For a relatively inexpensive report, we all know how quickly we can blow our budget purchasing everything people tell us we “need” or “must have” if we are truly going to be a runner. There is a constant barrage of footwear, apparel, nutrition and gear commercials. That guy in the running group swears by foam rollers, yoga, magical shakes and his Fabletics subscription. That fast chick you see attributes her success to her chiropractor, her vegan dietician and her coach.
Most of us have limited resources, so how do we decide what’s really worth it? Where is your money best spent to make you the best runner you can be? One of those choices I debated for a long time was the hiring of a coach.
The first time I heard of a “recreational” runner referring to their coach, I think I laughed to myself in disbelief. Seriously a coach? Who did these people think they were? It’s not like they were going to the Olympics. Coaches are for high school and college athletes… and elites. After school, if you weren’t good enough to be a professional runner, you just figured it out on your own, right? As the years went by, I found myself wanting better and more specific results from my running. It wasn’t enough just to finish, or to stumble into a small PR, I started working really hard and I captured my first Boston Qualifier. After that milestone, I began to think that maybe I needed to work smarter to achieve my next big goal. Perhaps it was time I got some help. Maybe I needed a coach. But was a coach “worth it?” I had no idea where to start looking and wasn’t sure if I could justify the cost.
While I was pondering this, my friend Nicole Camp mentioned that Brad Hudson’s group (Nicole trains with Hudson in Colorado) was starting a coaching program. The price was great and the money went directly to the athletes’ training and travel fund. I admired and trusted Nicole so it seemed like the time was right to take the plunge. I ran the Baton Rouge marathon in January of 2015 and started my training with Nicole soon thereafter.
I was excited to finally do things right and make sure I was focusing my effort on the correct things. But underneath that excitement, I was nervous. I was embarrassed to tell people I was working with a coach. What if I trained for months and showed no improvement in my races? Would people track my race results and laugh at me for paying a coach? I wanted to prove that it was worth the time and money I was putting into it, but mostly I wanted to prove that I was “good enough” to have a coach.
One of the hardest but best parts of being trained by someone else is giving up control. It is both liberating and paralyzing. In the past, one of my favorite parts of training for a race was sitting down and planning out my training schedule for the next three to four months. I’d create a calendar in excel and lay out my long runs, pepper in some shorter races, and print it out so that I could cross off each run after I completed it. When I talked with Nicole she informed me that she would give me my workouts on a weekly basis… like Sunday night weekly basis! At first I didn’t know how to handle this. No spreadsheets, no calendars, how was I supposed to plan?!!! After a few weeks, I gave into the lack of control and I began to love it. I didn’t have to think about what I should do. I didn’t have to obsesses or worry about making up a missed run or how many 20 milers to do. Every Sunday night, Nicole told me exactly what to do.
My nervousness about being good enough didn’t go away though. I would worry all the time about my workouts. What if I didn’t get a workout in because I was sick and the kids were sick and my husband was out of town and I couldn’t get on the treadmill until 10 p.m and the rest of the week was filled with track and skating and swimming and soccer and [add in a million other responsibilities here]. What if I only got half the workout in? What if I couldn’t keep the paces Nicole felt I could keep? Was I letting her down? Was I letting myself down? Was I just proving that I wasn’t a good enough runner to have a coach?
Well April came around and with it the Boston Marathon. Nicole and I decided I wasn’t going to race Boston, it would be a training run for my marathon in June, so no pressure. Boston that year was a cold, windy, rainy mess and I went in with no expectations and a watch that decided not work that day. Somehow I ran my second best time ever. Needless to say, I was excited to see what the future held!
Nicole’s workouts were harder and longer than what I was used to, but I began to see that I could do them and they were paying off. She wasn’t asking for anything I wasn’t capable of doing. She understood that my biggest weakness was my mental game and even helped me with that by giving me books to read about mental toughness. The strategies explained in those books have stuck with me during every run.
In June I headed to Washington State for my next race. The temperatures got into the 90’s by the end of the race, and the course had no water on the last 5 miles. Despite all of that, I finished just a few minutes slower than my PR. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a huge breakthrough, but I knew the training regimen had made me stronger and tougher. There is no way pre-Nicole I could have run that race in those conditions as well as I did.
I enjoyed the variety of Nicole’s workouts as the year went on and she prepared me for my next big race in Portland. With race day came a series of random issues beyond my control (see Are You Sabotaging Yourself with Race Day Woes?). Again, I didn’t see the PR I was looking for, but I was tougher, stronger, and able to handle far more than I ever thought possible.
As the year wrapped up I parted ways with Nicole. There was just too much going on in life for me to keep up with the aggressive schedule. I was starting to burn out and needed to back it off. I needed a break. I stopped training with her just six weeks out from my next marathon. I followed a similar plan to what she’d had me run 6 weeks before my last race, I just backed it off a bit. I’d skip a workout here and there to run with friends, or cut a cool down short by a mile or so. Best of all, I stopped taking everything so seriously. And it wasn’t a surprise that I finally got my PR.
I have no doubt that I ran that PR because of the training schedule I had with Nicole. Because of her advice, I became a stronger runner physically, but more importantly I became a stronger and smarter runner mentally. The late-night, long speed workouts taught me that my body could work hard even when it was exhausted. The tempo runs that seemed impossible taught me that I was capable of more than I thought. The higher mileage and additional weekly workouts taught me that my body was able to do amazing things. The PR that came after the pressure was off taught me that my own thoughts and expectations control my running more than anything.
Working with a coach taught me I have the ability to reach my goals and to be the runner I want to be, I just need to believe it. And when the time is right, if Nicole is still open to coaching, I will work with her again in the future. For now, I’m juggling too many balls in the circus of life to make it work.
But from my perspective the answer is yes, a coach is “worth it.” And not only am I a “good enough runner” to have a coach, so are you if you have big goals and want to achieve them.
So if you’re wondering if a coach is one of those “needs” or “must haves” for you, I would seriously consider giving it a try. Sometimes you need to give up control to see what you are truly capable of. Sometimes all it takes is a small tweak to make your hard effort pay off. It’s like trying to drive a nail in with a screwdriver. Eventually you’ll get that nail in, but a coach can be the one that hands you the hammer to get the job done.
Do you have a coach, or have you ever? Is a coach worth it to you?