Graduation season has me thinking about some of the options for recent running grads who want to keep the dream alive. I was once in the same boat, and I want to share what choices are out there and what to consider when navigating your post-collegiate training options. Through my post-collegiate years I’ve trained in each of the three main options: a highly structured elite development team; a less structured competitive club team; and training on my own.
Of course, this information isn’t limited to new grads! Any competitive runner of any ability can benefit from determining her best training environment.
Below are the basic differences between the post-collegiate training options. Of course, there’s a lot of variability within each category, but generally speaking, here’s the scoop.
Structured Elite Development Teams
Some notable elite development teams are Hansons-Brooks (where Paprika, Spearmint, and I all were all team members at various points), the Nike Oregon Project, Northern Arizona Elite, ZAP Fitness, Hudson Elite, Mammoth Track Club, or Team USA Minnesota, among others. For most of these, you live and train with other members of the group. You’re all coached by the same coach or team of coaches, all the athletes live in close proximity to each other, often in team housing, and the teams have big name sponsors like Brooks, Nike, Reebok, etc. Athletes are expected to show up and practices and follow their schedules to the letter.
The most famous of these is my former club, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the New York Athletic Club (NYAC), or the Georgetown Running Club (GRC), where Parsley and Tea are members. The structure is looser; while there might be one or a team of coaches, athletes are more or less on their own in getting the workouts in. While these big name clubs have large sponsors, many local elite clubs, like Kansas City Smoke or Impala Racing Team are sponsored by local running stores.
You can always train on your own; either with a personal coach giving you workouts, following a plan, or coaching yourself. In some cases, you can find sponsorship through a local store or even with a big shoe company.
What to Consider
Coaching and Training
Coaching is an important consideration for the post-collegiate runner. With the structured elite development group, your coaches will tell how much mileage to run, what workout to do, and even when to do them. There is not a lot of flexibility with your schedule day-to-day. In contrast, with a loosely structured club environment, there is more flexibility. While the group members may have the same coach, each is expected to do the workouts on her own and fit them into her schedule on her time. Finally, the most flexible option is to run solo. This allows you to get an individualized training plan from a coach or to coach yourself and make adjustments to your training as you go. While some club coaches and even some elite development team coaches highly personalize training, some do not. You might receive more personalized coaching on your own.
In my experience, you can get as much support as you need out of the club team coaching training environment. For example, you can create a regular running group with the other members of your club via group text, email, or using a group calendar like the BEAST. For more specific coaching guidance, you do have the option of asking the coaches. With a loosely structured club environment, you get out of it what you want.
Motivation and Training Partners
Training partners and motivation are interrelated for me. If you are someone that gets the most out of training with a group, then a structured training group is great for that. It can be extremely helpful to have the accountability of meeting your teammates on days you’re lacking motivation. Additionally, nothing quite compares to the types of friendships established training at a high level in close quarters like the ones I established while at Hansons.
A big downside of an elite development team is that it can be easy to get caught up in running too hard every day when running with such a highly motivated group. It’s hard to check the ego at the door and let the group go so you can run as easy as you need to. It can be easier to avoid this if you simply run on your own on your easy recovery days. For the most part, this is the plan I stuck to when living in Boston and running with the BAA. I met my teammates on workout and long run days but ran on my own on easy days to ensure I was recovering.
The hardest part for many people of training on your own is that you need to have a good amount of self-motivation without the accountability of meeting teammates to get you out the door on challenging workout days. However, you can overcome this through training through tough conditions, like when you don’t feel awesome, the weather is horrible, or the workout venue is not ideal. I tell myself that if I can gut out a workout by myself in windy or cold conditions, then running fast will be a breeze at the race surrounded by competitors and race-fueled adrenaline.
Currently, I am fortunate to have a loosely-structured team of athletes who my coach, my husband also coaches. While, we are spread out all over the country, we stay connected through online training logs and other forms of communication.
Many regions have club teams, so choosing that option may likely not necessitate a move. Professional or structured training groups, like Hansons in Michigan or Team USA-Minnesota, on the other hand, require you to move to them. Although it is exciting to have the opportunity to be part of a running group, sometimes that may obscure the consideration of where the group is located. It is important to consider how location will play into overall happiness, especially in regards to your relationships or non-running career aspirations, cost of living, and personal preferences for weather and terrain. Altitude may be great, but if you are several thousand miles from your family and only get to see them once a year, that may not work for you. Stints at these training groups may not be long-term, maybe an Olympic cycle for most, but if you are miserable where you are living, you will not thrive with your running.
Your career may also impact the training environment you become a part of. If running is your priority and something you want to pursue as a career, then structured professional groups are worth considering. These groups are also great if you want to keep working in the running industry after your competitive running career ends.
In my time at Hansons-Brooks, I learned valuable knowledge both with respect to training for the longer distances, but also about relationships within the running industry, like the importance of the relationship between the sponsor and the runner. Depending on the team, you may have some flexibility with work outside of running. For example, during my time at Hansons-Brooks, it was suggested we work part-time, but not more than 20 hours per week. I had come from Cambridge, where I had spent two years working in an analytical chemistry lab at a biotech company. I knew I’d likely go back to Cambridge so I made it a point to find part-time work that would allow me to bridge the gap in my resume from my time at Hansons. I was fortunate to find a part-time lab job and it ultimately helped me land the job I was offered when I returned to Cambridge two years later.
A club team setup may be better suited for you if you would like to maintain a full-time job. It is possible to balance competitive running with a full-time job or graduate school when running for a club team. Runners for a club team still really enjoy running and competing, but at the end of the day, it’s not their only focus. This can create a nice balance of teammates who have different interests outside of running. The setup of a club team also allows you to pursue your non-running career, but also have some structure with training in the form of weekly club workouts at the local track and group long runs on the weekend.
With the solo training environment, it can go either way. For me, having an odd work schedule pairs well with solo training because I can run whenever it fits in for a given day. This is a relatively stress-free way to balance my job, my family, and my running. I don’t have to worry about changing my plans to meet teammates a million times if things come up throughout the day.
In the end, you know yourself best. Consider the things that are most important to you with respect to where you live, how you train, proximity to family, your career, and social interactions. If you have the freedom to consider all options, I suggest considering each of these points before deciding where and with whom you want to train after college!
New grads, what do you think is next for you? Others, what’s your training environment of choice?