Friday, January 6, 2017

Looking For a Running Coach? Consider This First

So, you are thinking about getting a running coach? You say you want to take your running to the "next level" and believe that this an important step in that direction? Well, before you do, give what you are about to read some thought.
I should preface by saying I've been running for now 58 years and have raced for probably 54 of those years. Over the decades I competed in everything from the 50 yard dash to 50 miles. I've coached high school cross country and track distance runners as well as individuals. I am not saying this to brag but to let you know I've worked with, and had contact with, a lot of coaches, a lot. Here are some things to consider before choosing a running coach--in no particular order.
1.Does he run, has he ever run?
Now, I know that the great Australian coach Percy Cerutty said--"those who can't do can't teach," BUT, I would soften that quote a bit by saying--those who have never run, can't relate. The prospective coach doesn't have to have a resume with stunning p.r.'s, you just want someone who is familiar with....running.  One of the biggest fallacies out there is that current or former elite athletes make the best coaches. If you look into this you will quickly see that this is not so. However, the good coach must have a knowledge of what I will call distance running 'theory' and this brings us to the second needed quality.
2.What is his philosophy or method in regards to distance training? While we're on the subject, what is your knowledge of distance training? If you want to take it to the "next level," surely you have studied distance training? Now regarding what I call distance training theory---I, and millions of other runners and coaches, follow a program that is based on a Lydiard (as in Arthur) schedule. In a nutshell, this program involves building an extensive aerobic base, to gradually incorporating more stressful training(hills and intervals) which leads to a specific competitive season. This competitive season has a beginning and an end. No, you don't race all year or compete during the building phases. Through this program you are fine tuning your body so it is in optimal condition on race day. The genius of the Lydiard program is in its simplicity and how logical it is.
If a coach believes in a 'you have to run fast to be fast' mindset from the beginning of your training and you can compete anytime he thinks you are fit enough, then he should be scratched off your list of potential coaches. Countless runners have had their careers ruined, potentials unreached and their interest in running destroyed because of this way of thinking. As an aside, I saw this type of coaching all the time when I was involved in high school athletics.
3. Does the prospective coach say he will take a recent/past running and racing history on you?
You would be surprised at how many don't do this or can't be bothered. They just give you their schedule. I say you can't know where I'm going if you don't where I've been. Evaluating where you are physically at present, history of injuries and type of training you have been doing is essential for a coach to know. While on the subject of a distance runner being injured, you ever notice how the coach is never blamed for his athletes being injured?
4. Depending on where your coach lives this criteria may not be applicable for choosing a running coach.
How does he interact with his athletes, what kind of attitude does he have when his runners fall short of his expectations in workouts and at races? I used to cringe when I would see coaches berate their athletes in front of everyone after they raced poorly. Who do they think felt the worst after a poor race? To be a truly good coach you have to have a little bit of the psychologist in you. You have to know the right time to console and the right time to scold.
If your coach does not live in you area then you might be able get a glimpse into how he really is by looking at the materials he puts on his website or sends out. A phone conversation is definitely a must before signing on. Have questions prepared, don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. If he gets irritable, impatient or sounds put out by what you ask, avoid him like the plague, no matter how many great endorsements by other runners he may list.
5.Lastly--how much does he or she charge for his services? I suppose this is all up to the individual but if your coach will not be a presence physically to watch and monitor certain workouts, then how much cash do you really want to dish out? I guess it all depends on the athlete and the amount of money they have. This decision should also be related to what level you are trying to attain, is it national class, international level?  If it is isn't and you simply want to race well then let me suggest this; begin by reading some articles and books by Arthur Lydiard. Arthur always taught that his schedules were intended to be structurally followed (easier training always precedes harder, more stressful training) but adapted in depth and degree to fit the individual athlete.
I'd be remiss not to suggest reading another book, The Self-Made Olympian by Ron Daws. Ron showed that a man with very modest distance p.r.'s could make it all the way to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team.
It just took total dedication and what Percy Cerutty used to call "intelligent work." By that he meant, always thinking and evaluating everything you do on the way to achieving your goal.
The question I  have for you now is, do you really still think you need a running coach?