Coaching Mary Cain

Mary Cain is a rapidly up-and-coming, world-class middle distance runner. During the three years I’ve followed her running career, she never fails to inspire. When this race was videotaped, she was a sixteen-year-old junior in highschool. Now seventeen, she continues to be a barrier breaker. She has great character and sportsmanship, and contagious enthusiasm for her sport. She looks like she loves to run. In media interviews, she sounds like she loves to run.

Many factors make this story one to watch, a rare combination that are “oh so good and right”. It goes beyond athletic talent; it surpasses Mary’s affability. It’s about an individual at her best, supported by a community at their best. Mary is racing the world’s elite already, yet after every race I’ve seen, her competitors shower her with praise and affection. So far Mary is proving it’s possible to remain unaffected by outside pressures and retain joyous passion for her sport. It’s about a girl trusting her coach, and letting him determine the timing and pace of her progress.

Mary Cain is surrounded by some of running’s best. She’s coached by Alberto Salazar, a decorated, world-class marathoner. Salazar also coaches Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, gold and silver distance medalists respectively at 2012’s London Olympics. I’ve heard Salazar comment on his training plan for Mary. It’s a big picture plan, a patient plan, a sequential plan. He’s not just talking about Mary’s race today, he’s talking about the plan for Mary’s races in the years ahead when she will be physically mature and optimally trained. Mary’s success speaks for her coach’s wisdom. Even her emotional health is exemplary.

I ran track for a decade at a far lower level than Mary, but I know how pacing becomes integrated into a runner’s very being. After hundreds of interval workouts, Fartleks, ladders, tempo runs, hills and repeats, pace becomes part of your internal clock. Some great exercise physiology classes and communicative coaches taught me how and when the body responds to a well-planned training regime. It doesn’t happen overnight. You can mistime it. You can over-train. Good coaches know how to get their athletes to peak condition for key meets. Good coaches and their runners understand how to maintain a base, when to start speed work, when to taper, when to rest; how confidence is built on success.

I view God as my coach, the best of the best. If Alberto Salazar is a great coach, consider how extraordinary God’s coaching is. He knows about pacing, about human limitations, about physical performance and equally critical confidence. He has a big picture plan and knows how best to get us ready for key meets. He knows not to over-train, and when to keep us out of the public eye. He knows when we’re ready to succeed.

Like Mary Cain trusts Alberto Salazar with her huge talent and career potential, we can trust God with our lives. Like Salazar has short and long-term goals and training plans for Mary, God has the same for us. He can be trusted with our aspirations and desires. We can rely on him with our talents and relationships.

Mary knows what Salazar’s plans are. Listen to her interviews on YouTube. This is not a naive girl left out of the loop regarding her own life, blindly or ignorantly trusting in her coach. Mary Cain is informed. Salazar has kept her in the loop. She understands the big picture plan for her running career and is on board with it. And why wouldn’t she be? Salazar’s plan has proved to be wise, successful, restrained, patient, and always in Mary’s best interest.

How much more so, can we trust God’s plan for our lives? And how much more so, will he keep us in the loop regarding our lives? Ask him what the plan is, and don’t settle for silence. Expect to be informed and educated, and be willing to sit in his classes, personalized just for you. He’ll teach you. There is no better coach than that.



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