Pros and Cons of Working With a Coach

>> Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sunday is the TC 10 Miler. It's the reason Jen took me on as a client. After Sunday, I'm no longer going to be working with Jen. I thought I'd take this taper time to put together a list of Pros and Cons of the different things I've come to realize over the last 8 weeks of being coached.

Pro: You don't have to think about your workouts; you just DO them. Julia (and other friends who are coached) have been telling me about this "pro" for years. Normally, when I'm not being coached, I try to plan out my weeks well ahead of time. "OK, this is a 'build' week, this is a 'run heavy' week, and this week I'll scale back a little because I'm racing on the weekend." Then I'll fill in the days of the week. Monday: this. Tuesday: this: Wednesday: this. Etc. But since I've been working with Jen, I just check my training schedule at night, wake up in the morning, and do what she's said. No fuss.

Con: You might want to NOT swim / bike / run today. When I agreed to have Jen coach me for 8 weeks, I agreed to follow her orders to the T. It's NOT like that for her "normal" clients; she's cutting me a SUPER deal, and I wanted to make sure that I lived up to my end of the bargain. So I did NOT SHIFT A THING. (I only missed 2 workouts over these entire 8 weeks, and that was an easy[ish] swim and a super easy spin on the bike that were scheduled for the weekend Pharmie and I were out at Rev3 Cedar Point. I let Jen know about this ahead of time, and she said they weren't vital workouts, so it wasn't a big deal. I DID make sure to fit in my long run that weekend.) I think my point here is you CAN miss or shift around workouts, but you might start to feel a little guilty about it. "Oh, it was raining today, so I didn't want to bike, so I did tomorrow's run workout instead." Sure, that's fine, but I feel like Jen had SUCH a plan for me, that I didn't want to shift a single thing around. I think I'm making this a bigger deal than it really is...

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Pro: Your "old routine" will be nicely broken up. I was a runner for 2 years in high school, but then I didn't do much for 8 years. And I've only been doing this swim, bike, run thing since 2006, so it hasn't been THAT long. But I'm already deep into my own routine. A coach can break you of that and show you some new ways of training. I'm not saying your old routine is wrong, but I DO think that everyone's routine could use a nice "stir" now and then. Being coached is a GREAT way to break through a plateau.

Con: You might like your old routine. I've missed running intervals (on the track) while working with Jen. (But I haven't mentioned this to her - if I REALLY missed intervals, I bet she could have worked more into the plan.) I planned on doing intervals the Friday before starting with Jen (see below), and in the 8 weeks we've worked together, I think I've done them once. (BUT she had me not do as many because I could benefit more from tempo runs instead.) I also haven't done long, hard efforts the way I usually do. And I DO kind of miss some of that.

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Pro: You'll learn a lot more about your training / body / pace. I have 2 examples for this:

Example #1: Usually, after HARD workouts or races, I take a day (or 2) off. I don't really know why - it's just felt right. Jen has had me do easy spinning or easy running after HARD days. I'd never do that on my own. A few weeks ago, my heel really flared up on one of those easy days. (I never injured myself working with Jen, but we flirted with that "line" for most of the 8 weeks to push myself as much as possible.) I realized that I usually don't hurt myself on long runs, but instead it's AFTER those long / hard efforts when my body isn't fully recovered that I hurt myself. This might sound dumb to you, but it was a pretty great revelation to me. I thought back, and it all made sense: when I first injured my heel 2.5 years ago, it was on a short run that SHOULDN'T have hurt it. But that short run was 2 days after a hard 18 miler. I would have never discovered this about my body had Jen not been telling me what to do.

Example #2: The Friday before I started being "officially" coached by Jen, she told me to run 4x1600 on the track with descending times with more rest than I was used to in between intervals (4:00). She said to start around 5:40, and drop to under 5:20. She noted: "...IF doable..that may be a tad of a stretch, but probably not." I'd NEVER had an interval under 5:20, let alone my FOURTH interval (I usually just do 3x1600). Well, I did 5:40, 5:34, 5:25, and 5:18. How was I able to get that 4th interval under 5:20? I hit 5:18 because I was told to. Simple. As. That. No one ever TOLD me to go run a 5:20 interval before, so I never considered it an option.

Con: If you're aiming for a big goal, you WILL be pushed. Is this really a con? Of course you will be pushed, but this is the closest to a con I can think of to counteract the pro of learning more about your body / training.

