We asked professional running coach and Sundried ambassador Alister Brown to explain how hiring a coach could elevate your performance and take your training and racing to the next level.
First and foremost, I care about the benefits of leading a physically active, mentally healthy and balanced lifestyle and I believe there is a proportion of people who, for whatever reason, aren’t there yet and have factors within their control that they can change to positively impact their quality of life. I asked some of my athletes how hiring a running coach has impacted their life.
"People always told me I had the potential to do better but I had no self-belief. Working with a coach who both inspires and motivates you is something amazing you can do for yourself. Suddenly, my running has meaning and purpose and I'm more focused than I've ever been in my life."
Firstly, for those wondering, I did not bribe my athletes to say nice things about me. I value honesty and openness and there are a lot of components to the coaching process, some of which are highly personal and normally only shared with those closest to you. Helen has transformed in a short period of time and she tackles difficult sessions with a “no prisoners taken” attitude. This means she gets the most out of every session and it also shows to me the useful link between sport and everyday life.
By starting with talking about the mental approach to training and offering emotional support in all areas of life, not just coaching, and by working on things like self-belief, it allows athletes to build on their mental fortress and as a result they are not only doing well in sport, they are more likely to do well in other aspects of their life too.
“The first thing that Ali and I did was discuss my goals, future race plans and the coaching approach to make the best training plan specifically for me. Having a coach is a great advantage and responsibility. The responsibilities are to show respect towards your coach and his effort, dedication, patience and knowledge that he is passing onto me.”
Nedo is one of those rare humans that you meet by chance who has a pretty much perfect outlook on life and is wise beyond his years. Already a runner with great potential, he appreciates the coaching process, is open-minded and is a big fan of embracing new ways of doing things. My approach is to let the athlete choose (within “some” reason) what races they want to do, to tell me, and it’s then my job to do my best to get them there in the best way I can. I recognised that Nedo has strong ethics and values and is an all-round good human, so when he said he wants to run an ultra-marathon on short notice as a way of supporting mental health charity work he is very involved in, my first thought was “OK, let’s get this done whilst keeping you in the best condition we can throughout and so you can recover well”. Rather than the typical coach’s reaction of “YOU WHAT?!”. I learn from Nedo as much as he learns from me.
“I’ve been with Ali since October 2019 and since then I am training more sensibly and I’ve found I am running stronger than ever because of it.”
I am a strong believer that happy and content runners are more likely to perform well and do so more frequently. Coaching is more than just telling someone what sessions to go and do, there’s a relationship between coach and athlete that needs to exist, often without filters, but towards a common goal with mutual respect and well-being at the forefront.
Meg has made lots of changes in a small period of time since asking me to coach her, and it naturally takes time for things to settle, be worked on, and for the work to be reflected in race performances. It’s often overlooked just how long-term the process of noticeable improvement can be, especially if you have been used to training a certain way for a long period of time, or have lacked the necessary support along the way. Changes are incremental and consistency and hard work from the runner is essential to their potential being realised.
“Having struggled with lots of injuries over the last two years, I decided to hire a professional running coach to try to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time. Three months in and I’m running more than I ever imagined I could injury-free and loving it!”
Kate is so injury free right now that it makes me quietly fist pump the air when I see her gliding along at the athletics track. That’s because the number one and most important thing when I took Kate on was to overcome her injury and then once injury-free, avoid any further injury at all costs.
This was closely followed by slowing her down in order for her to run faster which involves the magic word: discipline. You will probably know someone who can't help but turn every run into a race, or who tries to keep up with their friends who are faster than they are, or who can recognise when egos can result in everything being turned into a competition; even “easy” sessions.
Coaching turns unstructured training into structured and purposeful training. Discipline needs to be reinforced and I find that by always explaining the “why” in a way that the athlete can grasp, they are more likely to buy into the process. I have even been thanked for inadvertently giving out a telling off that begins with a “B”, because it re-instilled the discipline after a couple of wayward days (I am a straight talker, but I am so in a calm and collaborative way; it depends what kind of person each athlete is to the nature of how the conversations go).
As with every athlete that I coach, I set Kate a totally unique weekly plan based on her and her alone and I ask for as much feedback as is required, daily. Each session is thought about, considered, follows on from the last, and should have a specific reason. I remember being taught, “if a coach cannot say why they have set you a particular session, get a new coach”.
Is hiring a running coach right for you?
In my experience, most runners approach a coach because they have been doing the same thing for years and aren’t sure how to improve on their own. The start of the coaching process is identifying a clear will from the athlete that they want to change, have ambition, are open to trying new things and will work with you.
It’s no fun being a mushroom in the dark, and having direction from a coach gives an athlete confidence and purpose that every session they are doing is leading towards a goal or personal aim. Having a coach to be accountable to and communicative with can provide the motivation to get up early when it’s cold enough for icicles to form on the end of your nose, or end a long run on already fatigued legs with some hard efforts. On your own, you can be prone to wavering and wandering, but if you want to improve, a coach is a good place to start.
About the author: I have been a running coach for a good few years but it wasn’t until last year that I decided to take it on more seriously and set up Ali Brown Coaching. I chose to spend more time doing what I love: helping runners and triathletes improve and enjoy their sport.