FROM COUCH TO COACH TO SUCCESS

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Most of us are just average everyday amateur runners.  We all have a unique story about how we began running.  Most of them probably include putting on a pair of shoes and just heading out the door for a run.  We’ve had very little training, if any, and just fell into the activity.  The vast majority of us will never be anything more than just an amateur runner with simple goals of finishing races and maybe picking up an age-group award here and there along the way.  A few of us may have come from a high school track or cross-county background, have a trainer in a gym or do CrossFit, but aside from that have no experience with a coach.

KNOW YOUR GOALS

There are many reasons a coach might prove to be helpful, and lately it seems many either have a coach or are talking about hiring one.  When is the right time to consider hiring a personal coach for yourself and how do you know if it’s right for you?  Maybe you are just getting started in running and looking for guidance and help in avoiding newbie mistakes that can lead to injury and burnout.  You might be at a place in your running where you have plateaued and feel like you could get more out of yourself.  You believe you have the potential to do more and need help from someone with more experience to guide and push you a little.  You may just want a coach to help you with a specific race or upcoming event, and you’re looking for a training plan to get you to that finish line. Top-level athletes might be looking for that extra edge and close contact with a coach to propel you to the top of the podium.  Having an extra set of eyes on your running schedule, your workouts, your nutrition, and even your recovery days could be just what a runner needs.

So you think you might like to hire a coach, but where do you start?  How do we find the “perfect” coach that’s a fit for you?  A coach that offers you the right amount of hands-on help and will work well with  your running ability and schedule.  A coach that works with middle or back of the pack runners, not just elites.  You will probably need a coach who has a lot of experience with the type of events for which you are training.  A good 5k coach may not be the coach that’s going to help you cross the finish line of a tough mountain 50k race or Ironman event.  You also want someone who cares and believes in you, as you build a strong relationship of trust with them.  If we are going to invest money, time, and hard work into our training, we want to believe in our coach’s ability and we want them to believe in us.

KNOW YOUR COACHING OPTIONS

Unless you are in search of a coach who works with you one-on-one and supervises your workouts, coaching is usually done “virtually.” They often don’t live in the same area, and you likely have not even met them in person.  Virtual coaches use your GPS running watch or app to look at your data, as well as regular communication with you to see how you’re feeling and how your workouts are going.

You will have to do some homework to find a coach that feels right and will be a good fit.  Start by asking friends what type of experience they are having with their coach.   A quick google search will help you research coaches online.  Coaches are constantly interviewed on podcasts.  Listen and see if you believe they would be a good fit for you.  There are a variety of coaching options depending on the level of involvement you want from your coach.  Are you looking for weekly updates with your training schedule or do you want a coach who is available anytime to talk on the phone?  Do you need help with nutrition and want your coach involved in this aspect of your training?  Are you recovering from an injury, or have been injury-prone and are looking to avoid this in the future?  Are you interested not in a serious training plan, but rather have someone look over how you are currently doing things and make simple adjustments or suggestions?  These are some of the questions to consider when looking for a coach.

Begin by making a list of what you want from a coach.  What are your goals and what are you looking for in hiring a coach?  What is your goal race? Do you have access to a gym where you can do additional workouts your coach might suggest?  Be ready to share your recent race experiences and recent PR’s so they have an idea of your current fitness level.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS

Take a look at things happening in your life outside of running that might be factors in your training schedule and share them. If you have a high stress job, work long hours, have an unusual schedule or have difficult family situations, these can all be important factors for a prospective coach to understand. How much time can you spend devoted to running during the week? These are likely to be some of the questions a coach will ask when you begin to interview with them. Be realistic, not idealistic, about your time.  You want to share honestly and begin to build a rapport.  It’s also a good idea to think about what you are willing to pay for a coach.  Prices can vary greatly, with more involvement from your coach costing more money.

INTERVIEW COACHES

Those are some things we might want to think about and be prepared to answer before talking with a coach.  But what about the things WE should be asking a coach?  Our goal is to find a qualified coach, but also one with specific experience with the type of races you are running. What is their background as a coach, and even as a personal athlete?  What kind of success stories do they have with athletes similar to yourself?  How do they structure training? How would they describe their coaching philosophy? Some coaches might emphasize high mileage, while others believe in more moderate mileage weeks mixed with tempo runs, core workouts, and more.  Understanding their philosophy and how it aligns with your thinking and training might give you an idea of whether or not you can work well with them.

