When To Get a Run Coach

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!


5 Ways to Keep Your Cool on Race Day

Race season is upon us and all over the world people are gearing up for every race distance imaginable. From the 5th Avenue Mile to the many, many marathons and ultra marathons happening in the next few weeks, millions of runners will toe the line this Fall, all with the same thought, “Please let me finish.”

I’ve quoted him before, but I will do it again because I love this quote; Alberto Salazar says, “We are all cowards at the start line.” So true. I don’t know one person who gets to the start line of any race and isn’t a-flutter with nerves and itching to start. It’s normal. You’ve trained for weeks, months, sometimes years, and it’s all going to come down to how you do after that gun/air horn goes off. That’s terrifying.

Relax. Here are 5 ways to keep your cool as you make your way to the start line:

#1. Breathe. Deeply. Don’t underestimate the power of your breath to calm you down. If you find that your pulse is racing take a moment, sit down, close your eyes and take deep, even breaths until your heart rate comes down. No sense in wasting energy being nervous, right?

#2. Remain calm. Even if you’re freaking out in the inside, keep your physical self calm by walking around. Consciously relax your face, hands and shoulders. Tense muscles make for tense runners so do your best to chill out.

#3. Jog (slowly!) around your corral. I don’t mean for you to add on 3 more miles before your race, but warming up can help ease the jitters that come along with having too much adrenaline coursing through your veins while standing at a start line.

#4. Visualize your training runs. Remind yourself that you’ve done this distance (or close to this distance) on your training runs. Take a moment to sit down, close your eyes and visualize what one of the good training runs felt like. Easy, controlled, relaxed. Transfer that feeling into the present moment and take it with you to the start line.

#5. Trust your training. If all else fails and you’re still a ball of nerves at the start line, talk to yourself. Maybe not out loud, but tell yourself that your training is done and you’re going to go out and do your best. There’s nothing you can do once you get to the start line, it’s all in the training. Let go and trust yourself.

Have fun out there, everyone. Best of luck in your upcoming races. Stay cool, stay calm and try to enjoy the moment.

Now go out and run!

Running ≠ Healthy (not all the time, anyway)

(Today’s post was supposed to be an Exercises To Do This Week, but Blackberry RIM has pooped out in the NYC area–found out via Twitter, not from the two people at AT&T whom I spoke with on the phone for a half an hour. Thanks, Twitter. In short, no phone = no photos from workouts to share with ya’ll for the blog. Whatever. Onward!)

Much as we runners like to toot our own horns about being so health-conscious and, hey, we can outrun you, but running is not a get-out-of-jail-free card in the health department.

If you’ve ever watched a marathon, you know full well that there are marathoners of every age, shape and size. Some of the shorter, chubbier ones pass me and I still cannot believe it. Regardless, it is pretty obvious that running isn’t a free pass to a healthy body.

Running giant Alberto Salazar, winner of three consecutive NYC Marathons and legendary running coach, had a heart attack at age 48. Fit, trim, still running serious mileage and working out with world-class athletes, Salazar nearly died in front of his team. He actually did die, but was brought back and survived.

The great Grete Waitz, who won more NYC Marathons than anyone else in the race’s history–NINE, this past spring died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 57.

But we’re invincible, right? I mean, if we can finish marathons and crazy workouts and all that then we must be healthy, right? Wrong. Thin doesn’t always mean healthy. Fit doesn’t always equal healthy. The ability to finish a kick-ass workout doesn’t always equal healthy.

I’m such a downer, I know. Here’s the upside. Running will HELP to keep you healthy but you have to do a little bit of work elsewhere, too.

1. Visit your doctor for baseline blood work, cholesterol count, and possible ECG if you have cardiac disease in your family. And keep all those annual visits rolling.

2. Don’t ignore the warning signs of other stuff. Blood where it ought not be, exhaustion after days and days of rest, and pain that persists are all signs that something is off. Get checked out.

3. If your doctor blows you or your symptoms off, get a new doctor. Doctors are like yoga teachers: the right one is out there, you just gotta find him/her.

4. EAT REAL FOOD. I can’t stress this enough, but what you eat matters even more than what you do. If you eat crap, your insides will look like crap. You can’t run away all that drinking and terrible food. It will come back and haunt you.

5. Do stuff besides running. A well-balanced athlete is a healthy athlete. Don’t be “that runner” who says that running is all you need to do to be healthy/in shape. Seriously. You are smarter than that, I know you are.

Don’t stop running! Just make sure you’re taking care of yourself all-around and not just when you lace up your running shoes. You are too valuable to lose. So, cowboy/cowgirl up and take good care of yourself!

Now go out and run!


No Guts, No Glory

“Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.” ~ Alberto Salazar

Sometimes you gotta lay it all out on the line and race. I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself during marathon training season, but I do like to throw one longer race in the mix just to test my speed and race day routine before the BIG marathon (or whatever distance I’m gearing up for) morning. Racing is a key part of training. Here’s why.

When you plan for a race mid-training season, you have the opportunity to test out just about everything for your bigger, longer race. Your food, hydration, clothes, tunes, early morning routine, bathroom breaks, etc. The list is endless! I like to use it as a way of testing out how my nerves will be on marathon morning. Make no mistake about it, friends; I have run probably hundreds of races in my 21 year running career, but I still get the jitters at the start line. I still have trouble sleeping the night before. I still run to the bathroom every chance I get until that gun goes off. Oh, the nerves!

But this isn’t the BIG race. This is a little in-betweener. This is the perfect time to go out and lay down some serious speed. This is the time to perfect starting out slower and finishing faster. This is the race to figure out when to weave through the crowds and when to tuck behind and let someone else do the work for you. This is when you test that fancy-schmancy GPS watch of yours to see if it helps or hurts to have too much information mid-race. This is when you find out if those shorts really are too short or that shirt is going to chafe under your armpits. This is when you figure out how much water you really need and approximately how many Cliff Shot Bloks to eat and when. Seriously, that HAS to be done before your BIG race and this is the time to do it.

This weekend’s Battle of Brooklyn 10 miler is perfect for me. I’m about halfway into my training for Philly in November and getting into more serious mileage, so a speedy 10 miler should be just what the doctor ordered as a mid-way check in. I plan on doing about 8 minutes for my first mile until the crowd thins out a little and then hammering out 7:45-7:50 for the rest of the race. I’m also planning on running without my headphones and without my own hydration. I want to be speedy and have as little on my body as possible. I’m pumped. It’s my first post-Jersey Marathon disaster race and I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. I’m pumped.

I’m going to leave it all out there in Brooklyn, guys. You should find a short race to RACE just to test yourself. Get out there with the crowds and the crazy runners and the first-timers and see what you’re made of! You can do it! And while you’re at it, tell some of your family and friends what you’re up to and make a breakfast date for after the race. Everybody likes a diner breakfast (especially runners!) and people will come if there’s a promise of food. This I have learned well.

Wish us luck!

Now go out and run (but find a race first)!