I often struggle to separate myself as an athlete from myself as a coach. I believe that I am a great coach and I know that I have the potential to be a great athlete, I am just not a great coach for myself.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, debating whether or not I even want to open up and share how challenging and difficult it is to be in both roles and how the two things I love the most cause me the most stress, pain, and frustration when I try to mix them together. Simply stated, I cannot coach myself. I’ve tried so many times that I’ve lost count and I’ve failed an equal amount of times.
My coaching ability has nothing to do with my own athletic performance and my athletic performance has nothing to do with my coaching ability–and this is true for any coach and athlete in any sport. However, since I started coaching I’ve felt an enormous amount of pressure to always be my best self and perform at a high level. The title ‘coach’ shines a spotlight on you as an athlete that never seems to dim. I feel like I can’t have a bad race, a bad run, or even feel disappointed in myself or my performance. I feel like I have to hide those difficult moments and bounce back immediately. And for the most part, I do.
I am not perfect and no one is always the very best version of themselves. I have bad runs, I get injured, some days I feel like my feet are bolted to the ground, I get sick, I fall down mountains, I oversleep and miss runs, I lose motivation, I find myself in running ruts, and I have bad races. In fact I’ve run about 5 or 6 really terrible races in the last 4 months. I’m not happy with my performance. I can sort of be happy with the races based on where my training is, but I am certainly not proud of them nor will I allow myself to settle for these subpar performances when I know I am capable of so much more. I may be a coach and it may be my job to help you, an athlete, combat these issues, build physical and mental strength, and achieve your goals, but just because I am a coach does not mean that I can effectively provide that same support to myself. I need support and guidance in my running too, without that I cannot succeed.
I have coached many athletes to PRs and successful goal races. I’ve also ran some pretty respectable times in the past. I have never coached myself to a PR. Every single time I’ve ever ran well in my life I’ve had a coach.
As an athlete I obsessively think more is better, more miles, more workouts, more long runs. As an athlete I think I should run as fast as I can and as far as I can every single day. My brain tells me if I miss one run that I have failed, and then I loose motivation to continue the unrealistic training plans I make for myself. Every single time I coach myself my training is unrealistic, haphazard, and never aligns with my coaching philosophy or the way that I would coach any other athlete. My brain tells me to run mile repeats at PR pace when those PRs are 5+ years old. As an athlete I believe that I am failing if I am minutes off my PRs even though running wasn’t my top priority while I spent the last several years in graduate school and working on other non-running goals. As a coach, I know differently. I would never allow an athlete I coach to feel so much failure day after day. I would help them correct that and find success in each run. I would never want an athlete I am coaching to feel like not running a PR every race is failing. I encourage athletes to run the best they can for the circumstances they are in. I don’t make unrealistic training plans for my athletes, each training plan is customized to their individual needs. As a coach I provide flexibility in an athlete’s training, I help them adapt when runs aren’t going as planned or if they aren’t happening at all. I am a hands on coach who constantly provides support to her athletes so they never have to feel how I feel or experience the struggles that I have experienced. At the same time I am a perfectionistic athlete who beats herself up daily for not being where she wants to be with her own running, and I don’t have the proper support to help me get where I want to be. I spend all day every day correcting negative self talk and it is exhausting. I feel ashamed that I even have these thoughts and feelings about my own running because the coach spotlight might shine through the facade and then I would feel like I am disappointing the athletes who depend on me. When running isn’t going well I feel pressured to just grin and bear it. There is no one to listen, no one to be the voice of reason, and no one to provide the kind of support I need as an athlete.
In April I decided that I wanted to run a marathon PR this fall. I knew this would not be realistic if I kept trying to coach myself. I knew I needed a coach. I also knew that I didn’t just need any random coach, I needed a coach that I could trust. Choosing a coach is a very important decision and some athletes spend days, if not weeks seeking out the coach that is best for them. Because of my coaching background I know a lot of other coaches near and far who would be glad to offer their help, but this decision required no thought at all. I crossed the finish line of a 5k feeling miserable and frustrated and the first thought I had was, “as soon as I get home I am emailing Rob”.
Even coaches need coaches.