6 Benefits of Using a Running Coach

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.

WBM3

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

It’s been a while…

I haven’t written a post in quite a while. There has been plenty going on worth writing about, but I have been happy to just embrace the experiences for myself instead of rehashing each and every one in its own blog post. Now that the year is (WAY too quickly) winding down, I felt like catching up the blog would be fun. So here’s what I’ve been up to during the summer and fall:

I tried some new things in the running/racing department through the summer. Coming out of training for the Wrightsville Beach Marathon, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t remotely sick of running. But I knew my mind and body needed a break from strenuous training. So I ran a few races for fun including my first trail race (a 7k in 37:35), a local half marathon (1:44:39) my first 8k (36:54), and a 5k (25:07). I learned that I am certainly not as strong at short distances as I am at half marathons and marathons. The 8k and 5k were both in some pretty ridiculously hot temperatures. But even if the temperatures had been ideal I doubt the results would have been impressive. The feeling of trying to sustain faster paces for a shorter race proved to be pretty foreign to my body and I could never maintain my pace in the later miles.

'Please just kill me now...'

‘Please just kill me now…’

I ran a new half marathon PR. Several of my Bull City Track Club teammates were traveling to race the Lehigh Valley Marathon in Pennsylvania in September. I jumped at the chance to make the trip with them and race the half marathon, knowing that an early fall race would be my best chance to train for a good performance since the later fall months were booked solid with wedding and honeymoon plans. I ended up running a really solid race. I perfectly executed negative splits, starting around a 7:37 average pace at mile 1 and ticking down to 7:25 average pace by the time I reached the finish line (my last mile was 6:51, which surprised the hell out of me). The end result was a shiny new half marathon PR of 1:37:11 and I couldn’t have been happier.

A new PR and third in my age group. And beer, of course.

A new PR and third in my age group. And beer, of course.

I was accepted into the Boston Marathon! No explanation is really necessary except to say that, after over two years of very hard work, it felt so incredible to get this email.

Best News Ever

I helped pace somebody for the first time. Last week I ran the Richmond Half Marathon alongside my friend Amelia. It was her second half marathon and she was hoping to improve her time from last year of 1:46:30 to somewhere around 1:45. I had a great time running with her and even felt like I was a helpful motivator at a few points along the way. We crossed the finish line together in 1:43:12 – an incredible new PR for Amelia!

Richmond

Most exciting and hands down most importantly… On October 24th, a perfectly beautiful day in Wilmington, NC, Jeremy and I got married! Part of me wants to go into great detail about each and every part of that weekend, but every single time I try to do that the words that come out don’t seem to adequately capture our happiness and gratitude. The best I can do is say that we couldn’t have asked for a better weekend celebrating with all of our friends and family. The ceremony and reception were fun, stress free, and fit us completely perfectly. At the end of it all, we both agreed that we felt at peace, like everything was exactly how it should be now that we were officially husband and wife.

Announcement

Reception

We topped off a great wedding weekend with 8 days of complete relaxation in Jamaica. We enjoyed plenty of quality time together unplugged from email and social media, ate all the food, drank all the adult beverages, and simply enjoyed the view.

Jamaica

The view from our room. I definitely still miss it.

It’s good to be back on the blog after an extended hiatus. Now that I’m somewhat caught up, maybe I can do a better job of making this into a regular thing again!

The 2014 Richmond Half Marathon

After a (mostly) great experience at the Richmond Marathon in 2013, I knew I wanted to come back and run this race again. I love that it is such a big running event but still seems to flow as smoothly as any small town race that I have run. And spending a weekend in Richmond always gives me a chance to spend time with my family.

This time around, I chose the half marathon since I had sworn off marathons for the remainder of 2014. And I was truly excited to sign up for the half. Since I hit the wall around mile 19 of the full marathon last year, I wanted to get a chance to really enjoy every mile of the race this time around and the half marathon is easily the most fun distance for me. To add to the excitement, a best friend of mine from high school decided to run Richmond as her first half marathon. I was really happy to be able to spend time with her and be a part of her first half marathon experience.

Of course, there’s no way everything can go according to plan. And in the week leading up to race day it became obvious it was going to be a VERY cold morning in Richmond (in the upper 20’s around the starting time). I obsessed over what I should or shouldn’t wear for multiple days.

After much debate, on race morning I stuck with my stubborn side’s inclination to wear shorts, my Bull City Track Club jersey, arm sleeves, gloves, and ear warmers. It was cold but really not bad at all after a few miles in. Amelia and I got there somewhat early and jogged around the start in throwaway sweats for a while which got us pretty warm.

