MY COACHING EXPERIENCE AND ATHLETICS BACKGROUND
I have been coaching endurance athletics for 40 years. I coach runners (track and field and road), multisport athletes (triathlon, duathlon), and swimmers. I also help those who are out of shape get back into shape without injuries, pain, and frustration.
I started coaching by coaching myself. I wanted to compete in track and field, cross country (XC) and distance running (marathons), but my school didn’t have track or XC teams. So I had no choice but to coach myself. To learn the ropes, I spent hours and hours in the library of the local college, which specialized in physical education and exercise physiology, reading everything I could about middle and long distance running.
My athlete (me) did pretty well. In my first year of serious training, I ran a 3:19 marathon (10th grade). As a HS junior, I finished 3rd in the District 880 yard run (barely missing qualifying for States). As a HS senior I lost just one race (racing exhibition with a nearby HS) and won my conference 880 title, setting a conference record. I ran a 3:00:03 marathon my senior summer and 2:45:17 marathon as an 18 year old.
My next bout of coaching came my junior year in college, when I asked the college coaches if I could coach myself. My college running wasn’t what I hoped, so I wanted to coach myself. The results were immediate. I just missed the school record in the 1000 yard run indoors, ran three school record relays indoors and out, and lost just one dual meet outdoors (my teammate was defending conference champ but beat me just once.)
Because I have two careers (professor and attorney), I mostly coach on the side. After college, I coached the middle and long distance runners at Jesuit High School in Tampa. In the 80s, while in graduate school at UCLA, I coached a 4:02 miler and 8:45 steeplechaser and a 17 minute 5k female runner. In the 90s, I helped a friend (previously injury plagued) with his Masters (40 and over) running comeback. Under my coaching he eventually ran in the 18s in the 5k (sub-6 minute mile pace) and 39:02 for 5k.
More recently, in the last two years, I coached two female runners to faster times and better results. In 2012-2013, I coached a 40 year old female runner to a 3:09 marathon. That time qualified her to participate as a Masters Elite in the Pittsburgh Marathon, where she finished 2nd Masters female. She also ran 19:21 for 5k and 33:07 for 8k. I am currently coaching female college grad runner. She has lost just one race this year, run 18:45 for 5k and 40:19 for 10k. Her goal is a sub 3 hour marathon later this Fall.
Since 2000, most of my coaching has been self-coaching in triathlon, aquabike (swim bike), aquathlon (swim run) and swimming. I won my age group in my first triathlon in 2002. By 2004, I qualified for triathlon Nationals. In 2012 I competed in my first nationals (in aquabike). I was ranked 4th in the US in my age group in aquabike in 2010, 3rd in 2011, and 13th in 2012. I am currently ranked 2nd. In 2012, I completed a 5k swim.
But the crowning accomplishment of my athletic and coaching career is my recent qualification for the US National Team and the ITU World Championship in London in aquathlon (swim run). This is my first national team and my first worlds.
TYPICAL SESSION, FOCUS, SPECIALIZED SKILLS
The focus of my training is long-term consistency. Good results come from gradual, consistent training over many months and years, not weeks. And the keys to long term consistency are – keeping training fun, gradualism, adequate rest and recover, and injury avoidance. Many athletes are their own worst enemies – they punish themselves in training, try to hammer themselves into shape rapidly, don’t rest and recover enough, and end up injured. This leads to frustrating cycles of overtraining, injury, and downtime. This cycle is anything but fun. I know. I lived it late in my running career.
To break out of this cycle, athletes or those seeking better fitness, must begin with easy aerobic workouts and very gradually increase the mix of volume (distance or time) and intensity (effort, speed, or pulse rates). And once workouts become more demanding, they must be followed with a day or two of rest and recovery (typically cross training). Starting easy and aerobic, gradually increasing workout difficulty, and plenty of rest, not only avoid injury and illness it makes training fun. “No pain, no gain” is nonsense – the key to proper training is gradual adaptation to training that minimizes pain.
Two final things about my training. I put great stress on improving form and efficient movement. Many injuries are caused by a combination of overtraining and inefficient movement caused by bad form. And bad form often results from excessive focus on time or pace or pulse goals. Athletes focus so much on hitting a target pace, pulse, time that they “cheat” (to use the weight lifting term for doing whatever it takes to lift the weight even if with bad form). Straining like this prevents relaxed efficient movement.
To break the cycle of bad form and inefficient movement, I change the goals of training sessions. The paramount goal of ALL training sessions is good, relaxed, efficient form. Initially improving form requires slowing down, and focusing on form and relaxation rather than speed or effort. One must slow down to speed up. Then once relaxation, good form, and self-monitoring of form are well established habits, workouts can increase in intensity and speed. But one must learn to relax while workout paces are slow to retain those habits at higher speeds. Then later, relaxed efficient form allows higher levels of performance because the athlete isn’t wasting energy.
This focus on relaxed efficient movement keeps training fun. Self-mastery isn’t an end result; it is a requirement of each workout. Controlling oneself, form and relaxation monitoring, good pacing, and successful completion of workout after workout, for months and months, builds confidence. And it keeps workouts fun.
Typical session? Other than as described above (relaxed, good form, manageable, fun), there is no typical session. Workouts must be adapted to current fitness, eventual goals, time constraints, life stress and mood. The workout that looks great on paper may be counterproductive if the athlete spent a sleepless night worrying about job or family. Flexibility and reading one’s body and mind are essential to health and fitness. Rigid adherence to schedules and programs is more compulsion than good training.
To summarize my approach to coaching in a sentence – keep it relaxed and fun.
Whether those trying to get fit or lose weight, track and field athletes, triathletes, or swimmers, I apply the same basic principles.