Coaching and Clubs: a #running dilemma

Four ultra marathons, four marathons, about a dozen half marathons, loads of 10km, a few random distances and a couple of outdoor swims – that in a nutshell is the last few years of my life. I’ve pound the ground at every opportunity, I’ve run up hills, down hills, across fields and forded streams, there has been no race too long, tall or difficult. I’ve tried them all, but even I recognise I’ve hit a bit of a wall.

What type of training do you do?
Well @hitmanharris describes my training as ‘running’. He went on further to say that if I wrote down my training plan on an A3 bit of paper I’d basically just write ‘RUN’ in big letters. I’ve never really thought about disciplined training and plans but actually that all sounds a bit too much like running by numbers – no matter how tailored to you it is. I tend to get up in the morning and decide I fancy 15miles or decide I fancy a fast 5km. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason, I try and mix my running up by doing some fast, some slow, some bigger distances, trail, road, hills and flats. I’ve added in Pilates and swimming over the last year or so but the truth is that I’ve seen myself plateau since I started ultra running and trouble is I’m finding giving up the smaller distances really hard to do – already in the first eight weeks of 2014 I will hopefully complete 2 ultra marathons, 2 ten mile races and possible even a duathlon, that’s a lot and hard to train for because your preparation needs to be for the ultra but then I turn up to the shorter races and want to give it my all but I’m then not performing well enough to race decent times.

At this point last year I was still running a reasonably good 3.30 – 3.45hr marathon distance but a broken foot and a shedload of ultra training and this time has being slowly eroded to the point where I think I’m more like a 4.00hr marathoner. And the trouble extends further to the point that when I go back and do speedier running all I find is disappointment as I can’t quite get in under 20 minutes over 5km ( I don’t think ParkRuns count as I’ve usually just ridden 15km to get there – uphill). I’ve also got my desire to do my first triathlon this year and I still can’t do more than about 50metres freestyle before I need to revert to breaststroke. I see trouble ahead.

I’ve been extensively watching the timelines of all the runners I follow on Twitter and have noticed there are a lot of runners who use coaching or have joined a club and the conversation is almost universally that this has helped them overcome issues of levelling out, overcome the mental block of not being able to focus on a couple of specific goals, not being able to give up all the bad food that gets consumed and adopting a healthier lifestyle in eating as well as exercise.

Joining In
I know I would benefit from the social and training support offered by a club or by the knowledge of runners who have been there and done that. I used to run with the London Social Runners for about 6 months until I found that each week I got caught up nursing home one of the really slow runners and becoming resentful of that, so I stopped going and convinced myself that group running simply wasn’t for me. However, because I can’t find a way out of my spate of injuries, my lack of direction and a bit of a lack of enthusiasm I think I need to do something. But what? I’m also confident that actually I could offer something to less experienced runners – for good or ill I’ve got a lot of experience now and I’ve adopted some good practices as well as some bad ones, I should be sharing this experience more.

I have two problems, the first is that I don’t think I would be committed enough with one to one coaching, I’d lie and cheat, I’d run when I was supposed to rest, I’d race short when I was supposed to run long, etc. And effectively I’d just be cheating myself, wasting their time and mine – I need someone who I have to look in the eye very week and say ‘yep I did as I was told’. Suffering from guilt so easily makes it better for me to have to face someone and the public humiliation of being in a group and not being competitive because you’ve not done your training horrifies me.

However, there is the second problem which is that I travel on average four hours a day, usually a bit more and getting to a club is almost impossible. If I join a Central London one I’d be regularly left waiting around because of my works finishing time, plus not getting home until really quite late and then I’d need to travel into the city at the weekend, which is very rarely practical. If I join a club nearer to home (and there are a lot of them) I’d never get there in the evenings and my racing habit generally means I’m not available most weekends.

A change of job and location would enable me to join a club closer to home and reducing my commute time is one of my aims for 2014 but until then I can’t see a solution to help me break through the glass ceiling I seem to have reached. I’d be very interested in hearing about the coaching and club experiences of other runners and the benefits they felt and also how runners feel about one to one coaching over club running.

Happy running

  1. runningcrazy2014 said:

    Ultraboy I know your commute can make a local club hard I used to have a long commute but istead and ifield meet wednesday at cascades thong lane in the summer they go shorne weekly also there is no forced racing on weekends so no commitment i would say you would enjoy them I would call them a social club for runners rather than a running club and there are 3 groups fast group usually run 10 miles each wednesday focus who vary thier work weekly varing from speed work hills to long runs and general who run 6-7 miles every week also i belive the north downs run they arrange would be right up your street 30km hilly trail run

    • I’m already looking at that race and have contemplated joining the club, I think what put me off was my actual ability to get to runs as I’m often not returning to Kent before 8pm. What I will say is that the club has a great reputation and should my commuting reduce they will certainly be on my radar. Thank you for taking the time to reply, I do appreciate it 🙂

      • runningcrazy2014 said:

        commuting can be a bit of a problem but unfortinatly all of these shiny running shoes dont come cheap so the daily grind has to continue

      • How true 🙂 and I have lots of shiny shoes

  2. runningcrazy2014 said:

    I have to definatly think we need a review of your vibrams I remember when I saw you wearing them at shorne I thought you was some crazy frogman. I would love to hear of some of the reactions of people on the mean streets of london

    • The Vibrams are good fun and actually they helped for running ultra distances – you must not have seen me in the Hoka though, they’re even stranger.

      I don’t get to Shorne Woods as often as I would like for the Parkrun and I’m not doing tomorrow as I’m still in recovery from Country to Capital and I’ve got the Les Witton on Sunday 🙂 All good fun.

  3. Personally, I have found personalised coaching infinitely more useful than club sessions. As it’s online with added telephone calls it doesn’t help with technique but it does result in a training plan which updates automatically, training sessions which take account of the days when I have other commitments and far more variety of session that a rut dweller like me would manage by myself.

    It also, more importantly, kept me sane and fit when I was injured and knowing that if I skip a session I need an excuse that I am happy to stand by has increased the number of times that I actually make it out the door.

    • I can really see the benefit of one to one, I just think I’d cheat and lie about what I’d done and then get caught out when I was blogging about my exploits 🙂 – the fact I could avoid the group thing though is a big benefit. That’s the club things main downside for me though in that I’m a happy solo runner, usually enthused about going running but find other people a bit of a distraction. But I’m also very keen to overcome my flattening out in terms of running progress – there really is only so far I can go on my own and I think I’ve reached that point 😦

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