Contemplating a Coach? Here’s Why I’ve Had One

In my [copious amount of] free time, I’ve noticed a lot of talk on Twitter, running blogs, and such about running coaches. Why would anyone get one? Is it worth it?

Steph took me on as her charge in November 2010 and I’ve kept her as the head of my running brain trust since. That poor girl has put up with far too many neurotic emails for what I’ve paid her.

Steph, this is what you're working with. Good luck! :)

Steph, this is what you’re working with. Good luck! ūüôā

I originally approached Steph with a very specific, calculated plan in classic Meggie Smith fashion (ie very specific and detailed). I wanted to qualify for Boston in the spring of my 3rd year of medical school (New Jersey Marathon 2011) in hopes of running Boston 2012 right before I graduated medical school. Check it off the life checklist [because life always follows a neat and linear checklist-like plan, right?]. To be honest, I initially thought I’d have a coach through NJM 2011 and then I’d go on my merry way.

My guiding principle in life. The almighty checklist.

My guiding principle in life. The almighty checklist.

Turns out I didn’t qualify for Boston in 2011 (or 2012), I really liked having Steph has my coach, I took a year to do research in infertility, I decided I hated the marathon, then decided I liked it again, and finally, by some stroke of luck, actually qualified for Boston right before I graduated medical school.

Boom! 2.5 years and I finally got it.

Boom! 2.5 years and I finally got it.

[Wow, Steph, you’ve been through a lot with me!]

Steph, what's harder: coaching me or this workout?

Steph, what’s harder: coaching me or this workout?

The cash flow as a med student is slim to none (or rather retrograde seeing as you are paying tuition) so there were plenty of times where I financially questioned keeping her on. Luckily, I was able to pick up enough babysitting and tutoring jobs to make it work, but below outlines many of the reasons I came up with to keep a running coach.

Steph and her groupies

Steph and her groupies

In the end, the decision was always fairly simple. Running made me happy and training to become a “better” runner made me even happier. And, we should invest in our happiness, right?

[Unless it’s cocaine or cigarettes that is making you happy. Then, please, don’t invest in that.]

WHY I’VE HAD AND KEPT A RUNNING COACH:

1.  EXPERIENCE + 2. OUTSOURCING OF THINKING + 3. TRUST/DOUBT ISSUES

My first three reasons for having a coach somewhat go hand in hand so its hard to talk about each separately.

Let’s get real. I’m not training to run a world record or become the next Mary Cain. I could, indeed, read a book or follow an online training plan.

What does reading a book require? Time! And time is money in my world.

You know what else I don’t have a lot of? Running experience. I’ve played thousands of tennis matches since I first started competitive tennis at 14 years old. There are certain elements of the game that you only learn through experience; those unteachable tricks, tips, and expertise that you take for granted once you know them. I imagine running is the same.¬†Steph is the experience I lack and the expertise that I need.

Last, as a member of over-thinkers anonymous, sure I’d read the book, but then I’d spend a month thinking “should I do this workout or that workout” or, we’re getting even deeper here now, “what physiologic system is this working and am I working the right one?” I’m sure I’d wonder if I was pushing myself too hard or not enough. I’d probably doubt what I was doing constantly and change my plan more than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends.

Knowing me, I’d make the process of coming up with a training plan way too complicated and time consuming. Solution? Have an expert do it for you.

Boom! Plan handed to you. Time and mental energy reserved for other things. Plus, if you trust your coach (which I do), its fool proof! Follow the plan and you can’t fail (or, at least, my chances were minimized versus making my own plan).

With two of my running faves, Steph and Gia. And, looks like someone forgot their sunnies!

With two of my running faves, Steph and Gia. And, looks like someone forgot their sunnies!

4. ACCOUNTABILITY

This is one I don’t struggle with that much. If you give me a plan or list, I’m fairly good at following it [translation: slightly neurotic about following it]. However, on days where my motivation waned, having someone to report back to (albeit virtually) usually gave me whatever kick I needed to get out the door. Plus, let’s get real – if I’m paying someone to give me these workouts, I’m going to do them. Not doing so would be like having a gym membership and not using it (ie throwing money down the drain).

