Why You Need a Coach, by Roy Stevenson, note by Larry Eder

Keflezighi-Larson-USAMOT04.JPGMeb Keflizeghi & coach Bob Larson, 2004 Olympic Trials, photo by PhotoRun.net

Coaches change lives.

My first high school coach was an Italian American Jesuit priest, named Father Ralph Passereli. A gentle man in his mid fifties, he was patient with a group of fifty unruly freshman cross country runners. Father Passereli earned our total respect, when he challenged us to a game of street basketball, and in his blacks outplayed some seriously shocked young athletes. We worshipped the guy.

My sophomore coach, Jim Marheinecke, was a Jesuit brother at the time. We called him Bro Jim. Brother ran about seventy miles a week and was just a real coach. Jim ran with Paul Heck, our future state champion, and Chuck Korte, a DeSmet graduate who went on to run sub 29 minutes for 10,000 meters. We wanted Jim to respect us, so, we trained hard and raced hard. 

When I moved to California, my high school, Bellarmine, went through a series of coaches, from Father Rocket Ray Devlin, to Senior Ochoa and Lynn Muth to Steve Pensinger. Steve was my junior year track coach and he, like Jim Marheinecke, got me to train over the summer and see what I could do. Pensinger was a tremendous athlete,
and he gave us respect and expected us to respect him and do the workouts.

Steve Polley was our senior year coach. Polley was a creative coach. He got that we were interested in girls and goofing off, yet he found a way to increase our training, tell us jokes and keep us focused on the prize-racing well.

My college coach, Dan Durante, was my coach and advisor or a dozen years. Under Dan, I improved all of my times, but most of all, I learnt how to train well, and develop my training programs. Dan was an engineer, and an athlete (he races 400 meters in senior competitions still). His training methods were always evolving, and that change really helped me develop. I ran 120-130 miles a week during my senior build up, and continued to improve as an athlete and a coach.

Coaches are educators, per the late Sam Adams, coach at UC Santa Barbara. Coaches change lives.

I have posted the following column by Roy Stevenson, one of the writers from American Track & Field.

Drossin-Vigil-Br-WorldXC03.JPGCoach Doris Brown-Heritage, Deena Drossin, Coach Joe Vigil, 2003  World XC, photo by PhotoRun.net.

Why You Need a Coach

By Roy Stevenson


Behind every successful distance runner, or any well-performed athlete for that matter, you'll find a coach somewhere in the background. Most of us think a coach is just there to give us training schedules, but that's a relatively minor part of his or her role. Running is a healthy, inexpensive activity that keeps us fit and teaches us self discipline at an age where these valuable lessons will stand us in good stead forever. However, there are many pitfalls in distance running that we can easily fall into if we blunder along without knowing what we are doing--and the younger we are, the more we rely on a coach to help us through our early years as distance runners.


Here are some things to look for in your coach.  One of the most important things a coach brings with him is objectivity. Your coach is your personal sounding board. He listens to you talk about how you feel, how confident you are about your current racing fitness, your hopes, ideas, and synthesizes these thoughts. He does this without having your personal thoughts and feelings interfering with hard decisions that have to be made about your training program. So when a coach recommends that you get more sleep, or try eating more carbohydrates, or slow down your training runs, or that you do more stretching in your cool-down, listen to him. He's seeing things from an outside perspective, and is highly likely to be right. A good coach will also not hesitate to discipline you if you need it--this is most effective, however, when done privately and used sparingly.


And yes, a coach is expected to deliver good training schedules based on sound principles and experience and should keep up with his reading on running training techniques, and attend training sessions on new developments. You should be able to ask your coach about almost anything to do with running, from how to tie your shoelaces to what sort of sports drinks are the best to take.


Toni Reavis & Coach Juli Benson, (Benson is US Air Force Academy & coach to Jenny Simpson), picture from 2005 RNR Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net.

What's more, the coach's schedules should be based specifically on his knowledge of you, and what you need most in your training. A good coach will take your previous running experience into consideration when prescribing your workouts and races. He'll look at your goals, how much your training pace, and recent racing times. You'll know that your coach's training schedules are sound if your team's injury and illness rate is low. This means he is using proven techniques to make sure you are not overtraining or overstressing yourself. A good coach should also be there when things go wrong, to do a post mortem and quickly figure out a plan on what to do about it. A coach who demonstrates flexibility in his approach to training, has your best interests in mind.


Motivation as one of the coaches' most important functions. A good coach will make you feel confident about your training and racing, will challenge you to perform better, and make you believe that you will perform your best. I'd like to think that I witnessed distance running history one Sunday in New Zealand in 1974, when I had just returned from a training run with John Walker. Walker had cranked through a hilly 18-miler at just over 5 minutes per mile, all by himself, leaving the rest of us miles behind. His coach, Arch Jelley, said to Walker, "Judging from that run, John, I've never had a runner as fit as you. Keep running like that and you'll break 3:50 for the mile in Europe next year". Walker looked at him, saw Jelley's poker face, and said, "Yeah, you know I think I can do it". And sure enough, Walker went under 3:50 the following August, 1975 in Goteborg, Sweden.


Finally, one of the most valuable coaching skills is strategizing, with the athlete, how the race should be run. Beware the coach who says, "Just go out as fast as you can and hang on to the finish". Unless you're the best runner by far in the race, this is advice for a tactical disaster. The coach should take your fitness, your competitors, the weather, and the course into consideration.


A coach then, is a jack-of-all-trades. He's there cajoling you to run your intervals faster one day, then congratulating you on a fine performance the next. Above all else, your coach should want you to enjoy the experience.


 Coach Terrance Mahon and Olympian Jenn Rhines, 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, photo by PhotoRun.net.

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