Thursday, March 5, 2015

The perfect fit

Sorry about the swear...
Sorry if you thought this post was about shoes.

Over the past year, I've gotten a lot of questions about my training plan for my last marathon and also about my coach. I write a lot about my coach, Becky, who I work with once weekly and who trained me to run a 1h 10min PR at my last marathon. How did I end up with a CrossFit coach instead of a running coach? How does a runner find the right coach?

A couple of years ago, frustrated with slowing mile splits and nagging injuries, I decided to look into hiring a running coach. This seemed so self-indulgent to me--after all, only celebrities and elite runners have coaches, right? First world problems....But I wasn't ready to accept my slowing down as an inevitable part of the aging process. I figured that it would be worth it to see what a coach might have to offer. After ruminating out loud about this one day at my yoga class, a fellow student mentioned that a new coaching business opened around the corner from the studio.

How great! It was meant to be, right? Impulsively, because that's how I roll, I headed over there right after yoga class. The storefront was closed, but I knocked on the door, and the coach let me in. I told her what I was thinking about and she gave me her spiel. She was a former collegiate athlete, she told me. Talked about what she would do for me. I'd have to stop running. There would be "lots of drills". She'd rework my running form. She talked a lot. I couldn't get a word in. Wasn't this all about me? How does she know what I want and what I need if she's doing all of the talking? Doubt began to form in my mind, but I signed up for an evaluation the following week.


I left, feeling unsettled about my conversation with her. The evaluation was really expensive. And her philosophy, to have me stop running while she reworked my form? Do I really need to change my form? I've resisted all the fads: Chi Running, Barefoot Running, Changing from heel striking to forefoot striking, Running in costumes--ok, that last one doesn't have anything to do with form. I'm in my 50s, and the idea of reworking my running form just didn't feel right to me. I've been sidelined for injury and illness a few times in my 20+ years of running, and coming back is always hard. When I first was put in orthotics, it took my 8 weeks to get used to them. I didn't want to stop running. I didn't want to do anything drastic. I was looking for a way to run healthy.

You know how they say go with your gut? Well, mine was working overtime. Red flags were everywhere. I couldn't ignore this uneasy feeling I was having, so I called my friend Karen, who, with her husband, owns the local CrossFit box, to discuss this with her. Karen agreed with me that she didn't like what she was hearing. She talked to me about Becky, who along with being a CrossFit coach, is also a Corrective Exercise Specialist. Karen suggested that I meet with Becky, free of charge, for an evaluation. We also talked a lot about her husband Jim, who is former Ironman and marathoner, and who has been doing CF endurance workouts with a great deal of success. While I wasn't sure that working with a non-runner was the way to go, my gut liked what it was hearing, and so I cancelled my appointment with the running coach and met with Becky.

What a relief! To be done with my sweaty run? Or to have dodged a bullet in the form of an overzealous running coach?
At that first session, there was no running, no gait evaluation. Instead, Becky had me do some squats and lunges, while she photographed me. When we met again, a few days later, she talked about what I needed to work on. My hips, particularly my left hip, were weak. She wanted me to bag my orthotics, which I was still using at the time (they're gone now). Her other big concern? My posterior chain aka my glutes, which were not firing. I know what you're thinking. But that isn't the kind of firing she was talking about. I thought all this sounded reasonable. I figured I'd give it a go and see what happens. We began to work together, doing basic rehabilitation exercises weekly, with homework.

Becky told me that she was not a runner and didn't know much about running. She also told me that my running would be my own. I liked that. Meanwhile, as I worked with her over time, I noticed a gradual, positive change in my running. I started having fewer aches and pains. My stride became more efficient (economy!) and my mile splits started becoming faster. Feeling encouraged, I did everything she asked me to do. Eventually, we moved on from the rehab to more CrossFit type exercises. She had me start lifting weights, doing intervals, and some plyometrics. We worked on core strengthening, which has always been my nemesis.

No longer my nemesis! :)
If you have been following me, then you know the ultimate reward was my marathon last fall. When I won the free entry to the Chicago marathon, Becky developed a training plan for me. My faith in her ability to bring me to the finish line was 100%. And for the training, I gave control of my running to her. I followed that training plan to the letter, with the exception of substituting one run for a bike ride when some mama drama at home threatened to derail my mental toughness training.  Oh, and we worked on that too...

