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Why I Have a Coach and 6 Reasons You Don’t Need One

USATF Coach Jeremy Wallace

USATF Coach Jeremy Wallace“If a man coaches himself, then he has only himself to blame when he is beaten.” – Roger Bannister

…….. but before we get into that, let me tell you about the duck foot.  It’s attached to my right leg and you can see it in roughly 50% of my race pictures.  It turns out when I run, from push-off to leg extension to hip flexion.  My significant other makes fun of it, it occasionally rubs against my left leg, it turns out awkwardly all the time unless I consciously turn it in, makes me feel self-conscious and has a mind of its own, but has never caused me any real problems.  Next time you see me running, or even just standing around, you can look briefly at the duck foot but don’t stare, it’s not polite.  It’s something I’ve tried to “fix” in the past after friends, coaches, chiropractors and doctors told me I needed to in order to be a good, healthy runner.  I’ve tried rolling, stretching, strengthening and just being conscious of it, then I injured my knee trying to “correct” my form, on advice from one of the “experts”.  I finally had the duck foot thoroughly examined only to find that the cause was simply the way the bones in my ankle were built and I should probably just blame my mother.

Now about the first time I went through a workout with my current coach.  He took a look at my form as if through a microscope, an hour or more of putting me through all sorts of drills and punishing intervals, all while eyeballing and seemingly criticizing every movement and shaking his head at the duck foot.  Lap after lap he asked me to make small changes to what I was doing then examined the results closely.  He asked questions about what sort of training I’d done in the past and what I’d done to change the way I run.  Truth be told, even with my experience, I’m self-conscious about my performance, so having someone critique every move I made without saying anything about what I was doing wrong almost sent me over the edge.  At the end of the session I almost expected him to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, to go home picking up some Carl’s Jr. on the way, kick the duck foot up and watch some cooking shows.  Thankfully that’s not what happened.  In the end, he simply said “There’s nothing wrong with your form, you just need to work harder”, which I know isn’t entirely true, but it completely changed the way I looked at my training and one reason I have a coach.  His statement somehow gave me permission to step back from what had been ingrained in me as an athlete and coach.  In short, it allowed me to stop letting the foot be my limiter and trying to correct every little thing that was “wrong” with me.  Since then my fitness has improved exponentially.  That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about my inefficiencies and working on them, it just means they no longer limit my efforts.

Here are some other reasons:

-Accountability: I get asked often why I don’t write my own training program, especially since I’ve coached so many others.  The answer is simple.  I’m not my own best coach.  I’ve realized over the years that I can run hard, but I run harder if someone is looking at me expecting me to run hard.  I’m also more likely to limit random days off, I consider nutritional choices more carefully and do more supplemental work like foam rolling.

-Different perspective: There are a hundred different ways to train for an event and there are none that are wrong, just wrong for the athlete.  My coach and I regularly discuss my training path to ensure I progress appropriately.  Sometimes I don’t follow the path he’d like me to take but talking with him allows me to consider another opinion.

-I don’t know everything: I know, disappointing right?  It turns out that running is a simple act but bio-mechanically complicated.  To run in an inefficient way is equivalent to trying to throw a baseball without using your wrist or fingers (the ball won’t go nearly as far).  Throw in mental training, nutrition, periodization, flexibility, hydration and injury prevention, and there’s a lot to learn.

-Someone to blame: This is my favorite reason for having a coach.  I’m afraid of giving 100% and failing, not just in running but in other avenues of my life.  Having a coach gives me just enough crutch to put everything I have into my training with no reservations, and if things don’t work out the way I’d like, in my head there must be something wrong with his training plan.  I’m sure this sounds silly to some but it’s just how my brain works.

-Motivation: My coach knows what makes me perform.  Somehow he’s able to get me to push myself way out of my comfort zone and into what I like to call the “Blue Zone”.  It’s the area of consciousness just before passing out, when your breathing can no longer keep up, when your vision starts to lose focus, when the only thing you hear his your heart beating out of your chest and the only thing you feel is your legs tingle as though they could crumple beneath your body at any moment.  You know, the sweet spot where real gains are made….. Ah, to be a runner:)

-I need to be held back: I’m prone to bouts of egotistical running behavior.  If you’ve ever run with me, you know it’s a rare day when I’ll let you get too far ahead of me before the run turns from friendly training workout to death sprint, which good distance training almost never calls for.  Having a coach doesn’t eliminate my propensity to go harder than I need to, but it certainly makes it less likely.

