How + Why I Hired a Running Coach

The though of hiring a coach has come into my mind a handful of times over the last couple of years, although never seriously until right before I actually did it. It's an idea I've toyed around with, off and on, for all kinds of different reasons, but until now I never felt compelled to follow through with it.

Some of you may remember that I did work with a coach while I was training for IMNC, but that was a) because, even with a 70.3 and some 26.2s under my belt, I didn't even know where to start when it came to training for 140.6, b) more of a group thing since everyone else I was training/racing with was using him also, and c) more focused on the practical/logistical aspect of doing something I had never done before and had no idea how the hell to approach, rather than the mental complexities that just come with running for me. Hiring a coach to get me to the finish line of a big race felt and still feels like a totally separate thing than hiring a coach to basically hold my hand and tell me that I'm doing okay which, to be perfectly honest, is 90% of what I need right now.

I think the idea of a running coach was different than a triathlon coach also because training for running races has always been kind of rinse-and-repeat for me. I started running using the Couch 2 5k program and I really believe that having that structure and guidance helped me, as someone who was completely new to running, build a foundation and learn how to train up to further distances. Once I made it through C25k I started on the Bridge to 10k program, and from there I was able to build up slowly and gradually to a half marathon and eventually to a marathon. In that way, training for running has always been a linear process in my mind, so even though I've wondered if coaching might help me in other aspects, like speed, I've just never really felt it was necessary (not to mention the idea of lil 'ol middle-of-the-pack me having a coach seemed ludicrous, which is definitely something I considered when making this decision).

Until recently I was training for marathon #7, and I was doing it the same way I have trained for all my other running races: with a spreadsheet filled with a training plan I found on the internet. This approach has worked for me almost 90 races now so, you know, if it ain't broke don't fix it, I guess. Except that this time...something did feel broken. To be fair, it wasn't really the training plan, it was the training itself and the fact that now just might not be the right time for me to run a marathon, but it just wasn't working. Nothing was majorly wrong, but little things kept piling up until I just felt...lost. I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but one of the first things Katie asked me when we talked was why I wanted to run the marathon I was training for, and I coudn't give her (or myself) an answer. Not right away and not even after over 24 hours of trying to come up with one. I knew why I had signed up for the marathon but I didn't know why I was still forcing myself to go through with it when my training hadn't been going the way I had hoped, other than because I could. I didn't know if the marathon really was my goal for the spring, or if maybe I had other goals that would better suit me right now. I didn't know what was even realistic to expect from myself or what my true current fitness was. As I struggled with that, suddenly the idea of a coach made more and more sense. I didn't need someone to help me figure out how to get from Point A to Point B; I needed someone to help me figure out where Points A and B even were.

So I ultimately made this decision the way I do most things in life: slow at first then all at once.

Spring Half Marathon Training 2018 - Week 2

One of the reasons I got a coach was to push my limits in a safe and informed way, and the past two weeks, and this week in particular, have definitely pushed me. I know I am totally capable of pushing myself on my own, but it was really easy to make excuses - both for the better and for the worse - when I was on my own. It's a really different experience going into a workout knowing that someone who knows my capabilities and my strengths and my weaknesses prescribed me a workout that will challenge me but still be appropriate for my ability level. I still have progress to make - lots and lots of it - but I guess what I'm saying is that I am enjoying the fact that a lot of the guesswork has been taken out. 

The downside of coaching for me - and I knew this would be an issue so I'm trying to work throuh it while making sure my coach knows that it's not her, it's me - is that completely giving up the reins can be scary. I'm now training at fast paces for maybe 20% of my miles, with the rest fairly easy, and none at my actual goal pace. This is the complete opposite of the way I have ever trained (because it was just me on my own and I didn't know what I was doing...), so shifting to trust that this way works is a lot! Plus, the fast paces are very fast for me. Seeing them on my schedule sometimes makes me scared and uncomfortable, and I was really honest to my coach about that and about how I often doubt my abilities. We had a whole discussion about what I think and perceive about certain paces, and what I think I'm "supposed" to be able to run and not run. I told her how I truly believe all my PRs were flukes because I have no idea how I ever ran as fast as I've been able to in the past, to which she replied that I really need to start thinking of myself as fast, because I am. As a former 12+ minute mile runner, that just sounded ludicrous to me (I was like no but seriously does this girl know I barely finished Couch 2 5k?), but in the interest of trying to shift my mindset about my running, I really tried to take her advice. Running confidence is definitely a work-in-progress for me, and I know it's going to take some time to get to where I want to be on that front.

Kiawah Island Half Marathon Recap


Where to start? Just come out and say this might have been my least favorite race ever? Because it might have been. No disrepect to Kiawah or the race organizers - it's not you, it's me.

I signed up for this December race last April, which is the farthest in advance I've registered for a race (not counting Ironman since they don't give you a lot of choice) in quite some time. Last March my cousin came up to DC to run Rock n Roll as his first half, and of course immediately afterward we started brainstorming for his next one. I'm originally from Charleston and all of my extended family lives there, including my cousin, so Kiawah jumped out to both of us. I'd heard so many good things about this race and it had been on my radar for a long time. One of the things I really wanted to do post-Ironman was start to finally start doing some of the races I'd put on hold over last couple of years because they would have interfered with my IM plans, so we decided that Kiawah was a go.

This race was 8 weeks after Ironman Louisville, and initially leading up to the race I had half a mind to get in a mini training cycle and try to PR (1:48). That idea quickly came to a halt after I ran a 1:57 half just 3 weeks post-IM that felt like the hardest race I'd ever run in my life, and I realized my legs just weren't ready for that kind of speed yet. My running in between Louisville and Kiawah was consistent, but not fast. After I let go of that short-lived PR dream, I still held onto the hope that I could run a 1:50-1:55ish (i.e. where all of my non-PR attempt and non-casual training run half marathons have landed in the last few years) and begin the process of getting back to my old times.

