Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Self-Coaching Challenge

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges one faces when one is self-coached.

I'm self-coached (so, I don’t have a coach or local running group that I check in and train with), and I'd assume that most of us are. I actively seek input and advice on running and training via the Internet and Ultralist, and occasionally meet with a friend to run – but more often than not, it's just me, which is usually just fine - in fact, I prefer it to any other scenario.

Being self-coached is nice because it gives you flexibility – after all, you don’t have anyone else’s schedule to work around, and can decide how often, where, and for how long you run. Obviously, this is incredibly convenient when you already have a full schedule... and you can't beat the $0 price tag.

However... there are also times when being self-coached is not as great.

It can be challenging when you are your own teacher and advisor. To put it in context, here are a few time recently when I have found myself contemplating the whole issue of hiring a coach or joining a local training program vs. being self-coached:

 - after reading race reports by several friends in the sport who have set high goals for themselves and are accomplishing them, and I ask myself what will it take for me to get there

 - when I find myself slacking off my miles or dragging my feet getting out the door in the morning, so I end up "running out of time" and cutting my workout short

 - when I just plain realize there are many out there with far more knowledge, and while it may be admirable to try to figure it all out on my own (with more than a little online advice and input), having someone provide consistent, personalized advice about my training and racing would be beneficial in a way that will not be realized unless tried

With no external coach, it sometimes helps to consider what I would do if there were a coach there with me. For example, when I feel myself dragging my feet before heading out for a run, then hear the back-and-forth debate in my head about how long the run needs to be ("Aw, just make it 6 miles, that will be fine... you can do 10 tomorrow"), or if I even have to go at all - it helps to remind myself that it’s not a choice.

There is no debate needed, no consideration to be given – just move forward. Turn the brain off, and move forward out the door. Go.

At those times, my thoughts often go to a swim coach that trained me from the age of 9 to 16. His name was Gareth Davis, and our team never questioned him. We showed up tired and cold at 5:30AM, then dove into the outdoor pool and swam for two hours. We did this three mornings a week before school, and three evenings as well, and never once considered not going – it just wasn’t an option.

Deciding to be a swimmer and be on the team, that was a choice. But, if you agreed on that, then the rest was a given. There was no room for debate - if you had training, you went... and none of this starting late stuff, either. You were in that water at 6AM on the dot, and didn't get out until every exercise was done.

Sometimes I think of my swim coach when I find that debate going on in my head, then imagine it was him I was going to practice for - all of a sudden, the debate stops, and I just do it.

Well... most of the time, that is. There are other times I don’t think of him at all, probably because I don’t want to hear what he might have to say about something... I guess I still have some work to do in that area.

At times like that, I wonder if coaches know what a massive impact they have on the kids that they train. For me, Gareth played a large role in shaping my work ethic and approach to challenges both mental and physical. What we learn from our coaches are lessons that can be carried with us our entire lives, and I will always be grateful to him for that.

At the end of it, all this just takes me back to wondering what it would be like to have a coach again - to get some objective input, a training plan, a swift kick in the ass. To get a level of knowledge beyond my own very small, very low bar. I'd like to see what that's like.

What might be accomplished? I won't know until I investigate and see if it's even feasible... maybe a 1-time coaching or training plan write-up is the way to go, there are a few options now days...

I'm looking into it. Like everything else, I gotta stop thinking about it, and just go!


  1. Great thoughts Tiffany. I am fortunate to have a very good coach, who has graciously coached me for free for many years. Before Ultras, this meant, writing my workouts (one week at a time), and watching my speed workout once a week. It also meant an experienced accomplished runner to bounce thoughts off, via email (by far the most valuable. We used a shared google calendar, he wrote in my workout, I wrote in what I did. Once I went passed the marathon distance he told me I was on my own now. He is still a great friend and resource, but I write my own workouts now(one week at a time) just like he did and then write what I actually did. I don't think he checks it very often but it helps me to think he does. You probably know "what" to do....try writing your workouts out a week or two in advance and maybe find somebody to share a calendar with, to add a little external accountability. It's just a boost, you know, too well, the burden of tenacity has to be internal.

  2. I can relate to this post, as I've been self-coached up until about 2 weeks ago, and have finally decided I'd like some input. To be honest, it's been a tough couple of weeks. My coach and I don't necessarily share the same philosophy on everything, but I think he's been good at identifying and working on my weaknesses, and I'm trying to be more open to change. I think it is also valuable to shake things up every now and then, because the same old routine can get old year in and year out. My plan is to use a coach in preparation for a goal race (so 5 months total); and after that I'll likely go back to my self-coached ways, but with whatever tools I've gleaned from the experience.

  3. Thank you for your comments, both of you!

    Chris, what you had in a coaching experience sounds like the kind of focus and seasoned feedback I'm looking for - I try to advise myself as well as possible, but sometimes I feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing (probably because mostly, I don't). You're right, having external accountability and one-on-one advice would be huge.

    Amy: that's an interesting perspective too - I guess it might not all be coach-student bonding and roses, but at least you are trying something different to see what happens - I think that's great (esp. as I have not yet taken that step myself..) And, trying it out for one race is a manageable way to try it out.. and good for the budget, too.

    Good thoughts and food for thought, so thank you both.