About a Running Coach?
by Claudia Piepenburg - from the
Road Runner Sports Run Today
Before you decide after reading
the title that this issue of RunToday isn't for you, take a minute to answer
the questions below. If you answer "yes" to just one, you could benefit from
the training and motivational tips a coach can provide.
- Even though you've been running for
many years, have you recently become bored with your same old routine and found
yourself lacking in motivation?
- Are you a new runner who reads
every bit of information available but doesn't know quite how to apply what
you're learning to your own situation?
- Are you considering making the leap
from recreational to competitive runner?
- Do you want to move up to the next
level of competition, from middle-of-the-pack racer to age group winner or even
top local competitor?
- Are you planning on running your
first marathon within the next year?
- Do you have specific time goals
you'd like to achieve? Such as breaking 5:00, 4:00 or 3:00 hours for the
marathon, 50 minutes for 10K or 20 minutes for 5K.
Sometimes need a Running Coach!
Motivating yourself to run
sometimes becomes difficult, particularly if you've been running for several
years. Usually people have specific goals in mind when they start running, such
as losing weight, achieving cardiovascular fitness or eventually running a
marathon. Sometimes once those goals are realized the runner begins to lose
motivation. This is particularly true if they've spent most of their time
Long-time runners who identify strongly with the
psychology inherent in the phrase "loneliness of the long distance runner"
often are excellent candidates for a coach who works through a club
environment. There are hundreds of running clubs throughout the country, in
cities and towns large and small, and many of the clubs provide coaching
services free of charge to club members. Training with a group under the
direction of a coach, even just one or two days a week, can pump excitement and
fun back into an old, stale running program. To find a running club in your
area go to the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) web site:
I Run Every Day, or do I
Need to take a Day Off Now and Then?
New runners often get confused
by all the training information available in books, magazines and on-line.
Sorting out what makes sense for them personally can often be a daunting task.
A coach can offer guidance, support and a sensible training schedule. Most new
runners will benefit from the coaching services provided by a local running
I Want to take 10
Minutes off my 10K PR
If you want to run a PR, want
to win some hardware in your age group, are a first-time marathoner or a novice
racer, you should consider the services of a personal coach. The individualized
attention you'll receive is invaluable. This person doesn't necessarily have to
be a "coach" in the strictest sense of the word; he or she may be someone you
respect, usually a good runner who'll work with you in a non-teaching,
unstructured environment. Here's an example.
Throughout the later part of
1986 through early 1987 all my training was geared toward my goal of running an
Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time. During those months I trained as often
as six days a week with a fellow runner named Dave who I'd met at the local
YMCA. He was a good local runner with a ten-mile PR of 54:00 minutes, eight
minutes faster than my best ten-mile time. Because Dave trained faster than I
was used to, I had to gradually increase my training pace if I wanted to keep
up with him. Even our "easy" days were slightly faster than I had been running
by myself. We ran hard two days a week; I never knew before the workout what we
were going to do or how fast we were going to run. Sometimes we would leave the
gym and do what I realize now was a tempo run. Dave would take off and tell me
to follow him. Since I didn't know where we were going, or for how long I had
no choice but to try and keep up! Other days he would have me do a hill
workout. After warming up a few miles I would run hard over a series of five
hills on a three-mile out and back course. When I finished, I would take my
pulse and when it dropped back down below 130, he would make me run the course
again! One of my last long runs was a 15-mile run with a hard 10K in the
middle; Dave stayed slightly ahead of me the entire workout. When we finished
he told me that we had run the 10K in 6:25 pace, my marathon goal pace. One
month later, I qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials in a time of
If it hadn't been for Dave's "coaching" I don't
think I would have qualified. The training was perfect for me-I didn't have to
think about anything or plan a schedule. I simply showed up for the workouts
and ran. It was fun and because I never knew how fast I was running, I didn't
feel threatened by the pace. I never had a moment when I thought "I can't do
this" and I went into the race confident in my ability to run a qualifying
Running faster is sort of like playing tennis. You've
probably heard that old adage: "if you want to be a better tennis player, you
need to play tennis with someone who's better than you." It's the same with
running. If you want to be a better runner, you need to run with someone who's
faster. I was lucky-my situation was ideal, not only was my running partner a
better runner but he had a good grasp of training principles and knew me well
enough to understand how much hard work I could handle, both physically and
Finding the Right
If you don't know anyone in
your running group who could help you improve, you'll have to look elsewhere
for a coach. Following are some good resources.
- Go to the United States of American Track
& Field (USATF) web site. The site has a coach's section. Depending on
where you live, your local or regional association may also have a web site.
