How to Think Like a Running Coach
Coach Bennett explains how to adopt an expert’s mentality to run stronger, faster, and farther.
Chances are, you’ve had a coach at some point in your life. Maybe you were 10 and prepping to run “the mile” in gym class. Or you played high school soccer or were in a college running club. No matter the time or sport, we’ll bet your coach did one thing often: Ask questions.
“How are you feeling?”
“What went well?”
“Could you give more?”
These are the kinds of dig-deep Qs that force you to reflect, says Chris Bennett, Nike Running global head coach. And asking them of yourself is how you tap into more potential in your running. “The point of asking questions is that there are answers. You always end having learned something about yourself,” says Bennett. “If you’re not asking questions and you just had a crappy run, you won’t know why — and you won’t know how to improve.”
The Simple Change
After every run, ask yourself, How did that go?
Your default response may be to put yourself down. (I ran slow because I’m not a good runner.) Or maybe you gloss over things that could have gone better. (Another easy 5 miles, pretty standard.)
Instead, what you want to do is be kind, honest, and real in your response, just like a good coach would, and think of ways to make the run go better next time, even if you felt like you nailed it.
That means you need to give your answer context, says Bennett. “Ask yourself, Why did the run not go well? What else was going on with you? Conversely, if the run felt awesome, ask yourself why that happened too.”
Then, like a coach, do something with that information. If your body felt stiff in the first mile, take more time to allow it to adjust from not running to running (Bennett recommends five to 10 minutes of “supereasy running” followed by light stretching). Felt like you were on fire? Think about what might have contributed to that — skipping an extra cocktail, getting a good night’s rest — and try to replicate it next time.
“Keep showing up as a coach and be willing to learn, then you’re going to become a better coach,” says Bennett. “Which means you’re going to become a better runner.”
“Keep showing up as a coach and be willing to learn.”
Nike Running Global Head Coach
More Tips to Move You Forward
01. Give every run a purpose.
Each time you lace up, decide what you want to get from the workout, recommends Bennett. “The answer could be anything: to hit a certain speed, clear your head, or explore a new neighborhood.” Then, he says, if you waver on what to do during the run (Should I go faster? Tack on another mile?), ask yourself whether it will help you meet today’s goal.
02. Soak up the sport.
Follow other runners on social, watch professional runners compete, or find a runner community (hey, we’ve got an app for that). Just as a coach immerses themselves in a sport to be able to coach well, you can find inspiration and drive from watching the athleticism and energy you see in other runners, says Bennett.
03. Get in your own head.
Picture a coach on the sidelines psyching an athlete up. You can do that for yourself during a tough spot in your run, says four-time Olympian and Bowerman Track Club coach Shalane Flanagan. The phrase she tells her runners to use: Control the mind. “This is what I would say to myself during workouts if I was really struggling,” says Flanagan. “It forces you to focus on your steps and breathing instead of having a self-preservation mentality and trying to protect yourself from what's to come."
04. You do you.
A coach knows that every athlete has different strengths and weaknesses. The key is to know yours. “It's easy to get caught up in the comparison game. Am I running as fast as her? As much? As well?” says Flanagan. “But the measure of success is seeing progress within you. Constantly focusing on how you can become a better athlete is what will take you to the next level.”