This is the first part in a series that will eventually become a book on how to choose a running coach. For the record, I am not a coach, so this is in no way a solicitation.
A Good Coach Will . . .
Give You Confidence
No matter where your training and fitness levels currently exist, a coach can identify the path that leads to more success and pleasure. Since she’s made that journey successfully before with other athletes, she acts as a Sherpa up the mountain, handling the heavy lifting. With a trusted coach, you will discover a tremendous amount of confidence that you will end up at that peak.
Help You Set Goals
You have an idea of where you want running to take you. Perhaps a faster 5K motivates you, or ramping up your mileage to handle longer runs on trails. Whichever direction you wish to proceed, a coach specializes in getting runners there. Since they already know the terrain, they can assist in building the goals, not just for the training program of miles and workouts, but the nitty-gritty details like diet, strength training, and rest that you need to incorporate to accomplish the task.
Tailor a Program to Your Life
Great coaches look at the entirety of the athlete, not simply the running aspect. By gathering in-depth information about your work, family, and habits, they construct a program that fits your life. Some athletes respond better to increased intensity, others to greater durations. The great Bill Bowerman would build a different program for each of his athletes based on their responses to the workouts, both physically and mentally. A tailored program fits you like an Isotoner glove fits a hand.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The best coaches are masters of communication.
They are able to take the training concepts and explain to you how the workouts will build you into a better runner. More importantly, they want to take that time. A good coach knows that an athlete who understand the reasons behind the training regimen will be more likely to compete the workouts correctly and have greater success. They always have something else to offer and are free with information.
More importantly, the best coaches are great listeners. Coaches know that a strong rapport starts with listening skills. By actively listening, the coach will catch nuances in what you say and how you say it. They seek your feedback and accept it without prejudging it.
Great coaches understand that they are only half of the equation. To have a successful relationship with you, they speak and listen to you as a full partner rather than as a child receiving instruction.
Support You When It Gets Hard
Let’s be realistic—at some point in your training, you will face some adversity. It may be a tough stretch of training or a poor race. When that happens, it’s helpful to have someone in your corner who will encourage you to keep digging in, that believes in you and your goals. The occasional “Atta girl!” can do wonders to lift your mood when you need just that little extra encouragement to tackle the next workout.
Rein You In When You Want to Do Too Much, Too Soon
Also being realistic, sometimes runners get to feeling invulnerable. The training is going great at 50 miles a week, so they bump it up to 60 in one fell swoop. Or the track workouts are getting too easy, so the runner increases the pace until they feel the strain. For some runners, unless they are truly struggling, they don’t think they are working hard enough. A coach will review the feedback you send him and know when to increase the loads in the workouts. He’ll also know when to tell you to cool your jets and let the process build.
Help You Avoid Injury
This almost goes without saying. Your coach wants you healthy. By analyzing the information he has (and if he’s local, watching you run,) he can determine which workouts deliver the most effective benefits. Due to personal bio-mechanics, there is no single program that will work for everyone. Some runners thrive with a high volume of distance, while others would break under the load of the miles. Personally, too much speed work breaks me and that I run best on a minimum of 60 miles per week. My best friend is exactly the opposite.
The coach will also be monitoring, with you, your status. If something tweaks, the coach works to find the cause. Once identified, he’ll find alternative activities while healing takes place, give you exercises to prevent a reoccurrence, and incorporate that knowledge into your long-term program.
In the old martial arts movies, the wise sensei would have the student performing cryptic tasks that only later would be revealed to have value. Think “Wax on, wax off.”
In reality, the coach should be explaining to you why the elements of the program are in place. Each time you interact with your coach, you should learn something new. The good coaches are not afraid to explain the purpose of the workouts. They’re not afraid that you’ll learn so much that you’ll leave. Just the opposite, they understand that the engaged and informed athlete performs at higher levels.
Celebrate All Your Successes with You
We’ve all seen the iconic pictures of runners, arms thrust into the air, crossing the finish line. Most of us have celebrated the same way. Great coaches take it a step farther.
I used to run with the San Diego Track Club, where Paul Greer coaches. Coach Greer is a spectacular example of a positive, athlete-oriented coach. One thing that he did that exemplified this was to cheer on the athletes in the middle of the workouts. Yes, he’d do the same thing at races, and he’d highlight and compliment runners afterwards, too.
What Coach Greer knows and what most runners forget, is that the race is built in the dark periods of training. A runner that completes every workout assigned for a month straight has accomplished something real and worthy of celebrating.
Expect your coach to cheer on all your little successes, the completed speed work or long run, the loss of a couple of pounds, correcting your diet to give you all the nutrients you need as a runner. They know that those little successes will lead to the big one that everyone else will see race day. They also know that those little ones are the most important.
If you enjoyed this post, I encourage you to share it on Facebook and Twitter with your friends and fellow runners. If you have experiences, good or bad with coaches, I would love to hear of them. Hit the contact page or email me directly at thatguy at PaulDuffau.com.
copyright © 2015 Paul Duffau