And now, 6 reasons you don’t need a coach:

1-You’re not motivated by being a better runner: People run for many different reasons.  Some for an energy release or because it helps them focus or lose a few pounds.  Others because their daily 4 miler helps them get going in the morning or they like spending time with other runners or because in their minds it means they can have an extra glass of wine at night.  In any case, I’ve learned that not all people who run regularly are interested in becoming a stronger, faster or more durable runner.  If you’re one of them, you don’t need a coach.

2-You already know everything there is to know about distance training: Why bother with a coach, go straight to the Olympics.

3-You’re impatient: I’ll often be asked by a runner to help them in training only to have that same runner ask me a few weeks later why they haven’t set any records yet.  Running well takes time.  There are no magic bullets or workouts that will transform you over night.  If you decide to go with a coach, success isn’t automatic, it’s a big investment of time and it will take months or years of consistent, specific work before you reach your potential.

4-You’re not open to new ways of training: Occasionally someone will ask me to write their training program for them and then not follow one day of it.  They have their own ideas of what they like or want to do and a coach’s program just isn’t it.  This isn’t productive for the coach or athlete.  If you have a program you’re getting good results from and/or aren’t open to new ideas, you don’t need a coach.

5-You’re your own best coach: There are very few professional or elite amateur distance runners who coach themselves, but most novice runners think it’s as easy as putting on your shoes and pounding out 20-30 miles per week or downloading a generic ½ marathon training plan to be at their best.  Maybe it is for you.  Here’s a little test: Do you know what the terms periodization, cadence, hip flexion, glycogen depletion or aerobic threshold mean?  Do you understand the role of low and high glycemic foods in training?  Do you know what you’re going to eat the day before your next event or drink the day of?  Do you know within a few BPMs or seconds/mile how hard you’re going to run your next tempo effort?  Do you keep a food and mileage log?  Are you progressing?  If so, maybe you don’t need a coach.

You like taking a little advice from everyone:  As an athlete myself, I get daily unsolicited advice.  Sometimes even from non-runners, on what I need to be doing to be a better runner, from making my long run at least 22 miles every week, to limiting my runs to 3 days per week so I don’t ruin my knees, to avoiding nuts because they’ll make my hair fall out.  Everyone’s an expert, but I can only listen to one coach at a time and if you’re someone who likes to take advice from everyone, one coach isn’t going to cut it.

——————-
A good coach is a good motivator, teacher and friend.  He or she can be just what you need to develop your fitness, get over that training plateau, injury or help you set a new personal record, but only if you’re ready to be coached.  I’ve learned that a coach doesn’t necessarily have to have a ton of education or even be an athlete and that some of the smartest, best athletes make the worst coaches.  Your coach should only know what they’re talking about when it comes to getting the best out of you.  Usain Bolt’s coach Glen Mills never ran past freshman year in high school and never went to college, but has gone on to help develop the fastest sprinter in the world.  Why?  Because he found a love and passion for the sport, became a student of running and has learned how to effectively motivate his athletes.  If you go looking for a coach, that’s exactly what you should look for.  Not all coaches are the same.

Here’s the truth: My coach and I don’t always see eye to eye.  He holds back my paces when I’d like to go harder and tells me to eat more or less food.  Sometimes he questions my efforts and others he asks me to give an extra 10% when I have nothing left (which makes me mad for some reason), but I don’t need him to be my bestie all the time.  The bottom line is that I’ve become a better and faster athlete with him and without him there’d be no one to tell me to ignore the duck foot and work harder, which is really all the permission I need.

Happy training!!

