Wye Island NRMA

Wye Island NRMA

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Self-Coaching and Self-Doubting

This past spring, training for the 5K was confounding, frustrating, and, at times, infuriating.  Now, in the heart of my twelve-week marathon cycle, again I am questioning my ability to develop and execute a sound training plan that will yield positive results.  I often ask myself: "Do I need a coach?"  Self-doubt can be positive if it manifests as skepticism and drives us to test our assumptions.  But self-doubt also can be pernicious and deleterious to training, competing, and overall well being.  In these moments, I scour my material, digital, and mental archives for guidance and assurance.

With the exception of two brief seasons, I've been self-coached since January 2004, the end of my collegiate career.  I am fortunate to have nearly continuous progress in building fitness while avoiding injuries and limiting burnout.  "Know thyself " is my mantra.  My aversion to having a coach is a product my negative experiences with coaches who lacked open-mindedness - members of that common breed who believe the only road to success is the one they envisioned within the bounds of their limited intellects.

Although I  don't have a coach to subscribe tasks and provide instruction, I'm not groping blindly or acting solely on whims.  Several individuals - former coaches, training partners, authors - have informed my training philosophy, and my debt to them is substantial.  Notably, Mark Swiger, my coach at Wheeling Jesuit University, emphasized moderation.  His competitive days ended prematurely from the wear of overly aggressive training.  Entrusted with our health, he cultivated us patiently and advised that our best days of running should come long after our final collegiate race.  To this day, I still heed his call to "stay smooth" during the throes of interval sessions.

Coach Swiger was a disciple of Jack Daniels, one of the sport's most influential coaches and authors.  Daniels, an exercise physiologist who coaches with a scientist's empirical compulsion, was an early proponent of lactate threshold workouts.  Such workouts, I believe, are essential to success at any distance from the mile to the marathon.  When I stray too far from this foundational component, my fitness drops and my legs become stale and weary.

While I've never reviewed the workouts that Bill Bowerman prescribed for his athletes, his coaching philosophy has influenced my training.  Much of what I know about Bowerman is from his athlete and biographer Kenny Moore.  Bowerman advocated individualization and eschewed conventional thought by including recovery runs into his program at a time when his counterparts imposed high-intensity, one-size-fits-all regimens on their athletes.  With countless accolades bolstering his credibility, Bowerman asserted, "The idea that the harder you work, the better you're going to be is just garbage."  Yet, few coaches and fewer athletes accept this advice.

Training and competing are acts of faith regardless of whether you are coached.  To excel under a coach's tutelage requires "buy in" - accepting every facet of a training program.  You sacrifice some degree of freedom and choice for structure, support, mentoring, monitoring.  Conversely, self-doubt is the cost I pay for refusing to relinquish control of my training.  I've yet to meet a willing coach whom I trust with my health and goals.  Thus, I continue on the trail I began blazing years ago, not alone but in stride with Swiger, Daniels, Bowerman, and all those who teach and share, and not impose, their knowledge.