Becky and me, pre marathon!
Not everyone can find a coach that is a perfect fit. But you don't have to pick a coach just because they're a coach. In the spirit of the Friday Five linkup, here are five things to think about when you are shopping for a coach:

Nothing like someone by your side to push you on!
1. Virtual vs live? On my FB feed are quite a few folks who are advertising themselves as coaches, developing training plans for runners. I don't think there's anything wrong with that except that there is nothing like meeting with that person and getting feedback. Not everyone has access to a gym and if you do use a virtual coach, make sure that they really know what you're looking for. And with Skype and FaceTime, there's no excuse for not having live interaction!

2. One size fits all is not the way to go. Make sure that your training plan is personalized to your abilities and needs--my biggest mistake with my first marathon was using a training plan that was one size fits all (I followed one of Hal Higdon's plans). If you find a coach, you want a coach who interviews you, gets to know you, and develops a customized plan based on your needs. In addition, your coach should be willing to modify the plan based on progress or lack thereof. Nothing should be set in stone.

3. Does the coach incorporate cross training into the mix?  I'm a huge believer in not living on miles alone. As a matter of fact, if all you do is run, you may stop seeing progress and even become injured. Unless you are an elite runner or a genetic mutant,  a lot of high mileage is going to break you down. I'm not saying you have to do CrossFit. Time in the gym, weights, intervals, cross training activities, and yoga are all important components to making you a stronger runner. And there's plenty of evidence to support this.

4. Your coach does not have to be a runner.  I know this seems counterintuitive. Having running experience certainly is a plus. But no matter what their background, make sure your coach has training, experience, and certification to back them up. They should have background in training athletes, physiology, nutrition, sports psychology, and biomechanics. Ask for references. Anyone can advertise themselves as a coach. The woman I first met with, the running coach, only had experience as a collegiate runner--no certifications, no formal training. Yet, she's got a booming coaching business. Heck, I could be a coach too!

5. If it doesn't feel right, move on--I'm a huge believer in going with your gut. If you don't like what the coach is having you do, tell them or find another coach. Don't waste time and money working with someone who isn't a good fit. It may take a few tries to find the right coach.

So where do you find a coach? I already talked about virtual coaches, and RRCA and USATF has a listing of all their certified coaches on their website. Some local high school cross country coaches will coach runners on the side. Check with a local running store for names of coaches. Running clubs are also another good resource. Talk to running friends. If you want to go an alternative route, like I did, check with the local gym or CrossFit box.

I have to say that working with Becky is the best thing I have ever done, fitness-wise. I have never refused to do anything she has asked me to do, although I came close last week when she had me carry that 50# sack on my back while doing lunges. She is tough but listens to me. We make a good team. She doesn't shower me with praise but when she tells me good job, I know she means it. I know how lucky I am.

While I at first balked at paying for a weekly coaching session, the returns in the form of strong running and self confidence have been amazing. I used justify this because I don't belong to a gym, so I don't pay monthly fees for that. I don't drink Starbucks and I pack my lunch for work. Now I figure that this is a priority for me and something I'm willing to pay for. You have to decide what's important to you. At age 52, becoming a stronger runner is a choice I made. No regrets.

Do you have a coach? Virtual or live? Runner or non-runner? Share your experience!

I'm linking this post up with the DC Trifecta: EatPrayRunDC, Mar on the Run, and You Signed Up for What? for their Friday Five link up! Be sure to head on over to their blogs and see what everyone else has to say!














I'm also linking up with Jill Conyers for Fitness Friday! It's always fun to check out the blogs on this link up too!


48 comments :

  1. I'm sorry but all I kept thinking of was your hilarious cartoon! That is great!

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  2. I definitely need to fit in more cross-training. I do yoga once a week, and otherwise mostly just run. Great suggestions in this.
    www.momontherunsanity.com

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    1. The CrossFit definitely made the difference in my training.

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  3. You are so right!! Finding a coach that fits is so important. Trusting your instinct and gut is the way to go. Glad you found someone who works for you!!

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  4. What a great post! So great that your coach has helped you achieve your goals so well. I have had the same trainer for 10 years and we don't always agree on everything esp when it comes to running but he has helped me so much and I don't know what I would do without him!

