Running is simply the act of putting one foot in front of another, so why bother with a running coach, especially if you’re not an elite athlete? But running is always not that simple, said Joseph McConkey, a running coach with Boston Running Center. “The act of physically running is something we are all familiar with, but how to organize energy to explore your own potential is not always easy to do,” said McConkey, who has trained Olympic qualifiers as well as beginner runners. And not only do some runners run incorrectly – “right, right, left, instead of left, right; left right,” – so that they need to be taught proper technique; running improperly can also lead to injuries. “You can learn a lot running by yourself, but why reinvent the wheel and miss out on training methods proven over the centuries?” said McConkey, who has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified USA Track and Field coach.
McConkey runs about 70-80 miles a week with clients, with an average of 15-22 miles a day, and a longer run on the weekends. He’s careful not to burn himself out, since some of his “faster folks” are doing 4:40 miles, including high school runners aiming at scholarships and college runners who want additional support. But one of his proudest success stories is a 240-pound nurse who lost a total of 90 pounds and completed the Boston Marathon. “To watch her go through ‘beginner doubts’ and push all the way through was inspiring,” said McConkey, who ran competitively during college and has been a top finisher in local road races. “Many people think a running coach is just there to hold your hand and rah-rah you around, either yelling or supporting you through your program,” said McConkey, but he works with his clients on building speed, strength and endurance, as well as developing mental strength and strategies.
Q: How many of your runners completed the recent Boston Marathon?
A: I have 15-20 runners do the marathon every year, and this year was no different. I go out to the course with a little notebook that has everyone’s name, number, and what they’re wearing. I wait at Cleveland Circle and do a loop all day back and forth, waiting for my runners to show up. Trying to find everyone on race day is tough, but most of the runners find me despite the crowds.
Q: What sort of people seek the help of a running coach?
A: I have a mix of individuals, from CIA or FBI agents trying to fulfill the physical requirements of their application; lacrosse athletes hoping to increase playing speed; marathon-minded folks looking to qualify for Boston; and others. I even have a couple of runners in Kenya who report to me – they need to run to another town to get onto a computer and communicate with me, since they don’t have Internet in their own neighborhood.
Q: What’s the highest compliment an athlete can pay you as a running coach?
A: Whenever a runner compliments me, I feel a little uncomfortable, because they did the hard work; I only helped to organize their training and avoid injuries, the key factors that got them to the starting line.