Personalizing your Running Training: From 1500m to Marathon
Pro coach Joan Hunter talks overcoming injuries, prioritizing recovery, and individualizing training programs for athletes.
Professional running group Tinman Elite, partner of WHOOP, is thrilled to announce their new coach, Joan Hunter, who brings 25+ years of coaching experience. We had the chance to speak with Joan to learn about her goals with the team, what will change going forward, and how a more personalized approach to training and recovery will make all the difference.
“I quickly fell in love with coaching and found it more rewarding than my own running.”
Who is Joan Hunter? If you’re an avid runner, chances are you know her son Drew, who set multiple state and national high school records and currently trains with Tinman Elite in Boulder, CO. But not many people know Joan -- mother of 9, former Master’s runner record holder, and coach -- because she’s always been relatively low profile. Like many of the best coaches, she’s not on social media often and is rarely public facing. But today, she announces her new position as head coach of Tinman Elite (TME), which comes at a crucial time as the team looks to expand, overcome injury, and rebuild. Currently, only 3% of collegiate men’s teams are coached by women. As for the professional running world, that number is even smaller. Simply put, it’s rare to see female leadership at the highest of levels in this sport, a discrepancy that has been covered by Runner’s World, The New York Times, and more. Joan brings over 25 years of experience to the team, and originally coached her son Drew through his junior year of high school. She also helped put Loudoun Valley, VA, an otherwise unknown prep program, on the running map. Her other accolades include coaching the high school girls' national record holder in the 5k (Jenna Hutchins, 15:34) and forming NOVA Athletic Club, a youth team in Virginia. Today, Joan couldn’t be more ready to work with Tinman Elite. “The ultimate goal is to get the team moving towards qualifying for championship meets and making teams,” she said. “To do that, we need to get everyone healthy and regain some focus.”
Overcoming Injury With a New Outlook
It's been a challenging year for Tinman Elite. Some of their top performers including Drew, Sam Parsons, and Jordan Gusman battled injury and dealt with mounting external pressures to make the team successful. During the German Championships, Sam partially tore his gastroc muscle early on in his 5k race. He gutted it out for a full 10 minutes, but was forced to drop out due to the pain. It seemed like the extra pandemic year of training for Tokyo was good for some who needed to improve fitness, but physically and emotionally taxing for many who were hoping to peak that summer of 2020. Several world-class runners including Molly Huddle, Shannon Rowbury, Evan Jager, and WHOOP member Colleen Quiqley all pulled out of the trials, citing injury, and even mental exhaustion. For Tinman Elite, it was no different. They needed a change, and they needed a critical level of personalization to their training that some of the men just weren’t getting. “As far as injuries go, one thing I’ve noticed is that injured athletes often lose connection to their team and coaches, since they aren’t there training with them. I tend to be pretty hands on with injured athletes and try to be engaged in their rehab and cross training during that time,” said Joan. The Tinman Elite roster includes athletes who specialize in the 1500m up to the marathon. While they can do a lot of base mileage and easy runs together, the individual workouts and strength training will be more specialized under Joan with 1:1 in-person attention. “I value my athletes as people and always seek to build genuine connection and trust between them and me, and each other,” Joan explained. “Running can be a pretty selfish pursuit, and it needs to be in some ways, but sharing goals, working together, and supporting each other makes the experience more enjoyable and successful for everyone.”
The Importance of Personalizing Your Running Program
In a running study led by WHOOP in partnership with Tracksmith and Outside Magazine, we found that runners training for a 5k could reduce their risk of injury by up to 32% simply by modifying training each day based on recovery. Runners with a specialized (versus generic) training program adjusted daily time and intensity based on their body’s needs, which resulted in improved performances and fewer reported injuries. It seems intuitive, but it’s not always applied, even at the most elite level. “In running, recovery is so important. It’s the most important thing in the world as far as absorbing the training you are able to put in,” explained Joan. “WHOOP allows us to get a more complete picture of each runner’s recovery -- their sleep, HRV, resting heart rate, etc. Each morning, I check the team’s WHOOP scores and adjust training accordingly if necessary. This will help us perform at a higher level and hopefully avoid injuries as we go forward.”
Tinman Elite team members daily recovery and STRAIN metrics in the WHOOP app.
How to Personalize Your Training As a Runner
- Find a coach, team, or support system willing to work with your needs as an individual athlete. It’s important to choose a coach who is willing to adjust training on a regular basis, rather than providing a cookie-cutter program.
- Get in-person evaluation. While many coaches offer virtual programs, it’s impossible to get the most out of a runner without in-person observations, where you can see visible imbalances, running form, and effort.
- Experiment with recovery modalities to see what works best. TME member Sam Parsons has been experimenting with different forms of recovery for a long time, and has seen significant benefits in his HRV from practicing mindfulness, meditation, and reducing emotional stressors in his life. Using the WHOOP Journal feature allows athletes to log their recovery modalities and see how they directly impact their performance via the Monthly Performance Assessment.
- Don’t compare mileage and metrics. Because no body is the same, different runners will have different thresholds for mileage and workouts. Some runners might require three days of recovery, while others might bounce back in two, which is why knowing your physiological baseline (resting heart rate, typical HRV range) and monitoring daily recovery is imperative.
- Have a flexible cross-training plan in place. Runners are bound to deal with a nagging pain at some point. It’s important to be extremely flexible if anything flares up, so as not to push towards injury. In Project PR, runners were encouraged to replace running with biking or the elliptical to continue training.
Learn More: How Often Should You Run?
Training Together Like Family
As a mother of 9, Joan sees many parallels between raising a family and coaching a team of vastly different personalities. “Parenting 9 kids, some with special needs, is something you can’t really prepare for, but you grow your ability to parent effectively as you add new family members, and you realize that you can’t parent each one the same way, because they all have unique needs,” she said. As Tinman Elite looks to take a deep breath and redefine their future, it’s clear that the team’s bond is still fully intact. WHOOP is excited to see what’s in store, and we look forward to sharing more data from the team’s performances.
You can follow @tinmanelite to meet the athletes, see where they train in Boulder, and keep up with their race schedule.