Out There: HOT MESS SUSAN ALERT

“Coach” is not a job title. It’s an identity. I say this not because I am one, but because I know I never could be one.

The four words in the title of this column have become a letterhead of sorts for about 75 percent of my e-mails to my coach. The subject usually varies, but the e-mails themselves are usually varied keys of the same song: “These are my feelings! FIX THEM!”

You’d think this isn’t Coach Dude’s job. After all, he’s a running coach – he writes workouts, looks at my data, and either tells me “good job, kid” or “don’t make me come down there and hurt you.” His job is to tell me what to do; my job is to do it. Feelings have nothing to do with running.

Or so you’d think.

If you want to hire someone to write your workouts and analyze your data, go online and Google away. Those people are a dime a dozen, and they’ll all be very happy to take your money. They got into the business because they ran a lot of races, learned a lot of things, and decided it’d be fun to make a side business out of their hobby. They call themselves coaches, but they’re not.

“Coach” is not a job title. It’s an identity. I say this not because I am one, but because I know I never could be one.

Hollywood likes to portray coaches as arrogant, boisterous, and loud. The side-job “coaches” play this role to the letter. But the reality is often the opposite: there’s a calm that surrounds a coach, a quiet confidence that doesn’t need to be spoken. Speaking, after all, is something that coaches don’t do a lot of – instead, they listen. To everything. Even the stuff you’re not saying.

And you talk. Without even realizing it, you tell your coach everything. A bad day at the track becomes a reminder that you didn’t eat before your workout, which becomes a discussion of how busy you’ve been at work, which becomes a look at your stress levels and sleeping patterns.

Before you know it, you’re looking at your training differently. It’s no longer a separate one-hour chunk of your day, but a symbiotic relationship with all aspects of your life. You’re looking at the big picture because your coach is looking at the big picture. He or she has been all along – they just wanted you to come to that insight on your own. Coaches are sneaky like that.

It doesn’t stop there. If you once had an issue with authority figures, you’ll soon find yourself wanting to hit every single workout instruction perfectly, because you want to please your coach. If you’re an overanxious super-planner who needs to see results right this second, you’ll find yourself becoming more comfortable with the unknown, with trusting that your coach’s plan will get you to where you need to be, when you need to be there. You’ll soon learn when your coach says “get outside your comfort zone,” it doesn’t always refer to the actual physical act of running.

And yes, you will run. A coach will tell you how far and how fast. He will analyze your data and correct your form. He will do all of those things you pay him to do, and you will become a faster runner for it.

But when you send 800 words of frenetic worry about bad mile splits; when you call your coach in a blubbering mess after the doctor diagnosed an illness or injury; when you confide in him or her that your husband is jealous of how much time marathon training has taken away from him– that’s where the coach shines. You’ll see some new workouts designed to target your weaknesses and build confidence, a business card for a good physical therapist, or “DATE NIGHT” penciled in to your training plan.

Because that’s what coaches do. It’s not just writing mile repeats; Coaches take your feelings, and they fix them.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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