For Katie Outlaw, Head Varsity Cross Country Coach at GPS, running is more than a sport. It has helped her find community and friends, explore new places and races, challenge herself physically and mentally, and to find relief. She’s eager to share that passion with the GPS team as they enter cross-country season this fall.
Running wasn’t always the go-to sport for Outlaw. She wasn’t particularly athletic growing up, and while she played soccer in high school, it wasn’t until her father died suddenly when she was 25 that she found running.
“I turned to running on trails, taking my dogs with me, as a way to relieve stress,” Outlaw says. Running helped her sleep and manage grief. From that point on, she was hooked on running and her distances kept growing. From marathons to ultramarathons, 50-kilometer races and 50-mile races, Outlaw enjoys every aspect of running.
A Storied Career Path
A Chattanoogan for nearly 20 years, Outlaw originally hails from Memphis, where she attended St. Agnes, an all-girls Catholic school. She moved to Chattanooga for its natural beauty and has been here ever since. After earning her bachelor’s and an education specialist degree in school psychology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Outlaw knew she wanted to apply her professional skills in a school setting and eventually in an independent school. Prior to coming to GPS, she worked at Normal Park Museum Magnet as a school psychologist.
While at Normal Park, Outlaw along with her husband, a renowned runner himself and owner of Fast Break Athletics, started that school’s first track and cross-country teams. They grew the program over four years and had up to 50 students participating. Without a place to practice, the team ran at Renaissance Park.
When an opportunity opened at GPS for a Learning Specialist position, Outlaw took the leap, moving away from a tenured position in the public school system. Upon making the transition, she assisted with the Middle School track and cross-country teams. Outlaw then assumed the head varsity coach position in 2019 after serving as the assistant varsity cross country coach in 2018 when the Bruisers won the TSSAA Division II AA State Championship. Additionally, she will be the Middle School Dean of Students in the 2019-20 school year.
“When I came to GPS, I wasn’t sure where it would lead,” Outlaw says. “Looking back, I’m so happy. Taking a risk resulted in such an awesome opportunity for me. I never would have dreamed that I would be a head varsity coach—the experience has blown my mind, and I’m so excited about leading the girls. The school is wonderful at recognizing strengths not just in students but in teachers and staff as well.”
Perseverance and Grit
Running, be it track or cross country, requires great physical and mental stamina. Outlaw knows firsthand the training required for success. She holds the state’s 2-mile record for her age group. She placed 9th at the Mt. Hood 50-mile race in Oregon.
Outlaw prefers longer distances, and she’s been racing on trails and the road for nearly 12 years. Her husband, Alan, whom she describes as an inspiration and mentor, helped transition her to running on the road, where Outlaw says she loves the speed and competition.
“Running is a sport that requires a lot of mental focus,” Outlaw says. “The girls who keep showing up have more perseverance, more grit, and a tougher mentality. Our team is made up of girls who are well-rounded with classes and sports, and they’re eager to make a connection.”
As a coach, Outlaw encourages a relaxed team environment and hopes the sport brings balance to the girls’ lives outside of school. She applauds her team for their spirit and dedication, running nearly year round with a few breaks after the season.
“When I asked the girls for feedback after the season, they shared that they could put aside academics, friendship issues, and just run. It was therapeutic for them,” Outlaw says. “Regardless of their speed, they like the way running makes them feel. I want them to like running long after high school.”
For the upcoming season, Outlaw looks forward to coaching the younger runners on the team as they define what running means to them.
“It’s incredible that these girls are willing to run for their overall health and well-being after being at school for a full day,” she says. “That’s huge—they keep coming back. We run as a team, and they’re accepting of all teammates. They’re great to each other.”