One of the big changes I made at the end of 2017 was hiring a coach and I figured it was a good topic to share my thoughts on and the steps I took to make sure I made the right choice for me (which is the most important factor). As a runner I spent High School and College with two coaches who I really believed in and trusted their methods and they both got me to succeed ultimately. I may have under-performed but that’s better saved for a future blog post about things I’d tell my former self. But to stay on topic for those 7 years I followed the plans laid out in front of me and enjoyed having a coach there watching practice to give feedback. It was much less stressful to have the workouts already figured out and my only job was to hit the times given by my coach. So, after my 8 year hiatus I came back not having that luxury any longer so I started self-coaching myself. Over the past 5 years I had some success. I was fortunate to learn a lot from fellow runners on workouts and training goals while also reading blogs online to figure out different things. I then followed and executed a plan pretty perfectly for my first 50 miler. But there was always something missing for me, sure I had friends who would sometimes give feedback like “WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING, YOU’RE GOING TO GET HURT”, but we are runners and we are stubborn. In 2016 and 2017 the big issue that came to haunt me as the year dragged on was the much-needed feedback loop. I struggled on two ends with that, on one end I was doing too much and not getting the needed feedback to calm down and secondly, I was sometimes doing workouts and when I hit paces I wasn’t sure if I was running a good pace and should be satisfied or too fast and I should be worried (Not all runners have this issue). To be fair the second issue came more about after my burn out post Boston where I started second guessing everything. So, in November of 2017 I reached out and hired Coach David Roche (Swaprunning.com), but the story doesn’t start there. Let’s get into how I ultimately choose him and then get into why a coach is helpful for me (and might be for you).
Ultimately finding a coach is a pretty big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I mean let’s start with the obvious that you are paying for this service but on top of that you are putting a lot of your goals/training in the hands of someone else. Obviously, we still need to run the race, but we need to trust the process, workouts, and above all else our coach to stay positive to achieve the goals. Finding David was not something I just stumbled upon, back in 2016 while listening to Ultra Runner Podcast (100% listen to this podcast it is amazing), I heard David come on as a guest and explain his training philosophy. Basically how he makes his runners take 1 easy day, builds in strides/pickups into runs to keep speed going, 1 workout day and a long run, how he emphasis’s the process not the end result and he spoke with such positivity about it all, it was a great interview I thought. I ended the podcast thinking that David really shared similar views with me on training (although I failed often to do a lot of these things in my plans). But for me, my 2016 continued and I was running great so I stuck with doing it alone. However as 2016 started coming to an end I really dug myself into a hole for JFK50 thinking I needed to overdo it because you know 50 miles. Instead of sticking to the views I heard from David that I also shared I went overboard and ran myself into an injury and then burnout. In 2017 I stumbled upon David on twitter and was amazed by how supportive and positive he was about all the athletes he coaches or just others in the sport. I get it, he’s a coach and he has to be somewhat civil but the level of gratitude and positive energy he showed everyone was amazing. I then stumbled upon his articles on trail running magazine and once again I just respected his views and they once again aligned with mine.
So in November before ultimately hurting myself again I finally reached out to David to inquire about coaching services and unlike what I heard from other runner’s experiences with coaches, he didn’t immediately just accept me. We started with a candid back and forth dialogue where he asked me 5 questions about running and we had a pretty lengthy email chain back and forth on my answers and his coaching style (Like a match maker test!). His goal wasn’t to just find someone else to pay, he wanted to make sure that we were a good fit. He explained that his style might a little might be a little different than I was used to (1 rest day every week, time-based workouts, time-based runs) and it was important that I was able to train this way. His ultimate goal along with mine was to make sure we were on the same page, so he could help me achieve my goals. I appreciated this and once I joined I was blown away at the community his wife and him have created. SWAP is an amazing community of runners across the world that support each other with such positivity. It’s more than just athletes who have the same paid coach, they have really created a place for all of us to motivate one another. David’s goal was to put us together to share our journeys as a group and his passion is felt thorough out every post he makes. He even puts out a weekly Race Recap for everyone who ran one over the weekend.
So that’s how I found David, but let’s get into the factors that mattered to me in my decision:
- Above all else finding someone that fits with me was most important. A coach won’t just make you faster, the trust has to go both ways.
- Coming from HS/College with a coach with me everyday I wanted some level of feedback. The Feedback loop is what matters to me, and David offers feedback daily for my runs. Even if it’s sometimes just a simple “Outstanding run, you are doing great”. For me personally I know he is reading it, he knows everything going on with me and no harm can come from some positivity.
- A plan that adapts. Anyone can go online and grab a training plan for free, but that plan is basically thrown out of the window after the first week when you need to adapt because of this tweak of a muscle, or this real-life issue. This also matters to me because as real life crept in I had less and less time to figure out workouts, runs, a plan each week.
- Honesty, I need the truth. About 5 weeks in having him as my coach my hamstring injury came back really badly on a LR and I mentioned it in my log. David immediately changed my plan added in a week off and made the recommendation of based on the goal I want to hit and after some downtime I’d only have 3 weeks to train and it’s risky to go after my goal race. He obviously said he’d support me either way but the truth was after getting hurt I kind of thought there was no time so thanks to his honesty I knew it was the right call. Without a coach I’d probably have pushed through who knows how much more hurt I would have gotten and if I would have still be hurt today. Starting the healing clock at this point allowed me to be running pain free in Mid-December.
- Availability, David offers up for emergencies a way to contact him if I need advice/decisions/etc.
- David supports a mindset of enjoying everything, enjoying the process. His website is called Some Work All Play (SWAP), his Instagram is full of fun times with his dog. He embraces life and loves running. As I mentioned earlier this type of energy rubs off (it’s contagious) and I love seeing it every day in his comments on my runs.
- Lastly, while he coaches some of the best runners in the world he never makes me feel like I don’t matter because I’m not a pro sponsored athlete. I’ve never felt like my goals don’t matter to him, like my time isn’t important. And you can see that everyday from his twitter as he constantly mentions how all his athletes are doing like a proud father.
After all this and several months later I am still so happy with my decision. Obviously hiring a coach isn’t for everyone, some people feel they are better writing their own plans or don’t think they could listen to someone else. I’ll tell you though a good coach cares more about what you want to get out of running then their plan. David’s goal is not to write me a plan and have me not follow it, it benefits neither of us and isn’t worth either of our time. The hard part of hiring a coach is putting that trust of the plan to reach your goals in someone else’s hands, which is why I say it’s important decision not to be taken lightly. Ultimately, we are a team and if I disagree David will work with me but that goes back to trusting one another. For many of the reasons I mentioned above and lastly just having someone to offer me feedback that I trust (runners are stubborn) having a coach really helped me just focus on the running and less on all the other stuff that took up my time.
I hope this article was helpful/insightful, especially if you have ever entertained the idea of a coach. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to each out.