Friday, July 31, 2015

One year as a 'coached athlete'

In many aspects of life I operate under the "If it ain't broke...don't fix it" model of handling things. With regards to my running this was how I stayed healthy (mostly) and saw improvements along the way.

Last summer, it broke.

So, I set out to fix it and picked up some help along the way. It's been a year now, and can definitely see the changes working with a coach has produced. I've talked a lot about WHY I hired one but now I can look back and see the results of it. It doesn't mean I wasn't successful before, and hiring a coach doesn't mean handing over all control; it is a 'team' effort. At the end of the day, yes it's me who has to do the work and grind out the miles but having support on HOW to run those miles has been crucial.

Self Coaching
I had coaches in high school and college, obviously- but post collegiate running for me wasn't something I ever saw turning into what it is now(for me personally). So a coach was never really a thought for the longest time, and that was okay. I truly enjoy reading and learning about running, training and different methods used to achieve results. Combine that with my own experience, and self coaching was actually the best thing for me at the time.

What worked well for me: The freedom/control of making my own schedule. I enjoyed sitting down and piecing together the puzzle a training plan can be. I was generally pretty accurate with assessments of my ability, and I was still improving.

What didn't work so well: I ran too fast on easy days and didn't push enough on workouts. I was VERY inconsistent with mileage(with the exception of the final few months). I didn't have the accountability and would constantly change the plan that I had laid out. I also wasn't good at implementing workouts that I didn't like, even though I knew they would make me stronger (Tempo's, I'm looking at you).

PR's: I wasn't completely flailing around aimlessly while self-coaching and my times proved that. My first marathon was a 3:46 and my last PR before hiring a coach was 3:13; a 33 minute difference. My half marathon time went from 1:45 down to 1:29, as well as 5+ minute improvements at both the 5k and 10k distances.

Currently: 1 Year with Coach
What works well: Accountability is probably the most important. Because he is making the plan for me(including paces) I stress much less about training because I just simply do what is written down and don't have to think about it much. He also implements workouts that will help me better reach my goals, and workouts that will help strengthen my weaknesses instead of strengthening my strengths(read: he makes me do tempo's). He understands how my mind operates when it comes to training- and is good about explaining WHY he gives me certain workouts.

What I miss: I admit, there are times I miss having a little more control (which has more to do with the many stubborn thick headed tendencies I have than it has to do with coach). There are times I'd love to just throw the training plan out the window for a week or two. {BUT I have learned what things typically trigger those responses, and also what are actions better suited to fix it. I also am comfortable having conversations with coach about where I am at- and if I think I need something different}.

Challenges: We are internet/phone based so sometimes communication can be tough. Yes there are so many ways to stay connected but with 2 people and VERY busy schedules on both ends it can present a challenge. Different environments; he lives in the South and I obviously do not; here enters winter training and the need to explain lots and lots of things (usually involving photo messages of snowbanks and temperature readings with captions along the lines of "F'n treadmill time" or "I fell on my ass with ice").

PR's: In the past year, I have improved my personal bests in the 5 mile, 15k, half and full marathon distances. I have a bone to pick with that darn 5k PR, it's going down next weekend(8/8) if it's the last thing I do!
5K: 19:09
5M: 31:57*
10K: 41:20
15K: 1:02:12*
Half-Marathon: 1:28:44*
Marathon: 3:04:03* {9:25 improvement (1:45 PR, 7:03 PR, :37 PR)}

It is worth noting that I have broken some of my best times in workouts (which I don't list as official PR's above), but I simply don't race some distances very often. It's also worth noting that the biggest improvement has been in the marathon, because that is what we have been focusing on. I love the marathon distance, and have a strong desire to see what I can do with it. This means at times neglecting other race distances to keep my focus on my 'A' goals.

I know that I got extremely lucky with my coach; as in the first one I worked with was actually the kind of coach I needed. We have similar training philosophies but yet he still gives me new workouts and challenges me. I look forward to continuing this and seeing what we can do with focus on other distances, as soon as I get that pesky marathon elephant off my back ;)

I don't think everyone NEEDS a coach, and I know that I won't always have one. Running(at a semi-competitive level) will not always be as high of a priority for me as it is now(I say that as an honest reality). I do think there are many ways you can benefit from the guidance of a coach though, assuming it is the RIGHT coach for you. Having a coach requires putting trust in someone else which isn't always easy- I think it has become so much better for me because I trust him, but more importantly I trust myself. I know that I work hard, I know that I am capable of a lot of things; but I also know that I stand to gain a lot of experience and knowledge from working with someone.


  1. I recently went from having a coach to being self-coached. It's a big change. I'm hoping I can pull it together and start running fast soon. Our PRs are very similar.

    1. What made you decide to go back to self- coaching?

      I think that my suggestion (not knowing the situation) would first and foremost be- think about what the most important thing you got out of training with someone (for me: accountability) and find a way to incorporate that into self-coaching. For instance for me, if/when I go back to self coaching, I would be very likely to email my schedule to a close friend to help hold me accountable.

      Any big races on the horizon?

  2. I remember last year when you "hired" the coach and also remember your running and cross training before (I've been following a *long* time). It sounds like it was a really great decision for you. Obviously you've improved at every distance, and you will get that 5K PR.

    It's neat that you found someone to help you, as you said, "strengthen your weaknesses rather than your strengths". I have never had a formal coach (I didn't do sports in HS or college), but I see where that's a huge advantage because they can be objective; sometimes we are so close to our running and training to see the things we need to work on and the things don't need to do as much of.

    1. Having a coach and being objective is HUGE. I really think some of my biggest improvements in races the past year are because we have narrowed down the weakness list, and really started attacking them to get stronger.

  3. I can see how having a coach would make some things easier and strengthen the weaknesses.
    Those are some huge improvements! Especially the marathon. Your 5k time will come! Thanks for sharing! It's awesome to see progress.

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  5. Is your coach accepting new athletes?

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