If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you may remember that about 9 weeks before the Chicago Marathon my husband, Wes, hired a running coach.
Wes began running back in college and had taken himself from a 3:50 to a 2:29; however, he knew he had reached a point where he need some help and accountability. His dream of the Olympic Trials is a big one, and we knew it was time for him to take that next step.
After some research, and lots of phones calls, he began working with Dan Walters of DWRunning. After 9 weeks, he was able to help Wes drop his time to a 2:27 in Chicago and now they are working on big goals for the Boston Marathon in April!
I was given a great opportunity to interview Dan and thought it would be awesome to share on the blog! It’s a long one, but he has a lot of wonderful things to say! Without further adieu, lets get to it…
1. To get us started, can you share with us about your personal running background?
I started running at 13 years old, after being cut from the middle school basketball team. Despite not initially being enthusiastic about running, I learned to love the sport over time. My father, DWRunner Dave Walters, was (and still is!) an accomplished, blue-collar runner (as a 2x State Champion in high school, All-American in college and Olympic Trials qualifier post-collegiately), and I was able to use his influence to find the true essence and beauty of the sport. Through him, I’ve learned innumerable lessons about hard work, passion and perseverance.
After several years of non-stop hard work, I became a respectable high school runner (PRs of 4:24 (1600m) and 9:27 (3200m)) and eventually walked on to the cross country and track teams at the University of Illinois, where I had big dreams. I competed for two years before succumbing to an achilles injury that has plagued me ever since. In the past year or so, I have gotten the injury under control and am now running 20-35 miles per week (with sporadic quality workouts/racing), as my coaching allows.
2. When did you first decide to begin coaching?
While struggling with my injury in college (circa 2005), I had a unique perspective on running – I had a fiery passion for running, wisdom passed down to me from my father, my own experiences training as a (relatively) high level runner and the valuable lessons learned while sidelined with my injury. Soon after meeting my wife in college, she expressed interest in running her first half marathon. Being the overconfident boyfriend, I said “I know a bit, I can help!”. I threw a 12 week plan together for her, and after executing on it, she ran faster than her goal in that half marathon. When she surpassed her goal, I experienced a surge of pride/accomplishment on my end that was something I hadn’t felt before. At the time, I didn’t quite understand exactly why certain training stimuli worked or how to properly work someone through a series of progressive workouts, but I did know that I absolutely freaking loved coaching! From there, I started coaching other family members/friends and began to really take my coaching more seriously until it progressed to where it is today.
3. What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is looking for a coach?
First, it’s important to do a bit of self reflection – think about your strengths/weaknesses as an athlete and where you’d like to see your career take you. Then start researching and asking around. Since we now have the ability to immediately interact with coaches around the world thanks to the internet, there are many options! Try to find EXACTLY what you’re looking for. Not only do different coaches have different philosophies on the technicalities of training, they also have different coaching styles. Hands on vs. hands off, tough love vs. cheerleader, etc. Even the most knowledgeable coach in the world is not right for everyone. Know what type of coach will motivate you, and look for a coach whose style will not only compliment your strengths but also will help you best work on your weaknesses. If you can find a coach that meshes with what’s best for you, you’ll connect/communicate well which is the key to a healthy coach/athlete relationship!
4. What levels of athletes do you train?
I train runners of all levels, no exceptions. As long as an athlete loves to run, wants to get faster and is willing to work HARD to get there, I want to coach them! I currently have marathoners that are over 4 hours and I’ve also coached several who are in the 2:20s and one who has qualified for the US Olympic Marathon Trials. My niche does seem to be coaching marathoners in the 2:40-3:10 range – we have an incredibly hardworking stable of runners in that range in Chicago (and nationwide) currently!
5. What is the most rewarding part of being a running coach?
The obvious answer is coaching a runner to a new lifetime best – it doesn’t get much better than being along on someone’s journey as they become better than EVER before! Even more rewarding for me is seeing someone have ‘it’ click for them during the process of becoming a better runner. And everyone has a different ‘it’ that they’re working on in their training. Maybe it’s finally negative splitting a race, or finishing the last couple miles of a long run stronger, or correctly holding back on a workout and understanding why that was the right decision. Seeing things click for an athlete, seeing them realize that the hard work is truly working – THAT is the best!
6. What is the hardest part about being a running coach?
The most difficult part for me is race day for any of my athletes! Even though I know that a properly trained athlete will be so prepared (mentally and physically) for race day that the whole experience will flow naturally, I’m still a ball of nerves as that runner chases their goals!
7. What type of athlete/runner do you think would benefit from a coach?
I find that the athletes that tend to most need a coach are those that are highly invested in their running but have extremely busy lives outside of running. Athletes with many outside commitments often have too much stress and not enough time. A quality personal coach will take away all of the stress that comes with writing and maintaining a fluid training program, leaving the athlete free to run their workouts, get their recovery work/strength in and get on with their life!
8. What is the most common mistake you see runners making?
The most common mistake I see is athletes being unwilling to alter their training schedule when they really need to. There are so many unpredictable variables in life (work, family, weather, etc) that interrupt even the most dedicated athlete’s training. While an athlete cannot alter every workout, it’s crucial that his/her schedule is fluid and can ebb/flow as life demands!
9. How do you determine what level an athlete is at when they first start working with you?
I have an extensive training questionnaire that I have each new athlete fill out. It asks the athlete for details on their training history, their current training situation/resources and their future goals (among many other items). Then the athlete and I go over each answer to make sure that I completely understand where they’ve been, where they are and where they want to go!
