Running tips, training plans, meal plans, recovery methods… Yes, thanks to the good ol’ world wide web, the wealth of information available on running, training, racing and what not makes it possible to be your own running coach – but that’s not to say it would be an easy task.
Yes, all the information you can imagine and you’ll ever need is out there for you to grab, but at the same time, you’ll need to digest all that data and separate the wheat from the chaff to succeed at self-coaching.
But, don’t despair! Here’s a summary of expert advice on how to be your own running coach from a self-coached world-class endurance runner Calum Neff who shares his best practices for motivation, preferred tools and recommended resources.
Ready, set, run!
#1 Key to self-coached success: Motivation
Even the most devoted runners with a rock-solid inner motivation have days when it’s not so easy to get out and do your thing.
To beat these tough days to the punch, here are Calum’s best practices to motivate yourself:
Step 1: Pick your target
Once you decide what you’re heading towards, it will help you clarify the big picture and give your daily runs a purpose. This makes it easier to fit in the smaller pieces of the puzzle.
Step 2: Build a training schedule
A plan that includes smaller goals along the way can help you stay motivated. If your main target is a big race later in the year, you can prepare for your main race by signing up for smaller and possibly shorter local races.
Step 3: Make sure you recover
Calum believes strongly in recovery, and it’s easy to take his advice on that one. He’s well recovered thanks to a dynamic training schedule that leaves room for changes to fit in other important things in his life.
He believes it’s key to use common sense in how rigidly you follow your training plan since, no matter how well planned, life will happen and there will be surprises that don’t adhere to our schedules.
The important thing is to keep your eyes on the big picture: if you have to change your schedule one day, that won’t wreck the entire system. “Adjust as you go along,” Calum says with years of experience of balancing being a runner and a dad of three with a full-time job.
Step 4: Find support
Running can be lonely and some runners enjoy it precisely for that reason – but if you’re not a lonely wolf, you don’t have to go it alone.
If you feel like you could use some support and motivation to roll out of bed to go for an early run in the morning, join some group runs in your area or sing up for an online running community.
#2 Key to self-coached success: Tools
Calum has been training and racing with Polar for a long time now and years and years of data gathered with Polar watches is a staple for Calum who analyses his data relentlessly.
Over the years he has used different Polar products (such as Polar V800 and Polar M430), but nowadays he’s loving the combo of the Polar H10 heart rate monitor and Polar Vantage V with wrist-based optical HR sensor for tracking and analyzing his workouts and for monitoring his daily activity, recovery, sleep quality and resting heart rate.
As Calum puts it: “While the couple hours of training each day is clearly important, ‘the other 22 hours’ is where you can make the real gains.”
This is true and tested and with the right tools you can up your chances to do the right things right and avoid overtraining, while making sure you train enough.
Tool 1: Training targets
Calum is a seasoned user of Polar Flow and finds especially the Training target feature to be an excellent tool in self-coaching.
It’s at its most useful with intervals, when you need to keep track of where you are in your workout.
The best part is that the training targets will sync to your Polar watch which will then guide you through your intervals.
Tool 2: Running Program
A handy alternative to creating your training targets from scratch is using the Polar Running Program ,which builds you a personalized running plan, incorporating supportive exercises for strength, core and mobility.
It’s so tempting to focus on running only, but it’s the supportive exercises that can make a huge difference in your running and help you avoid injuries.
Tool 3: Running Index
Running Index is another feature that Calum watches closely. Since the Running Index report gives you estimates on race performance, you can also use it to calculate your training paces.
Tool 4: Running pace calculator
You can also use the free online running pace calculator for estimating your race pace. For example, take your prediction for half marathon. Put in the predicted time and choose your distance. Then click ‘Calculate pace’ to get the pace that you need to be able to sustain to run the distance within the predicted time.
But, just as a side note, don’t make the mistake of training only at your race pace. Even if you’re training for a 5K, it’s recommended to incorporate longer runs, too, in your training program, and even though long runs are key, not even marathon training should be only about doing marathon-length runs.
Tool 5: Spreadsheet
As an experienced self-coached runner, Calum also sticks to his old-school spreadsheet. It’s a self-coaching tool that needs no internet connection, so it’s readily available always.
#3 Key to self-coached success: Resources
Self-coaching takes a lot of knowledge. Luckily, with a range of books and online resources for self-coaching, we’re not short on material.
Here’s one of the must-read books Calum recommends:
This book goes deep into the East African culture where the greatest runners have been produced. Details of their diet, training regime, camps, and most notably – how easy their easy days are. Written by Toby Transer, an elite runner in his own right.
Time to move: The must-try running workout for self-coached runners
And now, enough reading already – it’s time to take all this info into the roads, tracks or trails! Calum suggests you incorporate this workout into your running training plan to make your miles more meaningful.
Negative split tempos – practice makes perfect
There is no arguing that when it comes to pacing any race over 800m, running the second half slightly faster than the first (negative split) is the recipe for a personal best. Every World Record proves this time and time again. You race the way you train so its important to practice this pacing strategy.
One of the easiest ways is on your tempo workouts, let’s say a 20-minute session, turning around at the halfway mark (10 minutes) and trying to be back at the start exactly on time (even pacing) or even slightly faster (continue on to complete the full duration).
Start with just an 8-minute tempo (4’ out, 4’ back), adding a few minutes each week.
Check out other recommended running workouts by Calum Neff and start running your way to success!
If you’d like online guidance for your self-coached journey, Hardloop Endurance is Neff’s personal way of delivering his method of training based on over 30 years of competitive running experience and over a decade of coaching all-levels.
For more tips on planning, analyzing and varying your runs, check out the Polar Running Academy.