Why I Decided to Work With a Coach

Is it a midlife running crisis? A cry for help? An acknowledgement of defeat? All I know is that this spring, after more than 20 years of training solo, I was ready for a change. I just wasn’t sure exactly what kind.

I’ve been running consistently for years, sometimes casually and sometimes more structured or high mileage training, but always self-directed. Sometimes my self-coaching led to PR’s, and sometimes the results were not so hot: over-training or injury.

This year, I decided it was time for change.

I ran when I was pregnant and got myself back into race training after giving birth to my son in 2011. I trained intensively in 2012 and 2013, setting some PRs. In 2014 I re-entered the world of paid work and ran more casually for a while, haphazardly adding workouts a few weeks before goal races and never really making progress with my race times. Last year, I decided to run the Berlin marathon and did a good job (if I do say so myself) sticking to my training plan until injuring my foot two weeks before the race.

I was disappointed to miss the marathon, and the thought of all those “wasted” back-to-back 10-mile tempos and 2.5-hour long runs made me bitter. Like a person burned in a bad breakup, I swore off training for races. Never again would I make such a commitment! Fool me twice, shame on me! And so on.

Well, I still feel like you’d have to pay me an obscene amount of money to even consider training for a marathon again. But it’s almost summer, time to sign up for fall races, and I was bored with noncommittal winter and spring running, edging close to committing to less of a jerk so I’d have something to train for: a September 10k or half marathon.

I liked the idea of running a race, but missed the spark of enthusiasm and joy at the thought of putting together a plan. The thought of running by myself all summer was a bit deflating, too. That’s what I’ve always done, and at least in the last couple of years, it hasn’t really gotten me any faster. Yes, I do find joy in the process, but I also find joy in progress. And right now, I don’t have much faith in my ability to progress on my own.

Why not? Is it really true that I can’t reach my goals on my own? Maybe not. With enough time and attention to detail, I could analyze my mistakes, hone in on the right goal paces, and revolutionize my training. Maybe it would even work. The truth is, I don’t want to. I want to achieve things with my running, and I don’t want to do it alone. Coaching yourself is a little like trying to be your own psychotherapist: it’s almost impossible to overcome your blind spots.

You see where this is going: either Caraway finds a running club, or Caraway gets a coach. Berlin is full of running clubs, but there were scheduling issues involved with making it to track practices. (I did find a group that meets on Sundays to do long runs, so if feeling brave on a Sunday morning, I might join them!) I decided to find an online coach.

The next time I cross a finish line, it’ll be under the guidance of an awesome coach.

The decision immediately felt like the right one. A coach not only tells you what to run and when; they look at your paces and adjust them as needed. Am I the only one who’s clueless about that? In fact, when I talked to my coach on the phone, she said matter of factly, without a trace of bravado or salesmanship, “When it comes to your race, I’ll know what you can run. I can look at your workouts and tell you.” At that moment, I was ready to sign up to be coached for the rest of my life.

Of course, a coach also tells you when to run and when to rest. They tell you how and when to build up your miles. These three things comprise all the mistakes I usually make (too much too soon, not enough rest, and random pacing decisions, basically). There are very likely other non-optimal things I do in training that I don’t even realize, so I’m looking forward to learning as well as to doing.

I wish I had wisdom to impart about the search, but I tend to go by my intuition, so probably 90% of my selection process was based on that. I knew what kind of plan I wanted – one that incorporates a variety of paces from the beginning – and drawing on some of Salty’s advice for finding a coach, I was able to narrow down to one choice pretty quickly.

So … here I am. Officially coached! My first goal race is a half marathon in early September, and my main goal for right now is all about getting in the training and doing all the little things and #extrasalt to make sure I get as much out of it as I can.

I did my first workout today: 6 x 3-minutes hard. Not gonna lie, it’s been a few months since I last ran that fast. The usual doubts went through my head – is it too fast? Does it matter that I ran some reps slower? Am I running myself into the ground already? – and it felt great to tell myself that I just have to do the work.

Coach J will see the splits and take it from there. No fretting necessary.

Have you ever considered getting a coach?

I'm a 41-year-old living in Berlin, Germany. I run because I can't not run. I write about training, mental training, momming, and the odd rant.

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  1. I’m so excited for you! Hiring a coach has been so tremendous for me. Similar to what your coach said about race times โ€” I have confidence from knowing that if coach puts a workout on the schedule, it’s because he knows I can do it. (Same with long runs.) I also relied on intuition a bit when it came to selecting โ€” I think you have to have a connection with the coach for it to really work!

  2. I’m on a mission to break 3 hours in a marathon and am thinking that I’ll need a coach to get there. Without any formal training up to this point, I’m sure there are a lot of things I could be zoning in on that I don’t even realize. And, it will be great to have that extra pang of guilt when I reach for the doughnuts! Best of luck with your coaching!

  3. I have considered getting a coach before! I hope to once I have the baby and kind of get started back into running. I hope to be faster than ever, and this way, I’ll be extra motivated! Good luck with your coach, I’m excited to see where this takes you!