Asking Questions

Whether you are a self coached athlete or an athlete that is working with a coach who is customizing your training plan leading up to your next big race it all begins with asking a series of questions. Much like composing an essay you have to define certain aspects of your training before you begin or you will most likely find yourself way off track somewhere along the lines.

Even if I have been working with an athlete for a period of time before writing a new plan for them I take the time to sit down with them and ask them several key questions to help define the training and racing seasons. First I ask them their goals, basically what do you want to achieve as a result of training this season? Some might list new pr’s or achieving a top 10 performance at a key race. We then discuss training times and where key races land in the season and how to train to maximize results on that particular day.

This kind of leads into the next question, where do you see yourself and your running in the next 1 year, the next 3 years and the next 5 years.  This is hard for more people than you might think, developing a 5 year plan is a lot to ask especially when injuries and life obligations tend to spring up and set you back a few months at a time. But at the same time it is important to lay out these long term ambitions so that from day to day and month to month you have an idea of where you are headed. This plan can be revisited often so that if an injury does set you back you can readjust, or if you achieve something sooner than expected you can set new goals to pull you further forward.

If I have a new runner I might ask them to define themselves and who they are. This might sound like a hokey kinda thing but it is interesting to see how people label themselves. It also helps to see what people value in themselves and in their lives. For example if I were to answer that question and I said I am a runner who enjoys running 5k’s and 10k’s you get a sense that I value running and I enjoy shorter distance races that are faster paced. If I said I am a teacher who enjoys going for a run after work as stress relief, it paints a new picture. Finally if I were to say I am a committed runner who dabbles in triathlon and wants to complete my first Ironman as a coach I might see that as a clue that this individual might need to work on their swim and bike in order to complete that Ironman triathlon. It is all about reading into peoples answers.

So far we have touched on many of the basics, who, what, where and when. The why is incredibly hard to answer and I have watched it stump a great number of athletes. Why do you run? Why do you want to finish an Ironman? Why do you want to run 100 miles? Even as a seasoned athlete sometimes I find it hard to answer the why question myself, and often the dialogue goes as follows.

  • Why do you run?-It is fun and I enjoy competition
  • Why do you find it fun and why do you enjoy competition?-It is good stress relief and I like the process of training and seeing how fast I can get and to see my improvements.
  • Why do you want to be fast?- Because I love crushing mile after mile and that feeling of satisfaction at the end of a race, and I want to finally break through that 16:00 barrier that I missed in high school by 3 seconds.
  • Why do you think you missed by only 3 seconds? Because sub 16 seemed like a big deal and deep down I thought that was for super fast people.

Now I know that this athlete probably needs to do some mental training to go along  with his physical training simply by asking why again and again.

The how portion of all of this comes down to the coach and the plan. How do we achieve those goals laid out in the interview process. Not every plan works and fits well with every individual. For example you might have a friend who ran a marathon pr with a certain plan. So you follow the same plan and actually run slower. why is this? well each person has a unique muscle structure and system that adapts to stresses differently.

Also blindly laying out a training plan for 24 weeks isn’t always the best plan. The best advice I think I ever got was to write your plan in pencil. This way if something comes up you can adjust. Or if you are having a killer mile repeat workout and you tack on 3 x mile extra you can, and also if you are having the worst workout of your life (we all know it happens) you can cut it off and readjust. Adapt your training plan to you and how your body is coping with the training regiment.

These are simple little ideas and practices that can be used by a self coached athlete and most certainly should be used by a coach. Coaching is all about problem solving, the athlete wants to achieve a certain level and the coach has to problem solve to get them there and without all of the information the trip can be a lot longer and harder than if you took the time to ask a few simple questions.

Good luck this racing season, check out or coaching packages and start working toward your next big pr today.

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