Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Decision to Become a Coach

I'll admit, a long haired hippie child who seldom wears a shirt or socks doesn't fit the whole "running coach" profile.

Coach George Dales and members of Western Michigan University CC team

I started out my own running career as a totally unfocused 19 year old. I knew I liked running, but never wanted to take it seriously. I transferred to WMU in 2008 at the age of 21(or whatever year Obama got elected. Don't bother me with details). After spending some time with people who ran competitively in high school and college, I realized that I wasn't all that different. Abbey Goetz, a close friend of mine, finally convinced me to join our school's running club. I went reluctantly, and I told myself it was to be social and spend time with other runners. I didn't want anything to do with track workouts, tempo runs or any of that. I was an ultrarunner(I had just completed my first 50k), and didn't think it was necessary.

At my first running club practice, I met a small, portly older gentleman. Immediately after shaking my hand, he told me to touch my toes. I reluctantly did, but only because I didn't want to be noncompliant. I reached my feet, despite feeling snap, crackles and pops that aren't normally heard by a 21 year old. The man decided I was ok, until he looked down at my Vibram Fivefingers that looked like they had been plucked from the garbage. All this man knew about me is that I run long and really slow, don't like running fast, and don't wear running shoes.

For a few weeks, I showed up to the club on "easy days" to goof off and run with my friends. I somehow managed to have "things to do" on days when they ran hard. One day, somebody changed the schedule and neglected to tell me. I felt like I had been ambushed with a surprise speed workout.

800m repeats.

I had no choice. I didn't have the cajones to walk away, and I didn't have the legs to run this workout. Some of us run long to mask the lack of fortitude it takes to admit that our speed could use improvement. I was once one of those people.

I suffered through the workout, until Coach pulled me off the track and told me that that was enough. He probably had enough of seeing my red face bounce awkwardly along the track and hearing my asthmatic lungs wheeze by him. I felt awful. I was sick. I felt defeated. I was the slowest piece of crap on the track.

I was addicted.

Like any other addiction, it felt bad at first. Remember when you had beer or coffee the first time? Did you ever think it would be something you'd use to get yourself awake in the morning or something you'd enjoy with friends after work? There's something about it that brings us back. We may not like how it feels initially, but we love the effect.

It probably didn't help that I had great training partners. I grew and learned with a group of runners that shared my desire and drive, even if I didn't know that I possessed it. We had no cross county or track team to hope to try out for. No scouts looking at us. No scholarships on the line. All we had was our small group, and our wise old coach. I'm not sure if I maintained a love of running because of college or in spite of it. Whether I'm out to make any good in this world or not, I owe a lot of my happiness to people like Abbey Goetz, Alex Poulsen, Evan Groendyk, and James Webber.

If you're scrolling down to find the point of all this...this is the general vicinity.

Only later did I realize just how great my coach was. George Dales, unbeknownst to me, is one of the most influential people in collegiate cross country. In my own little world, he was my first and most influential running coach. He came down to the field house on his own time to coach a bunch of misfits who just loved running. We were often irreverent and aloof, not wanting to follow his instruction. The more we ran, the more we trusted him. He led countless athletes in both collegiate and Olympic running to their potential. Who were we to disagree?

I was still an ultrarunner at heart, so I decided to represent our little club at the Kal Haven Trail Run. The team set up a fast relay group, and I ran the distance solo. I planned on being incredibly slow, as my last ultra was a bit abysmal. Long story short- I ran harder and faster than I expected, winning my age group, and nearly running a Boston qualifying time in the first 26.2 miles of the 34mile race.

The day I realized that being a "real runner" is whatever you want it to be.
The team did exceedingly well at their respective distances, and I surpassed my expectations for the ultra. The lesson I learned, even if it wasn't for a couple years, is that structured, quality training is a perfect supplement to wandering and enjoying running. They aren't mutually exclusive, but rather have the ability to inspire the polarizing sides of us - the drive for self improvement and the desire to spend time with our thoughts in the outdoors.

What does this have to do with me wanting to be a coach? I feel that everybody has a niche to fill. Mine is unique, just like anyone's. I love being a recreational athlete, but I feel that the best way to have fun is to give it your all. I've been on all ends of the spectrum. Holding off on athletic endeavors until early adulthood gave me an understanding of "starting at the bottom." Running two-a-days in college helped me understand the importance of dedication, training, and passion. Training while working full time helps me understand the plight of the working class hero.

Knowing you've put the effort into an upcoming event makes it even more fun. I want to help people achieve that feeling. Peak performance doesn't always have to involve course records or gold medals. I want to coach a person to reach their potential.

I'm starting an online coaching project. It's not a "get rich quick scheme" I cooked up to avoid a real job. It's a way for me to channel my drive to help. Call me an idealist, but I truly believe that a focus on movement and getting in touch with our more dedicated, passionate selves. I've found it to be the case with me.

I also need something fun to do with my American College of Sports Medicine Certification and Bachelor's in Exercise Science (there. I didn't exceed my self prescribed 2 line maximum for credential-dropping). is up, but I'm still working on it. As readers of my personal blog, I consider you very valuable consultants. I value altruism above nearly everything, so I want people to know that I value the client coach relationship as a partnership. If there's any suggestions, let 'em fly! "Truth over harmony," as I've been told.

Jeff Vander Kooi has done me the honor of being the first athlete I coach. He's been doing an amazing job since November. I can't take credit for his drive and dedication, but I do send him his training plans weekly and provide feedback. He's keeping a log of his training for a trail 25k on April 1st. Check it out here:


  1. Awesome post dude! I have never met you, but have been reading your blog for about a year now. I appreciate your honest and humor, best of luck!

    1. Thanks Mike, for both reading and the good wishes!

  2. NICE!! i like the new website.

  3. Jesse,

    After hiring a business coach I learned more about coaching than I ever imagined. Coaching is bossing someone around, giving them ideas they didn't already have, or teaching them too many new things.
    Coaches bring out whats already there. They figure out what the person already knows and fans the fire on their strengths and teaches about their weaknesses. Most people who hire a coach all ready know what they need to do, they usually just want someone to hold them accountable. The accountability is something that is worth paying for. For an ultra runner like yourself, it will be a unique challenge for you to identify the stregths and weaknesses of human beings, others that you don't know like yourself. When you hurt you can feel pain. When another human hurts it isn't as obvious. Best of luck in your endevors.

  4. There's this little 12 hour race that I'd like to possibly win. Do something about it.