Thursday, March 04, 2010

Wherein I Promote Anarchy

I believe it was the never-ending Summer (also Spring and Fall) of 2008 in which I read Don Quixote and then proceeded to tag every post with a “wherein…” subtitle like Cervantes did in his Tome of Infinite Boredom.* Now, for the first time, I bring you an actual “Wherein” titled post! What a day for you. Cervantes is probably rolling over in his windmill.

I’m feeling a little cranky today. As such, I’m going to ruffle a few feathers with something that increasingly annoys me as I scan the running blogs. I’m in just that kind of mood. And what better way to relieve the annoyance than to foist it onto the rest of you. I’m a person with a computer after all!

Is it me – and it probably is – or does it seem like everyone and their horse Rocinante either (a) thinks they are an “online running coach” or (b) is following the advice of an “online running coach” without ever having met the person?

First, I should draw a distinction between what we ALL do – offering our personal tips, tricks, lessons learned, experiences, etc. into the general knowledge breach – and what “online running coach” does, which is recommending detailed training plans and/or specific work-outs to a less experienced runner looking for that magic elixir of speed and/or endurance.

Perhaps the problem is that I put the term Coach on too lofty of a pedestal. I have spent way too much of my youth and early adulthood watching sports and believing Bo Schembechler and Sparky Anderson were descended from Mt. Olympus to provide a boost to my local athletic teams. To me, a Coach is an achieved position. It implies that you have special insights into the sport or activity that another does not/could not possess. The Coach has gained this knowledge through engagement amongst the best athletes at the highest level of the sport. Simply, they just Know Things that the rest of us don’t because they have Been There/Done That.

As an example, I’ve mentioned before that I coach my filly’s youth soccer team. I coach the team. But I am not a Coach. I don’t have any special insight into soccer. I’ve played before. Many times, in fact. But I’ve never competed – or achieved – at any level that qualifies me as a Coach. Basically, I’ve just played more than a group of second graders so my knowledge base is broader (though not by as much as you would think, sadly.) I always bristle when one of the kids, or parents, calls me Coach ____ . I always think I’m not a Coach but it’s just easier to let it stand, no?

I compare the loose use of the term “coach” to that of “chef”. To me, a Chef, like a Coach, is an achieved position. You don’t just walk into Olive Garden, grab an apron, and now you are Chef Donnie the Ravioli King because you put in your 40 hours a week making square pasta which, after all, is more than anyone else does. No, you are a cook. A Chef is a designation for a highly-trained, highly-experienced, and/or highly-educated cook.

If I had a sensitive gastro-intestinal tract, I wouldn’t trust my G.I. happiness to Donnie the cook. I’d want a Chef for that. Similarly, I wouldn’t trust my hamstrings to Chuck the Online Running Coach simply because he’s run a few more races than me.

But many folks do. And now I’m seeing them report injuries and muscle strains. Some are unable to run and are missing races. Doesn’t a coach really need to be there to see you run? To watch how you are handling the work-outs? To get to know you intimately, on some level, in order to best understand how to build a personal training program? A program just for you? Not a program that worked for them. Plus, shouldn’t the coach have actually achieved something besides, basically, running more than you and at a slightly faster pace?? Running is more personal than that. There is no cookie-cutter formula to success. Or am I just being cranky today?

You all know more than you think you do. My favorite running quote comes from Dean Karnazes who opined:

“Listen to everyone, follow no one.”

To me, that is the best advice. Survey what other folks are doing. Try your own work-outs. Something that works for you may not work for someone else. Do not accept pre-packaged training plans and then, when they aren’t working out, feel like a failure. Through trial and error, discover what works for you. A runner really must be a leader. Don’t be “coached.” Be your own Coach.

Throw off the shackles of preset training plans. Delete the impersonal email plans from Chuck the Online Running Coach (who has run only 3 more marathons than you, anyhow.) If someone is calling themselves a running Coach, look closely at their accomplishments. What special insight do they really have? My guess is they are more of a cook, just with more kitchen hours than you, than a Chef. And they are breaking eggs on your knees. Listen to them but don’t follow them.

In short, I’m proposing coachless Anarchy. Otherwise, you just might unwittingly be playing Sancho Panza to someone’s coach hallucinating Don Quixote.

Coach Nitmos

Happy trails.

*If you want to read an interesting and exciting book of equally ridiculous length written during a similar era of serial publishing, I suggest Count of Monte Cristo. Mainly because, well, something actually happens that couldn’t be compressed into a short story.


Razz @ Running Off At The Mind is organizing a curiously titled virtual race. Go there. Sign up. Have virtual fun. There are fabulous prizes. I believe the deadline is tonight. Do it. Do it now.


Ian said...

Well this is certainly going to put a damper on tomorrow's post wherein I announce that I am an online running coach and start charging for personal email running plans.

Did I use 'wherein' correctly?

Jamoosh said...

What was that proverb?

Those who can't - coach!

NY Wolve said...

What?? Bo didn't descend form Olympus??

BrianFlash said...

"A baseball manager is a necessary evil." Sparky Anderson

See - even Sparky didn't think a coach was that important!

Jess said...

A friend of mine has taken to calling me his running coach because I gave him some pointers one time (free of charge too). Maybe I too can be a great running coach!

Al's CL Reviews said...

All I know is I want a new purse more than ever now. Coach, Coach, Coach!

Viper said...

No, Bo descended from Mt. Ohio State. Ohio is the "cradle of coaches" after all, which I guess makes me, a lifelong resident of the the state, even more qualified to be an online running coach!

Viper said...

Did I stutter?

Adam said...

Whoa whoa whoa.... You crossed the line. Leave Olive Garden out of this - they have done no wrong. Anyone who can boil some premade pasta and throw some sauce on it (along with unlimited free breadsticks) will always be a chef in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Love. It.

EZEthan said...

Preach on brutha... I was looking through marathon training plans the other day and had similar thoughts...

They're all basically different ways for you to train from 25 MPW to 50 MPW over a 12-18 week period with the occasional change of running speed workout mixed in...

that's when I decided I might as well just design my own plan!

EZEthan said...

PS... supposedly Don Quixote is extremely clevely written and full of double meaning and word-play when read in the original Spanish... Unfortuately I don't think it carries over in the English translation.

Jeri said...

but what if I want to send you $$ to be my online that not cool anymore? drat.

Lisa said...

I agree on online coaches.

My coach is a real live person that I meet with 2-3 times per week.

John at Hella Sound said...

Totally agree. I think it's the exact same thing as people that set up a Twitter account and a Facebook profile and call themselves a "Social Media Expert". People lie; they exaggerate their experience and abilities. And the easiest way to do this is to assign yourself some fancy, un-earned title.