My estimated finish time put me in the front corral so with 15 minutes left until the start I gave Amelia a hug and found a place in my corral to keep warming up. My watch decided to test my nerves and absolutely refused to catch a signal before the start. When the start came and it still hadn’t gotten with the program, I thought I was going to have to run watch-less. But, finally, a tenth of a mile in I heard it beep and come to life. A huge relief.

My goal for the race was to run a PR – under 1:43:30 – or even, if things went magically, get my first finish under 1:40.

I started at a pace that was fast enough to PR (around 7:42 per mile) but not sub-1:40 speed. I didn’t want to crash and burn at the end and lose the chance to PR, which is what I did in the Bull City Race Fest Half Marathon just a month ago. The first 4 or 5 miles I wondered if even a PR was going to happen, though. My legs felt fatigued even though it was early in the race. The first three miles were also a bit dull running straight down one road through the city. Mentally, I wasn’t feeling very positive at all.

Richmond 2

The next chunk of miles (5-8) I got a little more comfortable and confident that the PR was going to happen. We ran through a park and some residential areas and the changing leaves were so bright in some areas it was breathtaking. Mile 8 was hard (and my slowest mile) but I was still hovering at the same 7:42 per mile average pace. I felt like I could hold onto it but not like I could pick it up any faster. So I had kind of let go of the sub 1:40 idea.

Around mile 9 was a huge turning point. I don’t know what sort of good running karma I earned to deserve it, but so many things happened seemingly all at once that totally changed my mentality, and the outcome of my race…

  • Bull City Running Company, the local store that sponsors Bull City Track Club, had set up a huge display of Durham running signs on the side of the street. It was so good to see some familiar signage at this point.
  • A friendly stranger named Amanda came up from right behind me, told me my pace was awesome and how much I was helping her keep her goal pace. We ran together for a little bit until…
  • I saw another bright orange Bull City Track Club jersey ahead but couldn’t figure out who it was. So I picked it way up to catch them and say hello. Turns out it was a teammate I had yet to meet named Jen.
  • Another teammate, Jennifer (who I also hadn’t met), was right near by and introduced herself to me. She had been near me a lot of the race and even waved a few miles earlier but she was wearing a different top so I didn’t make the connection.
  • I saw some other familiar faces from the Durham running crowd out spectating. They were speeding by on the sidewalk riding on ElliptiGOs cheering like crazy. You can’t ask for better motivation than that.

By the time all this happened it was mile 10ish. All the motivators had me picking up speed without even noticing it. I looked down at my watch and suddenly my average pace was 7:38 per mile or so.

Jennifer picked up the pace and started to move ahead and I chased after her. I did my best to keep her in my sights for the entire last three miles and was completely amazed by what was happening. It was the last three miles of a half marathon, my pace was ticking faster and faster (as opposed to the usual slower and slower), and I was having fun and feeling surprisingly good.

Richmond finishes on a notoriously steep downhill. I knew that was coming so I pushed myself hard up to it. I was so thankful for that downhill too, because my calves were on the verge of cramping completely by the time I got there. But all my legs had to do was not give out and take advantage of the gravity for a speedy finish.

My chip time was 1:39:39. Almost a 4 minute PR and breaking below the 1:40 mark for the first time. I couldn’t be happier with it!

The thing I am probably most proud of is my split times. Every mile from mile 8 on was progressively faster and miles 9 through 13 were my fastest miles of the whole race:

Mile 1: 7:44
Mile 2: 7:40
Mile 3: 7:41
Mile 4: 7:39
Mile 5: 7:39
Mile 6: 7:42
Mile 7: 7:39
Mile 8: 7:48
Mile 9: 7:32
Mile 10: 7:29
Mile 11: 7:26
Mile 12: 7:18
Mile 13: 7:04

Richmond 1

Amelia also had an amazing first half marathon result and finished in 1:46! A cold but successful day in Richmond and I couldn’t have asked for a more fun weekend!

What’s the coldest temperature you’ve ever raced in?

Bull City Race Fest Half Marathon

About a week ago I ran the Bull City Race Fest Half Marathon in Durham. Going into the race, I didn’t have a specific plan I was going to stick to. Since I’m running two half marathons this fall, I have generally decided I would be happy with anything under 1:45 in both of them and would love to set some sort of solid PR in one of them. Bull City Race Fest was easily going to be the more difficult of the two since it is a hilly course and Richmond is practically flat. But before race morning I decided I would start out somewhere just under 8:00 per mile and see how it went and adjust accordingly.