5. TO SEE IF I COULD BE BETTER THAN I EVER DREAMED

I think this is probably the real, subliminal reason I’ve had and kept a running coach. When I first started running, I always thought of myself as “destined to be a slow runner” (sometimes still do). I figured the best I could get was hobby jogging. My reasoning? If I didn’t like running for the first 23 years of my life, I probably wasn’t very good at it, which is why I never picked it up as a kid. And, I was very happy with that [hobby-jogging] for a while.

Hobby jogger no more...

Hobby jogger no more…

Somewhere along the way, I remembered that at some point, I was a pretty good athlete. I had fleeting thoughts that maybe, if I put some work in, I could translate that athleticism to moderately good running. Keep up with my friends. See how fast I could get.

Turns out, with a little work, I became faster than I ever really thought when I first got Steph as a coach. It’s been fun to sort of discover myself as a runner with her by my side.

So, thanks, RC!

So, thanks, RC!

While I may have reasoned keeping a coach in a very linear fashion (I pay a you, a professional, to render me a service), I like to think that the coach-athlete relationship I have with Steph is a bit more complex than that. I like to think (I can’t speak for her, obviously!) that Steph is somewhat invested in my success and accomplishments; that we’re more of a team than a purely business relationship.

Steph’s belief in me has often been more than I’ve had in myself. A lot of times, that’s my mental “wild card” in races — if Steph believes I can do something, I should, too.

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BOTTOM LINE: Having a coach has saved me time, mental energy, and has made my running and racing experience that much richer. 

TELL ME: HAVE YOU HAD A COACH? WHY OR WHY NOT? WERE YOUR REASONS SIMILAR TO MINE?

Until next time…

My [Humble] “Guide” to Sports Psych

If you go back and read some of my older posts, you’ll know I used to struggle a lot with my running mental game. I still do sometimes, but, over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of “work” between the ears and come up with some strategies to conquer the doubt demons and enjoy racing more.

Here are some things that have helped me. The “Unicorn Guide to Sports Psych” if you will…

[Wondering what the unicorn is all about? Jocelyn described the 2nd semester of my 4th year of med school as being like a unicorn’s horn – always on the up and up…until a crash much later. Plus, unicorns are happy and magical, also somewhat like the 4th year of med school.]

UNICORN GUIDE TO SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY:

By: MBS

1. Ditch the Garmin

At least for a bit. Learn to run and race by feel first and then bring the Garmin back in. I ran completely watch-less for 6 weeks while I studied for the boards and then I completely surprised myself in a race right after I took the boards. I think it was because I stopped thinking about pace in numbers and started thinking about effort.

It took me a while (ie 2.5 years) to learn to use the Garmin as a tool to look at data afterwards and not as an on-the-run Big Brother watching over me. And, always remember, the only person really judging your Garmin splits is you. Garmin is only Big Brother if you make it.

2. Read this book and this book

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Both are worth your time and money in my opinion. I refer back to both books often. They have some great pearls of wisdom. You are welcome to borrow my copy that is highlighted and flagged. #nerdalert

3. Get something to write in

More valuable data than my Garmin splits...

More valuable data than my Garmin splits…

Writing helps me to not only vent, but to figure out why I may have make “x” decision, am scared of “x” workout, and so on and so forth.

4. Articulate why you want to race in a sentence that does not include a time in it

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And to eat ice cream...

I wrote this back in December or January…

Racing takes on a richer meaning when it is for something else other than time. Or, at least, it did for me.

5. Want to be there (the race, workout, etc) and no where else

I’ve noticed that when the pain of racing starts, I start to want to be somewhere else. My bed. Starbucks. The beach. In front of a TV watching Dance Moms. Eating. As of February (ie after Miami Half ADD race), I tried to start to mentally compartmentalize my running, meaning run time was “let’s only think about running and not the 50 other places you’d want to be right now.” You signed up. You put your shoes on. Your body is physically there. Now, commit your mind to also wanting to be there and no where else. And, remember, the whole thing is temporary. It will be over in less time than it takes to watch “The Sound of Music” or “Gone With the Wind” (unless its a marathon).

