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. andymxyz

    Meghan – in your call for comments, why do you ask that coaches not be mentioned by name? Wouldn't that be valuable information for the community to share?

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Hi andymxyz,

      I’m with you in that a conversation about what areas certain coaches excel in and where certain coaches have specifically aided particular kinds of athletes would be beneficial, but I’m not sure the comments section of an article that discusses the rise of the concept in trail and ultrarunning on a philisophical level is the right place to hash out those details. First, AJW approaches the topic on a broad-spectrum level, and, with my call for comments, I was encouraging a conversation that follows his lead. Also, it would be very easy for a conversation about who’s who in coaching to digress to a popularity contest, which wouldn’t help anyone in finding the right kind of coach for their specific goals and personality type. With Bryon and I both working on live race coverage today, we won’t be here to help guide the conversation toward one that’d be most useful for readers. I’m totally with you on the concept, though, and we will think about finding the right medium to have the conversation you seek. Thanks for writing.

        1. Meghan Hicks


          Well, my call for comments to this article as well as my comment above were certainly not intended to provide AJW and no one else a platform to ‘plug’ themselves. I’m sad to hear you actually think that was my intent.

          First, AJW has no camp. It doesn’t exist. How can he ‘plug’ anything?

          Second, my call for comments asked for anonymity with regard to commenters talking about coaches but not camps. This was intentional. Choosing a coach should not be a who’s who sort of thing, in my opinion. In my opinion, a person should not choose a coach because that coach has a lot of top runners in their arsenal, or because they have a strong online presence, or because their coachees are vociferous about them on social media, or similar. A runner should choose a coach based upon whether their personalities match, whether the coach has proven results for the types of races a runner wants to participate in, and whether the logistics are a good match (such as in-person coaching, weekly phone calls, whatever logistical details a runner is seeking). All I was trying to do with my call for comments and comment to this article was to prevent the comments on coaches from becoming something of a popularity contest. We have a coaches page where we keep a list of a good chunk of the well-established coaches in the sport, and you’ll notice that the comments section is, unfortunately, somewhat of a popularity contest. While I think it’s great if someone wants to share why their coach works for them, a lack of specifics about why doesn’t really help anyone else person find/choose a coach. I was just trying to avoid that situation from happening again.

          Finally, as for not asking for anonymity with regard to camps, that’s because, in my opinion, who is present at a camp would be a big draw for why I would go to one. ‘Summer camp’ for grown-ups has a massive fun element to it, for me. Sure, I’d hopefully learn a few good things, but the majority of your time is spent running and socializing so I better enjoy who I’m with. That goes for both the leaders and the participants. Not that I would want a conversation about camps to become a popularity contest, either, but to me the actual person side of the equation for camps is much more relevant.

          I apologize if I didn’t convey my intent well here.

  2. Raiderxc

    Sign me up. I attended an adult camp in the Blue Ridge of NC last summer. Had a blast and learned a lot. The one I attended was not specifically geared toward trails or ultras, though most of the running we did was on carriage trails in Moses Cone National Park (without mentioning the specific camp or coaches) :). My daughter an I both would enjoy a camp focused on trail running and ultras.

  3. AriHammer

    While having a running coach and attending running camps is great for ultra runners, the trend of Carmichael Training Systems coaching many elite runners in the sport is the worst thing I can think of happening. A really bad trend.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. AriHammer

    Chris Carmichaels's connection to doping in endurance sports is well documented and can be found by a simple google search, or the link provided by others. Carmichael Training Systems long time tag line was "Lance Armstrong calls him coach, now you can too." In the recent TNF Championship race 4 of the top 10 were runners coached by CTS, for me this is troubling. Having said that, I'm not making any accusations regarding doping, just feel that runners and coaches that would affiliate with CTS lack principles and good judgement. I like AJW, but find it quite short sighted to say coaching in ultra running is a good trend and not address the fact that a guy with a 30 year association with Lance Armstrong and the most successful cheating operation in the history of sports is so deeply entrenched in our sport with little to no testing and in many cases not even rules prohibiting doping. So KickingStones, I don't find my comment that it is a "really bad trend" to be ignorant but do regret not giving more information (which I have done many times previously on this forum).

  7. 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.

        1. wMichaelOwen

          I think it is smart to question as well – I don't want to support cheating athletes as much as anyone else. If there is a model of testing in MUT running then lets do it – but when is out-of-season in ultra running, and what association is going to manage it?

          But I think it is unfair to, without naming names, try to cast any type of blame on the ultra runners with CTS. We can't even hint at casting doubt on individual athletes, even if they are being coached by CTS, Istomsl said above, "Their results should be viewed with suspicion." We shouldn't suspect any of their results.

  8. wnyates

    AJW – thanks for another great read! I agree with you on believing that the rise of coaching and the running camps is great for the sport. I also agree with the other comments mentioned that people and the sport in general need to be very careful on who they associate themselves with. Now I don’t know Carmichael or the coach under CTS that is training the elites, so I have no biases or agendas. That being said, it is public knowledge that Carmichael has had ties to doping scandals in the past and built his company, CTS, up largely due to his ties to Lance Armstrong. Those facts alone make a lot of people question the morals and ethics of the founder of CTS. When the media and athletes praise and provide money in the form of coaching fees to a coach that works for CTS it has the unintended consequences of looking like they do not care about doping because ultimately those dollars and free advertising benefit the founder who has ties to doping scandals. I’m not saying that athletes that work with CTS are going to dope because I genuinely believe the current athletes that are working with CTS would never do such a thing. And I’m not saying that all coaches under CTS have the same attitude toward doping as the founder because that is likely not the case. However, CTS and its founder have a dark cloud over them due to doping scandal ties and to welcome them in and not address the issue only makes it look worse to the ultra running community. I’m sure the reason the athletes have gone to the coach at CTS is because he is a good guy and coach, but when the media ignores CTS’s ties to doping scandals it looks bad. Without a current drug testing program in the sport, the media really is the only outlet for these issues to be addressed. It would be great to hear from the athletes working with the coach at CTS on why they chose to do so knowing the founder’s ties to doping. It would also be great to hear from the coach at CTS on why he is still coaching at CTS knowing the founder’s ties to doping. I’m sure there are valid reasons for both, but without the open dialogue the dark cloud continues to hang over CTS and now its involvement in ultra running.

  9. @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.

  10. @runwillt

    I think it is important to note that AJW has been offering FREE coaching for awhile now to some lucky WS100 entrants. I don't know his future intentions, but based upon past experience, I'm willing to bet if AJW puts on a running camp, profit would be the furthest thing from his mind. Now free beer….? That's for another discussion.

  11. 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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