Before I began training for last year’s Wrightsville Beach Marathon, I had decided that I wanted to hire a coach. Having never used a running coach before, I had some reservations early on about the idea. A few of those were valid. For example, I wondered if having a coach would actually be worth it for me since I am very self-motivated and usually don’t have a problem staying accountable to my training plans. But otherwise, most of my reservations were stupidly focused on the outside perceptions of me hiring a coach. More than anything, I guess I’m saying that I felt like I wasn’t “fast enough” to have a coach.
Ultimately, my more rational side talked me out of the petty concerns. My desire to improve as a runner and achieve the goals that had long been out of reach pushed aside the short list of reservations. I enlisted Sarah as my coach for a four month marathon training cycle.
The end result was that I shattered my goals and my expectations at the Wrightsville Beach Marathon (I wrote what is probably too much detail about the race in my recap, so I’ll leave it at that). Better still, I feel like those four months of hard work and attentive coaching brought my running to a new level that I continue to benefit from and build on.
I can’t say broadly that every runner out there should use a running coach. I think it entirely depends on each individual’s goals, training preferences and, of course, budget. But, in hopes of helping anyone reading who is considering hiring a coach, these are the ways that I found coaching beneficial to me:
- A new and individualized approach to training. It’s true that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I know this because, prior to enlisting the help of a coach, this is exactly what I was doing. Training season after training season I used the same or similar plans and tactics and, although I improved, I did so only marginally and nowhere close to as much as was necessary to tackle my goals. I had a hunch that I needed to overhaul my strategy in order to see big results. But I was terrified to try anything beyond my tried and true training plans for fear of training incorrectly or over training and getting injured. Before the season began, Sarah gathered as much information as she possibly could about me and my running history. Then she took all of that into account and designed a training plan specifically for me. There was a lot about the plan that was new, but also some parts that were familiar. It was clear that there was careful consideration into how best to balance those two things so that my body would stay healthy and make the greatest gains in marathon fitness.
- They introduce you to new, effective workouts. While working with Sarah, I gained knowledge of and experience with a wealth of new workouts that I have continued to incorporate into my training at various distances. As just one example, it had honestly never occurred to me to incorporate fast finish long runs into my training. Now it is my favorite training run to use because it gives me a great sense for where my combined endurance and speed are in the midst of training for longer distances and it trains my body to finish strong even when it is fatigued.
- You have an accountability partner. I know I just got done saying that I don’t have a problem sticking to my training plans on my own. It’s true. In fact, it’s so true that I am prone to being too much of a slave to my schedule and my desire to go above and beyond. I am the type of person that always wants to do the maximum amount of miles on my plan, at the fastest pace that makes sense, regardless of whether I am tired. But this just isn’t a smart or sustainable way to run. Since I would report to my coach weekly on my training runs, she could keep me accountable for holding back my easy runs to a pace that was actually easy and my mileage within the ranges prescribed in the plan. Whenever I told Sarah that I was feeling sick or run-down, she would tell me to take the day off. For some reason it is a lot easier to listen to someone else telling me to slow down or stop than it is to listen to myself. Whether you are the type of person who needs extra motivation to get out and get your training runs done, or you are like me and sometimes just need someone to tell you to back off, a coach can be a tremendously helpful accountability partner.
- Your training plan is more adaptable. Whenever I have to divert from my intended training plan due to sickness, injury, or travel, I tend to get caught up in the best way to rearrange my workouts. I know that I should never try to make up mileage that I’ve missed by adding it to my load in later weeks. But beyond that, I’m usually lost. What workouts are the key ones to try and incorporate later in the plan? How much time do I need to ease back into the plan if I’ve taken a bunch of time off? I had to divert from my training for Wrightsville Beach twice – for a terrible cold and for a nagging IT band issue. It was nice to have Sarah there to instruct me to take as much time off as I needed and to explain how the plan could so easily be restructured to put me back on track. Having the reassurance that my entire training cycle wasn’t in the process of crashing and burning allowed me to focus on the most important task at hand – properly resting and recovering so I could run again.
- They walk you through the race day game plan. I went into my goal marathon feeling empowered and confident in what I was supposed to do in order to put myself in a position to run my goal time. This was, in part, thanks to a very long conversation that I had with my coach the week before the race where we discussed everything from target pace for each section of the course to when and where to fuel. I had a much better strategy internalized that I ever had for a race before and it translated into a perfect execution of a strong, negative split marathon.
- Your own personal cheerleader. My family and friends are so supportive of my training and racing so I have never felt like I am taking on my goals all alone. But there is something unique about the way that a coach’s feeling of accomplishment is intertwined so closely with the successes of the athletes that they coach. I remember texting my coach after my first successful fast finish 20 miler and feeling like her excited response was so incredibly genuine and motivating. We were both feeling good because we could tell that my hard work, guided by her instruction, had me on the right track toward finally reaching my goal.
Based on my experience, I would certainly recommend hiring a coach to any runner who is committed to working toward any form of running goal – faster paces, longer distances, or whatever else you have your sights set on. I acknowledge that coaching may not be what every runner wants or needs, and that the benefits each runner experiences from coaching are likely to be different than mine. If you decide to invest in coaching, I recommend really taking the time to think about what you want the most out of coaching and what motivates you, and then attempt to find a coach whose background and demeanor match that.