6. Race a lot

Doing anything repeatedly has a callousing affect and you start to become less nervous. For example, before I took my MCAT, I took 10 separate practice tests each on a Saturday morning to simulate testing conditions. By the time I took the real deal, it seemed like my normal Saturday morning activity. And, now, after tests about every 2-3 weeks during the first and second years of medical school, I don’t get nervous before most tests, unless its my boards.

Racing a good bit also lets you practice how you might deal with your nerves. I might have one “goal” race, but I’ll still race fairly frequently throughout my training to practice dealing with negative self talk, bad racing habits (starting out too fast or way too slow), and so on and so forth.

7. Toughen up

As my friend JB once told me, “The farmers work 16 hours days in the field…you can do this.” Or, as my mom told me before a tennis match onetime, “The Russian girls don’t need sports psych – they just want to win so they do…so go out and win!” So, just remember those farmers and the tough Russian tennis players…

————-

Mostly, I’ve found a robust imagination and practice to be the keys to my “mental game.” Yeah, unicorns? Legs of an eagle? Sounds completely crazy, but it’s worked for me.

TELL ME: YOUR BEST TIPS FOR CONQUERING YOUR MENTAL GAME? 

Until next time…

Marathon Game Changers

The Eugene Marathon 2013 wasn’t my first time in track town. I went last year…twice actually. Once for the whole Eugene Marathon weekend (I ran the 5K) and then for #totallytrials with Oiselle. I distinctly remember watching SarahOUAL, Sweaty Emily, Faster Bunny, Skinny Runner and company all tear it up in Eugene, yet all I was thinking was “thank God that isn’t me.” I swore of marathons and found a new friend in 5Ks and 10Ks.

"5ks are rad. The marathon is stupid."

“5ks are rad. The marathon is stupid.”

Now, a year later, I’m all “the marathon is magical and you’ll find unicorns on the course and forest fairies and it will be amazing so just keep running forever and ever and ever.” In fact, if running and I were in a relationship, we’d be on our honeymoon in Fiji, where it’s beautiful even when its monsooning.

"Unicorns do exist!"

“Unicorns do exist!”

What changed? Probably just finding running friends who helped me like running for intrinsic reasons versus extrinsic gain. But, I’ve been thinking about a list of “game changers” in the past year that helped me go from marathon hater to BQ’er.

I owe my marathon love to these girls.

I owe my marathon love to these girls.

CAVEAT: I’m not going to impart any words of wisdom that aren’t already out there in the universe. I’m not going to tell you any brand new information. These are just the few things that worked for me and, hopefully, can help you, too.

1. LEARNING TO TEMPO

Tempos aren’t might strong suit. Or, at least, in the past they weren’t. I used to freak out over hitting paces EXACTLY (I’m very literal and specific with most things) and a deviation in a few seconds would derail me (it sounds silly now). I used to stop very frequently during tempos, which I’m fairly sure is against the whole point of the run. Taking breaks during a harder effort isn’t exactly confidence boosting for a race either. There are time outs in a race.

I used to think that each workout need to be great – spectacular even – to produce a good result in a race. About a year ago I changed my whole attitude. I told myself that I didn’t need to be great, I just needed to be consistently good. And a lot of good workouts would lead to a great race.

FinishLineMedal:Smile

So, before tempos, I’d tell myself to “just be good” and to “not stop.” A good many were slower than I would’ve liked, but I didn’t stop. And then not stopping became routine, rather than the reverse, and I found myself running a 6.5 mile tempo nonstop by September.

The whole “learning to tempo” bit not only helped improved the physical systems that it works (I don’t know what these are, this is why I have the RC), but it also helped my mental focus. Focus upped my marathon game for sure.

