Put me in, coach!

Caveat: Today’s post is not necessarily specific to surgery, but may be able to be extrapolated to surgery and reaching performance plateaus.

Granted, there is interesting discussion going on around the idea of coaching for surgeons.  Atul Gawande gets credit for first bringing this concept to my attention with his piece in the New Yorker in 2011.  I would be lying if I haven’t considered trying to bribe my retired practice partner to come back in and observe for a couple of days to help me find ways to improve my practice, much like Atul did with one of his mentors.

Carol-Anne Moulton at the U of Toronto leads a group that has looked at cultural barriers to implementation of coaching; apparently we’re not as far past the culture of shame as I keep hoping that we are.  Caprice Greenberg at the University of Wisconsin has developed a surgical coaching program as her scholarly focus, and I am hopeful that the structure of the Wisconsin program overcomes some of the barriers identified.  If coaching is a “normal” part of culture then institutional resources are directed to the benefit of all, not just low outliers as might be expected.


I started out saying today’s post is not about surgical coaching, and it’s truly not.  Instead, it’s about my personal life experiment in the form of hiring a running coach.  Here’s my second disclaimer of the day:  I will never, ever, EVER be the fastest runner out there.  Ever.  I just want to be clear about that.  So, if I know I’m a solid, middle of the pack runner and don’t aspire to being a master’s champion, what possessed me to hire a coach? Let me lay out the scenario for you:

  • My training has been a hot mess for the last 5 months.  Some of that has been a result of clinical demands and call schedules.  Some of it has been accountability, or lack thereof.  Some of that has been sheer laziness.
  • I’m both practical and pragmatic in how I approach my training and my running overall.  And while I’m moderately knowledgeable about lots of running-related things (some from approximately 37 years of running experience, some from reading, some from friends and family) I am by no means an expert.  I trained well enough to get away with a 2:30 in my first half-marathon last December, admitting that I did not fuel right during the race and bonked big-time at 11.5 miles. So, I do some things okay, I do some things not-so-okay.
  • I’m tired of my IT bands screaming profanity at me when I run more than 6 miles in a stretch, and I somehow thought it was a good idea to register for not 1, not 2, but 4 half marathons this year.  I know I should be able to do this with less discomfort (and fewer naughty words), right?

Enter the coaching program at my friendly local running store.  While it’s coordinated as a group coaching program, Coach Lisa writes programs that are individualized to ability and goals and she truly provides a personal touch.  She’s kind, she’s encouraging…and she expects you to work hard.  I’ll admit I’m just completing my second week with her and I’m already feeling great about this choice.  Why?

  • I’ve been able to adhere to my training schedule and got the most miles in last week that I’ve accomplished in a while.  It’s funny how paying someone to help you provides the encouragement to do the right thing.
  • Lisa’s working with me on ideas for fueling and pre-game planning, so to speak, for my half marathon next Saturday.  Most importantly, she’s provided me with appropriate encouragement to do it, even though I know my training has not been perfect.
  • My IT bands?  Well, we did a little gait work last week and it’s amazing how much they don’t hurt when I don’t stride out in front of myself like I have for years.  I won’t say they are perfect, but I came out of 11 miles on Saturday feeling no worse for the wear.  That’s a great sign.

Am I trying to tell you that running and/ or a running coach is right for everyone?  Definitely not.  What I am telling you is that I felt stagnant, even frustrated, with my running the last couple of months and this has been the nudge that I needed.  Now the question becomes what the impact will be on my performance over time…I’ll report back on that later in the summer, maybe after half-marathon #3 for the year?