Saturday, January 22, 2011

Coaching by instinct

The game plan is in Sev's head.

If you asked my coach, Bob Sevene, to write down our plan for qualifying for the 2012 Olympic marathon, I don't think he could do it. He coaches more by instinct, by what he sees when I run. He has a master plan in his head, but he's not afraid to make adjustments. He might not decide what a workout will be until that day. That tends to work with my personality. Sometimes I tease him that he is making it up on the fly, but I know that's not the case. I like to guess the workouts, and after 11 years I am getting pretty good at it. I know I'm in trouble when he starts writing down a workout — it's because the workout is going to be long.

With less than a year to go before the Olympic marathon trials, we still have some big decisions to make. Do I run in a spring marathon (I think so), do more track races to increase my speed?

In 2000 after the Olympic Trials (I had finished seventh in the 10K), my husband Jon and I did some re-evaluating. We needed someone who could think in four-year increments. Jon, who's from the Boston area, had worked with Sev in different training groups. I called Sev and told him we'd move to Boston to work with him.

It wound up being a little bit embarrassing because I didn't realize he had coached Joan Benoit Samuelson (the winner of the first women's Olympic marathon). Can you imagine?

Fast forward to 2008, and we're planning my pregnancy. We decided to follow the European model and get pregnant as soon I could after the Olympics. The idea was to have Quin and then take a year to get back in shape. When Quin came a month early I thought I was going to be ahead of the plan. Boy, was I wrong. I learned you can't nurse your baby, go short on sleep and hope to train. I just wasn't recovering between training sessions. I don't think I was able to really start training seriously until Quin was eight months old. It was a tough time, but to be successful you have to be able to adjust to everything, from injuries to illnesses. Sev does that, he's there to make the decisions that will get me to the Olympics.

Considering I do every run alone, it 's nice to have him at my track workouts or following me on his bike when I hit the road. Some runners have long-distance relationships with their coaches.

They communicate online or on the telephone. But I think it's better to have the coach watching you run. You may have a workout on paper and you meet all your times, but the coach can't tell if you're struggling to meet those times or meeting them easily.

In a few weeks I'll be running in the national cross country championships in San Diego. The top six finishers qualify for the world championships. We will make some decisions after that.

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