In September I hosted what I called an Attitude of Gratitude taco party for my runners that are local to me in San Diego. I said a few words and thanked them for trusting me with their bodies and training. I asked them who makes a runner a better runner, the runner or the coach? They answered the coach and I answered the runner. Who is right? Is there even a right answer?
When I posed the question, I had a couple of things in mind. First, the fact that 80% of the runners that come to me, I must ask them to suspend their beliefs about how training is supposed to be. Each runner must have an open mind, or I already know my system will not work for them. They must have a mindset shift. In my niche of runners, we talk about the mindset shift a lot. Only the runner can make that change. Second, I had a famous coach in mind, Alberto Salazar. Remember, this conversation was happening in September. Many people in the past would have called Salazar the best running coach because he produces the best American distance runners, many going onto the Olympics. The truth is, the best distance runners went to train with him at the Nike Oregon Project. Talent came to Salazar, not that he developed the talent. There is a difference. In his day, he was a talented runner, but talent doesn’t mean you know how to develop a runner over time. It doesn’t mean you understand how the body works. A running “coach” is not just a title. It isn’t because you have been there done that. It isn’t a weekend or online certification. It is an understanding of systems. Systems in the body; metabolic, physiologic, biomechanical, and even psychological.
In October, Salazar received a four-year ban from coaching athletics for doping charges for playing with the hormone levels of some of his runners. Dirty, dirty. You have the most talented young Americans and their everything is compromised. In the spirit of good old debate, not because I agree with what he did, how else would you develop talent in a runner that has already achieved their inherent ceiling of ability? When the best in the country come to you, how do you make them better? I say regress. Take one step backwards to take two steps forward. Yes, I published that statement. At least I am consistently consistent going against popular opinion.
What about the picture attached to this blog? The picture of Mary Cain that went viral on November 7th in an Opinion piece in The New York Times. Most people didn’t know who she was, but found the story appalling, because it was. She told her story, in her words that she was the fastest girl in America until she went to train with Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project. This story is easily Googled, so I will spare you all the details, but bottom line she claims she was starved, emotionally abused, and publicly ridiculed for her race times that got worse instead of better while training with Salazar. She later found the courage to leave Salazar and the program.
I started composing a blog about Salazar on October 6th. I revisited it on my computer before composing the current blog. The timing would have been incredible with the Mary Cain story coming out one month later. I felt compelled to compose this blog now because so many of my runners tagged me on social media on the Mary Cain story, shared it in my private Facebook page for my runners, and even texted me the story. I feel bad for Mary Cain, but for me the story is larger than just her story. It is about the role of the coach, mostly who is “qualified” to coach. Lastly, it is about the relationship between the coach and the runner and I believe that is why so many of my runners felt like I needed to know about the story.
So, what do you think…who makes a runner a better runner, the runner or the coach? On another note, thanks for reading and when you are ready to find out what a relationship can be like with a coach, check me out!