My Approach to Coaching Runners

*Each Sunday night I send an email Newsletter to each of the athletes I coach who train with me via 3-month programs.  A few of my "Tips for the Week" recently revolved around my main service, which is the mental approach to training and racing.  The following paragraphs offer some insight into how I approach being a running coach.

Scheduling and Prioritization

These 2 terms are synonymous to me.  Scheduling is prioritization.  Each week of a runner's program, there are workouts highlighted in green.  These are the key workouts that I want them to hit no matter what.  When scheduling gets tight, always put the priority on key workouts.  If you value your race performance and/or improving your fitness, then make these the priority.  I want the athletes I coach to look forward to these workouts, so I encourage them to let me know if there are motivational issues that need to be addressed.  Adults know how to shuffle their days around as they need to, but my objective is to ensure they are always relatively fresh for the track/speed workouts because then proper pacing, or intensity, can be learned more easily.

Structure & Accountability

The training programs are designed with the general assumption that the athlete will hit every workout on the program, knowing that OFF days and recovery weeks are already built into the program.  I bring up this point to remind folks that recovery weeks and OFF days are designed with the assumption that you'll need them at specific points in your training.  However, when you miss workouts, or a string of workouts, that will most likely alter the program.  Depending on what workouts you miss and how that coincides with your race/vacation schedule, there may be a major overhaul to your program.  This is the major difference between following an online program vs. having a personal coach.  A coach can adjust on the fly and account for reality.  I understand no program is set in stone and that's a phrase I use myself.  So, we have to account for missed workouts.

The other side of the spectrum is that I also assume an athlete I coach won't overdo it with the training.  This is my reminder not to go above and beyond the call of duty.  The practical implications are that you may do too much, too soon.  This is a relative variable, not an absolute variable.  In other words, an hour run doesn't affect each of you the same way.  Generally, I assume that a runner won't add any extra running into the program that had not already discussed.  I tend not to be an overly conservative coach, but I lean toward the conservative side based on the fact we are not professional athletes and we are built with more (specific) limitations than our immortal running counterparts.  Bottom line: You should not slack on your end by always doing the bare minimum (or less), nor on the other hand do I think a runner should try to be competitive against the training program by doing more than what is designed.  Weekly recaps are a great way for me and each runner to have this conversation.

Runners and athletes invest in DC Running Coach for many, many reasons.  Many people sign up with DCRC to "have accountability and structure in the training."  Accountability is a sometimes too strong of a word to me, but I get the point.  You feel more apt to hit the workouts and stay dedicated to training (and live an active, healthy lifestyle) if you have a mentor and/or someone helping to guide you.  The programs that a runner receives from me in the first few phases have more structure in them compared to the programs they get from me after about a year or more of training with me.  As I mentioned above, if a runner misses a workout (or two) for a given week, then that typically shifts the priority and/or focus of the workouts for the next week (or even within that week).  The point?  I need runners to check in with me each week.  Therein lies the accountability.  I need a constant pulse on the training.  In terms of valuable feedback to a coach, completing a workout and missing a workout offers the same value.

Are the athletes I coach allowed to improvise when they need to or be spontaneous?  Absolutely!  Remember that freedom of choice and flexibility are the most powerful tools in a training program.  However, my definition of "significant deviations" from the program are usually what would cause an athlete to "draw outside the lines" and risk a nagging injury.  I'm here to guide the training, which to me means keeping a healthy balance between offering freedom of choice in the training and keeping the training between the lines, or not flying off the rails.  So, there you have the looser definition of the word "accountability" that I prefer. 

Finally, related to prioritization, there is room to be more selfish in your life once you get closer to your peak race and really want to ensure you feel great during race week.  To help you understand what that means and to give you peace of mind in doing so, here is the link/blog I'll be sending to my runners a few times in the Fall:

Train hard!