There's one person - apart from you - who can make a huge difference to your fitness. It's a coach.
Getting fit, staying fit, and then getting even fitter to achieve goals; they all require work on your part. It's kind of a lonely process, actually. The act of exercising can only be done by you, just as the act of pushing yourself in order to progress your fitness can only be done by you.
Any mug can train someone, however very few can coach the best performances out of individuals.Chris Brack
So wouldn't it be nice to have someone to be there for you along the way? To mitigate the loneliness that is the quest of personal vitality and well-being? To have a drink with at the local after blitzing the half marathon?
Coaches aren't only useful to elite athletes. The reasons elite athletes use coaches are really no different to the reasons amateur athletes use them. Top-level runners already know how to train. Coaches add value in other ways. And they don't have to be physically present at all your training sessions, either.
Get with a program
I interviewed five-time world triathlon champion Craig Alexander recently and asked him about the importance of coaching, especially given he's recently launched an online coaching company called Sansego.
Alexander, who is a physiotherapist, has assembled a team of coaches that he has used or knows and make them available to clients in Australia and overseas. Skype and email enables more direct contact when physically checking-in is not possible. The key is that there's a big difference between following a generic training program and having the regular input and feedback of a coach.
"Training has to be not only good training that creates the adaptations and the improvement in physical performance, but it has to be part of a sustainable program that you can adhere to week after week," Alexander says.
"The science of what you want to achieve is the same, but implementing it in a practical sense for different kinds of athletes with different physiologies and with different time demands is part of the skill of coaching. It's about putting in place a good framework."
Five things a coach can offer:
When you take on a long-term goal, you need to structure your life to achieve it. A coach will save you a lot of stressful fretting about whether you're doing too much, not enough, or not the right thing.
They can set you a systematic, progressive program. They can tell you what's important and what's not. I love having to think no harder than: "What day is it? Tuesday. OK, speedwork." Exactly what sort of speedwork is the coach's surprise.
A coach will keep you honest. If you struggle with self-discipline, then knowing that a coach is going to be encouraging you and checking on your training progress is very helpful in sticking with a program.
There's nothing more pathetic than 'fessing up to the coach that you didn't make it to training because you got talked into going out instead. And if you are self-disciplined, a coach will reinforce the work you're doing and give feedback.
A bit like accountability, motivation can be the enemy of anyone who has set themselves a longish-term running goal. The mental challenge of such an undertaking shouldn't be underestimated. Some training days are easier to endure than others, so having a coach can help you through the tough weeks.
Coaches can be inspiring if they share their own experiences or those of other athletes they've managed. They can help you keep things in perspective and they can modify a program to keep you engaged.
You have to trust your coach to be the expert and to know what they're doing. You put your faith in them to build a program that's going to help you achieve your goals in the most efficient, effective way possible.
This takes a lot of pressure off you and certainly beats finding out the hard way that you've been doing it all wrong. The teacher/student relationship can be very rewarding. A coach can help you find inner strength that you didn't know you had. A coach teaches you the science behind the training.
5. Time management
What you spend on a coach will probably save you money, time and stress. A training program that's tailor-made for you, with the flexibility to be altered according to how you're handling it, is likely to save you from getting injured. Overuse injuries are the most typical among runners, and coaches are good at picking up on when you might be a candidate.
Overtraining can end up costing a lot in physiotherapy, doctor visits, X-rays and MRIs. Not to mention time off training. Coaches can save you time by scheduling a program that will deliver the outcomes you're aiming for while not compromising your "other" life.
The last word goes to Sydney masters runner Chris Brack, who posted this assessment of the value of a coach on the Runfast HQ website in January:
"Any mug can train someone, however very few can coach the best performances out of individuals, and that is the skill that in my opinion is almost unteachable."
Do you use a coach (or personal trainer)? What do you get out of it?