When Your Finish Line Isn't Just Yours: The Pressure of Coaching and Ultramarathoning

When Your Finish Line Isn't Just Yours: The Pressure of Coaching and Ultramarathoning

When Your Finish Line Isn't Just Yours: The Pressure of Coaching and Ultramarathoning

Ultrarunning. Just the word conjures images of relentless trails, pushing past physical limits, and a mental fortitude forged in the fires of exhaustion. As an ultrarunning coach, I witness this mental and physical battle daily, guiding my athletes through grueling training plans and celebrating their triumphs at the finish line. Yet, here I am, lacing up my own shoes and facing a different kind of pressure – the pressure of performance where my finish line isn't just mine.

There's no denying the immense satisfaction that comes from helping athletes achieve their ultrarunning goals. The camaraderie, the shared journey of pushing boundaries, and the elation of a successful race day are all incredibly rewarding. But for a coach who also toes the starting line, the pressure to perform well adds another layer of complexity.

As I wrap up the last training block for the upcoming Cocodona 250 in under six weeks, a sense of fear begins to trickle in. What if – What if I don't complete the race? What if I am unable to meet the expectations? How would this impact my business endeavors? Given that my livelihood depends on this community through coaching, blogging, podcasting, and engaging within the ultra community, would a subpar performance affect my professional reputation in this field?

This internal conflict is surprisingly common. Many coaches grapple with the pressure of needing to "walk the walk" while simultaneously guiding their athletes. Here's why it happens and how we can navigate this tricky terrain:

The Perception of Performance:

The ultrarunning community thrives on respect and admiration for those who conquer these immense distances. Top finishes and fast times are often seen as markers of a coach's own ability. Potential clients might wonder, "If they can't perform well, how can they coach me to?" It's a flawed assumption, but one that can be hard to shake.

The Pressure to Be a "Superhuman" Coach:

We, as coaches, often strive to be a source of inspiration for our athletes. We share our own training experiences, race insights, and recovery tips. This can inadvertently create an expectation that we are somehow "superhuman," immune to bad races or setbacks. The pressure to maintain this image can be immense.

The Disconnect Between Coaching and Performance:

Coaching success doesn't hinge solely on our own running prowess. A fantastic coach can guide athletes to their personal bests without necessarily being a champion themself. The ability to understand individual strengths and weaknesses, create personalized plans, and provide unwavering support are far more valuable coaching tools than a standout performance on the trail.

Finding Balance: Owning Your Journey

So, how do we, as coaches who also race, navigate this pressure? Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Reframing Success: Focus on the bigger picture. Did you train consistently? Did you adapt your plan when needed? Did you learn valuable lessons from the race? These are all victories, regardless of the final time.
  • Honesty and Transparency: Be open with your athletes about your own running journey, struggles and all. Sharing your experiences can foster a sense of connection and demonstrate that setbacks are a normal part of the sport.
  • Coaching is a Different Game: Separate your coaching identity from your racing identity. Your coaching success is built on your knowledge, experience, and ability to connect with athletes, not your personal race results.
  • Focus on Your Athletes' Goals: Remember, your primary role is to guide your athletes towards their goals, not to fulfill some external expectation of your own performance.
  • Celebrate Every Finish Line: Finishing an ultramarathon is an accomplishment, regardless of the time. Celebrate your own resilience and the journey itself.

The Power of Vulnerability

Ultimately, by embracing vulnerability and acknowledging the pressure we face, we can redefine what it means to be a successful coach-athlete. We can inspire our athletes not just with podium finishes, but with our honesty, dedication, and the courage to pursue our own running goals, even when the outcome is uncertain.

I am confident that this ongoing challenge will persist, requiring me to constantly differentiate between my work life and personal obstacles. I am certain that these struggles are self-inflicted and that the community is incredibly supportive. Thank you for your support.

Remember, the best coaches are those who can empathize with their athletes' struggles, celebrate their victories, and guide them through the inevitable challenges of this incredible sport. And that, my fellow coaches, is a finish line worth celebrating, no matter what the clock says.


Coach Brian’s Invitation:
Considering hiring a coach? I would be delighted to join you on your athletic journey. With over 15 years of specialized ultra experience and certifications from UESCA, USATF level 1, and TrainingPeaks level 2, I can provide valuable expertise. Feel free to reach out with any questions at: brian@altitudeendurancecoaching.com.

Visit our website at: altitudeendurancecoaching.com