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.

 After looking at my running data for a week or two, Justin noted to me that for the amount of days and the mileage I was running, and the type of running I was doing, I was only doing hard workouts and was not giving myself a chance to recover. 

His next comment was on my previous last run (5 to 7 Miles), where he remarked that I’d stopped a couple times, but he felt over time, I could run without stopping.  I explained that I always stopped at the top of the hills, since I really needed break, most likely because I wasn’t warming up enough and would go out too fast. He was also very confident that over time, I would be able to increase my weekly mileage and also be able to run daily. My thought was yehr right…sounds like a nice thought, but I honestly didn’t think I could do it.

The start of my Training Journey

He then sent me my first week’s program and explained the different types of running, and I was completely blown away by the approach we were going to take as he learned more about my running, and my potential. I was going to start running based on duration, not on mileage (That was completely new to me). He also explained the different ways to think about the runs Jogging, Easy, Moderate and Hard. Each of this is different for every runner, and a moderate run can be a hard workout.  The other thing that was striking was that he stuck to my three-day plan but included walking and complete rest on some of the days.

It takes time to figure out how to work best with each other, and now looking back, I think the first 3 months was really around Justin figuring out what kind of a runner I’m, my commitment, how I was responding to the different workouts. On my end, those three months, were a huge learning experience, around running, with the different workouts, as well figuring out how to work together. One thing we both figured out, is that I ask a lot of questions (good ones I think – just based on all that I’m learning). Justin is pretty good about answering the questions, but we agreed, I should ask one question at a time😊.  It’s also great to follow him on Strava and see him doing similar workouts although a lot faster than me on his fast days.

 At this point, Justin sends me a new weekly program every Sunday, based on my goals, my previous performance over the previous week and the weekly email conversation we have after my last run on Saturday or Friday – where I give him feedback on how my week has been beyond what he can see on Strava.

6 Months Review

It’s been 6 months since I started training with Justin, so this is the perfect timing to do my 6 months review. With no races in the near future, we are currently working on improving my running and experimenting with different things, specific to running.  PS: There are other aspects of training like cross training, nutrition, strength training – but we are focused on the running side of things.

1)      My endurance has greatly improved. My long runs have gotten longer and I’m still comfortable finishing them faster than I started. Prior to this, my longest run was 14 miles (22k), with the second half way slower than the first. With my last 16 miles (25k) long run, my last mile was the best.

2)      The jogging and walking has disappeared from the program Justin is sending me, in addition I’m now running 6 days in a week – which to my mind, I never thought was possible.

3)      My recovery time has also improved a lot, and I seem to be able to just go out and run.

4)      My weekly mileage is also creeping up slowly reinforcing the slow but steady idea.

5)      I’m now able to start slow and finish faster – which also goes into my new learnings - see below



 I have also not had any injuries and I’m hoping to keep it this way.

 

Ongoing Learning

On the surface running seems so easy, but I feel like a new world has completely opened up for me with all the insights I have picked up. For people that have been running for a long time, some of this maybe obvious, but here are some of the things, I have internalized over the last couple months, that are key to improving.

 

1)      Duration based runs are some of the best workouts/runs you can do; I find it very freeing not to have to think about the distance I need to cover. So, if feeling good, I cover more, if not, I cover less and it’s still all good.

2)      If I miss a workout, for whatever reason, it’s fine, just move on with the week and don’t stress out.

3)      Always, always start with a nice, slow long warmup regardless of the day’s workout. With this, the need to stop seems to have disappeared completely and with a slow start I’m finding it easier to hold higher paces for longer and actually finish runs faster (See above). It’s also easier to progressively run faster.                     

4)      Learn to run by feel and don’t look at your watch every minute. This is a big one for me and still a work in progress.

5)      Finish faster – the first couple times I did this, it was a struggle to keep going, but it makes so much sense to do that last kick on tired legs.

6)      Trust the coach – this one probably seems like a no-brainer – but it’s so key to trust the coach you’ve decided to work with, and to trust the process, and be willing to give the program time to work.  Long distance running is not something to be rushed.

7)      Keep it easy, and simple and don’t stress out about the latest running gear, plan etc. It takes hard work, and consistency to improve as a runner.

8)      Balance – Justin talks to me about this one a lot, as I have a tendency to go out a little too fast on my tempo runs and speed workouts end up with something like this.



 

 Immediate Future Goals

 I still have a lot to learn and plan to stay with the program for a while, at least until I can run an actual race which with the Covid lockdown which could be a while. One of the areas I still have to keep working on is my tempo runs, as well as being more balanced (not going out to fast and having a better sense of the paces I want to hit), on my tempos and speed workouts.

 Based on the past couple months, I feel comfortable continuing to work with Justin and I’m looking forward to seeing what we are able to do together over the next 6 months. Justin expect more questions from my end as more things start to make sense– It’s the best sign of my full engagement.

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