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Why do I need a running coach?

This month I want to talk about why coaching can be useful for every runner. When you think about it, running is possibly the only sport we try to do without any advice or expertise from a coach. Many people who practise yoga do so in a studio with a teacher. Some follow videos online, but very few sit down and try to teach themselves how to do the poses they want by reading a book. Footballers, even amateur and social ones, tend to go to group training to get the benefit of advice and input from a coach. Climbers probably start just by hitting the wall with lots of energy, but before long they’re looking for tips and tricks from an expert to progress. And yet as a runner, it’s likely that you just put a pair of shoes on and off you went. It’s only later, in bits and scraps, that we start to pick up useful information about gait and technique, how to periodise our training or how to fuel for a marathon. You could be a beginner, working towards your first 5k, or a seasoned athlete looking for a hard-to-reach PB – I believe every runner can improve through personal coaching. Here are the reasons why.


Accountability

I used to think that only lazy or unmotivated people needed a coach to help them keep on track with their training plan. That was before I had a coach! Since you’re here reading this, I think we can assume that you’re neither lazy nor unmotivated. In fact, you’re probably the opposite – diligent, focused, hard-working, and committed to your goals. Why then do you need an external person to keep you on track with your training? My experience has been that being a coached athlete gives me accountability in two ways.

Firstly, knowing that my coach can see my training diary ensures that I go out and do each session on time, as planned. Before I had a coach, I really did think I did this. It turns out that in reality I regularly changed the day, duration and intensity of my runs depending on how I happened to feel that day. Given that the three principles of training are Frequency, Intensity, and Time (duration), I was in fact unpicking the fundamental structure of my plan on pretty much a daily basis! When my coach writes my plan, I know that someone else’s thought, time, and effort has gone into it, which makes me much less likely to want to change it – they will want to know why, and I have to really think about whether I’m seeking to change the plan for a good reason (such as a niggle, or genuine over-tiredness). If you are honest with yourself, and this applies to you too, what you are potentially losing is the benefit that comes from consistently following a structured plan. You’re not lazy, nor unmotivated – but by continually chopping and changing your plan, you’re not getting the full effect of it.


Secondly, accountability to my coach means not sneaking in any extra junk miles, or even hard workouts. I’m a motivated person (like you!), and sometimes that makes it hard to see for myself when enough is enough. Interestingly, I can do this for my athletes. I am experienced in having the difficult conversation to suggest that we scale back the plan to ward off injury or overtraining – but I find it much more difficult to have this conversation with myself.


Expertise

The lack of structure or knowledge that lots of us experience at the beginning of our running journey can transform over time into quite a lot of stress and extra work, as we start to think about how to optimise our training. You might have invested time and effort scouring the internet looking for a training plan that looks like it would work for you, or trying to design one for yourself. A coach will take care of all of this for your upcoming goal race, but they will think about the big picture too. Once you have your race goals (or other goals) in place, they can look at the shape of the entire year to work out how to structure your training to have you in peak condition for every race. A good coach will also let you know if they think your race goals may be counter-productive – for example if you have scheduled your ‘A goal’ races too close together to be able to perform well in both. Turning over responsibility for the design of your plan brings me on to my next point…


…Outsourcing

Are you a busy person? Do you pay someone else to do your cleaning, your ironing, your accounts? Do you subscribe to an online service that delivers you household essentials, clothes, or gin, to save you shopping for them? Although running is ‘just’ your hobby, that’s no reason not to invest in it. In the same way as you might decide to take singing lessons, or go to a language class, a running coach means you can focus on the enjoyment and achievement, which are the reasons you started running, while outsourcing the time-consuming process of planning.


Personal support

A good coach is more than just the person who writes your training plan, or even the person who helps you to choose and prioritise your race goals. A good coach is by turns a cheerleader, a drill sergeant, and a shoulder to cry on. They are the person who is relentlessly encouraging and motivating, who helps you to believe that you are capable of the dreams you are chasing. They pick you up after bad runs, and bad races, and remind you that you are more than one bad run. And when you need a kick up the bum, they are there to get you back on track.


And finally…

The best argument I can give for the importance and usefulness of a coach is that you will improve! When I began coaching, I had recently run a 4:51 marathon, and my 5k PB was around 30 minutes. Over the course of the next few (coached) years, I reduced these to sub-3:15 for the marathon, and sub-20 for 5K. Although it feels arrogant to be saying it, those are big improvements that I am very proud of, and I can’t think of a better reason than that to invest in your running.


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