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Pro: I find myself pushing myself harder on my coached workouts. When I build my OWN workout plan, I catch myself always thinking about the next day. "Oh, don't overdo it on the bike today because you're planning that HARD run for tomorrow." I always end up with a lot of 85%-90% efforts when I'm hoping for an "all out" workout. But for some reason, when doing Jen's workouts, I'm ONLY thinking about this workout. If she says "HARD" or "ALL OUT" or "FINISH CRAWLING" (which she has said before), that's what I do. I can't explain this one, but I KNOW it's happening like this.

Con: There's no con for the pro above. If you stick to the plan and don't over-extend yourself and get injured, then there is no con to pushing hard. If you follow the plan from a coach that knows what he/she is talking about, you'll be golden.

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Pro: I love Jen.

Con: Coaching costs money, even if you've professed your love to your coach. Because I'm cheap thrifty, I think KNOW this is the biggest "con" that's keeping me from being coached. I have really, REALLY, REALLY enjoyed my 8 weeks with Jen, but I just can't get myself to shell out that much $$ on an already expensive "hobby." I think a lot of people know what I mean here.

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Pro: You'll get workout ideas for AFTER your time being coached is over. I mean, of course. I'll probably be training for a half marathon this winter or spring, and I KNOW I'll think back to some of the longer, harder workouts Jen has had me do. I'll add a few miles on, and suddenly I have a workout plan that might help me out for that race. She's given me lots of great ideas for how to "mix up" my training even though I've only been with her for 8 weeks.

Con: You can't workout "blind." You need to try to understand why your coach is having you do the things that you're doing. This really isn't a "con," but more of a "warning." Doing the workouts as prescribed is one thing, but (for me at least) UNDERSTANDING them makes a big difference. I always tried to figure out "why" as I was doing it. I feel like if I didn't, I'd be done with Jen this next week and I'd have no idea where to go from here.

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Other notes:

- Jen was ALWAYS open for questions or clarification. I've been working with her for 8 weeks, and I have nearly 150 emails in my "Jen Harrison" folder in my inbox. Most of those didn't start from her - most of those were HER answers to MY questions OR her e-mails with feedback after I had logged my workouts.

- Before being coached, I always leaned towards "over-training." Every workout was usually 85% effort or harder. With Jen, she's got me running FASTER than I ever have been, but she's also got me running SLOWER than I usually train. (And I've heard a TON of people mention this when they first start working with a coach.) Normally, I'm at 7s or faster ALL THE TIME. Some of Jen's warm-ups or cool-downs have been 8-9 minute miles. Proper training involves some slower running (or so I'm learning).

- After working with Jen, I'll go back to SOME of my old ways of training, but I know I'll shift a lot of what I've done in the past to match with what Jen had me doing. I think I'll (dare I say it) WARM UP MORE in my regular workouts once I'm not one of Jen's babies anymore. ;)

DID I MISS ANYTHING? Do you work with a coach? Is there a PRO or CON that you can think of that's not on this list? Comment and let me know! You can check out more on Jen by going to her site, and if you missed it a few weeks ago, click here to see a "guest post" that Jen wrote about finding a good coach.

p.s. I sent this to Jen yesterday as I was working on it. I wanted to get her input (to add to this post if she wanted to) before I published it. Here's part of what she said: "...I think the only thing I would mention is that communication is key - that you MADE SURE you were on the same page with me and I was on the same page with your heel, with your travel - etc.....and a good coach (Not just me) will be responsive to that and adapt and be quick about it."

p.p.s. As Coach Jen told me to do in the last post Here's today's "reason I will PR" for the 10 miler: "You are a MUCH smarter racer than you were last year." Last year, when you ran it in 1:02:43, that was your FIRST 10 mile race. And you had only done 2 half marathons at that point as well. Since then, you've done 2 more 10 milers and 2 more half marathons. You're not the same person.


Jumper 2.0 6:37 AM, September 29, 2010  

I'm surprised you didn't mention the nutrition "watchdog" as a con!


Chloe 6:45 AM, September 29, 2010  

I LOVE having a coach. I went from a 6:15 1/2 Ironman time last year - to a 5:18 the past weekend. I could not be happier - specially with IMFL just around the corner. I think you hit all of the pros and cons right on the head :) Great post!

