A coach’s job can be to hold you back

Recently an athlete of mine sent me an email asking about the strategy for an upcoming 10k.

This even was taking place on May 3rd, less than 2 months after his 3:04 marathon PR and Boston Qualification. This means he had 5 weeks between his period of rest after the marathon and the 10k. The ultimate goal of the training cycle was actually a July 4th 5k so this event was simply being used at a training run.

He continued to say that if he were doing it on his own he would be doing more speed work leading up to the 10k. But he also mentioned his frequent injuries in the past, likely from overdoing both speedwork and volume. He also brought up that some of his running friends go out for 14+ mile runs on the weekends and he must turn them down since his long runs are not that far. He then mentioned how they are continually hurting themselves…

My answer to why his question of why his training as currently like that at this time was basically what I wrote  below. I’ve rewritten for a more general audience that will hopefully be able to take something from it.

1. It’s too soon after the rest period to be during true speed or tempo work. He took the majority of two weeks completely off and with only 5 before the 10k did not have ample time to get back to the point of doing a lot of very fast running. After a long training cycle (perhaps leading up to a marathon) it’s important to take a rest period. Equally as important is to ease back into fast or long running slowly.

2. The ultimate goal for the post marathon training cycle was a fast 5k on July 4th, not a 10k less than two weeks post marathon. I did increase the amount of quick running a bit before the 10k so it would not be as much of a shock on his system, but we were not doing the very specific workouts for it that we would have done if this was a goal race after 12 weeks of training.

3. As for the long runs, with many of my athletes who are training for shorter course events such as the 5k or 10k, I will often spread their long runs out over the week instead of having them do a long run that’s 25% of their weekly mileage ever 7 days. Instead I may have them do the long run every 14 days or skip the long runs all together and instead focus on a tempo run with a warm up and cool down around it. Depending on the individual, a weekly long run may simply be too intense of a stressor all at once and increase injury risk or take too long to recover from.

As you can see, for some highly motivated athletes the job of a coach is not always to push them forward, but to hold them back and help them make smart training choices. 

I have another chronically injured athlete for whom it has been months since they’ve not been without a break longer than 5 days due to some injury. She was simply in a cycle of run run run, hurt too much to run, long break, run run run, repeat.

With her we started a fairly aggressive rehab program with stretches and strength work. As well as this we restarted her training from the beginning. I was having her do half mile jogs to start with, every so slowly they developed into mile jogs, 1.5 mile jogs, and finally 2 miles at once. All of this nearly pain free!

It just took some holding back, new eyes, and the patience necessary to keep holding back. This process is something a self coached athlete often fails to practice.