The USATF URL is www.usatf.org
- Talk to runners in your area who race a
lot and/or typically finish in the top five in their age group.
- Check with local specialty running
stores. The staff may know of coaches in the area. Coaches will also sometimes
post flyers on bulletin boards.
- Look in the classified sections of local
or regional running publications. Coaches often advertise their services.
- Talk to a local high school or community
college cross-country coach. They may be willing to coach non-students.
On-line vs Local
There are several coaches
around the country who offer on-line coaching. Many of them advertise their
services in local, regional and national publications. Before you sign on with
an on-line coach find out the following.
- Their credentials. Where they've coached,
who they've coached and what certifications they have.
- References from athletes they've coached
in the past.
- If they'll occasionally talk with you via
the phone. Obviously face-to-face contact is the best coaching. Next best is
regularly scheduled telephone conversations and email. Strictly email
communication is the least desirable.
- How they bill. Be wary of a coach who
asks you to sign a long-term contract, payable up-front. Legitimate coaches
usually work on a month-to-month or quarterly payment schedule.
If you find a coach through
your local running club, usually there will be no charge; your yearly dues
include services like coaching. Fee schedules for coaches who charge can range
from $20.00 to $100.00 a month or more. Fees depend on the coach's background
and credentials, what part of the country they're in and whether the coaching
is a full-time job, part-time or second job. Sometimes the coach may offer
additional services for a fee, such as a monthly or weekly half-hour telephone
session above and beyond short, unscheduled calls during the month. If you're
physically meeting with your coach once or twice a week, he or she will
probably charge more than if you're being coached via email.
Claudia Piepenburg has been running for 21 years and is
the current editor of Peak Running Performance. She holds or has held state
age-group records in Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia.
In 1990, she was ranked 18th fastest masters woman in the world and 8th fastest
masters woman in the U.S. in 1990 and 1991. She competed in the 1988 Olympic
Marathon Trials, was 20th woman overall in the 1987 Boston Marathon and women's
winner of the 1986 Virginia Beach Marathon. She has been coaching running since
1984. She can be reached at email@example.com.
the Coach's perspective
By Mark Redpath
It has been said that the best
athletes are coach-oriented but not coach dependent. When an athlete chooses a
coach, he or she assumes the responsibility to submit to that coach's
discipline. In turn, a good coach must be a good example and also be well
rounded to make value judgments with certainty and honesty.
The success of
the coach / athlete partnership depends largely on mutual trust. A coach with
the slightest doubt about an athlete's dedication or whether the athlete is
doing the work assigned is a frustrated coach. The coach must have confidence
that agreed upon assignments have been completed by the athlete. It's equally
important that the athlete only do those assignments agreed upon - nothing
more. (The athlete must not do greater or higher intensity of training than
assigned by the coach. If the coach is unaware of such additional training,
then the coach may misinterpret the effect of the training workload. The coach
then has the difficult task analyzing the athlete's physical and emotional
progress, hindering the affect of the next training plan.) In turn, the coach
must also be sensitive the athletes' unique needs and must consider those needs
when looking at the big picture.
In an effective coach/athlete
partnership both minds need to work together. A critical part in this
partnership stems from the coach's ability to assign the work of training and
raising or lowering of work volumes to adjust to the athlete. Therefore, the
coach must be able to identify small changes in the athlete's physical and
mental health and react to those changes with changes to the training program.
The more intense the training becomes, the more aware the coach must become.
Great coaches are aware of what needs to be done; they don't make assessments
from Neanderthal gut reactions or tote around multiple stopwatches shouting out
orders. A great coach will be tuned to an athlete and will be able to discuss
overall progress in such a way that both coach and athlete can delineate a
sensible plan of action.
Biomechanical analysis, podiatry and
chiropractic care, strength and conditioning training, laboratory treadmill
testing, sports psychological counseling and nutritional advice, all of these
quantify the coaches ability to successfully guide you to your goal. Coaches
need to establish a working awareness of all these sources of assistance and to
interweave their potential into the development of the master plan. When
implemented in the correct manner these resources improve the overall
environment in which the athlete can refine their talents with minimal risk of
burnout and injury. Remember that a coach cannot know it all, and if he or she
claims so, then I suggest you find another coach.
Mark Redpath is
the Campaign Manager and National Coach for Athletes Helping Athletes. He is
also a former Team in Training coach and has coached 15 Ironman finishers. A
native of Zimbabwe, Mark ran a 1:49 800 meter at the age of sixteen and has
gone on to run numerous marathons, ultra-marathons and triathlons since. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.