Working With a Running Coach: Step One

I wrote this last week, before my first real workout with the coach. Post-workout post coming tomorrow!

Despite being cleared to run by my physical therapist, my attempts to return to running have been clumsy and painful. I know I need to change my form and gait to run more efficiently and help prevent injuries in the future, and I know I need someone to help me do it properly. I’ve read tons of articles, watched video tutorials, etc., but nothing compares to being on the track with a professional who can give me personalized feedback and cues.

I Googled my way into finding a local running coach who is certified by the Road Runners Club of America and USA Track & Field, and who was also a professional runner before going into coaching about 20 years ago. He is extremely popular, so I was nervous about getting time with him, but I was able to schedule an initial two-hour session fairly easily.

We spent the majority of that session talking about my history with running and injuries, his coaching method and philosophy, nutrition, hydration and more.

He’s a very matter-of-fact guy; there was definitely nothing like, “You can achieve any goal as long as you work hard enough!” in our conversation. I don’t think he was trying to discourage me, but was just making sure my expectations were in check. I’m not trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials or anything; I just want to run pain-free and eventually qualify for Boston, so I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

As we talked about my running history and I described the training plan I used for Jack & Jill, he wasn’t shocked that I got injured. Running six days a week with higher mileage than I’d ever run before for my first marathon training cycle after having a baby? Never warming up? Rarely cooling down/stretching after runs? Doing almost no cross training? Well, duh.

So I felt very humbled by our talk. Hindsight is 20/20 and he helped me see the reality of what happened. I wonder if a female coach would have been a little gentler with me and given me more encouragement about what I could achieve in the future, but I can appreciate that he’s just not that kind of coach, and I can handle some tough love.

We spent the last 15 minutes or so on the track. First, he watched me walk away from him and toward him several times. Then he inspected the wear pattern on my shoes; I wore the last pair I had trained in for Jack & Jill. Then he watched me run back and forth on the track with varying degrees of effort, and finally filmed me doing so.

He talked me through a laundry list of issues while showing me the video evidence, and it was all plain as day. I hold my arms too high and swing them across my body instead of forward/backward, which is extremely inefficient. He said that would be a relatively easy fix compared to what was happening with my gait.

My hips sit too far back, and I run from my knees down, meaning I don’t make use of my quads and hamstrings like I should. He said, “You’re a strong woman” (why thank you!) “but you’re not using your main sources of power.” Damn.

It’s encouraging that the coach could spot my issues and articulate them so easily. I should be excited to tackle them head-on; I can only improve, right? But I feel discouraged and embarrassed that I’ve been running so wrong for so long. I always thought running was such a natural human action; how could I possible screw it up? I also thought that about breastfeeding before I became a mother, though, and I quickly learned how wrong I was about that!

So my brain and emotions are at odds right now. Logically, I know I can improve if I put in the work. Emotionally, I feel intimidated and lacking in confidence. I’m three months out from my injury and have only run a few miles a handful of times since then. I feel out of shape because—between a week of travel and a horrible cold—I haven’t exercised at all in three weeks. My first workout with the coach is tomorrow. This… will be interesting.

I hope to walk away from the track tomorrow with renewed hope and confidence for my running future. If not, I’ll just need to put in more effort to get it. Despite having been a runner for eight years and having completed five marathons, I feel like a newbie all over again—nervous, insecure and full of self-doubt.

All I can do is move forward the same way I did back in 2010: one step at a time.

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