What’s the Deal with Running Coaches?

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Running, unlike other popular sports, has been around for thousands of years. While our early ancestors weren’t exactly chasing soccer balls or swinging tennis rackets, they were most definitely running. The instinct is basically pre-packaged in our DNA— survival of the fittest at its finest. Which begs the question, why are some considered gifted athletes in the sport, while others struggle or have zero interest at all?

At any given point in the day, literally from dawn to dusk, you will find runners hitting the trails of Lady Bird Lake and nearby neighborhoods. But with all those runners, do you ever wonder who’s really doing it right? And how many out there are just an injury waiting to happen?

I talked to a handful of our city’s most notable runners to get their thoughts on what takes your average runner from occasional jogger to marathon maniac and what having a running coach can bring to the table that training solo doesn’t. Here’s what they had to say.

Keep reading to find out!

 

Gilbert Tuhabonye

Gilbert, the owner and founder of the popular training group, Gilbert’s Gazelles, is a highly accomplished runner, coach and motivational speaker. He has coached countless runners to their own personal records, including his own 2:22 marathon finishing time.


Q. Do you think running is a skill we’re all born with?

A. While the human brain is wired to give people the basics of running, people can still benefit from the help of a coach. Every person is different— some have a natural stride and others need a little tweak here and there. A good coach can really watch a person run and help them become better and more efficient by working with them on proper form. And, since a lot of people are sedentary these days, I like to help people strengthen their core, which is critical for any kind of running.

Q. What do you think is the biggest benefit of working with a professional running coach?

A. In all things, there is always room for improvement. Even Olympic athletes have coaches. A good coach will create workouts that keep you motivated to meet your goals, whether you want to train for a 5K or marathon or, even, just get fit. And a coach can really help you improve quickly by watching your form and stride and making corrections that will help you.

Q. Finding a coach or joining a running group can feel overwhelming. How do you recommend finding one that's a good fit for your level of experience, speed, goals?

A. We are fortunate in Austin that we have a number of groups that people can try out to see what works for them. Find a group that offers a variety of workouts, whether you want to focus on training for a 5K or for a marathon. You want to be sure that the groups have assisted run that include a mapped out course with water stops along the way. And, I recommend exploring what else the groups offer—like core classes, yoga or boot camps.

Q. As a successful running coach of all ages, what’s the one thing you want every runner—whether they’re novice, experienced or elite—to know?

A. I tell all my athletes, no matter how old they are—run with joy! Relax, enjoy the workout!

Keep reading for more running coaches and words of advice!

 

PHOTO BY BRIAN FITZSIMMONS 

Paul Carmona

Paul is a veteran runner with more than 40 marathons, including 6 Bostons, ultras and an Ironman triathlon under his belt. He is the Head Coach of the Twenty-Six Two non-profit training group.


Q. If running is a natural movement, what happens over time? Do we forget how?

A. Take a look at children running on a playground. They run naturally and effortlessly. Running is indeed a natural movement, but as we age, we tend to move less, sit more and lose that innate sense of “how” to run. We can recapture it with proper training and gradual build-up to a point where running feels free and easy—not like “work”.

Q. What can runners do to make the most of their coaching experience?

A. The number one thing runners can do to make the most of their coaching experience is to maintain communication with the coach or coaches. Runners should report their workouts, successes (and failure) to the coach. They should ask questions and seek guidance about what they are doing right or wrong.

Q. If you’re used to training solo, how does working with a coach change the training experience?

A. Working with a coach does not mean a runner must abandon “training solo”. Runners can take as much or as little as they want from what coaches offer. It the runner only wants a training schedule to follow, that’s fine. If the runner wants to transition from “training solo” to very engaged, one-on-one or group training, that new experience can broaden the runner's options for workouts, learning opportunities and growth.

Q. As a successful marathoner and coach, what’s the one thing you want runners to know?

A. The one thing I want runners to know is that there is no secret or magic blueprint for running success. Running coaches are humans, not superheroes. They have no special powers or knowledge. What coaches do have is experience, both as runners and as coaches. Their job is to transfer their experience into a training plan that fits the runner.

Keep reading for more running coaches and words of advice!

 

Mallory Brooks

Mallory is the race director for Spectrum Trail Racing and a Rogue Running coach. As a seasoned ultra- marathoner, she has completed more than 7 summits and was the 2nd place overall female finished for the Palo Duro 50k trail race.


Q. People assume running is a natural movement and that we're born knowing how to do it. What’s your take on that?

A. The ability for humans to use their innate gift of running has been crucial for their survival since the beginning of time. We are born runners. What determines your destiny as a runner are your physical and mental capabilities. Not even the best coach can make a great athlete out of someone that lacks determination. A great runner can't be born out of fast legs alone.

Q. What do you think is the biggest benefit of working with a professional running coach?

A. Few are disciplined enough to train hard enough to reach their goals without the motivation of a skilled coach. A quality coach can design a solid training plan, hold you accountable, check you're hitting your pace/mileage, keep your injuries at bay, and force you to look deep inside for your motivation. And all of that is priceless.

Q. If you’re used to training solo, how does working with a coach change the training experience?

A. Working with a coach can keep you on a realistic timeline. It's too easy to design your own aggressive training schedule, without taking into consideration that there are phases you should be using to build, maintain, and taper. A truly invested running coach will know when to make adjustments based on how your body is reacting to the plan. Like with anything in life, having someone hold you accountable makes it significantly more likely that you will achieve what you set out to accomplish.

Q. What can runners do to make the most of their coaching experience?

A. You can't make many gains by simply showing up to training and then slacking off every other minute of the week. I coach my athletes to get in tempo runs and cross training workouts (swimming, cycling, rowing, etc.) on days we don't meet. I suggest moving every day. It's also crucial that my runners work on mobility to keep their joints strong and to prevent injuries. After all, staying uninjured may be the most important piece of the puzzle.

Q. What’s the single most important thing every runner should know?

A. Come to training ready to leave all the baggage from work and home life at the door. It's a time to be selfish, tune out all the gadgets that follow us through life and simply move. Sure, I have them focus on form and hitting a certain pace/mileage,  but if they can't enjoy that run and connect with the trail they are on, then the value is lost. And in a world that is becoming more complicated and moving faster every day, it's nice to get out….and just f*cking run.

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