WORKING WITH YOUR COACH

Is it worthwhile to hire a coach for just one race or period of time?  Can a coach truly make a difference in this scenario?  My personal experience with hiring and using a coach is that the longer I work with them, the more they are able to help me improve, push myself, and go beyond my own expectations.  Hiring a coach to cross a specific finish line might be successful, but you are barely getting to know each other if you’re working together for just a few short months.  It often takes longer for a coach to learn what really motives and drives their athletes forward so they can better understand how to help them reach their personal goals.  Often a long term relationship with a coach will have more success and be a more rewarding experience.

TRUST YOUR COACH

Coaches aren’t miracle workers, and we need to make sure our expectations are in line with our abilities.  A coach can’t get you from the couch to a marathon in 4 weeks.  We must also be willing to follow their training plan.  Put in the work, communicate with them honestly about how you feel, and share your workout data.  If not, why do we have a coach?  They want to be a successful coach for you, just as you want to be successful in your running.

Coaches can encourage and guide you, but we must have the motivation and desire to improve.  That desire is often what leads us to consider hiring a coach in the first place.  They can give you a plan, but you have to trust them and follow the plan.  A coach might not be able to motivate a runner, but sometimes the boost of confidence from a coach that believes in you can be all it takes to set an athlete on fire.

 

 

 

Taper Madness

I picked my “A” race at the beginning of the year, I trained for it during the past 6 months, and now it’s Taper Time.  Runners who train for a long distance race understand what tapering is all about, but for many it’s the hardest part of their training.  It’s the dreaded taper – those last few weeks leading up to the big race.  After months of high mileage running, long workouts, hill repeats, speed work and tough schedules, it all comes to a screeching halt.

We are anxious about our upcoming race, and all of the sudden it feels like we are letting things slip through our fingers.  You often hear complaints during the taper about gaining weight or being afraid of losing the fitness they have worked so hard to achieve.  Mastering the final few weeks before the race is trickier than it seems.

Tapering before a race has many benefits for our body as well as our mind.  It allows our muscles a chance to repair, as well as increase its glycogen.  Another benefit is reducing the risk of overtraining.  After months of hard work, we want to show up on race day with legs that are fresh and rested, not tired and heavy.

A balanced taper should consider important elements like duration, weekly mileage, and key workouts.  The duration of your taper can vary but the end goal is to arrive at the race well-rested and feeling strong.  Some runners may taper for two or three weeks while others may find that a 10-day taper works better for them.  The taper is important not just for our body to recover but for our minds to rest.  We need time to focus on our race and make sure we have everything in order; our nutrition, gear, shoes, crew, and pacers.  Look over your travel details, the course description, aid stations, drop bag points, and packing your gear.  Taking care of these details during the taper will allow your mind to rest and relax in the last few days before the race.

CUTTING BACK

Most all tapers will have a reduction in weekly mileage.  How much we reduce our mileage may depend on how hard our training has been and how we feel going into the taper period.  If you have a coach, they will plan the taper according to your overall training schedule.  Otherwise, it’s common to reduce your mileage by around 20% a week starting about two to three weeks out from the race.  You should experiment with what works best for you.  While we reduce our mileage we may still include some key workouts such as hill repeats, intervals, or other specific runs.  We want to maintain our fitness but keep our legs feeling loose as well as getting some rest.

So how can we make the dreaded taper time be more exciting for the runner?  The fact that our long-awaited race is quickly approaching brings its own level of excitement.  But this may also be a good time to experience a little extra pampering.  Getting a massage or a pedicure can be a treat and also work out some of the knots.  This might also be a good time to catch up with friends or family members you haven’t seen during your busy training season.  Just relaxing or enjoying a good distraction like a movie or book can take your mind off the taper.  Life is often hard to balance, and this could be the time to put a little more balance back into it.

The race will be here in no time and the taper will quickly be a thing of the past, but it could be the very thing that kicks off your race with your body feeling ready and strong.

