Pete Farwell ’73 arrived at the College in 1969 as a first-year from Northbrook, Ill., with a love of running and a desire to learn. 48 years later, he has established himself as one of the most renowned cross country coaches in the nation, and he will be rewarded with an induction into the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Hall of Fame on Dec. 13.
Farwell’s love of running started in the ’60s, when he joined the cross country team at his local high school, Glenbrook North. Although his father and older brother had both attended Amherst, Farwell came to the College looking to run both cross country and track.
As a student, Farwell majored in economics and philosophy. He graduated as the school’s six-mile record holder.
Farwell worked at a local post office back home during his college summers, and upon graduating, he took a full-time job there while continuing to run competitively. He developed an interest in long-distance and marathon running, and in 1975, he placed 23rd in the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:20:09.
“Things have to just kind of click for it to happen, but if you run enough races, it clicks every now and then,” he said. “I put in a lot of marathons and a lot of miles in those years when I was really training.”
Farwell even qualified for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials but could not attend due to injury.
He remained in contact with the Williams cross country team after graduating, and he created an annual alumni meet, which serves as a reunion for former Eph runners.
At that meet in 1977, runners at Mount Greylock Regional Academy approached him about an opening as their high school track coach. While he previously had not considered coaching as a career, Farwell enjoyed sharing his love of running and knowledge about training with others, so he took the job.
Once Farwell was back in Williamstown, in 1978, he was offered a post as a men’s cross country assistant coach at the College. Then-head coach Tony Plansky, who had previously coached Farwell, had fallen ill. When Plansky passed away the following year, Farwell took over as the head coach, drawing heavily from Plansky’s coaching style.
“He really looked at the development of a person, wasn’t all fixated on winning and was great always to talk to and consult with,” Farwell said. “That attitude is rare these days. Sports don’t necessarily have to be for only the elite. It can be fun, and we can have a really good experience and great process but actually end up winning by enjoying the sport and really focusing on those kinds of things.”
Now in his 39th year as a head coach, Farwell has inculcated his own coaching philosophy into the program. He has coached men’s cross country every season since 1979 and has led women’s cross country since 2000. His time at the College has also included two stints as the head coach of men’s and women’s track and field, from 1988-2001 and 2008-2013.
Farwell has built a perennial powerhouse, with his runners consistently finishing at or near the top of the nation. Nevertheless, Farwell and the student-athletes he coaches are quick to point out that what he has constructed is more than just an assembly line of top runners. It is something much greater: a community.
Women’s cross country co-captain Victoria Kingham ’18 has excelled as an athlete on Farwell’s teams, having earned All-American honors the past two seasons. Yet Kingham sees her personal growth in her time on the team as far more important than her running achievements.
“My biggest place of growth actually didn’t have that much to do with running itself – which speaks to Pete’s coaching,” Kingham said. “I had some great ups and rough downs in running, but what has been a pretty linear progression has been my ability to find a voice on the team.”
Kingham ran a successful race at Nationals this year, but Farwell told her after the meet that the leadership role she had grown into was more important to him than her fast time.
“What Pete said to me afterwards is that he was the most proud of me not because of how I finished, but rather because he saw me as one of the leading voices on the team,” Kingham said. “That meant the world to me.”
Following in Farwell’s footsteps, Kingham will coach cross country and track and field next year at her high school, the Brearley School, in New York. Her coaching philosophy will be shaped at least in part by Farwell.
“The most important lesson that I’ve learned from Pete is the deep care and value that he places on every member of the team,” Kingham said. “I am just trying to absorb as much as I can before leaving.”
Kingham is not the first of Farwell’s former runners to go into coaching. One of his current assistants, in fact, is former school 10k record holder and All-American Dusty Lopez ’01. Lopez was a relative newcomer to competitive running when he arrived at the College, but he developed steadily under Farwell while maintaining a balanced student-athlete experience.
“I don’t know if I really appreciated it until I left Williams and went to coach at other schools, but I definitely had the opportunity to be a student here as much as anything else,” Lopez said. “Pete was always very clear that my academics were a priority and that we weren’t going to miss class unless absolutely necessary for travel.”
Farwell allows runners to skip occasional practices when they are overwhelmed with work and to miss seasons to study abroad.
“The kids that elect to come to Williams are coming because they want a broad college experience,” he said. “They’re dedicated and want to do well in running, but they want to get in all these other things that every student is able to get. If we’ve gotten them in, we have to afford them the opportunity to do those things.”
Farwell demonstrates his holistic attitude toward running as early as the recruiting process. In runners, he looks for a love of the sport, an ability to work with others and personal qualities that an individual could contribute to the team.
After Farwell began coaching women’s cross country, the men’s and women’s teams began to train together. He said he saw improvement in both teams as they began to share ideas.
Collegiate cross country has also changed drastically since Farwell began coaching. The NESCAC did not sanction cross country until 1983, and NESCAC schools were not allowed to compete at Nationals until 1993. Despite the changing landscapes, Farwell’s teams have remained successful throughout his tenure.
Lopez attributes the program’s sustained excellence to Farwell’s openness to trying new training methods.
“Pete is remarkable in that he’s a learner,” Lopez said. “He’s always reading, looking for new ideas about the sport. I’ve learned from Pete that there are a lot of different ways to approach a training problem.”
“You shouldn’t do something just because teams have done it in the past,” Farwell said. “You need to think about what works and what is good for the team.”
Farwell also varies training pace during workouts. Instead of focusing on a specific zone in each workout, he tells runners to perform a certain mileage at one pace before switching to another.
Kingham added that Farwell’s responsiveness to student-athletes’ input has been helpful.
“It’s cool that Pete values having agency over your own training – which is a little daunting as a first-year,” Kingham said. “By the time that you’re a senior, it’s a really cool thing.”
Despite Farwell’s excellent results as a coach, he has always conducted himself with modesty. Kingham and her teammates reflected on the news of Farwell’s Hall of Fame induction.
“I don’t think that we were surprised because we all know that he’s a special kind of coach,” she said. “That being said, you see him in practice and think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Pete. He’s just doing what he usually does.’ But then you take a step back and it’s like, ‘Whoa, that’s a pretty big deal’ … We were all incredibly proud that we get to train with this guy.”
Lopez’s reaction was similar. “It made me stop and think, ‘Wow, it’s been 40 years,’” he said. “Pete still has a lot of energy. I didn’t think of him necessarily as an old-timer, but when you realize that the Hall of Fame has looked at his body of work and said, ‘You have been doing this so well and for so long that we’re going to make you a member,’ you get a sense of his longevity.”
This season, Amherst men’s cross country won the Little Three Invitational, breaking a streak of 29 straight Williams victories. Farwell, however, did not see the meet as a failure.
“When the men didn’t win the Little Three after 29 wins in a row, it was kind of a weight on their backs,” he said. “I said, ‘It’s not that you guys lost that meet. The other team won that meet. You guys were champions in my mind of how you competed.’ The most important part was that they could take that and own it, and we could go on from there and make the season still a success.”
People will always look at the five national titles Farwell’s cross country teams have won, the 23 NESCAC championships they have garnered and the 43 All-Americans he has coached – not to mention the dozens more he led in track and field. For many, those accomplishments serve as evidence of his coaching success. Yet to Farwell, the people he has met and the experiences he has had mean more than the trophies that line the walls of his office.
“If I have kids graduate and years later they look back and say, ‘Some of the best times I had at Williams were on the team,’ that’s a success,” Farwell said. “And if they’re still running, I call that a real success. It’s not a lifelong sport for everybody, but it’s one that continues. You can enjoy it and make other friends … to just be out and running and enjoy the camaraderie.”