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Is Coach Zuckerberg your best bet for running advice?

Updated: Sep 20, 2023


Hardly a day (or maybe even an hour) passes without a post in one running related Facebook Group or another that has one of two common themes:

What training should I do to get faster?

What training should I do so I can do an ultra?

With the latter often from people motivated to go long because they’re not fast!

And they’ll draw a plethora of responses within minutes from people giving advice and opinions. Some from people with a lot of knowledge. Some from people with strong opinions. Most from people who are well meaning. Although there’s often a few keyboard warriors wading in too, with sarcastic or derogatory quips to exercise their ego too.

There are usually more right answers than wrong answers. But when it comes to what’s right for the person asking the question, there are usually more wrong answers than right answers. And that’s because the responder is so often saying what worked for them in the recent past. They’re excited about a recent run that they nailed and can’t wait to pass on their ‘formula’ to others.

So, how does the author of the original post end up feeling? In a word, confused!

Because there will be almost as many different answers as there are answers.

Why is that though?

Well, here’s my opinion. And, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, because it’s just an opinion, something we’re all entitled to apparently. Although try saying that to some of those intrepid KWs!

There are two interwoven reasons.

Firstly, ‘everybody is different’. And, I’ll stick my neck out and say that I’m am pretty sure I’m right about this one by the way. Because I don’t think it would be such a commonly used phrase by the human race otherwise.

Secondly, and perhaps a little more contentiously, as a species us humans tend to be drawn to a magic bullet. That special ingredient that could really help make things better. And we’re especially drawn to the magic bullets that are truly magical and make things better really quickly.

So, here lies the problem. When we find the magic bullet, we tend to forget that everyone is different. And go around spreading the word about it, expecting that it will work for others just as well as it did for us.

There’s a deeper problem though. Those truly magical bullets are often the most dangerous bullets, because they carry the highest risk. So, a high proportion of those promoting them the loudest, end up worse off in the long run (no run-pun intended).

All too often their greatest success is followed, shortly afterwards, by them crashing and burning. Or, in a running context, being side-lined with injury, illness or lost mojo, with the improvement graph now spiralling downwards.

You knew all that already, right? You’ve seen it happy many times, and not just in a sporting context. There’s just as many examples relating to how to get rich, how to lose weight, how to look more beautiful, etc. etc. aren’t there?

You wouldn’t fall for them, would you? Especially when it comes to your money. You’d do your research first wouldn’t you? You’d carefully work out what was the right thing (mortgage, car, house etc) for you, giving the salesmen with the gift of the gab a body swerve, before taking the plunge and making an investment.

I’m drifting away from running, now aren’t I? I am, but the analogy of a financial investment gives me a neat segue back to the original purpose of this blog. Which, perhaps somewhat ironically, is to give some advice to anyone that has – or has thought about – posting one of the questions mentioned at the outset on social media.

This advice is simple: think of your training like your finances.

Either thoroughly research what is right for YOU before you take the plunge with a big purchase or investment. Or find a trust-worthy expert who can give you independent advice that is tailored to you.

Find someone that will ask you a lot of questions and, more importantly, properly listen to your answers before starting to dish out any advice. Someone that encourages you to ask questions too, and will be able to fully explain both the logic, and pros and cons associated with taking any advice they provide.

When you consider that everyone is different, it follows that for someone to be able to give reliable advice they need to know quite a lot about you as an individual. For running advice, as a minimum this would probably include:

· Your age

· How your health is

· Your weight/height/body composition

· How long you’ve been running

· How much running you currently do

· The type of running sessions you do

· The locations / environments where you can train

· Your current pace at different intensities - not just how fast you can run, or once did!

· What other sports / exercise you do

· Type of work you do

· Your commitments outside of running (work, family, other hobbies)

· Your injury history

· What you eat

· Who you like to run with

· What your long terms goals are

If someone giving advice doesn’t ask about these things, then my advice would be to find a pinch of salt to take with their advice.

And if their advice seems to be mostly based on how they themselves train, rather than considering why and how you may need to do things differently, then don’t even bother finding your barge pole.

Doing your own research to find out what is best for you can be enjoyable, and there are some really good books out there, with input from coaches that have many years of experience in helping runners reach their goals.

Your own research can be time consuming though, which is why finding an expert to advise you may be an attractive proposition.

Find someone that is right for you though. And be wary, because while some great coaches are also great runners, being a great runner doesn’t necessarily make someone a good coach. The success of the other runners they work with is much more important than their own results.

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