Chiles distance runner Jianni McDole couldn’t contain her excitement.
It wasn’t a major track meet. It wasn’t even in-season for high school sports.
Yet McDole, who will be a junior for the Timberwolves in the fall, had just dropped eight seconds off her personal best time in the 800 meters last Saturday at the Ernie Sims Track and Field Invitational, despite having no competition to push her.
And the reason for her drop was short distances.
McDole has been using her summers efficiently, but not in the typical distance fashion of increasing mileage.
She has been getting sprinting lessons with North Florida Speed track club and coach Corey Poole, who is also the head track and field coach for Lincoln High.
And it is already paying dividends.
“When he put me in 100s, I was thinking it was a waste of time,” McDole said. “But doing those 100s and shorter intervals really helps, because I like to break my race down into eight 100s. It made the race seem easier than thinking about two laps. I think the speed workouts are harder because I’m pushing my body to become a different type. When you’re doing distance, you’re using a slower tempo (muscle fiber) twitch.”
McDole ran 2:31 in her 800, and she’s been learning more about the components of running form. When she increases her distance in preparation for the three-mile cross country season, she anticipates being able to draw from her sprint experience to push her racing to a new level.
“I think doing all this speed work during the summer is really going to help me this fall in cross country,” McDole said. “I think if I’d taken some time off or done more five-mile runs as opposed to a five-time 100 workout I’d feel differently about it. But doing this and seeing it pay off today has really helped.”
North Florida Speed has been in existence for the last four years as Poole, a former Florida A&M track star, returned to Tallahassee following several years in Atlanta and began training more in the foreground than behind the scenes.
He trained former Lincoln football star and current Georgia Bulldogs football and track athlete Reggie Davis, but adding in an all-summer component to his schedule was reflective of Poole’s motivations to mentor kids.
“It wasn’t an easy thing, because coming off the high school season administratively you have to do a lot of work,” Poole said. “You have to get your schedules and I had to incorporate quick, get uniforms, and it’s basically starting (the track season) over again, but in a shorter time. And it’s more travel, so financially it’s not an easy thing. But we made it work. We started with 12 kids and now we’re at 40.”
Poole grew up in south Florida, where he later starred for Miami Killian High before heading to FAMU (1992-96). After college, he coached Killian and Belen Jesuit athletes to individual state titles. Poole wound up back in Tallahassee in 2001.
He’s coached at Swift Creek Middle School, where he had recent Lincoln grad and double sprint state champion Jadzia Beasley on his team, in addition to Godby’s 2014 400-meter state champ and current San Jose State freshman Caitlin Wilson.
“This program Coach Poole started from basically nothing and grew to something is (symbolic) because a lot of us have come from nothing and are going on to something,” said Beasley, who will be continuing her track career in the fall at Western Kentucky. “Coach Poole is literally like a father figure. He’s been with me since sixth grade, and me and him have grown together. Even though my senior year was a little bit rocky, we stuck together.”
Poole, 41, has his methodologies down for sprint mechanics, emphasizing quad strength in building the first 40 meters out of the block, or encouraging hamstring strength to help runners from 60 meters on. He works on the motion of the arms to drive knees up and keep hips fluid.
North Florida Speed is currently in Orlando competing at AAU Club Nationals, effectively the summer season climax.
Twins Stephon and Steven Simpkins, who last year were critical to Maclay’s third-place state finish, are running, as well as their rising sophomore sister Lonzetta Simpkins.
There’s also Poole’s only child, Michael, who will be following in his father’s footsteps in running in college for the Rattlers, but only after a bit of prodding in middle school allowed Michael to see that he had a talent that could blossom into a college future.
“He is a very father-oriented coach, and I’m an only child,” Michael Poole said. “He used to take my cousins in and he still does that now. And that’s good because a lot of these kids need father figures. It has helped them get motivated.”
There’s the “What?” of North Florida Speed – the nuts and bolts of the running process – and then there’s the “Why?”
But the why has always been to use whatever knowledge Poole has gained through his years to give back to someone that may have once been in his shoes and provide a path to greater success.
Often that result is achieved off the track.
“We develop a lot of relationships, and we don’t just run track,” Poole said. “We go to movies, we go bowling, we do everything together. It’s not just a club, it’s a family. That’s why people really love this environment, and I love it too.”