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    1. 10 years! That's what I like to hear. I don't want to let this one go!

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  5. Great post. I have been using a coach for the first time ever this training cycle for Paris. I won a 20 week training package from my local running store at our MRTT birthday party. I have to say it's been the most disappointing thing EVER. I haven't heard from him in 3 1/2 weeks. I get no feedback, he doesn't check in, and doesn't respond to my emails. SO disappointing and I'm just glad I didn't shell out money for it because then I would be even more pissed! I've been thinking about your experience with your coach for a while and would love to try something like this but have yet to find that right person. I'm still on the hunt, but won't give up.

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    1. Your quest actually inspired this post! Don't give up and keep your options open. You never know when you'll find Mr or Ms Right.

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  6. What a great post! My coach is myself (and Hal Higdon, via website LOL). I have very limited resources in my small town, so virtual coaching is probably my best option....and that scares me a little. I also have seen some "over zealous" coaches on FB, too....and a lot of injured runners who drank their Koolaid LOL Thanks for all the tips in what to look for in finding that perfect fit with a coach :-)

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    1. I used to be my own coach too, but having someone else in charge is pretty awesome! I've learned so much from Becky, about training and about myself. I'm thrilled with the gains I've made this year. You can teach an old dog new tricks...

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  7. I don't have a coach. Not yet. But I really want to look into this so THANK YOU for all the tips! I wish I had signed up with one prior to starting this training cycle. I'm so glad you found the perfect fit for you!

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    1. I know how lucky I am. But I almost wasn't! Thankful for my gut instincts...

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  8. This is really interesting! I have been thinking that later this year I would love to start working with the coach, but the biggest piece for me would be a focus on injury prevention and exercises to supplement my running. So really, I would need to find someone who understands some of the issues that I am dealing with (basically hip stability issues) but is also knowledgeable about the running piece and could help me get faster.
    It's also really great to read about people's experiences with looking for a coach since I was recently certified and started coaching. As I was reading your first experience meeting that coach I started cringing and hoping that you didn't end up working with her! Glad it all worked out so well for you!

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    1. I was looking for those same things. It has been a great experience with lots of rewards on the road!

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  9. I've always been my own coach. Not sure I would really benefit from hiring someone to coach me as I have quite a bit of knowledge and all the resources available to get me the information I need. To me a virtual coach is no different from the internet so I couldn't fathom paying someone to coach me virtually. Seems almost a rip off.

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    1. It's nice to get an objective opinion (and it isn't always easy to hear ;P) about your form, etc. I knew a lot but I had no idea...I've learned so much from Becky!

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  10. I really like the way she worked/works with you. And clearly it has paid off. I want a Becky in my life!

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  11. Totally agree that coaching is such a personal thing. There's no one right way. Everybody's different and many times it's the chemistry or lack thereof, that makes or breaks a coaching relationship. I've had two different coaches. Both awesome. But I ran my best by far when I did not have a coach. As a coach myself, I can tell you that people are SO different. Some way more autonomous than others, some need weekly hand holding. And that's all good. To each his/her own.

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    1. It's rewarding, coaching? I think it would be...

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  12. We have so much in common! Aside from being Masters runners, the main problem that's continued to cause me injury is that my glutes won't fire. My hips are weak, and so a variety of ailments has bothered me/interrupted my running over the last 2 years: IT band, hip flexor, posterior tibialis tendon. I'm coming to the end of a 4-week hiatus from running and am nervous to start again for fear of reinjuring myself. I have been doing Pilates and yoga for about 3 months, working my glutes and core like a madwoman (and also working on stretching--particularly my tight hamstrings), but I still feel like my glutes don't fire. My quads always seem to take over.

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    1. I still do a ton of those rehab exercises Becky gave me...clamshells, supermans. I think that I will always need to work on that hip strength!

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  13. Wendy, I think having a coach has been instrumental in getting me through two back-to-back marathon efforts (and two training cycles!) without much in the way of injury; it has also highlighted some issues that I needed to work on (those weak glutes - GAH!) and helped me understand how everything works together. I'm so glad you have Becky in your life; she sounds amazing! Hope you have a great weekend!

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    1. I didn't know you were working with a coach! Yes, the whole injury free thing is a plus!

