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Over the years, I’ve learned that I can be my own biggest fan and my own biggest critic. Never is that more apparent than when I’m functioning as my own coach.
It seems pretty basic, right? After four years of collegiate running, one should have a solid enough understanding of the fitness process to develop a loose training schedule for running. But there are far more complexities to coaching than I expected. After six months of training on my own, I began to seriously question if I had any idea what I was doing.
The most important, and beneficial, thing for me to realize was that the answer to my question was simply: no. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, and I wasn’t a substitute for an experienced running coach. At the same time, I realized that not having all the answers is okay. Finding success as an athlete is not based on some mathematical equation. There are so many controllable and uncontrollable factors impacting every aspect of your fitness. I began to understand that having a healthy appreciation for my own limitations helps me focus on continuing to be a student of the sport, to keep learning and growing as I go.
The second thing I realized was that not having a strict regimen and plan could operate as a blessing in disguise. For years, I had functioned on a specific schedule: three easy runs per week, two workouts, one long run and two strength-training sessions. The schedule dictated my days like clockwork and didn’t offer much flexibility. When I’m the one deciding on races or workouts, I can take other things into account. I ask myself things like, “Am I rested?,” “Do I have any aches or pains?,” and (most importantly), “Will this be enjoyable?”
The flexibility that comes with being your own coach is one reason that my passion for running has only grown since leaving collegiate athletics. What’s more, the relaxed approach is both sustainable and beneficial. My fitness level has increased and I’m enjoying new experiences, trying new races and working out just for fun.
It’s often said that in order to lead others well, you need to first be able to lead yourself. I wholeheartedly believe that, and running is no exception to the rule. When you’re training for a race and you don’t have anyone but yourself to answer to, there’s a lot less accountability. As an athlete, self-training requires you to be diligent, humble and honest. The responsibility is on you. Even if you share the load with a training partner or take tips from the pros, no one else will be lacing up your shoes before an early morning long run. They won’t be able to track your physical progress with the same understanding that you can. Ultimately, you’re it.
Even so, that reality is something I fear less than ever. It can be intimidating—but only if you let it. The key to coaching yourself successfully truly does come down to the reminder that running should be fun. If it ever stops being fun, then you’ve done something wrong. With that in mind, the actual workouts and training become a learning ground, a chance to gain physical and mental experience in two areas: coaching and running.
I’d bet many professional running coaches would say they don’t feel like an expert yet. Few people do. But if you’re coaching yourself with a focus on humility, honesty and fun, you’re laying the groundwork for a great running career, however far you decide to take it.