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Why Hire a Coach?

“Why should I hire a coach? That’s really expensive!” This is the most common reason I hear for folks not having a coach to help them with their running, cycling, or swimming. And there are a lot of coaches and programs out there that cost a pretty penny. There’s also some that are pretty affordable. Often you can join a training group (like the one we have here in Ruston) which brings the cost waaaaay down. If getting fitter, staying injury free, or being able to spend more time doing other things in your life are actual priorities then it often makes sense to hire a coach. If you train because it’s something you enjoy, then staying injury free is probably pretty important to you. If you are choosing to do all your own research and planning out your own training, that’s awesome! But recognize that there are only 24 hours in the day and you are choosing to use those hours doing that instead of hanging out with the family, or taking care of the pets, or going on a date with your significant other. Fundamentally hiring a coach is a statement of priorities.

WIM training group picture
WIM training with the Total Health crew. While not all of us were runners, this was one of the best groups I've ever had the pleasure of working with. And yes, I was wearing a swim suit under that towel.

Let’s face it. The truth of the matter is that majority of endurance athletes are going to suffer some kind of preventable injury this year. Normally it’s an overuse injury brought on by some combination of poor biomechanics, not enough recovery between hard workouts, jumping training volume too fast, or doing inappropriate workouts given our current fitness level. The root cause is we’re either too stubborn to listen to our bodies or we don’t have the knowledge and experience necessary to choose the appropriate training regime.

It’s pretty easy to wrap our heads around the fact that a good coach can help us with biomechanics and technique. We assume they know a lot about it, how to improve it, and how to build it into our workouts. But honestly most of us don’t value improving our mechanics enough to actually motivate us to work on it until after we get hurt. Good mechanics not only help us avoid injury, but they help us actually move faster with less effort. And that’s something every endurance athlete I know says they’re trying to do. If we’re going to be working hard, let’s at least get somewhere, right? Poor biomechanics are one of the biggest culprits behind the absurdly high injury rate we see in endurance events. But for some reason most endurance athletes don’t spend a lot of time working on their running mechanics unless a coach writes it into their training plan.

Training plans should provide structure to each workout, week, and month based on what our goals are and what kind of fitness we’re currently in. Simply putting a 20 mile long run on week 16 of our marathon training plan because “that’s where it needs to be” is dumb. This is what most of the free canned plans available on the internet do, which is why folks get hurt when using one. Doing something big and crazy is awesome. But setting ourselves up for success is an essential component. Many of us are guilty of not doing the work necessary to before a training plan starts to be able to successfully complete it without getting hurt. A good coach can help identify where your current fitness level and use that to help you set appropriate goals. If you want to do that big race, the responsible coach will help you develop the fitness to be able to do the training before telling you to register. Most runners don’t suffer the overuse injury on race day. It’s in the training leading up to it.

Good goal setting plots out the different accomplishments we’re chasing in a way that allows us to reach them without risking injury or burnout. Those big pie-in-the sky goals that scare us a bit are extremely important to have. They are one of the things that motivate us. A coach’s job is to help put the rungs on the ladder we climb to get there. The most common example of this is the Boston or Kona qualifier. We want to get in that race, so we snag a training plan that should get us there. But that plan doesn’t account for our current fitness level. It just assumes that we’re fit and healthy enough to do the work necessary. Basically, we get greedy. And then we get hurt.

The Boston. One of the biggest goals an amateur runner can have is to complete the 26.2 mile pilgrimage to Beantown.

A good coach will help put together the training that is right for you to be in optimal shape on the day you’re going to be trying for that qualifying time. And if you aren’t currently at the fitness level where that goal isn’t realistic or safe, your coach’s job is to tell you that and help you plot out the stepping stones that will get you there. The goal is still to get the qualifier, but the coach can point out the safest path to get there. We can help you set those smaller stepping stone goals that keep us focused on the task at hand.

Once the big picture plan is put together, we need to put the rubber to the road and do the work. This is where a coach can ensure we get the most out of every workout. A coach can serve as a bit of control to help rein us in on easy days or push us to do the hard work that scares us. I’ve had a lot of clients over the years that didn’t honestly believe they can do the workouts when they are handed to them and then succeed in the workout, and then they crush the race they’re training for. Many of us like to stay comfortable when we’re “training”, simply putting in some miles and then patting ourselves on the back. But in order to actually improve, we have to stress our bodies in a way that forces them to adapt and become more fit. The trick is to find the sweet spot where we are pushing our bodies, but not breaking them. And that is the specialty of the coach.

I have found that accountability is a biggest thing for many endurance athletes. Not only are we prone to not take a day off when we should, or skip a workout when it’s nasty outside, but we’re trying to balance training with the rest of life as well. Most of us are not professional athletes who only have to eat, sleep, and train. We also have to go to work, take the kids to school, go to PTA meetings, paint the house, go to the grocery store, and cook dinner. Not to mention actually giving our loved ones the attention they deserve. So it becomes real easy to either become a slave to the training plan (“But honey, I have to get my long run in today!”) or start skipping workouts. Having a coach keeping tabs on you set you up for making smart decisions and allows the training plan to be modified on the fly. A good coach will be more than happy to (kindly) tell you when you’re making poor decisions.

A coach brings a lot of experience to the table. We don’t just draw on our own experiences as athletes, but also the experiences with all of the other athletes and coaches we’ve worked with over the years. That can be a treasure trove of knowledge paired with the experience of how to properly implement it to help you reach your goals. We’re there to help design the right training plan for you, based on your current fitness level, goals, and training history. We’re there to push you to do the workouts you don’t want to, and to rein you in when you’re going down the rabbit hole. We’re there to keep you accountable, ensuring you do the work needed to actually be able to accomplish your goals. We’re also there to help ensure you don’t get hurt. Fundamentally, there are a lot of different reasons someone would hire a coach. Hiring a coach is a statement of priorities. It says we’re going to get fitter and faster. We’re going to stay injury free. We’re going to work hard on our hard days and take our recovery days easy. It is a statement that if we’re going to spend time training instead of doing something else, we’re damn sure going to get something out of it.

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