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  14. I know I need more cross-training but who can find the time or the money.

    Glad it has worked for you.

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    1. It's just like running, if you want it badly enough, you'll find time and money...

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  15. this is a wonderful post! i especially like hearing about how your coach isn't a runner. great reminder that they don't have to be. since everyone is a "coach" now, i hope people will read your post!

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    1. Thank you!!! I just wanted to share a different approach to running.

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  16. I am a triathlete and have a coach who is USAT certified (and an All American Triathlete herself - she's 20 years older than me and kicks my butt on the run every time!). I've become a much more balanced athlete since I started working with her, although I do have to figure out the right balance. A training plan is great but occasionally I miss the spontanaeity of jumping in a 5K or a cyclocross race at the last minute cause I felt like it. Although her plans generally can accommodate some spontaneous activity - I just have to be careful not to overexert myself when peaking or tapering for my goal events.

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    1. I agree with that lack of spontaneity...altho last summer I jumped into a 10k at the last minute and she just looked the other way...same with that 8k I did last fall...

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  17. Great post, lady! The first picture had me ROLLING at work.:D

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  18. Great post! So chock full of helpful info. I was curious how many of your weekly workouts are cross-training vs. running? I've gotten into sort of a rut this winter and want to change something up. Right now, I run 4x week (if the weather is good, 3 of these are outside...1 long, 1 tempo, and 1 recovery and the 4th is sprint and hill intervals on the treadmill). My cross-training is 2x/week - one strength class and 1 Barre class which incorporates deep stretching, especially with the hips. I don't work with a trainer one on one, but the instructors for my group classes are fantastic. I did work with a trainer a couple times and he said my left hip is week and that I need to strengthen my glutes. What types of exercises does your coach have you doing for your hips?

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    1. Like you, I run 4 days/week; I do cross training (yoga and CrossFit) 2x/week. I try to run all my runs outside--1 long, 2 "free", and 1 speedwork, if I'm training for something. I had to do my speedwork indoors this winter. This was the first time I've done that. Becky first had me doing basic hip strengtheners like clamshells, supermans, resistance band stuff. Now we do a lot of deadlifts, squats, and lunges; along with some other CF stuff like slam balls, pushing the prowler, burpees, wall ball squats--and lots of variations. We do a heavy lifting cycle every couple of months. The stuff she has me do has helped me like nothing else. Sometimes when I run up a hill, I can actually feel my glutes engaging and pushing me forward. It's crazy!

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  19. Great post Wendy! I've worked with a virtual coach to train for specific races but I've always wanted to work a coach in real life. I've looked on and off for about 2 years with no luck. Either poor customer service (Really?) or it just wasn't a good fit. Maybe it's not meant to be. Interesting, I never thought of a non-running running coach. Have an awesome weekend.

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    1. There are a lot of sketchy coaches, and some that just don't mesh. I hope you find the right one! Keep your options open.

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  20. I don't have a coach. I'm not really in the market, although I would like to find a trainer that I can work with, similarly to how you worked with Becky. I need to incorporate more strength work into my life but I just haven't found the right person. Kudos to you for sticking with your gut!

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  21. Good for you for listening to your instincts, and waiting until you found the perfect coach for you. Becky sounds like a keeper!

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  22. Wendy this was super informative! I have been been debating about getting a coach for over year now but I just haven't taken the plunge. I am thinking that if I ever run a full marathon again I may have to invest in one. Or better yet maybe I'll become a coach myself! hah!

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    1. Getting a coach is the best thing I've ever done. I thought about taking the certification course, not to coach but just to learn more.

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  23. I've seriously thought about this. But, I'm pretty sure it would have to be virtual, and then I think...that won't work. I'm glad you found someone who is a perfect fit.

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  24. Having a coach is essential to what I'm doing (figure skating), and my relationship with my coaches is one of the best parts of skating for me. But I haven't had anyone coach me off-ice--- well, some years ago I did for a while with disastrous results (injured my knees). I certainly know a number of folks who do have an off-ice trainer for skating, just like you have a non-running trainer for your running. It is one more expense, though, for an already expensive sport.

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    1. Since you already have a skating coach, I can't imagine hiring a coach for a second sport! I'm sure you pick up a lot of info from your coaches that you can transfer to running. Some things are the same no matter what you're doing...

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