10. Do you believe in cross training/supplemental training on top of running?
As with most advice I give, it depends on the individual! At one extreme, for high level athletes who have had few career injuries, running and functional strength work are all that I (usually) prescribe. To see fitness gains, we must convince the body to make the specific adaptations that we want it to be making in regards to running (a bigger network of capillaries, a stronger heart, higher blood volume, more mitochondria, etc). For strong, healthy runners, we make the most running specific gains by doing just that – running as much as possible (within an intelligent plan).
For athletes who are working back from an injury, have a history of frequent injuries or are getting back into shape after an extended period away from running, cross-training (aqua jogging, lap swimming, elliptical, rowing, cycling, etc) are great ways to aid in cardiovascular fitness and help the runner progress their fitness while staying healthy.
As I mentioned before, there are many variables and it depends on each athlete’s unique history, strengths and weaknesses!
11. How do you work with and get to know runners that aren’t located in Chicago?
As I mentioned previously, we start with going over the athlete’s training questionnaire and having as many phone calls as necessary to get to know each other and make sure the athlete understands everything before training begins. Then the main thing our team does that gives us such across-the-board success is constant communication between athlete and coach. I make myself as available as much as possible, 7 days as a week, to each of my athletes. As training progresses, we talk as often as necessary – both to make sure the athlete’s training is optimally designed and also to get to know the ups and downs of the athlete’s life.
12. If someone signs up for your coaching, what does it include?
Athletes on the DWRunning Team get the following:
A Kickoff Meeting: After completing my training questionnaire, we’ll have a kickoff meeting to discuss the athlete’s running/athletic history, current state of fitness, and running goals, as well as give the athlete an opportunity to learn more about working with me.
A Customized Training Plan: The athlete’s training plan will be customized to his/her needs based on their schedule, fitness level, background and goals, including all running workouts, functional strength workouts, drills & strides and any cross-training that we deem appropriate.
Unlimited Communication: The athlete can contact me at any time for any reason via phone, email or text. Communication is critical to our teams success and being in constant communication allows me to revise training when things don’t go as planned (due to work, health, family, weather, etc.) and to make sure that the next workout is the PERFECT workout for each athlete. At the very least, we’ll have one call per week to go over the previous week, lay out the week to come and clear up any unresolved questions.
Recovery Advice: Recovery is THE most under-appreciated tool that each athlete has for improvement and I help each athlete to fine-tune their recovery habits to maximizing their results. I believe in really focusing on a clean diet (comprised of non-processed, natural foods), constant hydration throughout the day and consistent sleep. I help each athlete hone their recovery efforts!
Group Long Runs: For DWRunners in the Chicagoland area, our team meets for weekly long runs where my athletes benefit from the teamwork and camaraderie of the group as well as my support on the bike in the form of hydration, fuel, direction, motivation and witty banter.
Pre- and Post-Race Discussions: Before each major race, we’ll have a conversation to discuss specifics on strategy and logistics to make sure that each athlete is completely prepared for their race. We will then have a post-race discussion as well, to review the race and to discuss what was learned and how to make adjustments for future training and races.
Under Armour Shoes/Gear: All DWRunners benefit from our team’s Under Armour partnership. For 2015, UA provided all of our team members with a singlet, t-shirt, 4 pairs of shoes and a 20% discount on all purchases. I’m still in talks with UA on exactly what will be provided to each DWRunner in 2016, but bottom line – UAs commitment to and support of our team is incredible!
Additional Benefits: For DWRunners in the Chicagoland area, I have secured partnerships with a couple of fantastic local businesses! The details are as follows:
- Roy Settergren (chiropractor/sports medicine doctor) – Roy is a running biomechanics expert and we have negotiated a discounted rate for DWRunners.
- Kari Pligge (massage therapist) – Kari is a licensed massage therapist who brings incredible massages into YOUR home! We have negotiated a discounted rate for DWRunners.
13. How do you determine what level your runners are at? Especially when starting with a new athlete?
For runners I currently coach, I am very tuned into what certain workouts indicate and obviously track their results closely as well. And while I do not require specific easy/recovery run paces, I do take that data (from the athletes that are able to provide it) and as those paces rise/fall, can get a pretty good grip of how long term running fitness is progressing
For new DWRunners, I have a questionnaire that each athlete fills out before we start up. It asks for personal bests, recent training details and many other indicators of fitness. Then usually in the first few weeks of training, I’m able to give a few ‘bread and butter’ workouts that give me a really solid idea of where that athlete’s fitness level currently is.
14. How do you help your athletes deal with setbacks or a bad race?
Even for athletes who are in great shape, racing on a fast course, in perfect weather – poor performances happen. Sometimes there is an obvious reason and sometimes there’s not. Our team does the very best we can to learn from why we had a poor performance (training-wise and race day execution wise) and we forget the rest. Progression as a runner is rarely linear – there are peaks and valleys. If a runner consistently does the right things (in training and in life), they’ll get what’s theirs!
15. If someone is interested in pursuing your coaching services, what is the best way to find out more information and get in contact with you?
The best way to find out more about my coaching is to visit my website – www.dwrunning.com. An athlete can also get a pretty good feel for our team by checking out my Instagram and Facebook accounts. If an athlete wants to start working with me, emailing me at [email protected] is the way to go!
Do you have or have you used a running coach?