On the Road with a Coach

White River Roadrunners President-elect

Check out our archive for previous travels On the Road, and remember we invite you to share your own story, cause or advice with our members.

The Roadrunners were well represented at the Road Runners Club of America coaching certification class in August in Little Rock. My wife, Suzy, and I joined Rebecca Patterson and Dana Dowell and 30 others earning the national club's official stamp of approval to coach runners.

Certification is aimed at providing safe, effective, proven advice through local clubs and their group runs or clinics. We intend to share our lessons in free club-sponsored clinics and educational events, and to further support, coordinate and encourage our vibrant running community.

Let me start by repeating some key points from our coaching class:

Training should be specific, once you have your mileage base. If you train to run a 6-minute mile, that may make it easier to run a 20-minute 5K, but those are different goals and require different approaches. To race fast, you must practice fast; to race long, you must practice long.

Training works in cycles, all built on a hard-easy principle. A hard workout should be followed by an easy workout or rest day; a hard cycle should be followed by a lighter one; a training season should be followed by a rest cycle. A typical training season is 3-4 months, with internal cycles of 3 to 6 weeks of hard workouts followed by an easier week or two. A good strategy is to run a given workout for three weeks: introduce, improve, and perfect.

Most of your running (80+%) should be at comfortable, "conversation pace," which is optimal for your body to adapt to running stress. Your muscles, circulation, breathing, and metabolism all improve with less chance of breakdown at this sustained level of stress.

Long conversation pace runs beyond an hour teach your body how best to use its three fuel stages: the few seconds of direct-response, full-flight emergency power; about 90 minutes of basic, carb-burning, steady-activity energy; and the convert-any-source, now-you're-changing-your-body desperation support. Your greatest progress comes through tuning your engine with those 90-minute runs.

Aside from such engine tuning, some simple realignments and tweaks can improve your efficiency and make it easier to run faster. Good form is generally short, compact strides, foot landing behind knee, hands moving in a narrow field between navel and breastbone and not crossing mid-chest. Comfortable breathing is restorative, and the more of those long workouts you do for engine tuning, the more comfortably you will breathe. Breathing relaxation techniques also include floppy-armed shoulder drops, bear grunts and horse jowl flapping.

Finally, coaches are not doctors, psychologists or nutritionists. A coach can tell you an awful lot about physiology and injuries, but you must learn your own body's signals. Any discomfort that changes your stride needs professional medical attention. A coach may learn your moods and motivations, but most are not trained in marriage counseling, suicide prevention or workplace grievance procedures. Running may help relieve stress from some such circumstances, but you should use any newfound running confidence to help you turn to professionals in those areas. In the same way, coaches can talk about fuel needs and engine tuning, but diet and energy problems should be taken to more highly trained experts.

The best coach will get the most out of you by refining your running — and pointing out the path to better advice.

A good coach keeps you on the road to a better you.