Earlier this fall, I ran my first marathon—in Chicago, at 3:37:49—a far cry from anything I thought possible a year and a half ago when I quit drinking and started jogging around my block. Now I know a lot about running. My brain is full of facts. I know that Joan Benoit Samuelson was a world-record breaker for the Boston Marathon not once, but twice. She is the first-ever female to win the Olympic Games marathon championship, taking the gold in 1984, in Los Angeles. When she had arthroscopic surgery 17 days before the Olympic marathon trial, the surgeon kept her in bandages out of fear she’d rush to get back on her feet. Also, she loves to do three workouts a day: a run, downhill skiing, and then Nordic skiing. Also, like Benoit Samuleson, I know that there are several basic rules about running: Don’t go in too hard. Leave a little in the engine for later. A fartlek is not something perverse: It’s a fast run, a little slower than your typical 5K, or 3.2 miler. Yes, you can sprint at mile 15 if you push yourself. All these facts and tips—my running education—come from the Nike Run Club app’s Audio Guided Runs, a series created by Nike’s head running coach Chris Bennett, better known to his disciples as simply Coach Bennett.
I started listening to Nike’s Audio Guided Runs when no amount of angst-drenched Rage Against the Machine tunes or Jennifer Lopez’s On the 6 album could get me through my 5.25-mile “runmute” from my Brooklyn apartment to work. (Later, when I started training for the marathon, there was no way I could do the 12-mile to 18-mile runs with only music.) A friend mentioned that Nike’s Audio Guided Runs might lessen the monotony of the route.
Each guided run begins with Bennett’s calming, upbeat voice, which has the same sort of enthusiasm that a fresh first-year teacher has when reading a fairytale to a group of children. Users can choose from a wide variety of runs depending on their desired time or distance. Some are short runs, like Lunch Run and I Need a Win Run. There is even a Five Minute Run. Then there are the runs that Bennett leads with Olympians like Shalane Flanagan, Mo Farah, Lopez Lomong, and Eliud Kipchoge (the first human to break a two-hour-marathon record back in October). The latter blends a podcast-like interview with Bennett’s encouraging coaching.
Bennett seems as if he were born for the job as the world’s friendliest running sensei. The tone of his guided runs is perfectly calibrated so you feel like you’re with a coach who really gets it, which makes sense because Bennett has a hefty foot-to-ground résumé. He captained both high school (Christian Brothers Academy) and college (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) track. He’s coached teens who were also dealing with problems at home (divorce, abuse) and through the highs and lows of high school (homework overload, young love). And he can run a four-minute mile! He joined Nike in 2014 as a head coach, and started the Nike Run Club series in the summer of 2017. “I had walked out of a meeting and the conversation was, ‘Why don’t more people run, and why do a lot of people who run think running sucks?’” says Bennett. “More people don’t run because it’s really hard to start a run. And most people, when they do start running, they run the wrong way. So all you have to do is get someone to run the right way.” (Lest you think that means a certain technique or form, the “right” way, at least according to Bennett’s remote coaching, means running relaxed.) Bennett figured he could motivate more runners by running “with” them. Soon after, he recorded the first four episodes as a batch: First Run, Next Run, First Speed Run, and Comeback Run.
I didn’t fully understand the meaning of a guided run until I tried it myself. Each guided run feels perfectly scripted to coordinate with the phases of a run. Coach Bennett seems to say “You got this!” at the moment when I need it, much like a physically present coach would. It also doesn’t hurt that he creates a narrative for each run. Coach Bennett can get me through a five-mile run by reinforcing different ways to “be thankful.” I can also easily crank out a 90-minute jog while getting lost in a story of how Olympian Lopez Lomong, who was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, was abducted in a civil war and had to flee on foot from his captors who would have forced him into becoming a child soldier. As Bennett explains, technical details and checking in as a coach is one thing. “But if you can get lost in Lopez’s story for 30 minutes or 90 minutes, you finish as a far better runner than you were at the start. I don’t need to see your split. I don’t need to know how your form was. I don’t need to know how much your fitness improved,” he says. “You’re just a better runner because of that story, period.” Beyond the track or the sidewalk, these themes of failure and success, never giving up, and mind over matter have a wonderful way of seeping into daily life, which Bennett fully recognizes.
Currently, users can choose Audio Guided Runs that go up to two hours, or 12 miles. Bennett says that a marathon-training guided run might happen in the future. (It’s one of his most frequently asked questions.) “Usually about a week and a half before a major marathon, there is a flood of people dropping some hints, like, ‘It would be really nice if the marathon guided run shows up in the library,” says Bennett. “But, you know, maybe the next one.” Nonetheless, aspiring and experienced runners alike don’t necessarily need the audio marathon-training guide. It’s really just about getting out there and starting and, according to Bennett, being a better person. “I know that when someone finishes a run, they’re just a nicer person,” he says. So lace up and tune in. As Coach Bennett would say, “You didn’t have to get off the couch, but you did.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue