Why I Hired a Running Coach

Blog story by Coach Nicole Hart -Head Coach at MTA

Some people might wonder why a running coach would hire a coach, but it’s actually quite common, as coaches often seek the fresh eyes of another professional to guide them in their training.

I have made some new running goals for 2022, and I decided to hire a coach to help me achieve those goals.

Part of my job as the head coach of Marathon Training Academy is to discuss with runners why they might consider hiring a running coach.

Many people that I speak to are looking for accountability and guidance in their training. They may have had running injuries in the past, or have reached a plateau in their performance. Working with a coach can be the factor that gets them to the next level of their training, while also providing support and encouragement.

If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to work with a running coach, I hope my experience will give you some idea of what to expect.

Why I Hired a Running Coach

Reigniting the spark that gets me out the door:
As 2021 came to an end, I was looking for that type of support, encouragement and accountability. I didn’t have to look very far to find it, and decided to hire a MTA coach in 2022.

My previous year of running had gone pretty well. The biggest goal that I had achieved was completing a 12 hour ultra in May, running 51 miles. The rest of the year was less than stellar, in which I completed 2 virtual marathons (Missoula in June and Boston in October). I also ran an in-person half marathon in September, performing fairly well, but nowhere near my past potential at the distance.

I knew by the end of the year I knew that I needed something to change in order to reignite the spark that gets me out the door and excited to run.

Focusing on 5k speed

As I sat down to formulate my goals for 2022, I decided that running super long distance races was not going to be the thing to keep me motivated. It was time to sign up for some shorter distance races and see if I have any speed left in my aging legs, and to focus on not only getting faster, but stronger.

The Frozen Foot 5k Series
First up was a 5k race series that I have done previously, called the Frozen Foot 5k Series in Elizabethtown, PA. There are three races in the series, four weeks apart, in January, February and March.

MTA Coach Athena

I started working with Coach Athena Farias the first week of January. She had me complete a movement assessment, which required me to video tape myself doing some movements, in order to identify any imbalances that may have to be addressed.

I enlisted the help of my son to take video of me doing an overhead squat, single legs squats, single leg balance, and single leg bridges. Lastly, I ran on my treadmill, and had my son take video of my running form from the back, front, and side.

Once Coach Athena had a chance to assess the movements, she was able to identify some imbalances, and structured my strength training with corrective exercises. She sent me my first two weeks of training, which included running, strength training and cross training. We also had a Zoom call to discuss expectations and goals in the first couple of weeks.

Frozen 5k Number 1

The first 5k race was Jan.16th. My fitness was just starting to develop, and the weather was cold. At 2pm at the time of the race, the temperature was 25 degrees. Lining up at a 5k race always feels a bit daunting, but knowing this course from the past, I knew it was going to be a challenging day.

This is a hilly course, through a neighborhood next to Elizabethtown College, and my goal that day was to just get through it and survive.

The race felt really hard, but I managed to finish, feeling a bit disappointed, but knowing that this was just the beginning of the improvement in my fitness, and a good place to start. My pace got slower as the race went on, not at all what the goal was, and I even had to take a couple short walk breaks up some of the relenting hills. My HR was in the max zone, and the air felt really cold in my lungs. I was so happy to be done! My time was 31:44.

Frozen 5k number two

February’s training included increasing my running mileage gradually, working up to a long run of 9 miles a few days before the February 5k race. Some of my training runs still felt harder than I wanted them to, but Coach Athena was also giving me some speed work a couple times a week, which I was really enjoying.

I like the challenge of achieving faster paces while doing short intervals. My strength work also advanced, still doing some core and stability work, but incorporating some other strength moves, including exercises like deadlifts, chest presses and kettlebell swings.

Race day was Feb.20, and the weather had improved quite a bit from the previous month, with a cloudy day and 42 degrees. My main goal was to keep a solid effort, run without walking, and to negative split (run the last mile faster than the first two).

I’m happy to say that I achieved all of those goals. My time was 29:54, with the last mile split of 9:15 (also, my Coros watch registered a pace of 8:54 for the last 0.1 mile, so a fast finish). My confidence increased, and I knew that I was moving in the right direction after 7 weeks of training.

Frozen 5k number three

By the second week of March, my overall weekly mileage had increased to 30 miles per week, and I was feeling more fit and confident going into 5k race #3 on March 20th (the first day of Spring).

During the early part of March, I had run a long run of 10 miles, which felt really good, so I knew my endurance had improved greatly. My body was holding up very well, thanks to the supplemental warm ups, stretching, foam rolling and mobility work that was included in my training plan.

The weather for the third 5k was 52 degrees, and a bit windy, which I was not anticipating. I could feel 25 mph gusts of wind standing at the starting line. I had decided to wear shorts and a t-shirt, and was feeling a bit under dressed, as many people were wearing long pants, headbands and gloves.

The first mile felt harder than I wanted it to. My legs felt a bit heavy and flat. I just tried to keep an even effort, climbing up the hills, knowing that once I was warmed up, I would try to use the downhills and any tailwind available to make up some time on the clock.

The second mile felt better, and once I had one mile to go, I started increasing the pace and maintaining it right to the finish line. My time for this race was 27:53.

I had improved my 5k time on this course by 4 minutes over the 3 months of consistent training. I was very satisfied with my effort, and was awarded 3rd place in my age group for the 5k race series.

I am very happy that I started with Coach Athena in January, and know that as we continue to work together, I will not only continue to improve but also feel encouraged and supported.

I think what I’ve enjoyed the most from working with a coach is having someone else take over the planning and thinking for my training. I know that I am working harder during my workouts, knowing that she believes I am capable of completing them.

She is responsive and attentive to my needs as a coaching client, and I know that my training is tailored to me specifically.

Next up is a half marathon in June. I know that with Athena’s coaching and guidance, I’ll be well prepared and will have great race days!


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