The Coach Knows Best - November 2003
Getting motivated to run faster and farther is a tough chore when you’re doing it alone. Many older runners who I’ve meet over the years learned the art of running on their own. There was no coach to guide and mentor them. They learned through reading books and seeking advice from other runners they met along the way. But most of these self-taught runners made trial and error decisions that may or may not have proven effective and ultimately may have led to injury.
You may ask, “Why do I need a coach?” Well, a self-coached runner is a lot like those individuals who represent themselves in a court of law a fool for a client. You need an objective individual who gets to know you and your running style, someone who helps you set your goals and works with you in attaining those goals. You need to have a coach to push you in the workouts when you need it, and back you off when you may be overworked. A coach will notice the little things about your running technique that can be corrected to make you more efficient, faster and keep you healthy.
Granted, there are plenty of resources out there ranging from books and videos to the Internet. There are some good coaches out there who offer their services and advise, even folks like yours truly who add their two cents through their weekly or monthly columns. But there is one big downside to all of these resources limited one-on-one contact with a coach.
To illustrate, I had the pleasure to coach Perry Slaughter during the 1999-2000 season here at Clayton State. He was not your typical college student athlete. Perry, who was 31 at the time, had been a part-time student at Clayton State for many years while maintaining a full-time job and marriage. He also was a self-coached runner. Perry came out for cross country in 1999 and ran 31:18 in his first collegiate 8K (4.97 miles). By the end of the season, he improved to 30:03. For some runners that was big-time improvement, but working with Perry that fall I knew he was capable of faster times.
Perry decided to run track that spring, focusing on the 5,000m and 10,000m distances. He adapted to our training philosophy and through our daily contact made adjustments to his training. Of course, it helped that Perry was self-motivated. On the track, Perry continued to improve and ran 27:44 and 27:48 for his FIVE MILE split, en route to 10K times of 34:41 and 34:34! Now that’s some kind of improvement in less than eight months
Perry had the talent, but he needed coaching to get him to realize his potential. In addition, Perry was able to graduate a year sooner since he had to maintain full-time status as a student in order to run. What amazed me about Perry was that he made his running improvements while commuting everyday from his home in Forsyth, Ga. (about 50 miles each way), maintained his full-time job with Delta Air Lines and remained actively involved with his family life (he has two darling children). Oh yeah, he also pulled down a 4.0 grade point average during the time, too. Perry continues to run and shares his knowledge as a lay coach for Mary Persons High School.
You can read all you want about running. You can hire a coach to e-mail you weekly workouts and talk to you over the phone about the workouts. But there is no substitution than having an in-person coach to work with you. Having daily training sessions with a coach is only going to make you better as a runner and prevent you from making common mistakes that lead to sub-par performances or injuries.
However, finding a good coach is not easy. The first place to start is with the local running club in your area. See if there is someone in the club who has an extensive coaching background. If not, suggest the club secure a coach who the members can get guidance from on a weekly basis. I’m surprised most running clubs do not provide this service like most country clubs who have their own on-site golf pro.
The Atlanta Track Club (http://www.atlantatrackclub.org/) provides a coaching service to its membership. The ATC has a limited number of volunteer coaches throughout the metro area who provide their expertise on an individual basis. The track club does its best in matching runner with coach, based on location and the coach’s availability.
If the running club has a coach, expect to pay a fee for this service. You may seek advice from a local high school and/or college coach in your area. First find out the coach or program’s reputation. Many high school running programs are limited since they do not hire experienced running coaches. I’ve discovered while recruiting in Georgia that several prospects we talked to had more knowledge about running than their coach. But don’t expect much attention since the good coaches have limited time and our paid to coach their own athletes.
But say you cannot find a suitable coach, or you cannot afford the coach’s services. The next best step is to find a local group of runners who train regularly together. Hopefully, someone in the group was coached at the high school, and preferably, at the collegiate level. See if they’ll let you train with them. Whether you can hang with them in a workout or not, ask for a critique of your running form. Ask any of the group members if they would be interested in helping you on the side, it doesn’t hurt to try!
Training with a group will give you more pairs of eyes to help you along the way. Training with a group will make you better, but is not ideal since those extra eyes will have varying opinions about training that may lead to confusion. However, if there is a “coach” figure among the group than you’ll be set.
If you’re training on your own and trying to improve your running, seek out a coach. You’ll not only save yourself time from experimenting with workouts, but you’ll run faster times, too. Just ask Perry Slaughter.