Jeremy “Duckfoot” Wallace
Las Vegas Runners
USATF and RRCA Running Coach

USATF and RRCA Running Coach, Jeremy Wallace

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Its Not Rocket SURGERY- by Jeremy Wallace

Run Faster - Las Vegas Runners

Run Faster - Las Vegas RunnersI have a secret to tell you and you’re not going to like it, especially after everything you’ve read in running magazines.  You know, the articles that promise new speed if you add a tempo workout, fartlek, interval or other type of run.  They make you believe you’ll lower your PRs if you lift weights, do yoga, eat chia seeds, never eat bread, change your shoes, drink milk, don’t drink milk, skip heavy lifting, add mileage, stretch, skip the stretching, land mid-foot er… um forefoot and lower your mileage.  I’m sure you’ve read some of these articles right?  Well, I hate to break it to you, but these articles fail to mention the secret, which is THERE IS NO SECRET, but most of us have not reached our running potential.  Why?  With all the information AND misinformation out there, we have no idea how to reach it or we maybe we just don’t want to do the work.  Don’t get me wrong, the above methods work, but maybe not for you.  I’ve worked with and studied athletes of all backgrounds and abilities and there are certain characteristics of a fast runner.  Lucky for you I’ve put it all together in this article and you will now have the knowledge to run a 2:30 marathon.  Well…….. maybe not, but you can certainly run faster than you do now if you take a little of this advice.  Don’t want to run faster?  Don’t read any further.

-FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU-
You’re not like any other runner, ever.  Not in your stride, landing pattern, arm swing, nutrition, family commitments, mileage and sleep needs or flexibility.  So why are you following Shalane Flanagan’s training plan that you read about in Runner’s World when you haven’t even studied your own gait?  In order to reach your potential, you should have a carefully designed training plan based on your specific needs.  If you’re a runner who gets injured often, maybe 80 mile weeks aren’t for you and you need to cross-train more.  If you can bend over backwards and put your head between your legs, you probably don’t need to spend a lot of time on flexibility, being more mobile might even make you run slower.  If you can’t even touch your shins with your legs locked, you could probably use a flexibility routine.  If your arms flail wildly to the side like a Pterodactyl when you run, you might use some core activation work.  My point?  Just because your running buddy does 25-mile tempo runs leading up to his 10K doesn’t mean you necessarily need to follow suit.  Find out exactly what you need then work really hard at it.

-DON’T RUN SO HARD-
I work with a runner who we’ll call Beth.  She’s a great athlete.  She regularly places high in her age group or overall in the events she completes.  Beth always completes her assigned workouts, eats well, recovers well, and used to run really HARD….. all the time, which many of you also do, which might also be why you’re not getting any faster and why Beth started to have problems!  No joke.  If you’re always running hard, it can be very difficult to recover between workouts.  It can also make it difficult to run hard when you really need to.  Most runners have a mentality that in order to be fast, they have to run fast, which is true, but you can’t run all of your training mileage at race pace and expect to perform well in an actual race.  Two things: (1) You don’t get faster during your workouts, you get faster during your recovery time.  (2) Hard workouts should be carefully planned and spaced to make room for recovery.  Every workout that isn’t hard should be easy.  How easy?  So easy you think it’s too easy.  Deena Kastor, the US record holder for the women’s marathon, ran that record at a 5:12/mile pace but was known to regularly complete her easier efforts closer to the 9:00/mile range.  If she was feeling particularly tired, she might even replace her run with a walk.

-……or RUN HARDER-
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the athlete who does all of his runs at a leisurely pace, taking care not to tax his body to the point of breathing hard or sweating, enjoying the run and smelling the flowers, content with his daily 5 miler at the same pace over the same terrain.  Sound familiar?  I’m not knocking the routine, it’s actually very healthy but if you actually want to improve your run fitness and run fast, you’re going to have to occasionally RUN FAST.  Hard running improves your cardiovascular fitness and works your muscles in a way that easy running just won’t.  I tell my athletes this, “hate the workout because if you go any slower you’ll be dead OR hate it because you feel like you’re going to die of exhaustion.  Pick one or the other, nothing in between.”

-BE PATIENT-
Let me give you a scenario.  Runner approaches coach to inquire about training, coach asks runner what he’d like to train for, runner says he’d like to train for a big marathon PR and qualify for Boston and he’s ready to begin training, coach asks when the event is, runner says 6 weeks, coach slaps his head in frustration and out comes a big sigh.  Sound silly?  It happens to me ALL THE TIME.  We want to run faster, right now, but run fitness takes time.  Years in fact to build to our potential, and months if you want to train for an event in the right way.  So set long-term goals and be willing to commit long-term.  After you’ve found your weaknesses, be patient with yourself and learn to enjoy the journey.  You have the rest of your life.

