Running is an individual sport, but it is really all about community. The running community is why we train and why we race. Each of us is ultimately looking to connect with others in some way, whether that be shared effort during a race or hard workout, a shared charitable goal, or a local social outlet. I have been coaching runners all over the world for the last 6 or 7 years, and all throughout my career as a full-time running coach, I have focused on building community. Now I have added the title of specialty running store GM to my CV, and I am working to engage the local running community just like I have the online running community.
My coaching journey in its current form, or at least the idea of structuring things as a team, started when I was running a relay race with 5 of my best online friends. Before we met up to each slog through somewhere between 30 and 40 miles of Florida heat and humidity, we hadn’t all met but we all had a great sense of one another by sharing our training on a common platform. And when we got together in the van, we immediately felt comfortable with one another and we knew that we’d all give it our best because the group was counting on it. This is what I wanted to create with my coaching practice: A team that was spread around the world that could cheer one another on, meet up for races, and feel the collective support and camaraderie that any collocated team has.
So, how to build that? In its most basic form, the coach-athlete relationship doesn’t have anything to do with a team, per se. But, people who train with others run better, race better, and stay motivated. I had to put some things in place that would make a far-flung group feel a sense of togetherness. Here’s what worked for me and my crew:
Have common goals. Whenever possible, I encourage my athletes to run races that other teammates will be running. This gives them a common goal to work toward. This also lets me overlap some workouts for people (whether they are located together or in different places). Whenever I see teammates talking about a shared dislike for my evil coaching methods, I know I’m doing my job right!
Leverage online platforms for uplifting interactions. We have a private team Facebook group, a private team training log on Strava, etc. On these platforms, the only rule for interactions is that everyone has to be positive toward one another. One little comment from across the country can go a long way toward motivating a runner for the next hard session.
Have a feedback loop for the coach and athlete. I plan out training in outline form for all of my runners, but update their actual training plan for them each week. I also require that everyone track their training in a format that I can see from anywhere at any time. This gives me more opportunities to check in, see how they are doing, and provide them encouragement or coaching from afar.
Gamify things. This approach is something that works really well for virtual training groups as well as local ones. Turning everyday training into a game, whether it be by using a simple leaderboard or a basic points system for simple things helps people feel engaged with the group and their own training.
Of course, we’re all different. I’ve found over the years that some runners respond really well to group-focused approaches while others prefer a more individualized approach. At the end of the day, if you’re a coach or a runner who is looking to engage a group over the long term, one of the most important things to understand is what motivates and excites each person. I know that some runners feed on being “called out” in public for great workouts while others prefer a quick note privately. Some people love to train to rack up leaderboard points while others don’t love comparisons. Each community will take on its own personality based on the individuals who comprise it. My advice to anyone looking to build a strong community of runners is this: Take the time to get to know the runners beyond their times and workouts. Find out what drives each person and look to integrate that with your community approach to training and/or hanging out.
If you’re a runner looking for a training group or coach, here are some indicators that you might want to find some outside help to improve your running:
- You feel like your training has become stale or repetitive
- Your racing times have plateaued
- You feel like you lack accountability to follow through with your plans
- You know you want to improve in a particular area but lack the expertise about how to get there
- You have recurring injuries or weaknesses that you don’t know how to fix
If you fall into some or all of these buckets, start looking around for a coach or local training group to work with. Make sure to ask a lot of questions so you end up with a good working relationship with whomever you choose!
Whether you’re a runner, coach, store owner, or just want to engage more with different runners, just remember that it all comes back to community and connections. The more you make running a group sport, the better it will be for everyone involved.
Caleb Masland is the founder/CEO and Head Coach of Coach Caleb Masland, LLC. He is also the General Manager at Up N Running in Boone, NC. Caleb is sponsored by Skechers Performance and SWORD Endurance Nutrition. More information about Caleb as a coach and runner can be found at coachcaleb.com.