When Does a Coach Need a Coach?

When Does a Coach Need a Coach?

I have been training and racing multisport since 1996. Prior to this, I was a collegiate lacrosse and field hockey player, as well as a general athlete. In my youth, I managed to play 3 major sports, dance competitively, and frequently ski. With all this activity it would appear that I was a healthy teen and college student. However, in 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1994 I had to have both my right knee and left knee operated on successively.

See, I did train, I did race, I was a very competitive athlete. At the same time my body was breaking down. First, I tore my right ACL skiing, followed by a massive blowout on my left ACL. Then my left knee continued to be a problem and I had to have the ACL and MCL repaired 3 more times. Each surgery required 9 weeks of complete immobilization, full leg cast, crutches and then months of physical therapy.

By the time I graduated college I could have had a minor in physical therapy for ACL reconstruction. I knew more about knee problems than most recent PT graduates! At that time, our high school and collegiate coaches didn’t really know and understand how to do proper strength training for athletes. The mind set was still enclosed in traditional strength training and lacked an understanding about stability work and periodization.

When I moved to Boston in 1996 I found a fantastic long distance running community and began training for marathons. I had no experience in endurance sports, so I read books and asked questions to other “experienced marathoners.” I put together my own 18 week program to qualify for Boston, because of course I was not going to just run my first marathon, but train and qualify to run Boston. I managed to put together a decent training plan and followed my 5-6 days per week of running and strength training. I was also teaching spinning and working full time as a nutrition consultant at MIT. I ran my first marathon- in a great time for me, 3:29, and qualified for Boston. On top of the world, I came back from my marathon and immediately registered to run the Boston marathon, a mere 11 weeks away.

So, with little down time between these key races, I started right into my Boston marathon training. I had no real knowledge of overtraining and knew very little about periodization. My strength training was, at best, mediocre and I still had to contend with 3 days of spin classes plus a full time job. I knew my volume should decrease a bit and perhaps I could not keep up with the intensity of my prior 18 week program. However, as we all do in our lives, I was caught up with the Boston area training groups. I jumped right back into all the long runs, the track workouts, the tempo runs…and then 4 weeks before Boston, I sprained my ankle on a nightly tempo run (darn black ice).

I should have halted my run training right there altogether. If I could turn back time, I wish I was a younger and smarter me, who could see into the future. See, what I didn’t know then, which I am well aware of now, is that more is not always better, and even though I was supposed to run Boston, I needed to stop running, stop beating my body into the ground with training and let the injury heal. I did not, I continued to train, and I ran Boston successively (although much slower than my prior marathon) and then I was completely burned out and physically exhausted. I had to see a sports chiropractor 3x week, plus physical therapy, plus take copious amounts of pain relievers in order to continue with my daily routine.

I remember a physician that I was working with at the time say to me- “don’t you want to be able to continue to run for the rest of your life?” I was only 24 years old and now had 4 knee surgeries and a severely sprained ankle. I didn’t know too much about stability training- as athletes we are more focused on mobility/flexibility. Who worries about stability?

Well, I wish I were smarter then. I wish that I didn’t self coach or use books, or fall prey to the group training around me. I wish so much that I was smarter and had hired an experienced coach who I could have trusted. I am sure this coach would have never let me run 2 marathons in 11 weeks (especially since it was my first marathon). I know now that if I had found a coach to create a proper training plan, with measurable and achievable goals, that I would be much less injured today.

Fast forward into 2010, 2 children later and now a successful career as an endurance coach. What do I think about my training now? I still need a coach. I can create and write plans for my athletes, I can put together challenging and interesting bike, run and swim workouts. I can put together strength workouts to improve my athletes movement patterns and increase their overall speed and stamina. However, I don’t do the same for myself. Instead, over the past 2 years my training has been all over the place, sneaking in run/bike and swim workouts when I can, barely keeping up the minimum to compete. And now, I realize more than ever why it’s so important to have a coach. The ability of a coach to ask you the right questions about your training and the ability to look at your training logs and create a periodized plan to help you peak at the right time….all so worth it and so valuable.

If you have never worked with a coach, you are not living up to your potential. Coaches are not just for people who are fast, or people who are winning their age groups. Coaches are for everyone and anyone who wants to have guidance and support in their training plans, who want a different perspective on their training and also, most importantly, to be that devil/angel on your shoulder who will push you when you need it most/pull back the reins when you need it most. I plan on getting a coach myself….what about you?

Train Happy,
Coach Ali


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