How a Virtual Coach Delivers Real Success


When Garmin Connect approached Amy Parkerson-Mitchell to become one of their three online trainers, she was skeptical at first. Runner for 30 years, physiotherapist for 20 years and coach for almost 10 years, with a style and point of view firmly anchored in the old school: face-to-face goal setting, evaluation and adjustments.

Suddenly, the Kansas City-based coach found herself answering questions from runners around the world. She wondered: How can I help someone reach a new level without ever meeting them in person? How can software tell me as much, if not more, than the athletes themselves?

“I really didn’t think it could be possible,” she says. “But he is.”

Although his athletes brought a wide range of ages, backgrounds and abilities to the table, they were united by a common goal: to become the fastest, fittest, and best version of themselves. . Garmin Connect training data from runners arrived and, bit by bit, trainer Amy became convinced that fitness tracking in the digital age, combined with traditional techniques, could increase its impact as a coach and the performance of his athletes.

At first, coach Amy admits the mountain of information can be overwhelming. “With smartwatches, not all data by itself is extremely useful,” she says. “But when you take the individual pieces and look at them as part of a bigger picture, it becomes powerful.”

Yes, it turns out that your Garmin can tell you a lot more than when you need to circle the block for that last mile. Here’s how Coach Amy uses data to inform her coaching and help runners reach their goals.

Put a face on the name

In addition to her role at Garmin Connect, trainer Amy continues to provide personal coaching through the Kansas City Roadrunners. While she remains firmly convinced that there is no substitute for in-person coaching, she uses modern tools to complement her proven approach. For example, she will often ask runners to film themselves running (or have a friend do it) and send the footage to her so that she can study their form, especially when they are tired.

“Interval training versus a long run is very different,” she says. “So I like to see them run on the road or on any surface that person is running on.”

Filming yourself this way can also be helpful, as long as you know what to look for when watching the tape. This is where your Garmin device comes in handy for more than just plotting the GPS map of your route.

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Building a base

Whether she’s working with an athlete in person or virtually, Coach Amy makes sure to pull together all of her runner’s data, and there’s a ton of it. Each run downloaded through Garmin Connect contains information about an athlete’s mileage, training pace, daily effort rate, and more. It paints a picture of their past and present, and ultimately allows their coach to chart their future.

Mix the direct and the virtual

An athlete’s running footage can help contextualize the piles of data they send to Coach Amy. But even if the runner is not physically present, the information is so informative that Coach Amy can begin to paint a remarkably detailed picture of this form, stride, efficiency, strengths and weaknesses. anybody.

“I can see that person’s cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact data, these are windows into a person’s gait and running efficiency,” she says. “You get a much bigger picture of what this runner is doing and what he can change.”

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That said, the form of running is usually not what Coach Amy is trying to change. His decades of experience have shown him that the risks of tinkering with the shape often outweigh the rewards.

“Only if I see something egregious that I think is going to cause a problem,” she said. “Or if I think there is an element of efficiency that needs to be considered in order for the athlete to achieve their goals.”

Charting a way forward

Once she analyzes the data for trends and opportunities, Coach Amy can hold her athletes accountable for their own improvement. She maintains constant email communication, listens to her athletes to make sure they understand her recommendations, and advises them on the best way forward. While every runner she coaches is different, coach Amy bases her training on a simple philosophy: her job is to forge long, healthy and happy running careers.

Physiotherapist and coach, she sees how destructive injuries can be on a daily basis. Data from his athletes may point to warning signs of overtraining.

“Thirty percent of runners will be injured to some extent over the course of a training season, and you’ll see athletes go from overwhelming joy with their successes to complete depression,” she says. “Avoiding that is the biggest challenge we face as coaches. “

Coach Amy minimizes risk by identifying the optimal training load for each of her runners. It’s optimal, not maximal.

“I’m a coach who thinks to myself, ‘Let’s be injury free and pain free and achieve our goals and have longevity in the sport,’ she said. “I want to see someone catch the virus and love them.”

Count victories

Success in Coach Amy’s job is measured by certain parameters. The progression of an athlete is one of them. Another is word of mouth: runners who choose her as their Garmin Connect coach because of other happy customers.

There are general principles behind her philosophy, but Coach Amy knows the best approach is to treat everyone as an individual.

“Personalization of a program is essential,” she says. “I consider myself a bit of a chameleon when it comes to training. You might have someone who needs a little more gentleness, someone who needs a little more severity. I adapt to this personality.

In doing so, she takes a new-school approach to old-school science – slowly mastering the art of coaching in the digital age.

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Perry A. Thomasson