Coach vs Group Leader

Jan 7, 2022 | Thoughts

I’ve been a group leader for running groups and I’ve been a coach. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the two roles confused and I’d like to clear it up as best I can.

Leading a group by creating routes, staying in touch about plans, going over basics of clothing, nutrition, safety, and other aspects of running is a fantastic contribution to the running world, and if, as a runner, you ever get a chance to give back in this way I hope you do. Every group needs a leader. You don’t need to be at the head of the pack, usually you just need to volunteer and be consistent in your support.

Coaching, on the other hand, is getting to know the individual with their unique goals, personality, and history. It’s talking them off the ledge when their big race is in two days and they don’t feel ready. It’s being encouraging without patronizing. It’s finding solutions to their feelings of burnout, or perhaps being overeager to plow ahead when rest is called for. A couple of examples came to mind recently while running.

One woman who had recently trained very hard to qualify for Boston was feeling a bit dejected, and her runs were not sparking joy. She was disappointed in her pace, and just not enjoying running like she had before. (She did qualify by the way!) Knowing her well, and her type A personality, I recommended she turn her GPS watch around on her wrist. I knew she wouldn’t put up with not having stats about her runs, but I wanted to take the focus off the pace, the elevation gain, and other factors she watched closely. I encouraged her to pause a time or two every run to take pictures of the sunrise, animals, and pretty views on her routes. She tried it and her pace immediately improved and, more importantly, she started having fun again.

Another runner finished a tough training cycle for a November 50K in the Golden Gate Recreation Area, a place with lots and lots of elevation gain. He went into the race strong but unfortunately became ill just a couple of days beforehand. He ran it anyway and did very well, all things considered, and was even able to run with Dean Karnazes for a few miles! Afterward he was anxious to keep the fitness train rolling – which is totally understandable, it’s hard to let go that high of improvement. However, with the holiday season and his planned travel back East, I convinced him to relax and take it easy for a few weeks. Not stop entirely, but take his foot off the accelerator and do easy runs and some cross training. He has plans for another 50K fairly soon, and a difficult 50 miler a month after that.  He’s a guy with an advanced degree in psychology, and I’m sure if he took a step back he would have seen it for himself in time. But maybe not, sometimes it takes an outside perspective.

In both cases my advice was not something you would get from a preprinted training plan. In both cases knowing the runners as people, even friends, allowed me to help them along, with simple solutions to problems usually being the best. Ignore the watch once in a while, take those weeks of rest, even skip a scheduled run occasionally when you feel burned out. Having the background and the experience is what sets a good coach apart from a group leader.

If you’re ready to take your training to a new level, get in touch today. Let’s chat about your goals and see how I might help you along that road. Races are coming back, but even if racing is not your thing, sometimes that outside perspective is just what you need.