The Tough Job of the Running Coach

Running coaches have a job that is often misunderstood.

When I speak with non-runners one question that occasionally comes up is why running coaches are even needed. To those that have not seriously prepared for a race, training seems incredibly easy: “just run a lot.” This frustrates me because I think running coaches have one of the most difficult jobs in sports. Proper training is so much more than going out for three mile jogs every day. Running coaches not only must understand the science behind various workouts, but they must understand what motivates their athletes and gives them the mental confidence that is necessary for success.

Training runs, tempo runs, interval workouts and long runs are the basic building blocks of a successful running program. The daily training runs build muscle and improve the cardiovascular system, interval workouts increase turnover and vo2 max (body’s ability to process oxygen), tempo runs increase the anaerobic threshold (onset of lactic acid), and long runs are essential for teaching they body mental toughness and how to use fat instead of carbohydrates.

Without running these workouts at the proper times, a runner simply will not be able to run to his or her potential. The list of workouts and their use to improve specific energy systems in the body is daunting. Additional challenges for coaches include knowing the proper time to begin interval workouts to ensure that runners don’t peak too soon, the proper times that the workouts should be run in so that runners are challenged, but not over-trained, and knowing how to add workout intensity without causing injury.

Perhaps the most difficult part of a running coach’s job is to know the mind of his or her runners. Things that will motivate some runners (exciting pep talks) will just make other runners more nervous. The ability to instill confidence is also a critical factor because fast workouts mean nothing a person does not believe in themselves. When viewing a bad race, a coach must be able to distinguish between a runner who gave up, a runner who is injured but trying to tough it out, and a runner who tried too hard and was unable to relax. Obviously, each of these scenarios calls for a different response from the coach after the race.

So the next time somebody tells you that a running coach has an easy job, keep in mind that proper training is so much more than “going out and running.”

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