Published September 2017

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Get Your Mojo Back

Sometimes, too much running can deplete your energy and motivation. But there are simple ways to regain your groove

One of the things that I keep hearing about and have started to dread is losing my motivation to run, or mojo, as many call it.  Late last spring, after completing two difficult races, my closest running friends lost their running mojo.  They no longer had any real desire to go for a long run, or run at all and I was looking ahead to a race for the autumn that I was hoping to complete.  With them out for the count, I hired a coach to keep me motivated and hold me accountable to my own running plans and goals.  All of that soon got me thinking about just how do you get your groove back once you’ve lost it and, better yet, how do you avoid the pitfalls of losing it to begin with.

So with a little help from my friends, and talking to some other ultra runners who had also struggled with getting their mojo back, I began to come to some conclusions of my own.  It seemed that many had lost their motivation due to over training and having a strict training schedule leading up to an event, leaving them tired and burned out.  We need to look at our training plan carefully, setting realistic goals and expectations, and allowing ourselves a break in our schedule if we are feeling tired.  Missing one run isn’t going to have a major effect on our training. While it can be very time consuming, we need to find a way to have some balance.

Some of us might fall into the trap of simply running too many races; all our friends are doing a race and we don’t want to miss out.  Running races can be fun, but it’s also hard.  We need time between races for our bodies to recover, rest and even relax.  Not allowing ourselves a break can lead to fatigue and burnout.  We’ll quickly lose the joy and not know why.

WHEN IN DOUBT, VOLUNTEER

When you don’t feel liking running yourself, or don’t have a goal of your own, you can help others out with theirs.  Volunteering at races, crewing or pacing other runners can be good ways to get you excited about a race or goal again.  Finding that next race, setting a new goal or challenge can also be a great way to get that excitement back.  Just being an ultra runner usually means you have a lot of motivation and drive, and if it’s not a race that gets you excited, it might be an adventure run.  You can plan a run like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, do a bucket list-type challenge or sign up for a run in another country.  There is always something cooler or more awesome out there for the ultra runner to explore and get excited about.

It seems important to allow yourself, your body as well as your mind a chance to have a break.  Don’t pressure yourself or try to fight your loss of mojo, but allow for a period of down time to pass. There’s no time table to getting back to it, and rushing it might lead to injury or depression. You can stay physically active by hiking, biking or some other form of cross training, to at least keep up some fitness level and not set yourself back to square one when you do feel ready to hit the trails again.

Whether you are trying to keep from losing your motivation or get it back, it’s helpful to have a training buddy.  Find group runs or friends who can help hold you accountable and to encourage you on your journey.  Often what we need is to just stop and “smell the roses,” to take in the views and appreciate the great outdoors.  If you aren’t happiest in the woods, ultra running might not be your sport.  Just getting on the trail can sometimes help you find that spark again.

Published July 2017

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Right the Wrongs?

When you drop out of a race, do you need to go back and try again? Or should you just shrug it off and move on the next one?

Most every runner who has done enough races will eventually get a DNF (Did Not Finish).  You’ve challenged yourself with a tough race, or your day just didn’t go as planned and your race ended before you finished the course.  Experience tells you that any race can go wrong with one bad step, a blister, stomach issues, chaffing, or any number of other issues.  We are not guaranteed a finish, and the clock may run out on us before we have crossed the finish line.

So is a DNF all that bad?  It’s not the end of your running days, but it might cause you to take serious inventory.  Once we are done licking our wounds and stroking our sensitive egos, we can take a longer look down the road at what’s next. Every failure has something to teach us, every day is different, and no two races are the same.  Whether it’s your training, your planning and execution, your mental strength or something else, we can learn from our DNF.

For some, the next step is planning how to get redemption for that DNF race!  It may be years in the planning, training, and waiting, but we feel we must take care of unfinished business.  In our mind, we must go back and prove that the trail did not beat us, or that race did not get the best of us.  A successful run at it again will surely right the wrong of the DNF we received.  It’s like a bad mark on a report card that must be erased and improved.

Different Perspective

Others may not feel the need for redemption.  They run without the worry of having to prove themselves, feel that it’s a score card that grades them, or have an ego to fuel. Some may have been in  over their head, it’s not in their “wheel house,” and they will find a more suitable race to run that will offer them a different experience.  Running may just be a pleasure, pure and simple, and they don’t have a strong sense of unfinished business from a setback.  If this isn’t the race to finish, they’ll finish the next one, whatever that might be.  They sign up for a race for the joy of running it and enjoying themselves along the way.  It’s not always about the finish.

