By the Book, Club, or, Coach?

If you've followed my short history in this crazy sport of marathon racing, you'd know that I've "tinkered" a bit with different running plans, coaches, and run clubs.  I ran my first marathon without running with literally anyone.  I read a book.  A very good book. Hal Higdon's, "Marathon, The Ultimate Training Guide."  I read his book and followed his beginning marathon plan.  I apparently skipped over the part that suggested running with others.  I broke four hours in my first marathon merely reading a book and running solo over the entire training period.

I recommend the book, but I don't recommend running alone. One is the loneliest number.

For my third Boston Marathon that's two months away, I decided I needed more personal coaching.  Out of nine marathons, I am proud of most of them, but only satisfied with a few of them.  Too many times, I bonked.  "Color me" naive or "color me" stupid...I'm still in search for a "bonkless" marathon.

In my last Boston Marathon, I knew I had nothing in my tank in the first couple miles.  Not good.  My career involves heavy travel that throws many a curve at me in my training schedule.  That means smelly running gear stowed in my bag each week (with even smellier clothes coming home.)  It also means some flexibility is required in the training schedule and plan.

After I graduated from self-training, I discovered the local running club.  I have made and met some of my best running friends through this group.  I have recommended many a new runner to the group.  This is another option I'd highly recommend for the beginner or runner who knows what their plan is and wants to run with similarly minded people.  This option takes much of the planning out of training as a plan is normally provided, and each weekend long run is mapped out with water every couple of miles.  Depending on the group's size, it's tough to understand each individual runner's history and tweak to their needs.  This is perhaps a drawback to the "one size fits all" plan.

Coach Benita
My last marathon, I combined the "Run Less, Run Faster" (FIRST) training approach from Furman and Runner's World along with running with my local group.  I liked the book as it seemed to fit my busy schedule and it allowed me to qualify for my fourth BQ and run in my third this April.  While this worked for me, and I think is a viable option, it still relied on self-coaching myself to a degree using the plan outlined in the book.

I have supplemented my training in the past with a personal coach using local run legend Maureen Roben.  I would meet her group once a week normally for "speed work."  I'm convinced this help me notch my first BQ at the California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento.  This also gave me the first glimpse into working with an acclaimed marathon runner who could also tune into my run history and goals.

All of this lead to me "shopping" for a new running coach to train for Boston.  Within the Denver area (not far from Boulder,) there's a plethora of options. Translation? #confusion.  There are some incredibly talented and qualified options.  I finally decided to team with Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and Benita Willis.  I've been with the group less than a month, but it's met many of my criteria;

Qualifications:  Benita ran the London Olympics (not the London Marathon) and has a 2:22 marathon time to her credit.  She won the world cross country in 2004.  Benita and her partner coached this year's Colorado Runner Magazine's male and female runners of the year.
Personalized Plan:  BCSM uses Training Peaks to plot each week's plan.  Before even starting my plan, I sat down for an hour and a half and shared my history, goals, and challenges.  Benita tracks my daily runs and adjusts accordingly.  You could say, she's in tune with me after a short time.
Approach:  One of the things I talked to Benita about was how I feel I've been tired by the time I hit the start line.  Normally by the halfway point of some of my previous plans, I would have run a couple of 20 milers.  I would also take a rest day each week.  I haven't run 20 yet, but the philosophy of the plan is to build strength and "peak" on raceday.  There is a strength plan in addition to my running schedule which is something new, or at least with a planned strength plan.  It's not for the timid either as witnessed by last week's three nine mile runs--three days in a row.  That would be a first for me.  There are typically two tougher workouts each week with an emphasis on building speed (and strength.)  The other miles in a given week I'm running MUCH slower than I'm accustomed in sometimes she wants me running 9:15 or slower.  While I haven't got to the long runs yet at the halfway point of my training plan, my weekly mileage has built up to 50 miles.
Results:  Too early to tell.  Raceday results will be the ultimate litmus test, but I have "bought into" the plan.  Last Saturday was speed/strength work vs. my traditional long run Saturday.  Two mile warm-up, followed by progressive intervals of three, two, and one miles.  My splits were 7:10, 7:02, and 6:36 (last mile.)  Coach was pleased and so was I.  I am officially the "slowest" member of this group, but feel I can only improve by running with faster, more experienced runners along with a world class coach.

I've talked about a number of options including the current (personal coach) approach I'm using. Self-train, book training plan, and run club.  What has worked for you and what are you using for your current marathon training plan?


  1. Hey Ty - I've done and do all the above. As you know I am training with Benita's partner James Carney. The LI Marathon in May will be the litmus test but I have learned a hell of alot. I have also raced a few times since he has coached my and broke 40min for a 10k while I was congested. Just ran a windy ten miler in 64min where a year ago I was 15sec per mile slower on a non windy day. Thats a few examples. My interval times have come down drastically. So between the knowledge and the results I am happy with James. Books are great but a real life coach gives you that reality check.

  2. Ty, Glad you found the group.

    I know you will be happy with the results come April. Benita and James have done amazing things for my running in the short time I've been with them. Stick with it and trust it, and you will see the results! Looking forward to running with you more.

  3. Have heard only great things about Benita and James. Great people for sure. will probably seek their services out in the future. Have used books, created my own plans, was coached last year by Tyler McCandless. I think I probably had the most success being coached and would have had better success had I stayed healthy throughout training. Having to do it on my own this year because of cost. Following a similar plan but keeping easy days EASY and cutting out a lot of triathlon training has helped me stay injury free thus far. - Neal

  4. Awesome, Benita is so sweet! I attended a few cross-training sessions lead by her. I train with Athletics Boulder under Jay Johnson, but if I weren't with the group I'd work w Benita! Best of luck... I do think that you can start running with general plans but there comes a point where having a coach can really help you take it to the next level!

  5. Thanks for the comment and the link to this blog. I think we both will improve with our coaches! Good luck!!!


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