2. LEARNING TO USE THE GARMIN AS A TOOL AND NOT A SLAVEDRIVER

When I first got a Garmin, I’d try to run to make the Garmin say something. For instance, I’d want to make it say 8:10/mile during a tempo. If it was too slow, I’d try to make it say 8:10/mile even if that meant stopping because it was too hard for me at the time.

I’m not sure which the mental switch occurred, but sometime last fall or this spring I got good at using the Garmin as a tool. I’d run the pace at which the effort felt appropriate for the what the workout called for. And the Garmin would tell me what that was. It’s a really subtle difference that is somewhat hard to articulate, but, basically I dictated a run, not a Garmin.

"Yes Garmin! I'm in charge! I didn't care that you told me I ran a 6:50 mile for the first mile!" That one didn't turn out so hot. Maybe I should pay a tiny bit more attention to it...

“Yes Garmin! I’m in charge! I didn’t care that you told me I ran a 6:50 mile for the first mile!” That one didn’t turn out so hot. Maybe I should pay a tiny bit more attention to it…

I’ll even wear a Garmin in a race now as I know I won’t have any mental breakdowns over it. I can see a pace during a race, but won’t mount an emotional response to it until after.

I’m not even sure if the above makes sense. Just go with it.

3. NUUN

I drank a lot of nuun before and after both long runs and the marathon itself. The discovery of banana nuun while in Eugene was clutch. Although I’m drinking more banana nuun now than I care to admit.

I don’t drink nuun while I run mostly because I don’t carry my own water (in case you were wondering).

I, too, was a banana skeptic. I am now a convert.

I, too, was a banana skeptic. I am now a convert.

Read this study on how under-hydrating affects your run the next day.

4. INTRINSIC MOTIVATION

I started running in 2009 and started taking the “getting faster” thing more seriously in 2010. I have no idea why, but for a long time I felt like I need to prove myself as a “good” runner, mostly to myself. I think I doubted my abilities for a long time and wanted race times to show me that I was a runner (vs runner-poser?) and, maybe, an “average” or “above average” one at that. [What the definition of “average” and “above average” runner is, surely, subjective.]

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For a while, I think I wanted a BQ to prove something to myself, to show myself that I was “good” or “above average.” Sometime this spring, my attitude changed. I wanted a BQ because I knew I was those things – “good” (to me) and “above average” (again, to me). I started thing about myself differently as a runner, as someone who was capable and strong. This sounds terribly conceited, but, in other words, I wanted a BQ because I knew I could do it not because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

[If that makes any sense whatsoever.]

5. JOY AND FRIENDSHIP

I wouldn’t have even signed up for two marathons in the past year if it weren’t for Gia and Jocelyn. Both run marathons because they love to run and it brings them a lot of happiness. And they showed me that I could learn to love the distance and have more fun than I could have imagined training for it.

So thankful for my #sisterinsport Gia - friends make a workout fly by! After 6 x 1 mile on a cold day in February!

So thankful for my #sisterinsport Gia – friends make a workout fly by! After 6 x 1 mile on a cold day in February!

We're running 20 miles! Who's excited?! Who's scared?!

We’re running 20 miles! Who’s excited?! Who’s scared?!

Now, let’s get real. The stars aligned for me in Eugene and, of course, it’s very easy to say “of course I could do it” after the fact. I was definitely a tiny bit doubtful leading up to the race. It’s a marathon after all. It’s a long time to run. A lot can happen in 3 hours (I mean, in Titanic, Rose and Jack fall in love and Jack dies all in that span of time). Could I have run 3:38 or 3:45 that day? Absolutely. But, I knew deep down before this race that I was trained to run 3:33-3:34 because of the above mentioned aspects IF everything went right on the day. I’m lucky it did.

TELL ME: GAME CHANGERS FOR YOU AND YOUR RUNNING?

Until next time…

 

#HugeEug 2013: WWPDD, Bruce Miles, and Dream Sequence Legged Eagles

Thanks for all the twitter/facebook/text/carrier pigeon love (jk on the carrier pigeon) on the interwebz yesterday. I was overwhelmed with excitement and, most likely, the most self-absorbed person at the Picky Bars Ninkasi party. I am sorry I told everyone about my “life unicorn” and how I’m “riding the 4th year med student high” right now. I owe whoever listened to my endorphin babbling a drink. Or five.