-BE CONSISTENT-
They say it takes about 7 years to build to your running potential.  You can’t train 6 weeks for a ½ marathon then take 6 months off and expect to be faster when you return.  On the other hand, those of you who are constantly injured because you want it now, who refuse to listen to your body and/or fix deficiencies in your form/flexibility/nutrition etc, it’s very difficult to be consistent when you’re sidelined.    You know who you are!  You’re the person who runs 18 milers with a patellar knee strap, limping the entire way, running until you’ve compensated so much you wind up with another injury you can’t run through.  Have knee/IT/back/whatever pain?  Guess what?  It doesn’t have to be that way but you need to do your homework to find out exactly what’s causing that pain, then work diligently to fix it, not just put a band-aid on it.  Sometimes it’s not obvious (ie knee pain caused by weak glutes).  Some things can’t be fixed without surgery, like arthritis or torn tendons, but most running injuries can be taken care of in a fairly simple way if you take the time to figure it out.

-BE ACCOUNTABLE-
For such a simple sport, distance running is bio-mechanically complicated.  Get a coach, if not a coach, at least a good friend who has a solid background in running who can help motivate, instruct, fix your deficiencies and offer advice.  This motivator doesn’t have to have a doctorate or even be a certified coach.  I’ve learned that there are some people with a lot of knowledge who make terrible coaches.  Find someone you respect, who works with you in a way that makes you a better athlete and be willing to take direction.  Most of the best runners (and athletes in most other sports) in the world have coaches.  What makes you think you don’t need one?

-BECOME A STUDENT OF THE SPORT-
The fastest runners generally know exactly what makes a fast runner.  Have you ever watched video of an efficient runner?  Have you ever videotaped yourself running?  What’s the difference?  Now, how are you going to find your efficiency?  Have you looked at the commonalities of great distance runners?  If you don’t know what’s going to make you better, how will you ever get better?  Hint: It’s not all about running harder/faster/longer.  Know the area where you could use the most improvement, then focus.

-FIX YOUR FORM-
The best runners in the world don’t necessarily work harder than you, they’re just more efficient.  Their strides look effortless because they almost are.  Their legs, glutes, core, ankles and arms have learned to work so efficiently and fire so rapidly and precisely it can seem as if they’re floating.  Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to fix everything.  Women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe has a very distinct, very inefficient head-bob when she’s tired, but If your running style resembles more donkey than gazelle, there are lots of things you can do to make it better, but it will take time, consistency and A LOT of effort.  COMMIT!

-FUEL TO TRAIN-
Meb Keflezighi, the fastest US marathoner ever, runs 100+ mile weeks and enjoys a single snack-size Snickers bar after particularly hard efforts during training.  Why do you think you can get away with chowing down half a birthday cake after a 5K?  Begin to think of your food as fuel for your next workout.  I’m not a dietitian and don’t pretend to know all there is about nutrition and I’m definitely not a food saint.  In fact, those of you who know me also know I indulge in the occasional donut, but there is a simple fact I’d like to share with you: most of us eat way too much of the wrong thing and weigh more than we need to for fast running.  You don’t need to eat like a rabbit, but you do need to pay attention.  There is also a definite correlation between body weight and running times.  Bottom line: If you want to be a faster runner, fuel better and weigh less.

-GET MORE REST-
You can follow the above advice and run until you’ve chafed yourself into runner’s bliss, run so hard you’re going to puke and so many miles you go through a pair of Kinvaras every week, but if you don’t take down time, you will not reach your potential.  The exercise is the stimulus, the down time is when you get faster.

-BELIEVE IN YOURSELF-
Generally, if you really want it, you can have it.  Believe that you are not too slow, old, young, fat or weak. You’re not.  Whatever you don’t have, you probably just haven’t been willing to go get.  Decide you actually want to be faster, then go after it with a passion and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have it.  Am I promising that you can run a four minute mile if you work really, really hard?  Well, no, but I am promising that you can be a lot closer to it than you are now.