I met up with friends from Bull City Track Club before the start. Ever since that time I was late to a race start I have a lurking paranoia of race tardiness so we got there over an hour ahead of time. It was chilly out but as the sun came up it turned into perfect race weather. There was plenty of time to use the bathroom, check our bags, and then take yet another, more hurried trip to the bathroom and run back to our starting spot.

The race started nearly five minutes early. Yes, five minutes EARLY. I’m pretty sure this is something that has never happened in the history of all races. Everyone was amazed (and/or kind of mad). The world may have even stopped spinning.

The race started in downtown Durham and there were immediately a number of little, rolling hills. When I first checked my watch I was at around a 7:45 pace. A little fast, but not necessarily too fast. As we left downtown and headed into the more residential areas I settled in and was steadily keeping it between 7:48 and 7:50.

BCRF 1

The easy highlight of the race was somewhere in the 6 mile-ish area when I saw my all time favorite Durham fixture. There’s an old, bearded man with a potbelly who I see absolutely every day walking by my office wearing no shoes, no shirt, with his dog ‘Happy’ in tow. Sure enough, he and Happy were standing on the side of the race course watching the runners pass by. Pretty much made my day. It’s the little things.

As we left the residential area and headed toward Duke University East Campus I was feeling less than perfect. I dealt with a side stitch and felt a bit worn down but was somehow staying within that same 2 second pace window the whole time.

Leaving East Campus during mile eight there was a fantastically fast and long down hill and it lent itself to my second wind. My average pace was still hovering around 7:50 into mile 9 and beyond and, for the first time, I felt some confidence that I could keep it going to the finish. After all, what’s three more miles?

But that’s when the soul-sucking hills made their appearance. The small and manageable rolling hills from the first three miles were nothing compared to the seemingly endless and steep hills during the last three miles. It was rough, and from mile 10 to the end I was just desperate to finish and my steady 7:50 average pace started to crash and burn.

I was able to pick up a little speed during one last, good downhill before a long straight and, of course, up hill finish. Usually I am able to manage a pretty strong finishing kick but, this time, not so much.

I finished in 1:43:58 and was 16th out of 280 in my age group. I was happy to keep it under 1:45 like I wanted and was actually pretty close to my PR time of 1:43:30. I think the whole thing is a pretty positive sign for what I can do at the Richmond Half Marathon in a few weeks.

The race was well-run, minus that whole starting early thing, and it was fun to run through a lot of parts of Durham that were new to me. But easily the best part of the race weekend for me was being able to enjoy it with new friends that I have met through Bull City Track Club. I’ve been running alone for a long time (like, the entire time) and having new friends to train and race with has been such a great contribution to the sport for me.

BCRF 3

Oh, and the other best part of the race was this picture of me at the finish where I look utterly horrified by whatever is on my watch.

BCRF 2

You’re welcome for that.

Run any races recently? How did it go?

Fall race season fun

I’ve been pretty negligent blog-wise over the past few months. It’s a good thing I’ve been doing the occasional race update here and there or else I may have dropped off the map completely.

I’ve been doing some real important things like working, wedding planning, and training. And even more unimportant things like watching too many episodes of Revenge and Breaking Bad and getting completely sucked into Gone Girl. I’m very close to finishing the book so if you’ve read it or seen the movie and are dying to comment about the ending just keep it to yourself until tomorrow, I beg of you.

Somewhere in there, the fall race season crept up on me. I’m running the Bull City Race Fest half marathon on Sunday which should be a good time. I got a free entry for volunteering last year so it was an easy choice to give this race a try. There’s also a food truck rodeo at the post-race party so I would probably have shown up even if I wasn’t running just to eat all the food.

Bull City Race Fest

I’ve heard it’s a pretty hilly course which I’m not REALLY worried about but I’m not NOT worried about. I’ve been doing some hill workouts this training cycle which is beyond shocking for me. You see, usually my game plan is to deliberately hunt down and sign up for races that have no hills instead of attempting to train myself to run up them with any sort of skill.

I also signed up for the Richmond half marathon recently, which is November 15th. I loved the Richmond marathon, so I thought it would be nice to run the half and be able to enjoy the race from start to finish instead of spending a couple of miles in between cursing the sport of running and my poor, aching legs.

AnthemRichmondMarathonLogo

I have no idea how these races are going to turn out. I have progressively felt mentally stronger after spending the last months of summer feeling less than stellar about my training. But I am not so sure where I am physically or how it will translate on race day.

I would love to get close to 1:40 in either one of my fall half marathons, but I won’t be crushed if it doesn’t happen.

How about you fine people: What races are you running this fall? Or, if you think running is just for crazy people (and you’re right), what is something else big you have planned this fall?