When I started running, it was a very solitary thing. I wasn’t comfortable running with a group, and I ran to have a break from people. When I ran my first 10K race, I ran it with a pacer who talked me through the whole thing. Slow down. Take deep breaths. Walk the water station. Sprint to the finish.
Although I could barely wheeze a thank you to him throughout the race, I was grateful to have someone by my side, telling me what to do, and keeping me going when I thought I may collapse.
He suggested I join a running clinic, which I happily did, and I trained with my clinic group for several races. I loved it. But, I had a few consistent problems – breathing and pacing being the biggies – and last May when I set a goal of running a marathon, I realized that I needed some personalized assistance. I started to toss around the idea of hiring a coach. Let me tell you…hiring a coach was the best thing I’ve ever done. And, as we head into the spring season, I’ve started working with my coach again.
If you’re thinking about hiring a coach, here are some of the things I’ve discovered about being coached:
You don’t need to be a fast runner. Coaches help with speed! When my coach asked me about my goals, I was pretty clear. I wanted to finish a marathon and I wanted to run the whole thing strong. From there we worked on my endurance and speed, pacing and breathing, and I didn’t get a time goal (which I met!) until a few days before the race. It was all about meeting manageable goals along the way to achieve my main goal.
Coaches motivate you. Sometimes motivation is that push to run a lap of the track faster, to put in an extra kilometer, or to change part of your diet. But, motivation doesn’t mean screaming. The only time I’ve heard my coach yell is when someone is super close to their time and he’s screaming, “You’ve got it!” (This form of screaming is allowed…you want to hear that!)
If you find the right coach, some of the crappy stuff becomes fun. Case in point: track work. The way my coach works is that his athletes all have different plans, but the group meets at the track for a session. We all get different times to run laps, he times us, and gives guidance. I can tell you that when I started, the idea of being timed running the track was terrifying. I couldn’t run a mile without stopping. I ran everything the same speed, and the track mystified me. By the end of the season, I saw a difference. I got the whole ‘sprinting to the finish’ thing, I understood pacing, I could feel when I was pushing too hard and when to pull it back a bit. And forget running a mile non-stop. He had me run 5K. In my group, I was the slowest. To put it in perspective, my marathon finish time was one hour LONGER than the next slowest person in my group. But, on the track it seemed more equal. Because …
Coaches come with good teammates. As much I loved my coach, I also loved having teammates. Yes, I was the slowest. But, it’s amazing to train with people who are incredibly talented and fast runners. They place first in the races where I hope not to finish last. You’d think there’d be snobbery or elitism, but there isn’t. In fact, I learned a LOT from the more elite runners. I learned that it’s not easy for them either. I watched them get just as anxious as me before a tough workout. I asked them for advice about everything from race courses to stretches. One of my goals last season was to run laps of the track under 2 minutes and I worked my butt off to get that. In the Fall, I did it. And you know what? All those elites who think nothing of running a 2-minute lap…they were screaming and cheering in support. Because they get it. (And side note … I made some really good friends who I love outside of running.)
It may be less expensive than you think. All coaches charge different amounts, but for me, the cost wasn’t exorbitant. When I looked at the cost of a coach vs. a personal trainer at the gym, it was cheaper – about the cost of a yoga class in my area. And, depending on your needs (a training plan vs. group training vs. online training), you may be able to find something to fit your budget.
Find the coach who’s right for you. I actually did a lot of research on coaches and running groups. I chose my group because of what Coach Kevin put on his site. Training was accessible for everyone. He coaches all levels. When I saw coaches who only wanted specific speeds, I skipped those. I also booked a time to meet with my coach (over the phone). I needed to know he wasn’t trying to work miracles – I wasn’t trying to qualify for Boston. In turn, he wanted to know that I was willing to commit. I knew in the first call that he was the right fit.
Coaching may not be for everyone. But it’s worth trying. At the end of my season, I was a faster, happier, healthier runner … and I won the Team Award. Not bad for the slowest runner on the team!