Well, did I share anything with you that you didn’t already know?  We are runners and naturally want to work ourselves hard, but if you’re not doing things to make yourself a better runner, you’re not training, you’re just jogging hard.  I know the “J” word is offensive to some but some of you are stuck in Jogger’s Paradise.  Find what works, work smart, be patient and consistent, be accountable, fix your problems, stop eating so much, sleep more and believe in yourself.  You don’t have to listen to me.  I’m not an Olympian and I haven’t run under 2:30 in the marathon (yet).  Hell I don’t even have an exercise degree.  I’m just a run coach with a love for the sport, some modest but respectable PRs and a donut habit but I can tell you for certain that it’s not rocket surgery……. or brain science!

Happy Running!
Jeremy Wallace
Assistant Whip Cracker
USATF and RRCA running coach


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Look Into Your Future: Setting Your Running Goals for the New Year

Running Goals

Running GoalsBy: Jeremy Wallace

I remember the day I ran my first big race, the 2009 Portland Marathon.  That day I had dreams of qualifying for the holy grail of amateur distance running in the US, The Boston Marathon.  I had a coach and trained hard in the months leading up to the race.  I was able to run one 6:50 mile and had some mileage on my legs to back it up.  Race day I set out at a 7:10 pace which would put me in the finishing chute in 3:07.  I felt that with some grit I’d have no problem hitting my Boston qualifying time of 3:10.  There was only one problem.  It’s name was Mile 17.  I hit a wall so hard it might as well have been made from brick.  By mile 18 I was walking some.  By mile 21, I was asking the nice Portland spectators for food… seriously.  The truth is I wasn’t in shape to run a 3:10 or even a 3:30 that day and if I knew then what I know now, perhaps my pace would’ve been a bit more conservative (…or maybe not.  I’m a hard-headed man, after all.  Just ask Melissa).  That first race I learned a hard lesson.  Know what you’re capable of in a marathon and shoot directly for that time.

So, how do you figure out what you’re capable of?  As it turns out, you don’t need a crystal ball.  We can predict your marathon (or 1/2 marathon, or 5K) finishing time pretty accurately based on your current fitness.  For example, my 6:50 mile a few weeks prior meant that, with proper training, nutrition etc, I would be capable of running a 3:49 marathon.  My actual finishing time in Portland?  3:51.  Don’t believe me?, look it up:)  These days I can tell you with 95% certainty that if you can run a 10K in 49 minutes and you train properly, you can beat 4 hours in the marathon, or if your 5K time is 30 minutes, your dream of running a 2 hour half marathon isn’t ready to become reality.  Here’s the thing:  With targeted training, proper nutrition and a well-laid plan, you’re not that far off.

So what does that mean for you, your training and setting goals for 2014?  When looking forward into the New Year, be honest with yourself and be ready to set realistic goals.  What’s your current fitness?  How hard are you willing to work this year?  Do you have an actual plan or are you just winging it and hoping for a miracle on race day?  If you’re happy with your current fitness level and not looking to improve much over the next year, sorry for wasting your time.  Stop reading now and go for a run.  If you are seriously ready to take your fitness up a notch, here are a few tips:

– Have a plan and make it specific.  As in life, a dream without a plan probably isn’t going to happen.  That being said, the best running plans are ones that are specific to you and your fitness.  It’s difficult to follow a generic plan and have real success.  Need help?  Ask me.

– Test yourself semi-regularly.  The people who know exactly what they’re capable of, are those who test themselves every once in a while.

– Be ready to gradually improve your performance by occasionally stepping outside your comfort zone.  Running fitness develops over months, not one workout.

– Work on your limiting performance factor.  Strength, flexibility, running form and nutrition are super important in distance running.  Guess what?  Runners are notoriously weak, inflexible and have crappy eating habits.  I know I’ll get some flak for this one, but I’ll save the explanation for another blog post.

– Don’t forget the mental aspect.  Distance running requires a degree of suffering.  Look for it and be ready to embrace.

– Be realistic and patient.  If you’ve run 10 marathons and your PR is 5:30, a sub-three hour event this year isn’t likely.  Next year?  Eh, anything could happen.

– Think big.  You’re capable of achieving more than you think.  Just be ready to put in the work.

So what’s the number one thing I want you to take away from this?  Have a specific goal with a specific plan for success to match and you won’t end up begging for food in Portland.

Happy Running
Jeremy Wallace
2:51 marathoner
Las Vegas Runners Coach and Certified Personal Trainer
www.lasvegasrunners.com

USATF and RRCA Running Coach, Jeremy Wallace