The Coach Question

What do you want from your running?

Well that is a tricky question, Darren, thanks for starting this at the bottom of a sheer incline. For me, I want to finish races well, healthy, not destroyed and to do so I can either train and be in great shape, or put in a little less effort, have a bit of a bimble, and still be able to stand at the bar waiting for the drinks order at the end of the day. One I would be incredibly proud of, the other, less so. But, if you want your running to be at a stage beyond where your base fitness will take you, say a time target (sub 4, sub 3, sub 2), or a endurance feat (12 in 12, 52 in 52, 100 in 100, MDS, F+I, 24 hour races),  you need to train. Personally I can plod around a marathon, my base fitness level for a run is probably 20 miles, but beyond that I need help.

High kicks, Mr Knees, like you are back in the West End in Follies!

I did actually follow a plan once, for the Amsterdam half in 2012. I printed off the ASICS plan and followed it maybe 50%. For my first mara, the Berlin Marathon 2015 I became the running guinea pig of newly qualified coach Beth. And, to be fair, I needed her. I was doubling my distance and it was brown trousers time in NW3.

Squeeeee! All four feet off the ground, so technically running


Beth is in the US but did something that I really liked, she didn’t give me the whole plan in one go, instead she emailed it monthly. The whole plan can be seen here on the Berlin marathon blog.

And that is something I think a lot of people struggle with when running. You set yourself a target, say a marathon and think “bloody hell, it’s double what I’ve run before.” It seems almost unachievable.  It is a mountain to climb. A sea to swim. A season of Celebrity Big Brother to endure. You just do not think it is possible. But then and probably worse than the actual run itself is being given a 15-18 week plan with dozens of runs, and drills and hills and intervals, and all manner of physical nastiness that just makes it seem…

Beth broke it all down for me.

Break it break it break it down

I would get 4 weeks at a time to digest, rather than 17. The plan would include 4 runs a week, that I was doing anyway, but with more of a time target. And as we went along, I would run, update Beth via DM, if I was ill or had a niggle she would recommend a change in the plan, and, to be fair, it all worked out quite well. I ran the first 35K of Berlin, bimbled the rest, and seemed okay as I crossed the finish line. And all this thanks to Coach Beth.

Do I need a Coach?

Targets, once you know them, can be attained quite simply but it all comes down to a question of dedication and discipline. I am, for the many of you who know me, one of the most undisciplined runners about. I am terrible. So actually training for something in a structured manner is an issue. I go for a run. End of. I do not run with specific time or distance targets, other than particularly loose ones.

Drop and give me 20, you instagram story telling jackass

And so, half way through 2017, as I was broken post Comrades and lounging in Cape Town, 6 of the 12 marathons in 12 months done and dusted, I realised that I needed help to complete the rest of the year and complete it well. I did not do myself proud at Comrades, even going into injured is no excuse. Ultraks was just so hard that only one of my merry band finished it. And so, with a dozen more races, including 6 marathon in 4 months I bit the bullet and paid for a professional running coach, Shaun Dixon of Let’s Get Running who had acted as the coach for the Reebok London Marathon contest winners of 2017, including Jenni Morris, who pointed me in his direction.

Shaun Dixon

A little known fact is Shaun is a distant relative of Merle and Daryl Dixon, the redneck zombie killers from The Walking Dead.

Ok, that was a joke, but it would be cool if it was true. Although he would just outrun the undead I guess, no need for a crossbow or stump mounted dagger.


There has been a lot of chatter about coaches at the moment on Twatter. People are dubious, some are gullible, others downright nasty about it, a few questioning, at least two gassy, horny, sleepy, grumpy, bashful and doc. People get into running, some become run leaders, quite a few became RDs at their parkrun, at least one I know becomes a trumped up little Hitler with a clipboard come Saturday morning (#DFYB!). Quite a few of the people I know have completed the LIRF, and then went on to become certified. Others have been doing this for years and are professional running coaches. One guy I found online wanted to charge £200 a month to meet once a week in a London park. Oh no, that was Marc Almond.

Oh hello, I can sense your soft cell.

Actually it wasn’t. I am not joking. A running coach wanted to charge £200 a month for 4 hours of run coaching. To which I said no. That is too much. My 16 week plan with Shaun, or 17 as it was, £160 in total. Still a lot I guess, but the level of interaction was constant, and I don’t feel that I was taken for a ride because of it.

Phone call

It all started with a phone call that went a little like this.

 Well, that isn’t 100% true. Shaun and I talked about targets. Remember those? We need those. My targets being to complete the remaining 6 marathons of the 12, including possible PBs at Yorkshire, or Lucerne. Shaun took down my race list, and then said we would be using an application for my planned runs, that I could update with how I did, and we would talk via email, and Whatsapp.

Race Calendar and Plan via Final Surge

Once Shaun had my race calendar plugged into Final Surge it came down to fitting in different types of run, trying to keep me engaged and focused, and following the plan that included:

  • Runs at a steady pace
  • Interval pyramds
  • Races
  • Parkrun
  • Hill repeats
  • Speed work
  • Drills

And it was quite simple. You get an automatically generated email detailing not only today’s planned exercise but also tomorrow’s. The FinalSurge application allows you to hover over a day and see the detailed description, and, once you have completed the run, you can fill in the actual, distance, time, perceived effort, and, most importantly, you can share with Shaun how you felt. And he can feed back from that.

There are also drills that he recommends, with Youtube videos to show you how to do it. I was not very good at doing those.

Touching base

I would hear from Shaun over Whatsapp before all my races, even when he was travelling, jetlagged and got the days wrong. He would email too, and text. And I believe the plan he wrote for me, especially when I worked out that I could move exercises around from one day to another, helped me through Hull, Yorkshire and Lucerne in quick succession, and helped me towards my 12 in 12, by raising my base level of fitness and giving me confidence to know I could finish every race I started.


This year, with no 12 in 12, but still tricky races in the form of the Transgrancanaria Marathon

and the famous 12 hour Green Man Ultra

I am using the wonderful Jenni Morris to help me through. I am getting weekly plans to my email, and have been fortunate enough to have run with her this year too. The plans are weekly, and I am only in week 2, which does include SWAINS LANE OF PAIN!!!! and a comfy 2 hour LSR. I am also taking part in the weekly #JOINJEN challenges, which will help everyone’s base level of fitness if you follow them.

In Summary

So it comes back to my initial question. What do you want from your running? Forget the naysayers. Think about number one. If you don’t think you can reach your target by yourself, whether it be a sub 4, sub 3, first marathon, first half, first 10, just to get started, then get a coach. If there is a doubt in your mind, if you are lacking in confidence,  if you want my opinion then get a coach, free or paid, up to you. Beth, Shaun and Jen were all superb and I couldn’t have complete the Berlin Marathon, or my 12 in 12, or even consider Green Man and TGC mara without them.


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