Faith in Your Training

This is not about religion. This is about a belief though – a belief in your training; a belief in your coach. I’m going to share what so many coaches won’t do – some specific failures. I do this in hopes that everyone out there will learn from them, as I have.

There isn’t a coach out there who believes their training approach or programs aren’t the best possible. It would be incongruous. They believe in their product. Likewise, for an athlete to prosper under any program, that athlete must have faith that it is leading them the best way possible to their end performance goals.

So, why do athletes often change coaches? For the self-coached runner, why do they jump from program to program (like the Runner’s World one-size-fits-all downloads especially after reading that article that revealed the “secret” to racing faster 5ks or the “magic of more miles” or whatever)? Why are some coaches not as effective with some athletes as other coaches? Is it just about the fact that one wanted 400 meter repeats a couple seconds faster, or slower, or reduced mileage, or increased mileage, or is it the rapport between the coach and athlete? The answer is complex. But I have found one unmistakeable aspect to a few of them.

I have failed with some athletes. When I review the programs, I’m still confident they were sound. Like any perfectionist I think about a hundred variations, tweaks and adjustments I could have made. But, in clearer moments I realize that wasn’t the issue. From the beginning, in these cases, I found resistance and skepticism to what I proposed to them. In the end, I believe I failed at being able to convince them – to have faith in the program and approach. They did not want to give up what they already “knew”… even though they sought me out because they knew it wasn’t working. In the end as I found out, as we’ve talked about their running, the fact is that they added, deleted or otherwise changed workouts in order to “make it better”.

In one case a woman was trying to improve her 5k and 10k times. The woman insisted on a 12+ mile run every weekend and no complete rest days to keep her mileage up because it made her “strong”. Though her times indeed dropped, she failed to improve appreciably. She ended up with chronic minor injuries and aches and pains. She was very discouraged and specifically blamed the training program – which she drastically altered. She will not get faster until she decides to change what she is doing, and believes it will help.

An Olympic distance triathlete similarly insisted on long runs (10+ miles slow). She refused to alter aspects of her training – just wanted to “add” to make her faster. Her times indeed dropped too but not near what she was capable of. She will not get faster until she decides to change what she is doing, and believes it will help.

A good age group runner believed he only got strong and stayed strong through running on trails – though he raced on roads (not trails) exclusively. He maintained 3 runs per week on trails despite our discussions and the need to transition. His trail run paces could not match the paces he needed to reach in workouts. We parted ways after only a few months because he was not improving as expected. He still runs about the same pace for 5k, 10k and half-marathons. Yes, he’s strong, but slow by all comparisons in shorter distances. He will not improve until he decides to change, and believes it will help.

On the other hand, I’ve succeeded with some runners who floundered under other coaches. I would love to say it was only my marvelously research based programs I planned for them. However, there is more. They bought into the system. They practiced with the belief that it was going to work. (Rob is a perfect example of this.) 

None of this should be surprising. Even in medical literature there are numerous accounts of patients getting better even though they received only placebos. Likewise, some have died with conditions that were not serious and the treatments should have cured them. These patients believed that they would not recover… and they ended up right.

So, to the point of this post. Believe or don’t believe, but it will most definitely affect your results. The psychology literature is packed with examples of the placebo effect. It’s a reason the best studies are blind or double-blind. It keeps a person’s beliefs out of the picture – more neutral. Our belief that something is working can manifest itself in better results than ever anticipated. There is no doubt standing at the starting line with doubts about your training puts you a step behind the person who is confident in theirs.

Now it’s not to say that great psychology makes up for bad training programs. It definitely doesn’t. But the difference in the best performances is a melding of mental and physical – and belief in your training is a critical edge every athlete needs!

I recently started coaching a gentleman for a half-marathon. He is a staunch heart rate training advocate. But, he wasn’t improving and sought me out. After a complete assessment, long discussions and debate – he has committed to following my program until the half-marathon. I actually believe he will. Three weeks into it, he is following everything perfectly. He’s already seeing a difference which has totally surprised him. I can’t wait to see what happens. Stay tuned. I’ll update everyone after he runs PF Changs Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon in January.

In the mean time, keep the faith! It just may be the difference that makes the difference.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
This entry was posted in Motivation, Sports Psychology, Training Effectiveness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Faith in Your Training

  1. Pingback: Spring Marathon Training Plan Overview- Part II

  2. Ok,
    I neglected to update everyone on my gentleman’s results in the PF Chang’s half-marathon. Well, he improved on his PR by almost 10 minutes – running a sub 1:50. To say the least he is pleased.. and a believer.
    Coach Dean

  3. Pingback: Faith in your Training Take II « The Running World According to Dean

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