Anyways, the big BQ finally happened, after two and half years of trying for it. Over those two and half years, I’ve gone from terrified to believing to crushed to drinking the marathon haterade and swearing them off to finally, like a moth to a flame, back to the marathon, my goal, and, somehow, getting pretty lucky and having my little dream come true.

Yesterday, the stars aligned and I got lucky: 3:34:07, 53 seconds under the Boston qualifying time. And, here’s how it went down.

PART ONE: WHAT WOULD PHIL DUNPHY DO?

Walking to the start, Jocelyn and I starting talking about Modern Family and, of course, Phil Dunphy. Has anyone seen the episode where Luke takes up magic then wants to quit, but Phil tells him, “I’m not letting you give up on your talent, Luke!”? Well, that became the theme of my marathon, at least the first part.

Thanks, Phil, for the first 10 miles.

Thanks, Phil, for the first 10 miles.

What would Phil Dunphy say when running a marathon?

“This is my moment!”

“Ahh, what a beautiful day!”

“I’m not letting you give up on your talent!”

So, if you were in my head from the start to about mile 10, it was me and my buddy Phil “taking in the moment” and “not giving up on your talent!”

It occurred to me that I really have no talent for running, BUT the little quote was working for me so I went with it.

The first few miles were faster than I planned on starting but I felt great and like I was in a good rhythm. And, what would Phil Dunphy say to me? “This is your moment! Don’t let a Garmin telling you you’re a few seconds per mile ahead of the planned pace ruin your moment! I’m not letting you give up on your talent!”

Yes, again, no talent, but it worked.

It was also from around mile 3-16 I was around this guy who told EVERY volunteer, cheerleader, or policeman we passed, “THANKS FOR BEING YOU!” very loudly. After about the 10th time, it got a little irritating. Ok, very irritating. Phil Dunphy probably would’ve made friends with this dude. I was not making friends with this dude.

PART TWO: BRUCE MILES

Brothstein miles. Bruce miles. RC/RCH miles. Whatever you want to call them, this was where the marathon was actually won for me. (Not actually won, obviously).

Around mile 10, I was starting to get a little “hmm, been running a while here and still have a ways to go here….Phil isn’t all that entertaining anymore…”

And, low and behold, the RC swooped in to save the day.

For those not acquainted with the RC, Steph [Rothstein-Bruce] just finished 15th in the Boston marathon, was 3rd American, and has a 2:29:35 PR in the marathon. Moreover, the tiny (literally) marathon stud has been coaching me for the past 2.5 years (Lord, help her). So, to have her running with me was really special to me.

I'm sure we looked very similar to this.

I’m sure we looked very similar to this.

We talked a bit, I handed her my watch so I wouldn’t look at it, and all that “omg, I’ve already gone so far” self talk went away and changed to “omg, you have a professional marathon running with you, this is awesome, I am basically going to have to retire from the marathon after this because it’s not going to get any cooler than this.”

Around mile 11, Ben, Steph’s husband, jumped in, too. So, I had my own little husband-wife professional running duo running with me. NBD. Just like every other marathon I’ve run, right? To say I was thrilled was an understatement. It was a major instagram moment that sadly I was not able to capture.

Steph jumped out around 14 so it was just me, Ben, and Ben’s stories. Dari mart commericals. Odd habits of Eugenians. Ben’s track workouts. How we could drive 15 hours down the interstate we were passing and be in San Diego. I was very mentally occupied until Ben left at 19 (which, by the way at 17 miles, I told Ben, “I will PAY you to stay with me til 19!”).

Ben and I around mile 16. Thanks, Emily for the photo!

Ben and I around mile 16. Thanks, Emily for the photo!

I am fairly certain I slowed down during this time, but I wasn’t paying too much attention to the watch. Also, thanks Ben for getting me water. Real white glove service running buddy duties right there.

