Finding The Right Training Plan

Of all the training plans out there (by Hal Higdon, Jack Daniels, etc.) what do you like for us mere mortals?

When I was in high school, the cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams each had a different coach every season. I did well initially, grabbing a coveted state qualifying position within the first couple months of my freshman year. It was the first time in school history that both a boy and a girl from my high school qualified, but neither of our coaches came to the race. In indoor track, if it snowed, we’d run relay races through the high school hallways—sprinting up and down the stairs to pass the baton ahead of our teammates. I ran those 50 meters as if I was training for the 200m. In the spring, the coach stood at random points throughout our runs to make sure no one was cutting. He’d look at his stop watch and call out times, but he had no idea which mile markers we were at: 12:34, 12:35, 12:36…

By the end of my freshman year, I was curious, like we all are, of how to get faster. Excited and optimistic of what the future held, I didn’t run a step over the summer.

During my sophomore year, I got appendicitis and missed most of the cross-country season. In the winter, at the end of indoor track, my favorite coach announced she was pregnant and wouldn’t be returning the following year. She passed along the name and number of a private coach to my mom, encouraging her to call. Within a couple months of our first meeting I qualified for states, taking 8 seconds off my 1500m time. After seven months, I qualified for the Footlocker National Cross Country Championships and finished 22nd against the best high school girls in the nation.

That private coach, Steve Josepher, changed the trajectory of my life. Because of him I laid the foundation for a future in this sport. Without him, I hadn’t known I was supposed to be running between racing seasons in the summer! I was lucky.

While at Wake Forest University, I never lived up to expectations. The coach, who I eagerly sought out, had qualified for the Olympic Trials, raced at the World Championships and won NCAAs in her own right. I wanted to emulate her success and rise to the prowess of my All-American teammates. But after four years, I never even made it to the NCAAs as an individual athlete. Most of my collegiate career was unfortunately spent being injured or butting heads with my coach.

When I asked Brad Hudson to train me in 2012, I was lucky he said yes—but I wasn’t as lucky in terms of success. As much as I researched him, I introspectively studied myself: what motivated me, the type of training I excelled with and the type of environment I needed to flourish. I don’t think any of my coaches have been bad, but some of them weren’t right for me. No one person can be a successful match for everyone. The coaches I’ve made the most progress with echoed the dynamic, training and environment I thrive in. So if you’re in the market for a new guru, don’t just run to the one enjoying the most success—look for the one you think you’ll have the most success with.

There are endless options for coaching, from online groups to private trainers. I couldn’t do a fair analysis of them all, so instead I’ve listed the questions you should ask yourself to figure out if you actually need a coach, what type you need and why.

How To Find Your Best Coach

Are you getting what you want out of your running?

A. Yes: You don’t need a coach.

B. No: Continue reading.

Do you need accountability or structure but don’t want to meet up with people?

A. Yes: Get an online coach.

B. No: Continue reading.

Do you need other people to train with to push you to get better?

A. Yes: Look for a local team.

B. No: You’ve messed up with this quiz!

Identifying Your Needs

Do you like a tough critic?

A. Yes: I do well being scared into doing a workout.

B. No: I am tough enough on myself; I need someone who oozes positivity.

I typically run my best when…

A. I’m crushing short speed sessions.

B. I run high mileage.

I get injured when…

A. I attempt short speed sessions.

B. I attempt high mileage.

I feel motivated when….

A. My coach believes in me.

B. Someone challenges me on my ability to achieve my goals.