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Ritz On Running: Finding Your Pack Is The Key To Your Running Goals

You don’t need a constant entourage surrounding you, but it’s important to have a support system in place during your running career.

In the past 18 years as a collegiate and professional runner, I have spent a lot of time training and pounding the pavement with the best of them. My career has put me in the midst of other great runners on teams such as the University of Colorado Buffalos, the Nike Oregon Project and the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project. I’ve learned valuable lessons and techniques from some of the world’s most well-known and successful coaches in competitive running including Mark Wetmore, Brad Hudson, Alberto Salazar and Kevin and Keith Hanson.

And the opportunity to train at this level—among such talent and with these coaches who’ve acquired years of experience with world and Olympic medalists, major marathon winners and some of the fastest runners on the planet—is not lost on me. As most in my field, my journey has included a team of athlete support personnel: strength coaches, chiropractors, physical therapists, doctors, sports psychologists, nutritionists, agents, etc.

Of course, there have also been months on end where I barely ran with another person and spent multiple years of self-coaching with my own training plans. In low times, it’s been just me, buried in my owns thoughts, injuries, setbacks and self-therapy.

But here’s the thing: whether you’re an elite with a team of professionals around you or do your Saturday morning long runs alone, we’re all unique and all thrive in different environments. And that’s okay. However, one factor remains the same in all of this, nobody who has a long running career does it completely alone. You don’t need a constant entourage surrounding you, but it’s important to have a support system to help you make the right decisions throughout your training and be your best on race day.

If you’re looking to improve your performance for an upcoming race or just have a personal goal you want to reach, my advice for the in between moments is to find your pack. Find people who can help keep you accountable, motivated, injury-free and fueled to continue training well until D-day. And then go out and kill it!

Tips For Training Better

Find A Running Confidant

When left to do your own thinking and training all of the time, you can quickly second guess everything and the mental drain becomes negative. While you need to get yourself strong enough to push it on race day, the bulk of your training should have others to help get you to your goals and to carry some of the load. Sometimes it is a physical load, such as having training partners to push you, but most of the time it is someone to help you carry the emotional side of the daily grind. Find at least one person who will listen to the mundane day-to-day ups and downs of running and can support you through uplifting and encouraging words. Yes, you can get through this training season!

Pro Tip: If you’re unsure of who in your life would be a good confidant, use social media to make a quick shout-out and see which runner friends you have. More than likely, they’ll be excited to follow alongside you on your journey. Hey, it worked for Des Linden.  

Get A Coach Or Advisor

Find a local running coach or an advanced runner to help guide your training. It may not be someone you pay to work with, but look to a runner you can trust, even if you just want them to look over your plan. In the past, I’ve run my own training program past people I trust to give me honest feedback, and that has always served me well. But don’t just plow through and think, you know best, because you might not.

Even if you already know what to do, you may not always do it, or you’re overlooking some important aspect of training. We think too emotionally about our own plans, so while knowledge is good, we don’t always see our own flaws. We become masters at convincing ourselves what we want to believe in the moment, only to be fooling ourselves along the way. You need someone to look at your goals objectively and with less emotion.

Pro Tip: Google local run coaches in your area and then speak with a few about your goals. You can tell a lot about a person by how you connect over the phone and feeling comfortable with your coach is essential to building trust.

Invest In The Experts

I think I have had every injury known to man (yet somehow I keep finding new ones). Even though we might think we know what is going on with our bodies, most of us aren’t experts in that area. How many times have we convinced ourselves that our injury is not a stress fracture? No, WebMD is not your best friend. Instead of Googling your symptoms and trying to guess the root of the issue, find a physical therapist, doctor, chiropractor and massage therapist—someone who will work with you, listen to what you are telling them and who can help keep you healthy and injury-free. Let them do their jobs so you can do yours.

Pro Tip: Call your health care representative and see what is covered under your plan and determine whether using your insurance or paying out of pocket is better. Sometimes specialists (like chiropractors) offer a cheaper rate if they don’t work with insurance providers.

Do More Group Runs

Lastly, run with others. It doesn’t even need to be that often, but have people you can count on when you need company. Training alone may be great at times, but just having someone running silently beside you on a long run, trading leads as you clip off intervals, or chatting with a friend on an easy recovery day will help keep your mind ready to tackle the sessions that you need to do in order to get the most out of yourself on race day.

Running is a solitary sport when you are out on the course and fighting off competitors with your body screaming at you to stop. But to be ready for those attacks on race day you have to have gone through the gut-check workouts when it is just you grinding away. And those moments are made much better when you have a team behind you. So stop trying to control every detail on your own and surround yourself with your personal run squad.

Pro Tip: Chances are, there are already established local run groups in your community. Do a quick online search to find one or grab two to four friends and start your own weekly or semi-monthly meet-up. Pro-pro tip: End your route at a pub and grab a celebratory beer (21+ only) after each run.