Coaching a Runner is an Art

Figuring out this whole running and performance thing is tricky business. The planning, the workouts, the tapering, the peaking, the knowing when to rest or back off, when to push it and when to hammer the crap of of your body; all of this is the science behind our sport.
run fast
I’ve always been in awe of great coaches. Coaching, or rather coaching well, is an art. I’ve been incredibly privileged to meet and talk to coaches for whom I believe are the Picassos or Maya Angelous of coaching. Toss in Albert Einstein in there too.

Alberto Salazar is one of those coaches and being a runner nerdette I could listen to running stories and training all day long. What I’ve come to realize though, is that the best coaches are intuitive; you can’t really pinpoint WHAT makes them so great, just like you can’t explain how to paint to someone, with great coaching it comes down to a sense.

The sense isn’t dissimilar to running and racing; there are some athletes who are just naturally about to step up their game and get hyped when the gun goes off. They are gamers and will race above their training level because they are able to best utilize the endorphins and electric energy that comes with race day.

Coaching is sensitive to each athlete, it has to be individualized because no two runners are exactly the same. That seems logical enough, but even then the unique coaching sense comes into play on a daily, even hourly level. I’ve watched training plans get switched around about three times in an hour; with training you set up a long term running plan with workouts and the key races. But you know this long term plan isn’t set in stone, you then tweak it as you go through the weeks, adjusting depending on how your body is responding.
fast runners
Sometimes you need to adjust mid-workout; you can never foretell months in advance how your legs will feel on any given day. At times your legs will just NOT have that tempo in them, and it would be more effective to switch to a speed or hill session to make the workout more productive.

But how do you know when to change, when to suck it up and motor through, when to rest because you’re overly fatigued, or if that is just the kind of fatigue that comes with callousing the body and you still need to do that double day?

No one has exact answers to any of those questions; that’s what makes our sport so incredibly fascinating. Fascinating and frustrating as HE## at times. But there are those among us who have a better sense of these; are able to just feel when to push, back-off, change or stay steadfast. They are the artists of running and performance. They are the great coaches.

There may be no greater gift to a runner on the quest of becoming their best, of preforming to their utmost highest degree, than having a coach who is an artist in our sport. Running is one of the most brutal sports and concentrating on just doing the workouts takes an incredible amount of energy, both mentally and physically.

The reason so many athletes thrive with a coach, (and not even taking into account the obvious of having an experienced, skilled advisor with a sound training philosophy giving you workouts that they know work) is because the coach is the one who can do all of the thinking. Thinking and running is a tricky combination; you think too much and you can be your own demise. I love this quote that a coach once told my mom, “I do the thinking. That’s my job. You just run.”

When you take running and turn it into training you’re making a different kind of commitment to yourself. It’s putting yourself out there, being brave enough to dream lofty goals, an agreement to work your butt off even on the days you don’t feel like it, of also being smart enough to take your easy runs easy so you can hammer your hard days.

Training takes intuition too. Running is an art. Coaching is an art. The relationship between a coach and an athlete is also one quite unique from any other.
This post will be one in a series on coaching and finding the right kind of coach or training program that works for you. I just had an article in Running Times published: ‘Coaches That Inspire and Coaches that Cripple’ and I urge you to check it out. Not all coaches are great, not all coaches will sync with every runner.

In upcoming posts I will cover tips to finding the right coach for you and also college recruiting tips for high schoolers looking into schools. If you’ve got any coaching related topics or questions you’d like covered leave a comment or send me a note!

1) Do you have a coach? Are you self-coached or do an online kind of training program? Do you consider coaching a kind of art and the really great coaches have an intuitive sense?

2) Have you had good and/or bad coaching experiences? How have one or the other effected your running? How did it effect your other areas of life?

3) With running training, what fascinates you the most? Or which area could you talk/read about all day? (ie: actual workouts, mental toughness, stories from runners, etc.)

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13 thoughts on “Coaching a Runner is an Art

  1. I don’t have a coach, but I do have a couple of people who help me out and sometimes run with me.

    When I was a sprinter, I had a fantastic coach who would subtly urge us to do different things to improve, and knew if we were holding back vs unable to do more.

    I love the third question! I’m really curious to know the answer. I love the balance between metal and physical, and how they help each other. In a more practical way, I like to learn about speed work and how to do it effectively.

  2. I don’t have a coach, but the leader of the group I run with is very “Coach-like.” He’s been running for a billion years, and has lots of advice. I try to soak in what he says, but still do what I feel works best for me.

  3. There are so many different bodies and training strategies, a coach would be an interesting thing. I think there’s the mental and emotional motivation I would need and want most. I want to be like Rocky and have someone screaming in my ear while I run: “THERE IS NO TOMORROW. THERE IS NO TOMORROW”

    I can talk marathoning all day. I never get bored of it. It’s pretty disgusting actually.

  4. I love this! As you know! I really love the idea of having someone do the thinking. And it’s the thinking part that fascinates me so much. It’s such a thinking sport. To me anyway. I can’t believe how mental running is! The legs can do the work, but if my head isn’t right I am definitely hitting a wall. 🙂 🙂

  5. I’ve never had a coach before, but I’ve only been running for a little over two years! So there’s that!

    I do like the idea of somebody just taking the thought out of it for me and like you said getting to “just run”. It would be great to be told “This is your workout today, now go out and do it!”.

    On the other hand I DO enjoy making training plans and I’m independent. I like the challenge of motivating myself mentally and knowing “hey, I’m only doing this for myself so if I don’t do this I’m the only one to blame”. Running is a very solo experience for me. I do run with people sometimes (that’s how I started) and I love it when I do, but ultimately I like doing it on my own. Maybe one day I’ll have a coach! But for now I’m just enjoying the ride!

    • thanks for sharing and i can relate to a lot of what u said, as far as keeping running for yourself or what really draws you to it is that in the end it comes down to yourself and that self-motivation. 🙂

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