Most persons agree a coach is a teacher or trainer; a person who supports an individual while they learn to achieve a specific personal or professional result or goal. In many cases it is a business transaction, where an athlete pays for the support. In my case, at least in the past year, it is a relationship between two individuals; one with greater experience and expertise than the other. My goal in the relationship is to offer advice and guidance as the runner learns to become their own coach.
Preston and I have talked on many occasions over the past four or five years about running. He’s one of those persons who have taken to running with the fervent behavior of the newly-converted. That makes it both fun and challenging for me as a coach figure; I smile when I read the details of his workout efforts because I can see the potential. The challenge, naturally, comes when I try to explain one of the roles of a coach.
The hardest part about coaching is when I have to use four-letter words. Not the ones you think of when you hear the term “four-letter words.” However, like “those” four-letter words, I’ve found many runners to be offended, especially when I’ve uttered these four-letter words – Plan, Pace, Rest – in their presence. This week I want to focus on the first of the three dirty little words, “Plan.”
The late George Harrison was almost spot-on correct when he sang, ‘if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.’ But a parody I once heard of an old Bob Dylan song may be even more-correct: ‘how many roads must a man walk down before he admits he is lost?’
What is it about the act of writing down an end-state/goal (another good four-letter word) and the potential path to that end-state that is so foreign to runners? There’s nothing wrong with going out and running almost every day, toeing the line at races on as many weekends as one can stand, as long as they are happy with running for social reasons. But, like Preston, they might love the social aspects of race participation but eventually become frustrated at the plateau in their performance. They still want to see an improvement in their speed, even if no age-group or overall hardware comes. One of my “Breakfast Club” runners, Teri, decided to participate in three 5K races on three successive weekends, entering at the last minute, without considering whether the events would help her run training. And then, I receive the “oh, I’m too beat up to run this morning” texts the next morning. At first it was difficult to not yell at her when we talked the next day; and I could not help but laugh when she told me ‘that was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?’
A plan helps to efficiently align our resources – money, time, energy – to move toward the desired goal. I’ve written much about how running ideally is a form of recreation; how running should be a beneficial part of our lives, not the central focus. If all you have is thirty minutes a day, three times a week to “spend,” all of the money in the world is not going to change that. It is what it is. That’s a limitation with which you will have to contend. Unless you’re athletically-gifted the chances are strong you will most likely be limited to social running and perhaps the occasional short-distance race. It does not mean you will not have fun as a runner, but if you can live with the decreased expectations you’re more likely to not be frustrated.
Next post, I'll talk about the second (of many, I realize!) coaching four-letter word: Pace.