PART THREE: DREAM SEQUENCE LEGGED EAGLE MILES

After mile 19, things started to get a bit fuzzy. Like my vision had been changed to an instagram filter and I was running through a dream sequence like they have on sitcoms.

To be honest, I didn’t think I had a BQ in me at this point. Mental math isn’t my strong suit, but I thought I was running too slowly for it to happen. But, I sort of didn’t care. I went for it. I didn’t hold back. I was doing the best I could do. I was still running. If it was a 3:38 or 3:41 or 3:34 marathon, I was pretty resigned to the fact that I was doing the best, effort wise, that I had.

Before Ben left, I asked him “when is it ok to go and it really hurts but its ok?” His reply was that around 21 I should try to squeeze down but not so much that I think I’m going to get in trouble a mile later. So, that was what I was thinking of – squeezing out a tube of toothpaste (huh? I don’t know either), but not feeling like I was going to be in trouble in 10 minutes.

Mile 21 is also where you come down a little bridge and my legs felt surprisingly ok. In fact, really good (but, of course, it was a downhill) and at which point I told myself, “You have the legs of an eagle.”

And, then a quarter mile later I realized eagles don’t have great legs. In fact, they’re more like twigs for legs.

But, the eagle with legs was really working for me so I just went with it and realized that this was probably the mile 2x endorphins talking.

PART FOUR: THE OISELLES AND THE FINISH

To say I felt in great company on the course was an understatement. There were about 22 Oiselle team members running as well as a handful of other internet running friends. I used Corey and Holly as my visual for a good while, saw Sarah Chan running in the Oiselle running dress, and saw Monica somewhere around 21-22. Mason from nuun was out on the course giving advice, support, pacing duties, and, of course, nuun.

Best of all, the Oiselle (Kmet, JJ, Lauren, Emily, Abby, Meghan, and everyone else) cheer squad positioned themselves at the start, mile 9, mile 16, and the finish. Talk about support. I felt so loved every time I passed them and it kept my spirits up, for sure. Thanks for the high fives, the chicken hat, the cowbell, and the spirit fingers/jazz hands.

Around mile 25, my watch read 3:23:xx and by some really tough mental math (not) I realized that I actually really might make it under 3:35. I didn’t get too excited though, but tried to just maintain and not fall apart.

It wasn’t too hard to do as coming up Agate to Hayward the Oiselles were out in full force and I might have teared up when passing them. Mason was near the gate at Hayward and him yelling “Go, run, now!” or something like that made me nervous that he knew something I didn’t know (like I was just going to miss a BQ) so I rounded the corner “kicking it in” although, in reality, I was probably not moving very fast.

Heyo, mile 26! Thanks, Steph, for the photo!

Heyo, mile 26! Thanks, Steph, for the photo!

Anyways, I crossed in 3:34:07, hands over hearts for Boston, and then I teared up because I really couldn’t believe I had actually done it.

I then spent the next 10 minutes hobbling and moaning with Laura¬†(who also PR’ed! BQ’ed! And actually PR’ed in the 10k, half, and marathon all in one race!) as I think we both felt a little bit like death. Worth it, but a bit like death.

As this post is getting far too long, I’ll save you the rest.

I’m not sure if it was the crazy nail colors, the 10 temporary tattoos (including 2 unicorns), the forest fairies, the Brothstein miles, the tube of nuun I drank the day before, the Smooth Caff Picky bar, or just a little bit of luck, but I couldn’t be happier. It was a nice high note to finish medical school running on and I got that “graduation gift” (a BQ) I’ve been telling myself that I would get this spring.

Congrats to all the other finishers, PR-ers (JOCELYN!¬†SARAH OUAL! KRISTINA with no blog! LORA)¬†BQ’ers, first-time marathoners or half-marathoners, and so on and so forth.

Thanks for all the love. Thanks to all who have helped me over the past two and a half years. Thanks to Oiselle. Thanks to my running buddies, especially Gia and Jocelyn. Thanks to my coach, Steph. And, THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU!

TELL ME: YOUR FAVORITE MARATHON YOU’VE RUN.

Until next time.