Friday, December 18, 2009

My Coaching Frustrations

I coach one single athlete, and she is frustrating the hell out of me.

Her stats are pretty good: 5'6, 114 pounds, long legs. You could not ask for a better build for a top runner.

She suffers from what would be called an unspecified eating disorder. This has led her to run long, slow runs for years, without much purpose other than to lose weight. Over the last two years, she has gotten increasingly interested in getting fast. Her motivation to work hard is impeccable.

Her personal bests are good, but not great. Her best times have come in the 5K and 10K, where her times are approximately 20 and 41 minutes. These are decent times that allow her to win about half her races, but they are hardly elite. I am sure I could get her much faster, if only I could get her to train right.

Problem is, she is an idiot.

I tell her: "Do three hard sessions a week, preferably one interval, one tempo and one long run. Do this all winter and you will be fast as hell in the spring". I tell her to use the other days as recovery days, although, at one point, she may be allowed to run two long runs on the weekend, a la SQUITRAP. But getting up to four hard sessions is tough and won't happen for a while.

Repeatedly, she runs too long on easy days, leading to subpar hard days. It's her main mistake. She even sneaks in extra running on the easy days, without telling me. I repeat, "easy on easy days, hard on hard days. You're supposed to feel better after a recovery run than before it. It's not supposed to serve an actual training purpose." She pouts and says, "but I feel better after running three hours. Why can't I run three hours on my recovery days." I use profanity and tell her she is not Anton Krupicka.

Then when she does her hard days, I tell her to measure out a route, say 6x1 mile or an 8 mile tempo. I tell her to make it reproducible, so she can do it over and over again. Instead, she runs with her Garmin, telling me that it was weird: "I ran what felt like an even pace, but my actual pace went from 8:30 miles to 5:30 miles on the Garmin." I tell her not to use the Garmin for pace, only for measuring out the course. Then, instead of running all six intervals, she tries to run the first 3 extra hard "to beat her record". She then has to miss the last two, because her legs get too tired.

Then my athlete doesn't trust me. She says, "how do you know 4 intervals don't work better than 6? Maybe it's better". I say, she has to trust me. I have never coached anyone, but I have had good coaches, myself, and I enjoy reading fast people's training plans. I tell her to trust me, but then she says "maybe I'll be fast, but I will be fat, too. I have to run long every day, or I will gain weight."

We keep at it. She wants to drop the whole plan and go back to jogging exactly 2 hours every day. If she comes back after 1:59.34, she runs circles in the parking lot to get the full 2:00.00 in. It frustrates me to no end.

My main psychologic tool is to casually mention how some top runners use speed in their training. My athlete thinks that to run a marathon fast, she should run long runs as often as possible. Preferable a marathon 3 times a week. I tell her that Kara Goucher and Paula Radcliffe do tons of speed work and probably rarely, if ever, run farther than a marathon in pratice. Mentioning Paula Radcliffe always helps a little, because she is the only woman in the world, who ran more than my athlete during pregnancy. Actually, Paula ran harder, and my athlere ran longer. But still.

I generalize: "every fast runner in the world does speed work. If they don't, they either do it anyway, but don't call it speed work; or they could get much faster by doing it." This rarely works. She just doesn't trust me and tells me some tale about Helen Lavin only running long runs and doing naked heat yoga.

Sometimes I bring up cute training concepts, like Yassos, basically to disguise my plans to get her to run intervals. Slyly, I tell her that she is one of one tenth of one percent of the world's population who can use the word "fartlek" in their native language. And it works. Sometimes. The other day, I ordered her to run fartleks: "go do three street lights hard, two easy. Keep doing it until you get sore". She came back, having misunderstood my instructions. She thought I meant stoplights and went over 4 miles fast before stopping! The idiot. The next time I sent her out in subzero temperatures, braless, just so she could learn to obey her coach.

Once in a while, I make the mistake of using myself as an example: "look at me, I have no time to train. I run only 20 miles a week; I run only 3 days a week and yet I am able to call myself the fastest guy in town." Then she wails something about me being lucky there are no fast guys in town, and that she has a gazelle for her teammate (Mette) that she will never be able to beat.

I tell her to trust me: "keep doing what I am telling you and you will get fast". Again, she doesn't trust me. I tell her she is only using me for sex and I am done being her coach.


olga said...

Sounds like me trying to coach my other half:) Coaches should be not spouses. You know, let it be. Unless your athlete comes to you and asks for help, don't do it, it is counterproductive. Besides, to understand female athelete, you need to be able to get in her mind - and you can't. You'll never know why it is so important for some of us to not gain a pound, even if it's a muscle pound. Brain says one thing, but heart screams bloody merry.
BTW, not that I don't believe in speed work - on a contrary, my personal best times were when I did a lot of it seriously - but that old dude (from Canada?) who runs 3hr marathons at 70 yo trains by running 3 hr every day - 1M circles around cemetery. Who knows...

SteveQ said...

Well, if she weren't an idiot, she wouldn't have married you.

The hardest problem I've had in coaching women is junk miles, same as you're seeing. A man who finishes a marathon in 3 hours usually runs about 25 fewer miles per week than a woman who runs the same time, but he does them a little faster. Women seem to feel that they need frequent long runs to keep their weight down, no matter what their weight or mileage.

Three hard sessions per week is too much for most runners to maintain for any length of time.

The main thing a coach can do is to explain to the athlete why they should do a certain workout and then work around what they're not willing to do. Remember, there's 10000 ways to train to run 10000 meters.

Danni said...

I get the impression that she also enjoys running 987948739874 miles/hours a day. None of us are professional runners, may as well enjoy our hobby in whatever manner brings us the most joy and self-satisfaction :-)

pippin13x said...

Sounds like good news. For me. Looks like 'single', or Dr. Slow (as I personally like to call her) is gonna be sorry she didn't listen to your advice come next october when I make her my b---- in Brocken Marathon.