Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Hired a Running Coach

The last six years I have coached myself, and run faster and farther than I had during my years of middle school, high school and college. I have enjoyed much success. Let's recap, by the numbers:

High school:
800 meters: 2:14
1600 meters: 5:03 (junior year, 2003)
3200 meters: 11:06 (junior year, 2003)
5k XC: 18:26 (state meet senior year, 2003)

I was blessed with a coach in high school that was quite a bit above average.  He had had a very successful running career and some of the things he taught us I still use. One example was the story of him warming up for three hours before an indoor 800 meter state final when he was in high school, and then running a great 1:56. Point being, if you are nervous before a race, just jog to relax yourself. The secondary point being, you need to run a fair number of miles so that on race day you can do a big warmup and then race well.

On the other hand, he did push us hard, and I took my first six months of college totally off, not running a step for six months because I was burnt out. We had too many doubles in my opinion. I also never understood that summer training meant three months, not just two weeks before the season started.  However, while it was difficult my senior year our women won state and the boys came in 7th, our highest placing ever as far as we knew.

200 meters: 27.9 (field day after season was over 2009)
400 meters: 58 (after practice one day in 2006)
800 meters: 2:11 (graduate student, 2009)
1500 meters: 4:15 (senior year, 2008)
Mile: 4:38 (senior year, 2008)
3000 meters: 9:01.9 (senior year, 2008)
5000 meters: 16:03 (senior year, 2008)
8k XC: 27:34 (senior year, 2007)
10,000 meters: 32:58 (senior year, 2008)

I had three coaches throughout college that all taught me quite a bit. I came onto the team as the slowest guy, and in the four races I ran my freshman year of college in 2005 I came in dead last in three of them running times like a 4:50 1500 and a 19:07 5k, on the track.

However I learned that training volume makes a big difference and my sophomore and junior year I had fifteen consecutive personal records. That year, 2006 was my breakthrough year. I broke 5 minutes in the mile in December 2005, then proceeded to just get faster. We shaved our heads with mohawks before the first meet of outdoor track and then I ran a 16:47 5k and I remember standing on the starting line wondering if I would hopefully break 17. The mixture of fear, of doubt, of excitement...

My coaches all had different styles, and I am thankful that they were as diverse as they were. Recovery was emphasized, academics was prioritized, I learned what lactate threshold felt like, and how to run those workouts, I ran hard intervals, I started to run long runs with my friends. I also would say that during this time I became the runner I am. That is to say, running was no longer something I just did, it was something I became passionate about. After the 2007 and 2008 olympic marathon trials that I watched in NYC and Boston I made it a goal to go after those standards when I graduated. I knew when I left college that I had more in me.

Post-Collegiate, last six years:
800 meters: 2:08.97 (indoor season 2013)
Mile: 4:31.2 (indoor season 2013)
5000 meters: 15:44 (outdoor season 2012)
8k XC: 26:30 (fall XC 2013)
10,000 meters: 32:12 (outdoor season 2012)
Half Marathon: 1:11:48 (fall 2011)
Marathon: 2:30:20 (fall 2011)
24 Hours: 154.57 miles (fall 2014)

I've PR'd across the board in the five Olympic events (1500/mile they are basically the same thing, I just haven't run a 1500 since 2009), cross country, the half marathon, and in my debut ultra race I qualified for the world championships, which I have now run, and I became a national champion.

At this point in writing this article, I want to just stop and retire and say, 'I've had a good run. I'm done running competitively, it's a lot of work and I'm lazy.' But now that I have had a taste of ultras, I am curious to explore them more. The problem is, I have only run three races in the last eight months because I push myself too hard and don't get the recovery I need, so I end up injured.

For years I have thought about hiring a coach, but the coaches I want to work with don't work with people as slow as me. Renato Canova isn't going to start sending me workouts. Scott Simmons, the Hansons, Greg McMillian, Joe Vigil... These guys aren't going to work with me. Or on the odd chance they would, what do they know about ultra running, the real long stuff, 24 hours+ or 8000 meter mountaineering?

So I hired Howard Nippert to be my coach.

I met Howard briefly at the North Coast 24 last fall. He motivated me to run faster the last few miles, and congratulated me afterwards, although I'm a little hazy about that. He was the team coach for the 24 hour world championships and after talking with him a few times over the week we were in Italy, and then thinking about it for another six weeks, and emailing him a few times, I decided he was the guy.

It is possible for me to get to the next level. By next level I mean more world championships teams, more national championship wins, quite likely at a variety of distances, personal records at a variety of distances, getting on the podium at a world championships, and then there are national records, and even world records, all of which I know I am capable of, but these aren't the kind of thing I can just bang one out every six weeks. The training plan needs to be deliberate, consistent, and most of all, keep me from getting injured.

In a coach I was looking for someone with ultra running coaching experience, of which there are only a handful. I was also looking for someone with competitive running experience. Personal competitive running experience does not make a coach good, but for some reason it helps me respect the coach more because I know he or she has been there when the training is lonely and difficult. A coach doesn't necessarily understand like an athlete Saturday night after a hard workout when all we want to do is sleep instead of go out that we are sacrificing part of a social life to pursue this challenge.

I booked him for a full year, and the focus is going to be make the 100km world championship team, probably for 2016. The tentative plan is to take a crack at qualifying in the fall and again in the spring.  The funny thing is, my biggest worry is giving up control. I hate the word control, I think influence is a much better word, but feeling that I was giving up control was important for me to realize. Of course I will still influence my running. However, it is a mistake to think that I had control over my own running. If I controlled it, then why did I get injured or have bad races?

This new chapter excites me. What is possible? "...with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26

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