“Go, Go, Go…we can make it!” I yelled, as the train slowly steamed towards the intersect with the road at mile seventeen. I had been coaching my sister for the past couple years. She wasn’t really a runner when we started, but she decided she wanted to get into it and I agreed to coach her. She started with a half marathon, then a marathon, and then a trail 50k, and she was getting faster too. She got it in her head to qualify for Boston (she was about fifteen minutes shy of it in her first marathon). I wrote her up a training plan to go after that goal and also agreed to pace her for it. And now here we were about five minutes up on qualifying pace, seventeen miles in, but with the toughest section coming up and a train about to cut us off for who knows how long.
The red and white striped bar came falling down on my sister’s dream of qualifying for Boston and we hesitated for a moment. The train was very close, but I knew we could make it given how slowly it was rolling, so I shouted those words and we sprinted, along with about half the runners in the pack, around the fallen crossing gate and we beat the train. We were in a rather large group, most were trying to qualify for Boston as well; and this train was the cut off. The conductor was quite angry and blew his horn understandably, but everyone who made it across was ecstatic and high-fiving one another. She still had her chance at her goal because of that decision and she did end up qualifying with an almost twenty minute pr.
While a coach’s purpose is not necessarily to yell at you to sprint in front of a moving train, it is a hyperbolic (but true) metaphor of how a coach can help you make decisions to meet your goals. Most coaches have run or coached in tons of different scenarios and have experience with lots of different kinds of “trains about to cut you off”. They know how to navigate different situations that can derail a runner and how to inspire when training isn’t going well. Coaches know the causes and effects of different stimuli, can detect problems and solutions, and understand how to get the most out of a runner with patience and by applying adjustments as needed. A coach’s first goal is to set you up with a plan for success, but then more importantly, guide you and encourage you through the tweaking injuries, busy schedules, lack of confidence, exhaustion, missed days, and any other metaphorical (or literal) trains coming down the track. These things are inevitable obstacles to the pursuit of running or any challenge for that matter. A coach is there to shout “Go, Go, Go” when needed, or, had the train been going faster, give the advice to stop and wait (because sometimes you have to stop and wait too) and help figure out the best way to get the time back and still qualify.
I also coached another friend for the same race. While my sister had been running for a couple years at this point, this was his first-as in first race ever…no 5k, 10k, half marathon, anything. He just went straight for the big one right away and I was happy to give him a training plan and guide him through it. I understood as a coach though that he was starting from a completely different place than my sister and thus his plan was completely different. Sure there are online marathon training plans that anyone can get for free, but my sister’s plan and my friend’s plan looked completely different based on their experience and goals. He was simply trying to finish running 26.2 miles-about 20 miles more than he had ever run and my sister was trying to run it at a certain time. A coach is capable of taking a person’s experience, ability, lifestyle, and goals into account in a way that no general plan can. A coach is like a personal tailor for your fit(ness). My friend finished and ran it in a respectable four hours; he was happy and ready for another one, which was my goal as his coach.
A coach isn’t for everyone, but if you are new to running, going after a specific goal, or just looking to improve, a coach is someone that will give you personalized access to knowledge, experience, support, accountability, and encouragement that can make running easier, more fun, and hopefully faster so when a train (literal or otherwise) does come, you’ll be fast enough to sprint in front of it.
Disclaimer: Don’t run in front of moving trains.
Check out Brian’s Coaching page for more info about his experience as a runner and a coach.