Spring Half Marathon Training 2018 - Week 1

This week I started over. I rebooted. I refreshed. I stopped one training plan and started another one. I began what will probably be a long process of shifting my mindset. And I admitted I needed helped doing it - so I got a coach (details forthcoming). 

The view you get when you use the Reflecting Pool as your track
Monday 1/29 - Gym / 11 trainer miles

Tuesday 1/30 - 
7.3 mile interval run @ 8:59
  • 4x5 min intervals @ 7:50 goal pace 
  • Actual 7:49, 7:39, 7:40, 7:40
Wednesday 1/31 - 2000yd swim / 6 mile easy run @ 9:35

Thursday 2/1 - 
7.5 mile interval run @ 8:59
  • 4x4:30 intervals @ 7:15 goal pace 
  • Actual 7:02, 7:12, 7:11, 7:03)
I was really intimidated by this workout. The workouts Coach Katie has been giving me have a lot of warmup, recovery, and cool down time, so it helps to be able to tell myself I only have like 20 minutes of actual hard work, but thinking about those 20 minutes is still scary. Katie's instructions said to see if I could hit 7:15 and I actually texted her to be like, “You mean for like...a second, right?!” She told to just do my best and that she didn't expect me to be be able to do it immediately but that she thought I might end up surprising myself - and she was right! I was shocked that I was able to pull off these paces, and so proud of myself when I was done. It was hard but not even closet to as impossible as I thought it was going to be. This was one of the best runs I have had in a long time and so confidence-boosting!

I Felt Free

(Quick catch-up so that this post will make some sense: One month ago I registered for the New Jersey Marathon. I could tell you how and why that came to be but it ultimately doesn't matter because the point of this post is that I am no longer running the full during NJ Marathon weekend and I will now spend approximately 27 paragraphs telling you how and why that came to be).

This past weekend I ran a 15-mile race. Or maybe I should say I registered for and ran part of a 15-mile race. The course is made up of the same 5-mile loop, with race distance options of 10 miles (2 loops) or 15 miles (3 loops). Against my marathon training plan, I signed up for the 15-miler instead of the 10-miler, because that's the one I've always done. I ran it around the same pace I ran it last time, which was too fast then and was definitely too fast now, because that's the pace I had run before. As with the majority of runs I have had in the last few months, my effort level felt way too hard for the pace I was running, and I got to the last mile of my second loop and, while I knew I absolutely could get myself through another one, I also knew the only reason I had to do so was because I had done it before, and I could do it again. And, even though it took me a lot of time to admit, both to myself and to others - namely Alyssa, who agreed to go on this marathon journey with me this spring - I finally had to accept that "could" and "should" are not the same thing and that I truly don't know the difference.

Year of Running: 2017

I have recapped my year or running I think every year since I started blogging, and even though we're almost 1/12 of the way into 2018, I figured it was better late than never to recap 2017. I saw this format on another blog (my new coach's actually - yes I have a coach now and yes that's kind of weird and no I don't want to talk about right now and yes I realize that not talking about it makes it a bigger deal than it needs to be but whatever) and really liked it. Sometimes I like to rehash every little detail of every race and sometimes I don't. These are fairly short and to the point and just kind of a quick summary about what I learned from each one - and I'm really trying to take each lesson to heart this time!

1. Tidewater Striders 15-Miler (January 28) - Don't decide 3 miles into a 15-miler to try to hang on for dear life to PR your half marathon. It won't work.

2. Tidewater Striders 20-Miler (February 18) - Just because you don't hit your target in training doesn't mean you can't hit it on race day. I treated this as a dress rehearsal for the Shamrock Marathon and the fact that I finished about 5 minutes slower than I'd need to cover 20 miles on the real race day to meet my goal really rattled me. From that point on I was convinced my goal was just out of reach and couldn't come up with any scenario or strategy in which I could hit it. It felt good to run my fastest 20-miler ever, but still frustrating feeling like I wasn't quite where I needed to be.

Ironman Louisville 2017 Race Recap

I can't believe I am finally typing those words into the title box! I have followed other bloggers' Ironman journeys and read stranger's race recaps for years and have been waiting for the day I could write my own! Actually, the reason I ever thought I could even possibly finish an Ironman was because of a few (now-defunct) blogs I used to follow a few years ago, written by women who were just like me. See, I started reading these blogs around the same time I started to dabble in triathlon, as well as when I started training for my first marathon. They were written by women I really related to - they had only been into running/triathlon for a couple years or so, they were middle-of-the-packers who always strived to better themselves, and their experience and ability levels were nearly identical to mine. I followed their Ironman journeys in 2014, and although I knew that Ironman was a thing that was out there for experienced and talented athletes, that was the first time it ever occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, Ironman could one day be a reality for me too. It is truly surreal to have now accomplished this dream that, not long ago, was just that - a dream.

Ben and I rented a minivan for the trip - it's a 10 hour drive and since, we had the two of us, Bane, two of my bikes (an extra one just in case - I have had mechanical issues with my tri bike over the last month and was really paranoid), and multiple bags/suitcases (most of them filled with my tri stuff), so it seemed easier and more comfortable to have the extra space. We folded all of the seats down in the back so it was one big, open space and made a bed so we could take turns sleeping while the other person was driving. We left DC at 3am on Thursday morning and arrived in Louisville just before 2pm!