But what about the Redemption Runner?  Is there really something to prove and is redemption as sweet as it sounds? I received a DNF in several races in 2016.  I felt sure these endings were not due to my failure, and I had to go back and receive the taste of redemption I felt was deserved.  I knew from the moment I got my DNF that I’d be back to finish what I started, the course had not beat me, and I wasn’t finished with it yet.  I wanted to prove to myself I was a strong and worthy runner, and I was deserving of that finishers award.   I took a hard look at what I did wrong, changed my training to be much more focused, hired a coach to guide me, and found races that inspired me to run them for the sake of running them.  My experience says, yes, redemption is sweet, but maybe there is something more to it than just that.  My failed attempts are part of the complete running experience.  Maybe we shouldn’t look at redemption as finally finishing a race after the initial failure.  Rather, we should look at it as the end of a longer journey that can be even more rewarding.

Publsihed May 2017

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MISSING SUPPORT

Some people think we are “crazy” but I think we are just passionate!  It’s true that running Ultra marathon distances are beyond most people’s comprehension of doing and it leaves them completely unable to relate.  We, on the other hand, like to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.  This is where life begins for us!

As with most huge achievements or experiences, we want to share our accomplishments and tell others.  All too often this is met with reactions of disbelief, an obvious inability to truly comprehend or the look of “you’re not right in the head,” leaving us with little support or validation from them.  We return from an event and can feel both happy and let down, and don’t know where to turn for encouragement. For many, even family members and spouses offer no support or understanding for our “craziness”.  Some are even met with hostile behavior towards them from those they are closest to, and the lack of support can be very difficult to navigate.  There are a few things we can do to ease our way through this circumstance and find personal satisfaction.

From my experience we need to go into these events knowing that our accomplishments won’t be understood by most of our friends and family.  If you participate in these endurance events for the purpose of impressing your non-running family and friends, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason and will be let down by their response.  Some faced with the question of “why do you do it,” answer with “if you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.” To keep from explaining things that others just can’t comprehend, we try to avoid those conversations.  Others of us will avoid conversations with their non-running friends altogether. We can’t hold it against them but it’s often more helpful to not talk about it with those non-accepting friends and family members. There is another family we have in the community of ultra runners who will completely get it, and we should seek those relationships out for our support.

Plan a period of recovery where you continue to get out on the trails or roads that you enjoy, even if you are only hiking or walking.  Your love and commitment to what you enjoy doing can help fill the void that is often not filled by friends or family closest to you.  The only thing that gets us through the long, painful journey of an ultra distance run comes from deep inside us.  Likewise, the only one that can bring us back to our passion when others don’t support us emotionally, comes from within ourselves.  We can’t expect others to understand and we need to anticipate this empty space we will have.

HELP YOURSELF

While it becomes hard to share with others, it’s often very helpful to write things out for ourselves.  Taking a little time to write down your experience and thoughts, either in a race report format or just journaling thoughts can be helpful.  This gives us a chance to relive the race with some detail, record things we might do differently next time, and help take in the whole experience. Others can help us on our journey to achieving our goals, but we are the only ones who truly experience it!  Stay focused on your goals and review your accomplishments often.  Keeping your goals updated and fresh.

Be verbally thankful to those who do support you.  Family members and friends often do support us even though they don’t “get it”.  We need to be proactive in thanking them for their support, whether it’s a spouse who financially supports our efforts, or takes care of things at home so we can do our thing.  Offering our gratitude to them for the level of support they do give can go a long way.  Ultra running is often a selfish sport as it requires lots of time to train, and while we might not receive verbal support, we might receive it in other ways that are equally as important. For some of our friends and family, support can be a process so remember to be grateful for the little things along the journey.

Published April 2017

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Getting Personal

Running 100 mile races is becoming increasingly popular among trail runners and many of them are selling out early.  Several of the larger, more well-known races have gone to a lottery system to gain entry into them.  The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race is one of those lottery races, and was the very first 100 mile race.  It began back in 1955 as a trail race for horses.  In 1975, the legendary Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot. Twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, California, proving that a runner could indeed traverse the rugged 100 miles in one day.

