub 3.30 on this day two years ago, and we did it. I am a championship racer, and you better believe I’m going into next year with a World Champ mentality.”
For the coach and athlete to have a successful relationship, the coach and athlete have to trust each other, which takes time. The thing was, Josh Kerr told me that he hit it off with Coach Mackey pretty close from the start. From very early on, Danny Mackey and Josh Kerr began working on Josh’s dream: getting to an Olympic final and battling for a medal.
A two-year plan? That is pretty normal, but what is not pretty standard is the success at the middle distances at such a young age. To say that the Josh Kerr-Danny Mackey relationship is a success would be clearly an understatement. In building an athlete to the highest of the elite level, attention to the most minor details makes the difference. The confidence from the athlete that their coach and team are covering all the bases allows the athlete to focus on the physical and mental components of elite racing.
In 2019, Josh finished sixth in the World Championships 1,500m in 3:32.52, a strong PB. The World Champs 1,500 meter is a big time, and getting through the rounds, especially in Doha, Qatar, was challenging, to say the least.
Getting through the rounds in Doha was a supreme act of will and proof of the Scots’ incredible fitness and belief in themselves. The year 2019 ended with Josh Kerr and Danny Mackey knowing they were on their way to their dream.
2020 was a crazy year, as the pandemic hit early in 2020, and Danny Mackey, coach of the Brooks Beasts TC, had to have his team work out on their own for ten to twelve weeks. Danny Mackey, who should be described, as attentive to the details of coaching, felt out of sorts as he tried to keep the spirits of his athletes high and training during this challenging time. We have added the clip below as Danny describes coaching the Brooks Beasts TC during COVID.
Covid ravaged the sport and world culture, and while some were able to race, events became problematic. Josh raced over 800m, 1000m, and 1,500m, with good times at 800m in 1:46.69, 1000m in 2:17.60 and 1,500m in 3:34.53.
2020 was problematic; just how does a coach like Danny Mackey keep his athletes motivated during a global pandemic? Danny had to improvise. When the Olympics were canceled, Danny had to keep them motivated and training, plus getting them ready for a short season. Bespoke meetings became the phrase of the year, as these tiny, elite meets sprung up in Oregon, Washington, and California, among other places.
The 2021 season found Josh Kerr healthy, and he raced from 800m to 5,000m and was ready for the 1,500m at the British Champs and then at the Olympics.
On June 3, 2021, it all came together. Josh Kerr ran a 3:31.55 for the 1,500 meters at the Stumptown Classic at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Kerr was by himself for the last 500 meters, and his confident, gutty running gave him the fastest time EVER run in North America, breaking the record from 1984, set by one Sebastian Coe, while he won his second Olympic title at the 1,500 meters.
On June 26, 2021, Josh Kerr went from there to win the British Trials for the 1,500 meters, just finishing ahead of Jake Wightman.
And then, we get to August 7, 2021.
The Olympic race was near perfect. So let’s face it, getting any Olympic medal or World Championship medal means the Perfect Storm has happened. That Mackey and Kerr could put all of the core work together, plus the training and sharpening, must be respected.
I will let you in on a well-known secret. Danny Mackey is a geek. He is, as the late Kenny Moore wrote about the late Ron Hill, “possessed by the scientific method.” Like all successful coaches, Danny knows that the “devil is in the details.” Mackey’s job was to get Josh Kerr in the shape of his life and build his confidence to use it in the Tokyo Olympic stadium.
Josh Kerr is a confident athlete. He is also a talented athlete. But there are many talented athletes out there, so what Mackey and Kerr did, is pretty astounding.
How does one do that again?
Now, Josh Kerr knows he can race effectively at that level, and he has confidence in his Coach, Danny Mackey, who got him there in 2018-2021.
2022 proved to be a different animal; lessons were learned from 2022; perhaps one of the biggest lessons was how incredible 2021 was for the Scottish athlete.
In Eugene, 2022, Josh Kerr was there; he had a high fitness level. Josh Kerr got through his semi-finals with great fitness, and then COVID interfered. Josh looked great in the final until the last lap. It was Jake Wightman’s day, as he made a long run for the gold, taking on and surprising Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Josh Kerr, just a little bit off, took fifth. After the race, Josh showed class, reminded Jake to enjoy the moment, and complemented Wightman on his victory. That is how Josh Kerr is. He wanted to win, but it was not his day.
When I asked Danny Mackey to rate Josh’s race in the World Champs final, Danny said: “I would say a B-. He wanted to win, and I thought he could win. He got 5th. Making the final is incredibly difficult, and he won his 1st Round and Semi-final (not that he was trying to win those, but he looked very controlled in those efforts). He was sick and tested positive for COVID the day after the final, so getting 5th and being 1 second from winning with COVID was impressive, but the results are the results, regardless of the reasons.”
Josh Kerr went from the World Champs to the Commonwealth Games, hoping to recover from COVID and race well for Scotland. Josh was not over COVID and placed 12th in the 1,500m final, running 3:35.72.
When I asked Danny about Josh at the Commonwealth Games, Danny noted: “He just raced 1500, and it did not go well. He was still testing positive for COVID during Commonwealths, but the Doctor cleared him to try.”
Danny and Josh decided, after the Commonwealth Games, to withdraw from the European Champs, where he could have been, if he was healthy, a contender. Danny noted: “He needs to recover from COVID versus continuing on this frustrating path and see if his body can recover.”
Josh Kerr took the time to recover, and twenty days later, Josh ran 3:32.28 at the Athletissima meet, finishing 4th. Josh looked great in the race and was coming around well.
His final race of the season was on September 8 at the Weltklasse in Zurich, Switzerland, where Josh took sixth, running 3:31.85.
And so ends the 2022 season. Both Danny Mackey and Josh Kerr will go over the season and see what they can learn from the season so they can build for Budapest 2023 and Paris 2024.
I asked Danny what surprised him about Josh Kerr’s experience in Tokyo. I thought Danny’s answer was fascinating and pretty clear about his affection for his athletes:
Danny replied. “I would not say it was a surprise, but his poise made me feel so proud and happy for him. He executed that race like a veteran athlete who has been there before, that was his first Olympics at 23, and you never know if you’ll get another shot when you’re healthy and fit. And he raced to the medal. I thought his ability to be laser-focused and calm was impressive.”
The ability to focus at the World Champs and Olympic level is a true talent. Josh Kerr absolutely has the ability to return to the medal level. COVID was just enough to throw him off his game. That will have to be considered by Danny Mackey and Josh Kerr as the plan for the next few years.
The final answer from Danny Mackey to my last question was telling. I asked Danny what he has learned as a coach from Josh Kerr. And this is how he responded: “Very talented athletes are only successful long term when they have humility and openness. He has those last 2 traits.”
We will be watching Josh Kerr over the indoor and outdoor seasons in 2023. He has many 1,500-meter races to go before he looks back at his career with affection. But he is also well on his way with an Olympic bronze medal.
We wish Danny Mackey and Josh Kerr the best of luck as they pursue Josh’s dreams in 2023.
To see our entire interview with Josh Kerr from July 2021, please click here: https://www.runblogrun.com/2021/09/runblogrun-presents-socialing-the-distance-featuring-josh-kerr-professional-athlete-with-the-brooks.html
To see the entire interview with Danny Mackey, July 2020, please click here: https://www.runblogrun.com/2022/10/runblogrun-presents-socialing-the-distance-featuring-coach-danny-mackey-of-the-brooks-beasts-track-club.html
Special thanks to Jazmine Graham, Danny Mackey, and Josh Kerr for their patience and responses.