NAIL THE TRAILS #2: Consider a Coach

How to achieve your trail running goals in ten significant steps.


(Continued from Tip #1: Set Distant, Attainable Goals)

Most amateur American runners probably left their running coaches behind at the gates of their high school; those of us from the UK likely never had one in the first place. And in adulthood, few of us can justify professional running advice when we are spending so much on race fees, clothing, and no small amount of fuel to get us to the start line. I had never had a coach in my life – but, since moving up to the Catskills, had learned to attend free speed work-outs for the immediate benefits. So, when in July 2015, I got within five minutes of my four hour Escarpment goal – so near and yet still so far – I bit the bullet and vowed to hire a coach upon my return from my 2016 travels.

Fortunately, I already had someone in mind. Dick Vincent dates from the days when runners were considered such “freaks” that cars would force them off the road and house owners would sic dogs on them. With a 2:39 marathon PR, he ran Boston back when the race went through the mid-afternoon heat and lacked for aid stations. He only recently ended a daily running streak of 34 years and 5 months (“and several days, but who’s counting?” as he noted when I asked), and over the course of a calendar year in the Catskills, generously hosts races from and parties at his own house. That Dick has also been Race Director of my goal-defined Escarpment Trail Run since founding it in 1977 clinched it for me. He can be found on FB here  and I vouch for him, as you can see from the photo below.


At the finish line of the Escarpment Trail Run with coach Dick Vincent, both of us looking highly satisfied that we had achieved my goal for the race. Pic by Amy Hanlon.

That said, you can surely find your own coach with solid credentials, and it’s not necessary they be available for coffee. I read an article this year by someone who, similarly so near and yet so far from a bench-mark goal – I believe it was a three hour marathon – searched online for a coach and chose one based in Sweden. The writer-runner communicated via e-mail and Skype, followed his coach’s running schedule to the absolute letter, and, like me, achieved his goal.

So, the process works. But what do you actually get for roughly $100 a month? Certainly, an initial consultation in which you discuss your goals, routine, diet, fitness, travel plans, cross-training, commitment and so on. With that information, your coach should start providing you with a weekly, individualized training schedule, certain aspects of mine which I will detail under other headers. Dick started me out a little aggressively and by the end of January, I had developed runner’s knee, the name for the pain that comes with over-accelerating one’s schedule and which I was all too familiar with from past experiences; while I was initially frustrated by this, I was just as impressed at the speed with which Dick got me out of it, utilizing easy home exercises (and some cross-training) that I’ve been doing ever since.


At mile 39 of Manitou’s Revenge… found Dick Vincent waiting for me, camera at the ready.

While I was specific about my two main goals for the year, I had other races on the schedule: a road half-marathon in March, a series of shorter midweek trail races leading up to Escarpment, and our annual regional one-miler. Dick helped plan for the half-marathon, and used the other races as speed work-outs. Knowing that my goal at the 54-miler Manitou’s Revenge in June was merely to complete, he worked over the months to build my stamina, strength and endurance; for the first time in my life, I got above 50 miles a week in training. After we nailed Manitou’s, then knowing that my goal on the Escarpment Trail Run six weeks later was to go almost twice as fast per mile as on Manitou’s, he had me add speed and pace work-outs while ensuring I was also rested recovered from Manitou’s, a delicate balance. He was invaluable in discussing my fueling, especially for the Escarpment. And as a bonus that you won’t get from an online coach, he showed up at every available aid station on Manitou’s for support, despite the fact that as all-round local running guru, he also helped co-ordinate both the start and finish lines. (He was up for 48 hours straight, and this at age 65.)

Would I have pulled off my running goals in 2017 without a running coach? I suspect that I would have finished Manitou’s Revenge, though not in the time that I did (17hrs, 49 minutes), and certainly not feeling so positive throughout that long day. But breaking four hours on the Escarpment… not a chance! As for how I justified the $700 fee over the course of the year, well, apart from not entering big road marathons or far-off ultras that can easily eat up similar expenditure, I set a specific period without alcohol at the start of 2017. I hate to admit it, but those eleven weeks without paying for booze probably covered the entire seven months of paying for a coach!

Continue to Part 3: Hit The Track, Jack

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June 2021