Several months ago, I was perusing Runner's World magazine and came across a tidbit about a marathoner named Justin Gillette, who had won a whole bunch of marathons. I randomly sent him a Facebook friend request, and to my surprise, he accepted it. We actually chatted about running that very day. I thought, "Wow, that's weird. I just had a conversation with an elite marathoner. That just doesn't happen." He's actually ranked 5th in the world in marathon wins, having won 64 races.
After seeing his Facebook posts a few times, I realized he was not just an elite marathoner, but a running coach as well. I'm also a certified running coach, and I've been living by the mantra, "Coach Thyself" for quite a while. Why would I PAY someone to coach me when I know all the ingredients that should go into a training plan? I have the books Run Less, Run Faster, Hal Higdon's Guide to Running a Marathon, and a few others. Plus, I can get online training plans for free on the Runner's World website or just from the magazine. So, for a while, I just wrote my own plans or loosely followed plans from books or websites. I made progress. I PR'd at every distance in one calendar year except the marathon. The next year, I trained aggressively for the 2012 Kentucky Derby Marathon in hopes of beating 4:45, and ran 4:36, a significant PR.
But since then, progress has stalled. I decided to focus on running FAR for a while instead of fast. I ran miles and miles of trails and two very slow trail marathons. I ran two ultras. I ran a marathon just for fun and got injured (unfortunately). The injury further derailed progress. After eight weeks off, it was as if I was starting from scratch.
So, enter that particular issue of Runner's World, and one random friend request. I was coming off that injury at the time, but one day I messaged Justin about coaching me. I wanted to know if he coached "regular people" like a slow-running, forty-something mom of three who had only been running for 5.5 years. Turns out, he did! He also coaches some pretty elite athletes, as well.
I waited until I was fully healed from my injury and requested the start day of July 1. I did a few races for fun because I knew my running was about to get serious. I took on two personal training clients to help defray some of the cost of paying a coach monthly. And I simultaneously dreaded/looked forward to the starting day.
Last week was my first week. What I found was that training with a coach might be the missing puzzle piece in my running. The workouts challenge me much more that I challenge me. The long runs have quality miles sandwiched in the middle-- what?? I get daily feedback on my training log, giving me the benefit I think I enjoy most-- accountability. My plan might say, "I want you to run 2 miles at a 9:55 pace, then two at a 9:09 pace or better." After the workout, I have to report back that I either did it, didn't do it, or couldn't do it. There is an element of not only disappointing myself by not digging deep, but also of disappointing my coach. I'm one of those people-pleasers, so I, of course, hate disappointing others. (I dissappoint myself, however, regularly! Ha!)
I can dig deep to finish a trail marathon in blazing June heat when my legs are just done and my knees and feet hurt. I can dig deep to finish 38.5 miles in an ultra when I just want to SIT DOWN and get off my blisters... I mean, feet. Persistence and determination and relentless forward progress-- I have in abundance. But dig deep and hit an 8:00 minute pace? Hard for me. I struggle to find that gear. Sub-8? Something had better be chasing me.
I was actually embarrased to report back some of my paces last week on the "easy runs." I know they look so slow. But my legs came back to life mid-week, and I rocked the Saturday hard long run. I was really proud of myself. I ran HARD. I love it when I feel that way as a runner. Too often lately, I've tasted disappointment on the roads and trails. This is a nice change. I know I won't hit my goal paces in every workout, but I think I will at least enjoy HAVING A GOAL.
When opportunity knocks and you have the chance to work with an elite marathoner, an experienced coach, and an all-around nice guy, you have to open the door. :-)