How To Coach A Run (And Get People To Show Up!)

We’re all born runners.

But we’re also born squatters. We simply lose the ability to run well.

If you’re familiar with POSE running, or you’ve followed Brian Mackenzie for awhile, or you’ve been watching Chris Henshaw’s stuff, you probably have a LOT to teach your students about running well.

How do you get them to SHOW UP for a running workout?

How do you translate that knowledge into a WOD, the way you would a high-rep power snatch? After all, you’re not going to stop a runner and say, “Pull your shoulders back and try again” or “Let’s try it with a lighter weight.”

The original CrossFit.com was followed by early adopters, self-starters and workout scavengers. When a 10k run was programmed, people ran 10k and posted their times. But just like the 3-days-on-1-day-off pattern of CrossFit.com, many affiliate owners and coaches have bowed to the financial realities of running a box and simply avoid programming group runs.

Because people don’t show up for 10k runs.

“I can do that by myself,” they think…and then they usually don’t.

Instead of monostructural aerobic work–a key component to CrossFit’s method–most of us combine elements into longer AMRAPs or “for time” workouts. We sacrifice the long cyclical workouts in favor of novelty, and mostly clap along with athletes finishing the short runs in their WOD.

This has always bothered me. So I gathered the my resources in the endurance community and asked, “How do I coach this stuff?” Here were their best answers:

  • Scale by time, not effort or distance. For example, if a workout includes a 400m run, tell your runners to turn around at the 1:00 mark.
    “We’re going to run 400m, or for about two minutes. If you haven’t reached the turnaround at by the minute mark, just turn around and run back. This will help us achieve our goal of XYZ.” (See: “Explaining The Why.”)
  • Wear heart rate monitors. This is becoming far more popular (thanks, Orange Theory!) and can help your athletes scale their run to match the goal of the workout (see: “Benefits-based programming.”)
  • Give athletes updated goals each round.
    “Okay, your first 800m run was 3:30. Our goal in the next round is to be within ten percent of that time. Keep it under 3:46.”
  • Clearly explain the value of pacing.
    “The run portion of this workout is where your heart rate should recover back down. This is a great measure of fitness: can you lower your heart rate while you’re still moving? How slow do you need to go to make this happen? Let’s find out.” Again, a HR monitor helps here.
  • Set checkpoints for longer runs, or do laps.
    “Your goal for this 5k is 30:00. We have a time priority today. So we’re going to use a predictable route to keep you on track. Let’s do 5 x 1000m around the gym block, and I’ll update your splits. The first one should be a bit fast; let’s go for 5:30 to give you some margin. You should be at 2:15 at the 500m mark.”
    Hint: more people will show up for a 5x1000m run than for a 1x5000m run.
  • Set “stages” like a cycle race.
    “I’ve drawn three shapes in chalk on the course.
    When you reach a chalk drawing of a triangle, sprint until the next triangle.
    When you reach a chalk drawing of a circle, drop your speed by 10%.
    When you reach a chalk drawing of a square, increase your speed by 10%.”
  • Dictate a tempo instead of a blank slate.
    “I want you to run at this tempo: 30 seconds at a smooth run, and then 10 at a walk. If you can’t stay on the balls of your feet, take a full 30-second interval off. Your goal is to run 5k while maintaining this interval.”

As you see, most of the ideas involve introducing novelty to make the run more interesting. The goal of the workout (longer monostructural “aerobic” work) is still maintained, but the workouts are far more interesting.

The less-obvious feature of these workouts is coach engagement. If you issue “5k run” as the workout of the day, the coach simply can’t COACH every runner individually outside of a 1:1 session. With these templates, the runners are being coached: either as they hit a checkpoint and receive feedback on their time, or through tempo timing on their watch, or cues like the chalk shapes. They never have to think, “What am I doing? Is this right?” or feel like they’re doing something they could do on their own.

In short:

  • Explain the benefits (not the features) of the workout in advance on your blog.
  • Create opportunities to coach during the run, not just drill technique and send them off.
  • Follow the principles of “constant coaching”: never let the athlete go 30 seconds without getting an instruction point.
  • Make it interesting.

Long runs or rows have benefits far beyond aerobic conditioning. They teach resilience; get athletes into their own heads; and broaden the scope of your practice beyond barbell EMOMs. But you shouldn’t have to trick athletes into showing up (no joke: this happens often) for monostructural workouts.

Go run!

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