Why Coaching Matters

There are plenty of runners who train themselves and never have any outside coaching, and many of them do just fine. But there’s no question that a good coach can be of great benefit to runners of all abilities.

One of the most important things a running coach can help with is the nuances of running form. If you’ve ever seen clips of Alberto Salazar coaching elite athletes like Chicago Marathon champ Galen Rupp (2:09:20) and 2:20 marathoner Jordan Hasay at the Nike Oregon Project, you’ll note that Salazar watches closely from the sidelines of the track as they do their workouts, often

A good coach can be of great benefit to runners of all abilities.

shouting out tweaks as they run by, like “relax your shoulders,” or “shorter, quicker stride.”

Another benefit of running coaches is that they can help you to change, whereas on your own, you’re likely to stick with the same routines.

Ready to Run recently had the opportunity to chat with two nationally renowned coaches: Pete Rea of ZAP Fitness-Reebok, and Steve Magness, track and cross-country coach at the University of Houston and Alberto Salazar’s assistant coach at the Nike Oregon Project before that. Both coaches have athletes entered in the Statesman Capitol 10,000: Rea is sending Joe Stilin, and Austin’s own Allison Mendez-Cleaver is coached by Magness.

Both Rea and Magness ran collegiately, and that helps them inform their athletes.

Rea ran for the University of Connecticut, and since ZAP began in 1992, has guided more than 36 athletes to Olympic Trials berths in distances from the 1,500 to the marathon.

When you coach elite athletes like Rea does, the workouts can be pretty challenging. One workout Rea favors is his “descending tempos” workout. He’ll ask his athletes to begin dropping the pace in stages at the end of 18-20 mile long runs with extended pickups followed by half of that time at easy recovery pace. They’ll start with seven minutes of harder running at half-marathon pace, followed by 3.5 minutes recovery, then six minutes of faster running, followed by three minutes of rest, then five minutes of hard running with 2.5 minutes of rest, and so on. Rea uses this workout with all his of his runners and says, “that it’s a good workout for anyone from a miler to a marathoner,” and that “it develops a runner’s anaerobic threshold, which is the point where the body is working so hard it can’t keep up with its oxygen demands.”

Magness is known for his scientific approach—in fact he’s authored a book called, “The Science of Running.” Magness, who has a life-time best of 4:01 in the mile, ran in the NCAA for Rice University and the University of Houston.

“He [Steve] has a very science-based approach,” said Mendez-Cleaver of Magness. “Right now, it’s a pretty conservative approach. I’m running fewer miles than I used to—about 60-70, compared to 80-90 a week. I am getting in a good amount of speed work, but we make sure to get in rest days, too. Steve considers coaching as more of a partnership. He’s known for giving athletes their independence.”

When writing about training in the The Science of Running, Magness says, “the training stimulus has to change in order to get adaptation. You can’t keep doing the same workout over and over again because the body adapts. So if the body has adapted, then we have to push it in another direction. What direction that goes depends on what the athlete needs.”

This kind of running wisdom isn’t something you’re likely to stumble on yourself. The point is, if you are serious about racing and improving your performances, coaches can help. Big time!

Upcoming Races: Saturday, April 14 at 8:00 a.m., Bluebonnet 5K/10K at Burnet Chamber on the Square in Burnet. Saturday, April 14 at 9:00 a.m., the Hounds and Heroes 5K at the HEB Center, 2100 Avenue of the Stars in Cedar Park.

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