Coaches And Camps: A Great New Trend

AJWs TaproomFrom my perspective, two of the excellent byproducts of the growth of ultrarunning over the past few years have been the increase in the number of people offering coaching services to runners and the development of running camps in places across the country and around the world. These developments have expanded the reach of the sport and provided great opportunities beyond racing for an ever-increasing range of runners to take advantage of our beloved pastime.

A quick search around the internet reveals a wide range of coaching services available in a wide variety of formats. Many of the folks offering coaching are elite athletes themselves and many offer customized programs for runners of all ages and abilities. What I like so much about this movement is that it indicates a willingness to seek assistance in doing something that is at once mysterious and alluring. For a sport that began as somewhat of a fringe activity, the burgeoning coaching market is, in my view, a positive sign that we are heading in the right direction.

In talking to a few coaches over the last year, it is clear that the best programs out there are specifically customized to individual runners targeting specific events. While there are certainly ‘generalist’ coaches available, the most successful ones seem to be those that can specialize in finding what is just right for each runner. I suppose this is not surprising as we have long adhered to the notion of ultramarathon training and racing as an ‘experiment of one’ but including a coach in the process has allowed people to remove some of the mysterious variables from the equation by seeking true, professional support. Generally, I believe, this coaching movement has allowed more people to train and race smarter which, as we all know, is fundamental for success particularly in races 100k or longer.

In addition to the coaching boom, I have been equally intrigued by the growing running-camp market. A few years ago, several camps began popping up in various parts of the country and now it seems as though there are dozens. These adult ‘summer camps’ seem to capture a lot of the essence of the ultra culture. Bringing together like-minded people to run beautiful routes while enjoying great food and inspiring camaraderie, these camps are, I believe, subtly altering the attitude runners have about their sport and the people who practice it.

With the camps, in particular, I have been so inspired that I am considering starting one myself here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. While it seems to be a great deal of logistical work to create such a camp, it also strikes me as something that would be richly rewarding to all involved. Perhaps if I can carve out some time in the next year or so, I can get a camp started here.

I know, at times, the tone of this column can get a little curmudgeonly as I have bemoaned all the changes in my beloved niche sport. But, as you can see, it’s not like I think all change is bad. In fact, the growth of coaching and camps are changing the sport for the better and I strongly urge any of you interested in diving more fully into the essence of ultramarathon running to look at this movement as a step in the right direction.

Bottoms up!

Russian River Brewing Company SupplicationAJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California. In fact, today, the annual craziness of the Pliny the Younger release begins at their brewery in Santa Rosa, so in honor of that event I am recommending their Supplication Sour Ale. I had a couple of pints of this the last time I was out there and it was one of the best sours I have tasted. Aged in wine barrels from some of the local wineries, Supplication is amazing in that it is at once sour and fruity. A rare combination indeed!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have a coach? Without mentioning their name specifically, can you describe the experiences and knowledge you have gained by being coached?
  • Have you attended a trail running camp or are you considering it? What qualities or experiences did you or are you looking for? What are you hoping to gain from an event like this?

There are 13 comments

  1. lstomsl

    There's nothing inherently wrong with coaching. I know several coaches and I trust every one. But there are bad coaches as well, and bad coaches are the most common way that performance enhancing drugs enter a sport. There have been more than 30 PED positives among African elite marathon runners over the past few years and they blame their coaches for introducing them to doping methods.

    Today in ultra-running, where any kind of drug testing is the exception rather than the rule, we have one of the dirtiest coaches in the history of sport suddenly becoming the hottest coach in our sport. And we seem to be opening him with open arms. His name gets praised repeatedly on this site and others and never once has he, or his athletes been asked about the connection to doping.

    It's time for ultra-runners who love their sport, to stand together and reject coaches with shady pasts before our sport becomes a laughingstock in the same way that cycling has become and that marathon is becoming. Coaches are great, but dirty coaches will ruin our sport.

  2. lstomsl

    There can be no doubt as to Carmichael's history. What is ignorant is anyone thinking he is a legitimate coach. It is highly likely that he will be banned from coaching once all of Lance Armstrong's legal issues are concluded. It is also not debatable that CTS is making huge inroads into Ultra-running. Three of the top 5 at TNF 50 last month were his clients. We need to keep coaches like Carmichael out of ultra-running for the good of the sport.

    Of course being coached by CTS doesn't automatically mean a runner is doping but it does mean they do not care about clean sport and they can no longer claim to have no ability to get doping products. Their results should be viewed with suspicion.

  3. wMichaelOwen

    I had a bad feeling I'd scroll down and see a couple negative commentators on this subject. Their main basis is that the rise in coaching is the "worst thing." But for me, what is damaging the sport is such negative comments like these above. Slow down and and don't assume those being coached "do not care about clean sport." That is unfair to great people who have no ties whatsoever to what you are mentioning!

    I disagree that ultra coaching is a direct result of the influx of money in ultra running. Yes, ultra running has grown in the last five years, but coaching seems like a natural progression along the ultra growth progression. More people are getting serious about running better, and coaching is a way to do that. Money aside, I think we would still see coaching, because there are so many non-elite runners seeking coaches as well.

    1. lstomsl

      Nobody claimed coaching in general is a bad thing or that people being coached in general do not care about clean sport. What I and others have said is that we have a coach with a well documented 30 year history of involvement in doping, including doping underage kids without their knowledge or consent. People who would do business with such a person and welcome them into our sport with open arms without asking questions loose their credibility to claim that they are an advocate for clean sport. There are many other coaches available without such a sordid history, and if an athlete or coach does care about clean sport and doesn't want their results to be questioned they have many, many options to choose from..

    2. lstomsl

      And questioning such people is not "damaging" the sport. Not asking questions is what will result in our sport being damaged. Do you think cycling benefited from decades of people refusing to ask questions? No, it was damaged because the media was afraid to ask questions and there was nothing preventing riders from turning the sport into a laughingstock. The same will happen to ultra-running if everybody sticks their head in the sand and refuses to acknowledge the problem.

  4. @runwillt

    I just recently went looking for an ultrarunning coach and was surprised by the amount of talented runners that have made themselves available as coaches. As I did my research most of them also had extensive coaching history. I found this as AJW stated a very positive situation for our sport. What other sport do you see the best in the sport reaching out to the rest in such an encouraging way.

  5. garygellin

    I'm not aware of a web site which lists all these camps, but it is an exciting development. Four years ago I urged Stan Jensen to create a "trail running tours" stub on his site. Now I see he has a whole section devoted to coaching and camps.

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