I never win anything. I enter contests all of the time, and never EVER win.
But in October, I won something awesome: 3 months of working with a running coach.

This was a giveaway for participants one week during Bib Chat, a weekly Twitter chat about running that I really enjoy (Tuesday nights, 8pm CT . Follow @bibrave to participate).

Now, because I’m just a regular girl, I never really sought out working with a running coach. But based on the experiences of others, and now my own experience, I’m starting to realize that you don’t have to be an elite runner to work with a coach. A coach is really just someone to help you achieve your goals by suggesting workouts and keeping you accountable. Who couldn’t use someone like that in their life?

Thanks to BibRave (www.bibrave.com) and Ekiden (www.ekiden.com), I have Coach Ellen. I was matched up with Ellen after completing a questionnaire from Ekiden about my current running habits, other workouts (which were non-existent before Ekiden), and what I hope to accomplish with my running in the coming months.

Coach Ellen doesn’t live in Kansas City, so we spoke on the phone for about 30 minutes so she could tell me a little bit about herself as well as learn more about my running and my goals. I explained that I wanted to improve my time in all distances, but have never done any cross training or speed workouts before – I just ran the miles that I was supposed to run to be able to reach my target distances.

And without a coach, I probably would have kept doing that too. There’s nothing wrong with simply running without doing any work to improve pace (if that fits your running goals). But at some point, without dedicated work, I wasn’t going to get any faster. And I want to get faster.

And if I kept treating cross-training as optional, I’d probably end up injured, or at the very least fail to achieve a higher level of fitness because I kept ignoring all other muscle groups. Running is wonderful, but for overall fitness, you really need to add in some additional kinds of exercise.

So, anyway, Coach Ellen plans my workouts. She tells me what to do each day of the week – and here’s the kicker – she knows whether or not I do these things because my workouts are automatically uploaded to Ekiden for her to see. And THAT makes all the difference in the world.

See, when I was in Chicago at the beginning of this month, I didn’t want to get up and go run in the cold air. I wanted to stay in bed and watch the snow from the window. But – I knew that Ellen would know that I chickened out – and so I got out and ran. I had already told her that my schedule while traveling would allow for a Sunday AM run, and I found have felt really disappointed in myself if I didn’t follow through on what I’d already told her.

And guess what? It was a great run. But it was the accountability of having a coach that got me out the door. And it’s not just about accountability with running. If I don’t cross train twice a week, Coach Ellen will know, and so I’ve been taking the time to cross train. I go to the yoga studio (or find an online video at home), or go on a hilly walk or bike ride. I have a more well-rounded fitness routine now.

I’m also now doing specific things to work on my speed. I’m doing both tempo runs and strides after my easy runs – both things that I’d never thought to try before – both because I am still a new runner and because I just didn’t want to invest the time into figuring out what I should be doing in the first place.

Now, it’s all done for me, and all that I have to do is actually complete the workout. Of course, that’s not always easy either, but it does help when someone else takes care of all the planning and prep-work.

Because I’m not training for a specific race quite yet, this is the perfect time to be working with someone that can hold me accountable and make sure that I’m continuing to work on improving myself as a runner during this down time. And I really need the accountability right now, because it’s time to hit the “reset” button on some of my habits, including exercise…but I’ll talk about that more in a bit.