Ahhhhh, marathon season. In the age of social media, blogs and internet articles, advice is in abundance. What should you eat? How many days should you run per week? What should your mileage be? How do you deal with a pesky IT band problem? What are the best shoes for you? The “answers” are everywhere and everyone swears they’ve got the silver bullet to get you across that finish line.
But sometimes you need a coach.
Ryan Hall has famously dropped his coach after a bummer finish in Chicago. Kara Goucher split from Alberto Salazar this fall and I haven’t found out whether or not she has a new coach/team yet. There are plenty of other examples of famous, extremely successful professional athletes who don’t have coaches. Gina Colata from the New York Times wrote about the conundrum between getting a coach and going it alone this week (she’s keeping hers, by the way).
So, how do you know when you should bother trying to find a coach?
1. You’re changing your distance. There is a HUGE difference between running a half marathon and a marathon. They are completely different beasts and should be treated as such. A coach can help guide you through the trials and travails of adding on mileage without beating your body up.
2. You want to get faster. Sometimes it’s a simple difference in workouts that will make you faster. Sometimes it’s having someone tell you what your goal pace for a weekly speed run should be. Sometimes it’s being held accountable for your workouts and effort. Coaches can help with all of this and have lots of tricks to help you PR.
3. You keep getting injured. Good coaches are excellent at being bossy. They tell you when to back off the speed or mileage and when to see a physical therapist/acupuncturist/massage therapist/orthopedist about a nagging injury. They’re also the ones who can help with strength-training routines to combat common injuries (or, at least they should be).
4. You need motivation. Coaches are excellent motivators. I remember Coach Mustache my freshman year of high school. He never said an unkind word to me or berated any of us the way you might imagine a coach would and we all ran our BUTTS off for him. He just knew how to motivate us (Conference! Regionals! Sectionals! State!).
5. You’re new. Get. A. Coach. Pleeeeeeeease. There are some tricks and tips they can offer you that will make running so much more enjoyable, thus increasing the odds that you will keep on doing it. Remember, “most people don’t run long enough on their first wind to realize they have a second.” Don’t be that guy. It can be discouraging. Get an expert’s advice.
There are certainly bad coaches out there and, as noted in the NYT article above, there isn’t any national overseeing body that certifies running coaches. However, making sure your coach has some sort of education where anatomy and physiology are concerned is key. Also, your coach should be a runner. That might go without saying, but I’m going to go ahead and say it since a certain trainer seems to be spouting advice all over TV about how to run a marathon and he/she HAS NEVER RUN ONE. I mean, seriously.
If they haven’t been through the hell at mile 23, I’m tuning out. Just being honest.
Anyway, there are great coaches out there and it’s even better to join a team where you can commiserate with others about how much hill workouts suck and that marathon course is super-fast and what’s your goal time at this weekend’s race? Teams are great and they usually have multiple coaches with different training styles, so find one you like. Find one you gel with. Find one you trust. And then GO FOR IT!
Now go out and run!