A runner's detailed review of six months under my online coaching program

Jane Mepham after her half marathon run inTexas, USA

I am forever grateful to all the runners who have entrusted me with their running goals, and it gives me so much pleasure when I get positive feedback out of my online coaching.

Here is an elaborate review from one of my favorite runners as she looks back at the six month's journey of her training with me.

Jane Mepham is the founder and owner of  Elgon Financial Advisors – an independent virtual Financial Planning Firm that serves First-Generation Americans and Immigrants based in Austin Texas and one of my online students.

Running Background

I ran track in high school (middle distance races), but switched to Tennis at age 16 and figured this was going to be my lifelong sport.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, I developed tendinitis in my right elbow (Tennis elbow), which made hitting a tennis ball extremely painful. After consulting with a lot of doctors and folks in the tennis community, I came to the painful conclusion that I had to stop playing tennis for a while to give my elbow a chance to heal, and that’s when I turned to running.  At this point my goal was simply to get out, get some exercise and use running as a way to stay healthy. Even though I’d run track in high school, the only competitive road racing I had taken part in was a 5k at my local church way back in 2012. I was pretty ignorant about running and I honestly never thought I would take part in a race.  As happens with a lot of things in life, one of my friends convinced me to sign up for my first half marathon (3M in Austin Tx) in early 2018 which got me training harder.  I had no clue what I was doing, so my training was literally just to go out and run a couple times a week with some gym workouts thrown in for good measure.

I surprised myself when I finished the race in under 2 hours (8.55 min / mile pace). But it took me almost two weeks to fully recover.  That same year I started running with a small group, and the difference was amazing in terms of overall improvement. I ran the same race in 2019 and this time finished in what is now my PB - 01:39:41 (07:37 min /mile pace), which got me into the top 10 in my age group. I continued running with the same group, and our training consisted of what we jokingly called the neighborhood run (5-7 miles) on Tuesday, a track workout on Thursday and a long run on Saturdays ( 9 to 13 ish miles). Some folks in the group would do more than the 3 days, and those training for a marathon would do longer longs on Saturday. In addition, we all incorporated other workouts on our own.

Big Goals

That year I decided to up my game. I set up a goal to complete a full marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon at the same time. I picked out my qualifying race for early 2020, but my training was not very organized (What you don’t know can actually come back to bite you) and I had to severely cut down due to painful knees and a few other injuries, that just seemed to crop up every now and again. By the time Jan 2020 came around I knew there was no way I was going to be able to complete run the targeted Marathon in March/April of 2020, but I still run my favorite race – and surprised myself by finishing the race in 01:42:32 (7:49 min /mile).  I was just glad to finish it. 

Online Coaching with Justin

By then as you can tell, I was fully hooked onto long distance running and was constantly looking for ways to improve. I figured that if I was to improve, I needed to see what guys like Eliud Kipchoge, Rudisha and some of the folks in Iten were doing. Based on everything I knew and my background as a tennis a coach, I knew hard work is the key, but it was also important to find the right program and hopefully avoid the injuries, that seemed to be derailing my progress. With the Corona virus lockdown, I could not run with my group anymore and so really needed to find something that would keep me going. In my search for an online coach, I came across Justin Lagat, and after reading his blog, I reached out to him to see if we could work together. I loved that he’d grown up and trained in that environment, had interacted with some of these elite guys, had worked with some of the same coaches in the same environment and had a PB of 02:26, after cutting of 29 minutes from a prior run. My logic was very simple, Kenyans are the best at long distance running, to be the best you need to train like them. I shared my goals with him

1)      Improve my half marathon time -  Run under 01:30 (under 07:00 min /mile pace) 

2)      Run my first marathon and qualify for Boston marathon at the same time  – For 2021 (This might change), I would need to run in under 03:45:00 (appx 08:37 min /mile pace) for my age group.

Mental preparation for race day among Kenyan runners

Wilson Kiprop, the 2010 world half-marathon champion,
versus Bedan Karoki at a local race in Kenya

An athlete may have done enough training to run well in a race, but without the right mentality going into the race, all the training might become useless.

They say that experience is the best teacher, and if there is one place that this applies more, it should definitely be with the mental preparation among Kenyan runners getting ready to run their dream races. Some learn about the best ways to deal mentally with their races through experience while others are taught by a coach or by fellow runners.

One of the runners that have impacted me more on how to be tough and courageous in a race is Wilson Kiprop, the 2010 world half marathon champion. He told me how determined he was to finish in a podium place at a local race before no one ever knew about him. He had never finished in the top ten positions at any big race before. But here, the race meant everything to him. He had no more food where he stayed away from home, no money, and no one to ask for help. He was in Nairobi and he wanted to win some money at the cross country race to enable him to travel back to Eldoret. The race was paying the top three finishers only.

Having a Kenyan coach is much more valuable than buying Kenyan jerseys and bracelets

Steven Vanlancker (centre) training in Iten, Kenya
“I am surprised that it had to take me over 6,000km of traveling to finally understand what “easy” really meant,” Steven Vanlancker told me as we sat and sipped some hot tea outside on a hot afternoon at Iten Club in Kenya.

Steven is from Belgium and is one of the runners that I coach online and who at times borders on nagging with many questions whenever I give him a program for the week. Often, he would want to know the exact pace to use in each one of the runs I give him. So, when he came to Kenya, did a few runs, noticed that an easy pace on some routes can sometimes get faster than hard runs on some routes; he then realized the need to use feeling for his runs rather than follow the pace on his watch!

Common methods used to prevent and treat injury among Kenyan runners

Injuries happen in many ways. Most of the time, it starts out as something that one may feel like a slight discomfort that would simply go away on its own. Sometimes, it happens abruptly in the middle of their run and forces them to stop and find other means to reach your house.

Looking back at the time that I was a small kid in primary school, I think I now finally figured out why I would run to school daily for over eight years and cannot remember any day I ever got injured because of these runs.

There was a river I would cross every morning on my way to school. It didn’t have a bridge and I would wade through the icy cold water briefly stopping in the middle to bath my legs and face before proceeding to school.

Anyway, below are some of the common ways in which Kenyan runners use to prevent and treat their injuries.

Heat Therapy

Applying some heat to an injured part of the body enables more blood circulation in that area soothes the pain and speeds up the healing process.

The most common form of heat treatment among Kenyan runners is mostly the moist heat application where some leaves of special plants, and even cabbages, are heated over an open fire and applied gently on the injured part of the leg. Besides retaining the right amount of heat during the treatment, most of the leaves used by the Kenyan runners often have some additional healing properties in them as well.