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