Individualized Plans: Why You Might Consider Hiring a Coach

by Karen Bertasso

As I sat with my paper and pen writing out coaching plans a new email popped up on my computer next to me. I opened the email and read the headline “Do Custom Training Plans Work Better Than Basic Plans? (A Look at the Data).” As I read further, custom training plans were found to yield better results (achievement of the main goal, overall improvement and lower injury rates) than basic custom plans. Ahh, finally someone else is saying all the things I believe.

There are many types of training regimens one can follow and different ones work best for different people. In my experience, working 1-on-1 with someone that makes a unique plan based on your strengths and weaknesses has far better results. Sure, as a coach and athlete, I know we aren’t going to reinvent the wheel. Any marathon block will have staple workouts like your 20+ mile long runs, 3 x 2 miles, 3 x 3 miles etc. However there are plenty of other things that make up that cycle that differ for every athlete.

Karen with her coach, Jen Rhines, before Boston last year

Some people follow basic training programs in books like Hanson’s or Jack Daniels. However these plans are static. They lack change, flexibility to ones program if they get sick, injured and have nothing specific to one individual athlete. Alternatively, some runners have opted for a coach who trains a large group for a particular goal race. In this situation everyone follows the same cycle in terms of number of weeks building up to the event, workouts and even strength. The paces may vary but the program is essentially the same. This approach brings camaraderie and allows for some flexibility if the athlete is sick or injured.

However in my experience not everyone needs the same number of weeks in a training block and definitely not the same workouts. So what is my approach?

It begins with honoring the differences in each athlete. Every runner has his or her own strengths, weaknesses, loves and hates when it comes to training and running. There are some runners who have great short speed, but lack the drive for the longer tempos. Clearly this is my main focus if they are planning on doing a marathon. Others need to work on their turnover, while some are crazy busy and need the most efficient plan for them. Others need only 12 weeks to build up before peaking while someone else may need a good 18 weeks. Masters runners may need additional recovery days between workouts while someone else fares better by doing their workouts in minutes vs. distance.

Injury prone runners may need specific strength exercises, running terrain and training programs. Marathoners need a different strength program than a 10k runner and so forth.

Meg Louden after a PR at Boston this spring

As a runner and coach I love individualized plans. The athlete feels worthy of the coach's time since they are getting a custom program and as a coach I love learning about the differences each runner brings to the table. My favorite thing is seeing how two very different athletes (lifestyle, training habits, strengths) with the same goal can get the same result via two very different pathways. I love that I can create different approaches to reach the same goal without sacrificing other things in an athlete’s life. Because let’s be serious, none of us should be quitting our day job!

So find out what is best for you, but just remember that every athlete is different and similar goals may need different approaches based on an individual runner. Stop comparing workouts via social media and Strava and whichever path you choose, give it your all, keep your life in balance, and kick ass!

Karen at Berlin Marathon

First Place Woman Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon


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