Chris H. 9:01 AM, September 29, 2010  

Great stuff, Steve! Cost is teh one thing that's held me back on getting a coach too, but I know it would be money well-spent when I decide on my next serious goal (probably related to 140.6). When I have the finances to jump back into those, a coach will be part of that budget. Thanks for the great writeup!

zbsports 9:13 AM, September 29, 2010  

This is a very nice post, so informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing such a great post.

Tawnee Prazak 10:14 AM, September 29, 2010  

Great post... to me, it looks like the pros far outweigh the cons :)

GoBigGreen 11:00 AM, September 29, 2010  

Steve, Yup i think what JH added is true. Its not like I really email her and say " I dont feel ike doing this or that today," bc she would say "harden up princess."
She can lead you to water but she cant make you drink. But I do know that you can switch days around if you need to but not just bc i dont feel like getting in a cold lake:)
You are going to exceed your expectations this weekend. I cant wait to be there to cheer you on!

Betsy 11:26 AM, September 29, 2010  

The biggest pro is for sure not having to think about your workouts and just doing them. I like putting my trust in someone else and if I do my end of the work and I don't get there it's someone elses fault.

I also am a huge why person. I'll do pretty much anything I'm told but I always want to know why! I want to learn to be a better athlete and if I'm ever not coached I hope waht I pay for also includes a better knowledge of what to do, when & why!

Dan 12:22 PM, September 29, 2010  

Great post! I've had the chance to work with Jen for the past year, getting ready for my first marathon in 11 days!

I really don't think I'd be where I am with out the help of a coach...and Jen is an awesome coach! :D

I'm excited for the marathon, and what the future holds!

Wes 12:56 PM, September 29, 2010  

having a coach make your plan dance around your needs (injury, travel, sickness) is worth its weight in gold. Jen and Teh ELF are two of the best around.

Good luck in your race!

Kristin 2:54 PM, September 29, 2010  

I just hired a coach. Getting all the pros and cons together really is an eye opener. Great post.

SingletrackJenny (formerly known as IronJenny) 4:34 PM, September 29, 2010  

I hear great things about Jen.
I hired a coach for cross-country skiing, and improved tremendously (pro). The con was that he made me work so hard it wasn't a "fun" hobby anymore! But I did get through a Mora Vassaloppet and a Birkie...

Charisa 5:54 PM, September 29, 2010  

Nice analysis. I'd say for most people the pros outweigh the cons.

Jennifer Harrison 9:27 PM, September 29, 2010  

You will miss me, SS.
Ah, that is right, we didn't talk about nutrition here. I was very nice about that with you. :) So, Pharmie still likes me.

And, as an athlete the PROS totally outweigh the Cons - I love my coach, I don't have to think for myself and that is important to me since I think all day for others.

brand 11:02 PM, September 29, 2010  

Hi Steve, I have a question about long-distance coaching. Is it a con? I was looking for a local coach, but I like Jen's philosophy and also some other coaches whose blogs I follow. Not sure if it's preferable to have a local coach (who can watch you, train with you, etc.)... well, I guess it's obvious that would be better, but wondering if you think you were at a disadvantage with Jen not being local.
Your thoughts?

Mario 6:51 AM, September 30, 2010  

Even if you don't hire a coach after this, but commit to following self-written plan based on what you've learned, once you write the plan down and its in black and white, you may feel a strange duty to honor that plan; may feel guilty when you cheat it too. Its like you are your coach outside of yourself. Good luck with the 10 miler--I'm sure you'll go under an hour.

Steve Stenzel 7:17 AM, September 30, 2010  

Yeah Charisa (and Tawnee and others), I didn't officially state it, but the PROS really do outweigh the CONS.

And Brand, that's an interesting question. Before going into this, I think I would have thought that having a local coach would be better. But now I know that's not the case. Sure, for SWIMMING it'd be great to get a set of eyes on you to get feedback on your form, but that's what video cameras are for. For my run training, I NEVER needed a local coach to tell me anything. Like Jen and I said, it was all about COMMUNICATION - as long as I knew exactly what she wanted me to do before I went into the workout, I'd just go do the workout and tell her the outcome. The funny thing is Jen and I never even talked on the phone. I don't even know the sound of her voice. And I don't think I need to. Besides swimming, I can't see a reason that a "long distance" coach is a bad thing.

Edwin 2:11 AM, October 05, 2010  

nice effort and good findings...i'll keep in vault for later

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Alyssa Duhe 7:11 PM, February 01, 2013  

I've adjusted my lifestyle so that I could have a coach. I need someone keeping my "over exercising" in check so I don't get hurt.

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