Why I Picked My Running Coach

It’s a nearly indisputable fact that if you want to progress in your athletic goals you need a plan to do it and that the best way to get a plan that works is to get a qualified coach who knows you.

There are plenty of reasons to get a coach. They provide an outside perspective you lack. They can, then, make decisions you don’t have the wherewithal to make. They can push you, if you need it. They, typically, are more knowledgeable about training physiology and constructing a season. They have the ability and time (since it’s their job) to plan your workouts in a constructive way.

But, not all those reasons are true for all people.

For me, there are two main reasons a coach is a good investment:

1. I lack time. I can construct a season using basic training principles that peaks for my goal races, but I don’t always have the time to do it well. And, when I need to move things around on the fly, I really lack the time to figure that out, which then stresses me out and makes me opt to curl up in a ball on the couch.

2. I lack… let’s call it… good self-judgement. I’m actually not as bad as plenty of people who think they have great judgement and then race you to the top of every hill on their bike and wonder why they’re just always too tired when races come around. Because you’re an idiot, that’s why.

But, I am a cyclical binge trainer. I plan a really good couple weeks, cram a bunch of stuff in, hit every workout and go a little nuts. And, then, I start to get really, really tired. (Now, there’s a bigger question about why I always get really tired and struggle with a level of training that every other rookie triathlon pro was fine with, but the answer may be found in #1 or it may be that I have no immune system and am prone to all kinds of weird illnesses. Who knows. Either way…) I get really tired and I start cutting things. This is easy when you have no coach. I am very, very good at rationalizing. You just cut a little here, a half hour there, opt not to do the strides, change the mile repeats to 800m repeats, until suddenly you’ve cut like half your workouts. Then, I feel really bad, so I plan a couple good weeks, cram a bunch of stuff in, go a little nuts. And, the cycle continues.

I have obviously figured out ways to deal with this. But, still, these are the main reasons a coach is a benefit for me. I’m sure other people have other reasons.

There are, however, a number of reasons coaches haven’t worked for me at different points, which is probably why I go back and forth between self-coaching and not.

These are the main problems I have had with hiring a coach:

1. I don’t like people. In general, I mostly think most people are idiots. And, even with those I do like I will probably wonder what the hell they’re thinking some of the time. There may be a whole host of psychological issues I ought to deal with here, but it is what it is. And, the coaching business is booming right now with virtually everyone who has ever done a race calling themselves a coach and sending out training plans they copied out of the back of Runner’s World. Sifting through the mess is a big deterrent.

2. I don’t like spending money on things besides food and clothes and movies. Most good coaches, who are coming up with their own ideas based on, like, science and stuff, cost money.

3. I don’t like handing over my emotional investment to someone else. There is a degree to which coming up with my own plan and having to construct my workouts and reading about all the latest strength training ideas makes me more invested in what I’m doing. When I just do whatever the paper says I should do, I don’t think about it. And, one step after not thinking about something is not caring about it. Which brings us to the last, and probably biggest issue, I have.

4. It’s hard to explain what motivates me or why I care about some things and not others. But, man, if I don’t care what you think, then I really don’t care what you think. This big issue probably comes down simply to: personality. I had one coach who was convinced I’m a Type A, super-intense person and he was always trying to talk me down, which was all wrong. I only seem intense because I talk quickly and swear a lot. In reality, I do NOT need to be talked down and told not to go too hard. I can talk myself out of going too hard all on my own. I’ve had other coaches who would give me whole pumping up lectures. Also, not my thing. Shockingly.

Getting someone who knows you and what works and what doesn’t is hard. Particularly, if you’re a bitchy weirdo.

Throughout the years, I have had different coaches and worked with different coaches. I even coach at the local high school. (And, I’m not convinced I’m super awesome. I probably need to be stricter and less ‘eh, well, you’ll learn from your mistakes.’) Some of the coaches I still hate; some I loved.

[I can recommend Jennifer Harrison, who is particularly good I think with people who need someone energetic and motivating, and Craig Upton, who is very laid-back (and from New Zealand) but willing to answer any questions or talk at length about any minutia.]

So, when I wanted to get ready for Boston I had specific requirements I was looking for in a coach. I wanted someone focused solely on running, qualified (obviously), preferably who knew Boston well and had experience there, willing to construct just a race-specific plan aimed at a specific goal (as opposed to a year-long plan), not too expensive, and – most importantly – knew me and/or would get along with me.

I went with Mario.

Mario is obviously all of the qualified/experienced things and is stupid cheap for being that knowledgeable and crazy responsive. (Seriously, Mario, raise your rates.) But, he is also my editor at Competitor, which I write for a decent amount, and I had some concerns about that. Or, well, I didn’t, but it seemed like the kind of thing a lot of people would say was a bad idea.

What if I miss a deadline, but he knows I went for a run instead? (Not that that’s something I do.) Or, what if I swear at him a bunch for one of his workouts and he hates me and doesn’t like my stories anymore?

But, it turns out it’s actually worked sort of the opposite way. At least for me. Like I said, it’s hard to explain what motivates me, but it’s a consistent fact that I have to care and I have to care what the person on the other end thinks — if they’re just going to like me whether or not I go fast, well, it’s easier to not go fast. I have to believe that THIS matters, that if I don’t nail this workout or win this race, then everything will go to shit, people will hate me, I’ll be an embarrassment, and life as we know it will be over. If I can logically rationalize why this doesn’t matter, then, well, I’ll probably do that when it gets tough and I’ll probably slow down and I’ll probably give up a little.

(Seriously, in the middle of a hard race, I can’t be the only person that thinks: Why am I doing this? Everything will still be fine if I slow down. What’s the reason to go harder? One more person in front of me doesn’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things. This is good enough, you’re doing good enough.)

Now, though, somehow, I have convinced myself that if I bomb a workout or quit a race, Coach Mario will judge me and think less of me and assign me fewer stories and I’ll make no money and everything will be terrible. I have convinced myself it matters. (In reality, I recognize that he is much more reasonable than that, probably…)

This may be horrible logic. But, it works. I have missed very few workouts; I am nailing things; and I am running faster than ever. And, for me at least, if you can get a coach that can make you really care — for whatever reason, however flawed — that seems worth it.

9 thoughts on “Why I Picked My Running Coach

  1. I’m starting to really like your blog. I laughed out loud: I don’t like people. God, I love honesty. And your training perspectives are insightful and funny too.

  2. Ha – I feel like you’re talking about me! Must be why I like your blog… 🙂 I’m trying out the self-coached thing this year (partly because I’m cheap and partly because I want to see if I’m NOT an idiot)… we’ll see how it goes. So far it seems like a lot of responsibility that I’m not ready for.

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