Building your Running Board of Directors

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Photo credit: CEO – Tiare – Board Meeting by Flickr user tiarescott under a Creative Commons license. Hopefully your “running board of directors” is a bit more lively in providing you counsel and criticism.

Being successful in the long run as a runner has a lot in common with planning a professional career – you need to set growth objectives, develop the right skills, and position yourself to get lucky once in a while.  And, you need to find the right coaches and mentors to provide you guidance and challenge your beliefs and performance once in a while.  Therefore, the idea of developing a personal board of directors (BOD) translates well to running.

The idea is to build a network of consultants with the right experience and knowledge of your capabilities and limitations to be able to provide insights and feedback that you would struggle to get on your own. In a career, this may be past managers, classmates who have been successful, or former co-workers who have advanced in their career.  Often, these individuals will not work at the same company, or at least in the same department, as you do, thus encouraging candid discussion about the realities of your current job situation and future opportunities, and providing advice on how to overcome the inevitable hurdles you will face.

Just like a corporation, the BOD exists as both a resource for and a check against the CEO (i.e., you).  They provide an “expert panel” from a range of backgrounds from which new ideas in countering challenges can originate.  They also serve as a voice of reason to help prevent the CEO from steering off course.  Unlike a company, your personal board of directors will not sit down on regular occasions for formal meetings, of course.  But the idea of drawing this board from a range of backgrounds and using them as a source of diverse opinions is still the key to providing sound advise as you advance in your running endeavors.

As you build your own board, try to tap into a broad range of the expertise you might need to cover all aspects of your training, from setting goals to preventing injuries.  Some of the types of individuals you may wish to involve include the following.  By way of example, I’ll share the names of the individuals I’d consider to be on my own running BOD – note that I’ve not asked any of them formally to serve in such a role, as there is no need to make it “official.”

The Goal-Setter

Many of us can benefit from having a confidant to share ideas regarding our goals and get candid feedback.  The mentor can help you with your thought processes on setting appropriate stretch goals, and the encouragement you need along the way to stay motivated to reach them. This can be a tough role to fill, and I’d be hard-pressed to identify a specific individual who has served as my mentor in this capacity.  Applications are welcome.

The Coach

This may seem an obvious one, and you may have a formal coach would would clearly be a key member of your BOD.  However, you don’t need to have an established relationship with a coach to benefit from their expertise; you can follow along on their training thoughts on their website or blog (if they have one), or their running journal from dailymile or other sources, get feedback from other runners they coach, and even ask them occasional questions. Obviously, the coach’s role is to help you design a training program that will set you up to meet your goals.

While I’m largely a self-coached runner, modeling plans off of the work of Hal Higdon, Jack Daniels, and Pete Pfitzinger, there are still a few individuals who fill the coaching role on my BOD, without knowing it.  By “fill this role”, I mean that they create workouts that I learn from and build into plans, and I have little doubt that they would be happy to answer any questions I’d have regarding their thought processes on training.  Fortunately, I don’t often have to ask as they document their approaches pretty well.

The Trainer

This role differs from the coach in that they focus on the non-running aspects of your training – cross-training, strength, and flexibility.  Frankly, many running plans are a bit light on the details of how to cross-train well, and what exercises are necessary to reduce the risk of injury.  It can be very helpful to find someone who has had injury issues of their own and successfully fought back, thus learning how to become more effective at avoiding injuries in the future.  Be careful, though, to find someone who actually is a runner, as the strength-training helpful for, say, basketball is different than what is idea for running.

The Gear Guru

Another element that is critical to running is the selection and care of appropriate gear, most importantly shoes. Maybe you can benefit from a resident expert at a local shoe store who understands enough about your individual goals, form, and training approaches to be able to soundly and unbiasedly recommend shoe selections.  But there are also other experts who are happy to offer their advice (accurate or not) regarding shoes – tread carefully to be sure that they either understand enough about your particular running patterns to make appropriate recommendations or are more focused on the process of finding the right shoe than on the specific product selected.

While I have stumbled across a gentleman at our local shoe store who seems to run in a similar form and training approach as I do, and he has turned me on to the Nike Lunarfly’s, I generally turn to Pete Larson at Runblogger for his thoughts on how your running form impacts your shoe selection (and vice versa); Pete’s process rigor in evaluating shoes is a model we can all strive to follow, and his efforts in encouraging a shift towards minimalist shoes while doing so gradually seems to strike a more responsible balance than others have achieved.

The Critic

A key role of any BOD is to challenge your assumptions and make sure that you are being rigorous in your thought process regarding goals and training.  Thus, it is helpful to have at least one member who takes a different approach and has different general opinions than you do in order to make sure you aren’t taking your own views for granted.  This role is especially important when you are facing injury – you will hear lots of encouragement to get out and run, and you really need the voice of reason and restraint to make sure you don’t push yourself too quickly.  This can be a difficult role to fill.  First, you may resist doing so as it means admitting that you need occasional chiding.  Second, it can be difficult to find someone truly capable of speaking their mind candidly.

For me this choice is pretty easy – it’s Chaz Hinkle.  While a veteran marathoner and a longtime runner, Chaz takes a real long-term perspective on running and pushes back against anyone’s efforts to place too much emphasis on one race or even one season.  He was the one who encouraged me to rest and seek other advice when I encountered my hamstring strain last fall, and doesn’t hesitate to question me when I push myself too far or too fast, specifically when I returned to running intervals just a week after a marathon last year.  On the other side, Chaz has also pushed me to set more aggressive goals for some events, thus providing encouragement and motivation to reach further.

There may be other roles you want to have on your BOD.  Maybe you need someone to provide moral support when times get challenging, or someone who can help you figure out how to fit running into your hectic life (and I’m happy to fill such a role if you need it).  Your BOD composition should be just as individual as you are as a runner, as only you can understand where you need the most support or push-back as you seek to become the best runner that you can.

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