Many ultra runners have long obsessed over a coveted spot in the Western States race, myself included. Before being allowed to enter your name into the lottery process, Western States requires potential participants to complete a qualifying race.  Each consecutive year that you enter the lottery, you get double the number of tickets, but if you fail to qualify and enter in one year, you are forced to start from the beginning again the next time you enter. There are also a few slots open for the faster elite runners to race their way into Western States by winning one of a few events offering “golden tickets” to its top two male and female finishers.  With less than 300 names being drawn each year from several thousand applicants, the middle-of-the-pack runner like myself faces very slim odds of being chosen.

THE CROWN JEWELS

So what is this obsession all about? Why do we hold such a passion for this race? With an ever growing number of 100 mile races to run, what is the appeal of Western States?

Western States is considered to be one of the toughest 100 mile races, with an elevation gain of more than 18,000 feet. Runners get to experience some of the most majestic and beautiful high country trails, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold American River, and the historic trails that led gold-seeking prospectors and homesteading pilgrims alike to the welcoming arms of Auburn.  It remains one of the undisputed crown jewels of human endurance events.

Another part of the allure of Western States is the idea of stepping up to the starting line with many of the top athletes in the sport.  These athletes have inspired us.  We’ve listened to them on podcasts and read about them in articles.  Just the thought of toeing the same starting line as us, if only for a short glimpse of them at the start causes our hearts to race.  This course has seen some of the sport’s most stirring and legendary competitions.  It continues to spur the spirit of runners of all abilities, from all walks of life.  The starting line of Western States represents racing legends of the past as well as the future, all sharing the same trails that lie ahead.

These are just a few things that compel the average runner like myself to run a qualifying race so we can throw our names into the lottery, hoping beyond hope that we will be one of the lucky ones whose name is drawn.  2015 was my first year in the lottery when I qualified after completing the Georgia Death Race 68 miler in under 21 hours.  When my single ticket entry didn’t get me a spot, I hired a coach, signed up for and finished the Pinhoti 100, giving me a second ticket for my entry in the 2016 lottery.  I want the chance to experience a small piece of this famous race that has captured my heart and soul.  Dreams do come true, and this is the dream that inspires me, the average ultra runner, as I wait to see if this will be my year to step up to the starting line of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Published January  2017

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Join The Family

Taking your running to the next level is tough, but you’ll never feel alone along the way

All sports seem to have a certain camaraderie that goes with them.  Often teammates share a love for their sport or seem to be part of a brotherhood.  In ultra running, the community that runners share seems to go much deeper, way beyond sharing a love for the sport.  There’s an immediate connection with others and you just know “these are my people.”  There seems to be a draw for many runners when they decide to cross over to the ultra distances and experience the community that awaits them.

So what is it about this ultra running community? I’ve found in my experience some unique things that make up the bond in this group of runners.

Understanding

If you are a distance runner, marathon or longer, you’ve probably been asked by friends and family why you do it.  Many ultra runners are even considered “crazy” by most who just can’t understand their desire or drive.  Within the community of ultra runners, there’s no need to explain why we put ourselves through such long distance runs, pain and suffering.  We don’t have to put into words our drive or motivation, we just quietly run alongside one another on the same journey.  There’s no questions to answer as to why.  Our fellow ultra runners are our safe family of acceptance and give us a sense of belonging.

Encouragement

Short distance races are all about the win, that first place trophy, while longer endurance races are about the finish.  The reward to the ultra runner is the accomplishment of completing the race. In the ultra distance races even the faster runners encourage, give high-fives and cheer on all the other runners.  When ultra runners pass on the trail they look at each other and say “good job” and offer words of encouragement no matter what pace they are moving.

It’s a supportive community where at times the slowest or last place runner has the largest crowd cheering them on as they cross the finish line.  It’s this unusual level of encouragement that greets all levels of ultra runners and truly makes you feel part of the ultra community.

Support

In ultra distances of 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles the runners get help from others.  Crew and pacers are used by runners to support them during these race.  Sometimes supportive family members help, but mostly its other ultra runners step in and help one another.  For some runners it’s a large group that helps get them to the finish line.  They often sacrifice days of their time to help one another accomplish their goals and races.  While on the course if a runner is hurt or needs even the smallest item, from a Band-Aid to food, a fellow ultra runner will stop and offer help or personal items from their own pack to aid another runner.  It’s a community that helps each other cross the finish line.

The ultra running community is a group that encourages, supports and takes care of its own.  Run a race or two and you might find yourself saying, “these are my people.”

 

Published November 2016

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