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.

I was listening to a running podcast (Keeping Up with Kelsey Cansler) on a run a few weeks ago, which is actually not something I typically do (I'm a music or nothing at all kind of girl), but it was a rare night when I just wasn't in the mood for tunes or silence, and it just so happened that the most recent episode was the exact length of time I expected to be out on the road. Kelsey has a different guest on every episode and they chat about running, life, and everything in between. That week's episode featured Katie Taylor, an all-around talented runner, coach, and, from the sound of it, super nice person. The miles ticked by as I listened to these ladies chat, and as Katie talked about her coaching philosophy and process, I related to a lot of what she was saying and, given my struggles as of late, it really resonated with me. She's especially big on the mental side of running which, as someone who's introspective to a fault and way too much in my head 99% of the time, is probably what I need help with the most.

I heard the episode on a Tuesday evening run, had my second failed attempt at speedwork in as many weeks (in addition to all of the other sub-par runs I've been having) on Wednesday evening, and messaged Katie later that night. I will admit that I felt like a total creep contacting a complete stranger out of the blue, but I guess that's just how desperate I was. I let her know right off the bat that I had basically messaged her on a whim and wasn't even sure I wanted a coach, period, but that I was interested in at least chatting with her about what was going on to see if it would be a good fit for both of us. 

We exchanged a few messages on Instagram and ended up chatting on the phone on Saturday afternoon (you should also know that talking on the phone is my least favorite activity on the planet, so the fact that she made me feel super comfortable from the get-go was huge). We had originally planned to talk on a Friday night, which I was excited about because I was hoping to get some guidance for how to tackle my 15-mile race/marathon training run the next day. Instead, I ended up having a huge change of heart in the middle of that race (yes that race where I turned 15 miles into 10 and decided I was D-O-N-E with marathon training), so by the time we actually talked and I had one foot already out the marathon door, it was a different conversation than the one I had anticipated! Either way, she answered all of my questions and put my mind totally at ease. After 45 minutes of spilling way more of my inner monologue than is probably appropriate to anyone, especially somone I don't even know, I felt like I had somewhat of a solid plan for how to move forward - something I truly haven't felt like I've had since finishing Louisville - and I was excited to start working with her.

I felt pretty weird and even a little embarassed about working with a coach for a hobby that I'm not even good at, and I pretty much told Katie that verbatim. I had this idea in my head that coaching was only for serious runners and, although I take my own running seriously, I am far from a serious runner. I assumed that her client roster was full of super fast and super fit Boston-chasing types, but she assured me she coaches runners a wide range of experience, ability, speed, and distance, from the 35-minute 5kers to the BQ hopefuls to ultramarathoners. That definitely helped ease my mind and help me move forward. 

I've always self-coached (and I think I've done so decently well...), so a part of me is definitely a little reluctant to let someone else take the reins. It's scary to not have full control of my training, but there is also an upside to not having that control: I'm not second-guessing my training so much. Which isn't to say that I'm not second-guessing my training; I took one look at my weekday mileage my first week and texted Katie like...are you sure about this...?! Or, rather, are you sure I can do this?! At least this way instead of having those doubts swirl around my head with no resolution, I have someone who can tell me, "Yes I am, yes you can, and here's why you're doing it this way." Sometimes I just need someone to explain to me why things are the way they are (even if my legs aren't exactly buying the reasons yet).

By the same token, I don't feel like a slave to my training plan as much because I know there is a real human being behind it who understands that I, too, am a real human being and that training and life in general do not always go as-planned. For example, recently Ben and I got into a (really stupid) fight as I was heading out the door for my hardest workout of the week, and, not surprisingly, I wasn't in the mood to do it and even though I ended up trying my best, I fell a little short of my goals for the day. Being able to text Katie beforehand and tell her what was happening (I'm in a bad headspace and not feeling this, and am thisclose to not even going), have her give me some guidance (can you walk for 5 minutes or so first to clear your head?), text her again mid-workout (I'm doing my best but it's not working), and have her tell me afterward that it's okay (Emotions can play a huge part in our performance and something similar just happened to me the other day...give yourself some grace and get some rest) made all the difference in how I handled that situation. I still didn't handle it perfectly and the run was still a little discouraging, but I'm someone who wants every run to go perfectly and it was nice to have someone be real with me that not only is that just not realistic, but there are very real reasons why it's not realistic and I just experienced some major ones.

That made me feel better because another main reason I wanted a coach now in particular is not just to help me perform better, but to help me think better. Figuring out what to do and where to go after finishing an Ironman is something I didn't expect would be so hard to deal with, but it is. This is the first time in my running journey that I've ever not had something more, something bigger on the horizon and I wasn't prepared for how overwhelming that would feel. I'm also struggling with the fact that I just felt like I needed someone to help me navigate how to move forward from here, someone who could help me figure out what I want my next steps to be, and help guide me through them.

It's only been a few weeks, but so far Katie been nothing but helpful and responsive and just lovely, (despite the fact that I am almost certainly her most annoying client and have texted her with approximately 385 questions). She gave me a couple of thought exercises in the beginning and challenged me to give both her and myself an anser for why I run. That's exactly what I wanted and needed and really appreciate being forced to take several steps back and answer that very basic question. One of my main reasons was that I like striving for PRs, but moreso because I like the way I feel while earning them than because I care about the time on the clock. Given that, we're still working on my concrete goals for my spring races, but in general I am hoping to get back to my half marathon PRs from November 2014/February 2016 (1:48) because that's the last time I felt strong and confident in my running - and then we'll work on getting even faster.

Truthfully, the bulk of my training hasn't been and won't be super different from what it has been with marathon training. That's definitely a change for me, as I've always trained on relatively low mileage, even for full marathons, but definitely for half marathons. I'm used to hitting 20-25 miles a week for a half marathon, and now I'll be more in the 30-40 mile range. Katie assured me that, given my recent Ironman, my aerobic base is there and my body is used to the mileage, so now I just need to add another stimulus: speed! So this is definitely a different approach than I've taken before, but given that I feel like I've plateaued and can't seem to get myself even back to where I used to be, I need a little help navigating to where I want to go. I don't know for sure that this is the way to bridge the gap but considering I haven't felt successful on my own recently, I think it's worth a shot!

2 comments :

  1. This is all so interesting! I wondered how you found your coach (because that has definitely been one of the barriers for me--figuring out how to find someone good. Obviously everyone's website is going to make them sound good.), and the fact that all it took was a podcast to find someone who's working out great for you is crazy! But I'm glad it did work out that easily for you :)

    I'm also really interested in the fact that you're more or less marathon training, but for a half marathon instead of a full (at least in terms of mileage). That would be a huge adjustment! Even if it's not unfamiliar territory mileage-wise, it seems like it'd be such a different experience running so much and then only having to run 13.1 miles at the end of it all instead of 26.2. I'm interested to see how it works for you!

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  2. What a meant to be thing that you just happened to be listening to that podcast and she was the guest and you ended up connecting! It sounds like she's such a great fit-- I feel like if you can talk to someone on the phone and it isn't terrible that's a first good step for just about anything :) I obviously don't know anything about running coaches, but I definitely would think it would be about coming up with a good training plan, but it's so cool that she's so focused on the mental side of what you're doing-- which completely makes sense.

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