Coach @’s Corner 4:30.1

April 29th, 2011 in Articles by 0 Comments

Each week Coach @’s Corner addresses a variety of topics related to high school coaching, self-coaching, and our sport at large. Have a question or something you’d like us to address? Contact us using the methods at the end of the column.

I’ve coached runners for 16 years. High school kids mostly. A few have gone sub-4:20 in the mile and many others have gone sub-4:30. I love the mile. I was a miler too. I think it’s a pretty simple event to coach: Teach somebody to run quarter-mile repeats at a certain goal pace while you balance their aerobic training – it’s all right there in the Roger Bannister textbook. Or his autobiography. Wherever, but it’s out there.

Occasionally a friend – or my wife – will ask me for training advice, but for the most part, I’ve stuck to high school coaching. That changed when I took on a new client: myself. To add to the challenge, I made my target event 26 times longer than the distance I know and love: I targeted the marathon.

In October 2010, with five months of training, I ran 3:07:05 (7:07 pace) at the BayState Marathon in Lowell, Mass. – a three-minute PR.. Not bad for someone closing in on age 40 and who four years prior was struggling to break 20 minutes for 5K. My effort at the BayState qualified me for Boston by almost nine minutes so, as runners tend to do, I set a new goal: sub-three hours. It was in my future – I was sure of it. So was my coach.

But designing a plan to run a mile is quite different than designing one to run 26.2 miles — especially to race 26.2 miles. I raced up to 5 miles in college cross country, maybe a 10K here or there, but I am no authority on 26.2. At Boston College, we used to watch the Marathon at 21 miles and I remember thinking, “Those dudes are crazy. I’ll never do that.”Add in my daughter Kelsey’s birth in December (make that three kids!), my full-time job as an English teacher and high school coach, and one of the coldest, most miserable winters in New England in years, and my goal started to seem a little crazy.

But I laid out a plan. It included increasing my mileage toward 70 per week. It included speed work. It included 16-to-20-mile weekly long runs. I religiously logged my miles and kept track of pace. I traded in my Garmin 350 for the smaller, sleeker 110 to lighten my load. I bought two new pair of Nike Vomeros to rotate. Despite my challenges, I was ready to coach myself to sub three hours.

Results came quickly. By February, I had taken two minutes off my half-marathon PR (1:23:26). I followed that with a 62:59 10 miler on a hilly course later that month. The latter was in a snowstorm, the former in 36-degree weather. By March, I ran a 1:21:57 at New Bedford on a warmer day. I followed that up with a 17:49 5K. Things looked good with just four weeks to go. I hadn’t trained this well since college. 6:50 pace for a marathon seemed likely. I even did my Yasso 800s – 10 x 800m repeats where your goal time in minutes equals your marathon goal time in hours – in an average of 2:59. I stayed sharp with strides. I was training well and doing a fine job coaching myself. It seemed too easy.

But then I screwed up: Somewhere toward my final weeks of training, I started taking advice. From everyone. I contacted about 10 of my closest running friends – two who have gone sub-2:15 in the marathon. Their advice may have been good advice, but I tried to tie it all into my plan, my plan that had been working. I did a crazy taper, dropping my weekly mileage from 55 miles to 30 miles to 20 miles in the last three weeks. I felt like hell. I was sluggish. I doubted my 1:21 half-marathon fitness from just weeks prior. My final 10-mile training run at 6:48 pace felt like a labor as I ran from Hopkinton to Natick. I doubted my coach. I doubted myself.

So I won’t get into the final result too much. My 3:14:02 Boston Marathon finish was way off the 6:50-per-mile goal pace I had set with my coach. Maybe my coach set too high of a goal, but perhaps I had let my coach down by listening to everybody but him in the final weeks of training.

I think that when I begin to train for my next marathon I’ll hire a new coach. One with a different set of eyes, who can see these problems before it’s too late. Because that’s what coaches do. They lay out a solid plan, revise when they see fit, and they don’t let their athletes doubt themselves. Remember, this sport is 90% mental. My high school coach told me that once.

Michael J. Atwood was a standout runner at Boston College (class of ’93). For his full bio, click here. Presently he coaches the defending Eastern Massachusetts Champions – Foxborough High School. He qualified for Boston ’12 by 6 minutes and has plans to run a sub-three-hour winter marathon.

Have an opinion or question on self coaching? Let us know in the comments below, or reach Coach Atwood here.

Author: Atwood

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