Prior to January 2013 I had no idea what it meant to be a running coach, because I had never worked with one before. I had five years of nutrition counseling and wellness coaching on my resume, and many more of endurance running led by endless internet research, tips from running friends, and my own trail/error experiments. I had used the free Runner’s World training programs, read all the blogs, heard of Hal Higdon, and printed out many a calendar full of scheduled workouts. I knew how to be a coach, of sorts, and I knew how to structure a training program for myself, but I had no idea how to effectively mix these skills.
Katie and I have been friends for a lot of years, and I knew she had recently taken the leap to coaching full-time. Right before I entered my RRCA coach training weekend, I sent her a little note that basically said, “What the heck am I doing?” But also, “HOW do I do it?”
She sent me a long response that basically said two things: You’ll figure it out, I promise. And: let’s work together! Both of which sounded pretty good to me.
This is the short version of the 18 months that followed:
- 3 marathon training cycles
- 2 big life changes (cross-country move, wedding)
- 1 Boston Qualifying finish (Eugene, 2015 – 3:34)
In that time I learned how to run by time instead of mileage, by heart rate instead of (solely) pace, with real strength training exercises instead of half-assing a few lunges here and there. I learned the importance of consistently cross-training, and obeying the schedule instead of running to please my ego. I also learned how endlessly satisfying it is to make the TrainingPeaks boxes turn green; brilliant move there, TP.
Most important, I learned about how the coach:athlete relationship evolves, functions, and thrives. I spent a few early weeks and months ignoring a lot of advice, then a few months blindly following it, and then a LOT of months understanding that every workout had a purpose, whether I could see it right away or not.
I learned more through those three marathon training cycles than all four that preceded them, combined. I also learned how to be a coach. But, there are plenty of coach:athlete pairs that just don’t quite work, like any other relationship! As you start to search for your coach, consider the priority of these questions relative to both your training goals and personality type:
- If someone is telling you want to do, how do you typically respond? There are varying personality tendencies and yours will have a significant impact on the style of coaching you need. Talk to potential coaches to get a sense of how their personality jives with yours. Think about the things you respond to well, and seek a coach that can complement that.
- What are your specific goals? Think about your sport (running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, weight-lifting, etc.) and your specific goals. Check out a coach’s style and experience to get a sense of how you’ll be supported and what you might learn. Share your top three priorities/goals with potential coaches to get that conversation going.
- How much are you willing to change? Some coaches are willing to match your preferred training style, some will introduce something entirely new to you, some will meet you in the middle. Think back to #2 as you consider this question and talk to coaches.
- What level of interaction or involvement are you looking for? A coach won’t always be your best friend, and some coaches prefer to keep relationships very professional, some coaches provide daily feedback, some weekly or monthly. Think about your budget, your answers to each question above, and your expectations.
Consider these things as you begin your search. Be honest about all of the above as you reach out to any potential coach, because it will help them help you.
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