The story of a running coach
The folks at Philadelphia Magazine included me in their recent article titled, “Running Coaches Around Philadelphia Who Can Help You Cross Your Next Finish Line.” This is the story of how I became a running coach.
1996 Atlanta Games
After having some achievements in high school and more in college, I was invited to train with a group of athletes who were preparing for the 1996 Atlanta Games.
There are some really fast people in the world. Then there were the people in this group.
They were collegiate, national, area, world, and Olympic champions, as well as national, championship and world record holders. They were winners of every title most coveted by runners. And they were training at LSU, the school that has won more running championships than any school in history.
They were gods gathered at Olympus and I was there.
Chasing the rest of the world
But I was not a god or even a demi-god. “Phil was a good bit behind in bio-motor development,” began a letter that the program’s director wrote on my behalf to corporate sponsors.
The director realized that, for me, understanding needed to precede action because I was a schoolboy just graduated from Yale. So he spent a lot of time developing my understanding. He explained the theory and methodology of training, showed me unpublished research articles, and shared the detailed training plans of some great athletes. He challenged me to apply mathematics and the laws of nature–especially the laws of motion and thermodynamics–to training. I saw in him a model of coaching that appealed to me: the coach as a very serious thinker.
It was an intense time–I trained all-out in an effort to catch up. The greatest athletes taught me about being an athlete. More importantly, the greatest coaches taught me about being a coach.
I went home after Atlanta and coached at Widener University. I gave that team what I received from Olympus. Within a few months, they were dominating the competition at their conference championships.
I started writing workouts for athletes competing for other teams at the school. I would expand that practice and publish a workout manual that was designed to be used by athletes in all sports. Over about 5 years it sold thousands of copies throughout the world.
I left Widener to continue my own training, to keep up with the manuals, and to train athletes preparing for the NFL, NBA, MLB, the marathon, high school team sports…you name it.
All of the training was happening in regular gyms with regular people watching. Some of them asked me to be their running coach. My coaching practice grew to include serious athletes and no-nonsense amateurs.
I gradually realized what produced the best results: develop a particular theory and methodology for each person.
It wasn’t like that in my elite training group. One theory and one methodology formed the foundation of the program. Which is why we all did the same workouts, whether world champion or Ivy League champion.
Runners respond better, however, when I look carefully at their circumstances and create a theory that best suits them. Once the theory is in place, the methodology takes form. What emerges is often simple but exactly what they need.
Running coach of the people
Competitive athletes, many of whom are gifted, can thrive off of standard training loads. Amateurs would crumble under those same loads. Modifying the loads helps but that reduces, not eliminates, the problem.
Towards that end, I first identify the essential things that they don’t know.
Sometimes they don’t know how to confirm the distances run, what to eat and when to eat it, how they respond to hot weather and cold weather, what they should do to build confidence, how to use a stopwatch, when to take breaks from running, whether they should change their form or to leave it alone, and so on.
Then I determine how many miles to run, how fast to run them, and when to run them.
The final program will be the absolute best means for the individual to achieve the end that she has in mind.