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What Coaching a Runner Has Taught Me

February 23, 2017

What Coaching a Runner Has Taught Me


Many times, we only consider one side of the athlete/coach relationship; namely, where the coach imparts knowledge onto his or her athlete.  However, on the other side of the coin, there are the lessons that athletes impart onto the coach.  Listed below are just a few of the many lessons I have learned since coaching beginning to intermediate runners.

Running is a Foreign Language
When you are immersed in the lifestyle every day it can be easy to forget that not everyone understands words such as “fartlek” or “tempo.”  Even the concepts that we often assume are universal, such as a hard run versus an easy run can mean different things to different people.  Ultimately, the ideas people have for running are primarily shaped by their first experience with the sport, so it is important to give others (athletes and non-athletes alike) grace when they do not understand our favorite activity.

Everyone has Different Motivations
While my motivation is to be as competitive as possible, another person may train just as hard with zero competitive aspirations.  I have learned to look beyond the narrow bubble that a competitive runner may have in order to see the running world through a more vivid kaleidoscope. 

Physical Weakness is not Mental Weakness
One misconception that I often encounter among my athletes is the idea that they must be mentally weak because they slowed down at the end of a race.  While I can clearly see that mental weakness is not the problem in these situations (going out too hard typically is), it has made me reconsider how I view my own performances.  The  mind can only control the body to a certain extent, and all too often we beat ourselves up for having  unrealistic expectations of what our brains should be able to do when, in reality, we race with poor tactics.

Your Body can Handle More than you Think
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about how to race and train.  I have learned so much from my athletes’ misconceptions, because they have helped me question my own.  For instance, one of my athletes was attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon at the same time she was moving cross country.  While I never doubted her ability to qualify for Boston, I did question whether this was the right timing, given the additional life stress.  Not only did she qualify that year, but she ran an 18 minute PR in the process!  This incredible feat made me reevaluate times in my racing career where I may have needlessly doubted myself.

How to Be a Better Listener
Being a coach is so much more than prescribing workouts or talking an athlete through a tough race.  Running is deeply intertwined with our lives, which means I sometimes am told heartbreaking stories about an athlete’s personal life.  The truth is that our daily lives affect running to a greater extent than we could ever imagine, so I have learned to improve my listening skills to coach my athletes both on – and off – the road or track. 



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