From humble introductions to the sport, to a life spent running
Those final moments of a marathon are special. Raw emotion often bubbles to the top; elation, relief, gratitude, and sometimes despair. It can be a sentimental time for an athlete, a time to reflect on the journey to this point and those who have played a role in the success.
For a large portion of marathon runners from Los Angeles, their final thoughts as they enter the finishing chute of a race are of Blue Benadum. Coach Blue as he’s known, is a marathon coach based on the sandy shores of Santa Monica, California.
"Blue is truly one-of-a-kind. He’s not only a coach but an understanding friend who practices what he preaches.
He sincerely loves this sport for all that it is and all the experiences that it continuously brings him.
His positivity and excitement for the sport is contagious".
As well as running his own marathon coaching business, Run with the Lab, Coach Blue is LA’s head coach for Nike Run Club.
“Through Run with the Lab we take on about 35 athletes at any one time, and right now I also have the Nike Women’s Project with 40 athletes. A lot of what we do is a mixture of in-person meetings, a lot of calls and emails with the athletes to check in on what they’re up to and how their week is going, and then the live coaching sessions as well. On top of that is all the program design”.
Embarking on a career as a marathon coach carries a lot of responsibility. Many runners, especially first time marathoners, see the distance as part-art, part-science, and a daunting and gruelling challenge to be feared.
Blue has a rich history in the marathon. He ran his first at the age of 26 after being dared by a friend and hasn’t looked back. “I was a surf bum at that time, back in 2006. Being a surf bum wasn’t a bad thing to be in California then, it was a nice lifestyle. I reluctantly ran my first marathon as a dare”.
From an inauspicious beginning, it might be underselling it to say Blue developed a taste for the marathon. “I’ve ran 60 marathons. My PB is 2:23 in Boston in 2014. My last marathon was the 2016 Chicago Marathon off about 6 weeks of training and I ran a 2:27. Afterwards I was like ‘OK, maybe I’ve still got it’”.
60 marathons is impressive whichever way you cut it, but when you consider Coach Blue is 38 years old and last ran a marathon in 2016, it works out to an average of 6 marathons a year for 10 years.
“If I never run another marathon, I’m good with what I've done in terms of my time, but there’s a carrot still dangling in front of me. Maybe I have a few more years left”
Despite how it may seem now, Blue didn’t get into running for competitive reasons.
“I was a lead singer of a reggae band when i was in high school. And so the reason I got into running was through reading Bob Marley’s biography, and I learned that Bob Marley would take his entourage on these epic runs, like 18 miles, around Kingston, Jamaica. It was such an interesting thing for me. He’s a big idol of mine”.
“I was so reluctant to treat running as a sport at that time (at the age of 26 when he ran his first), and it went on like that for a couple years. Then I got the bug and really geeked out on trying to bring my time down. I got OK, I got down into the 2:40’s but I couldn't get past that plateau. I’d ran maybe 35-40 marathons by this point, all over the world”.
“I got into running in my teenage years in Colorado. It was something I did to feel free and get this visceral feeling of being alive. I’ve always felt that with running, I feel alive.
But with the marathon, it gives me something to compare myself to. I get to check in with myself and find out how fit I am and how far I can push it”.
While the dare from a friend to run a marathon had already changed the trajectory of Blue’s life in his mid 20’s, what happened next would take that create a lifelong obsession with the sport of running.
“I randomly met a coach who worked on my mechanics and told me about physiology of training and periodisation and all these things. That's when I saw really steep progression in my own running.
So that’s what actually led me to become a coach. I never expected to get to sub 2:30 level, let alone low 2:20’s, and I always thought I knew myself and the level I was at as an athlete, but I kept surpassing those levels through the years”.
Anyone that has either been coached by Blue, or been fortunate enough to observe one of his sessions (I got to witness a track session of his at Santa Monica High School) it’s hard to imagine he could ever be doing anything other than coaching.
Undoubtedly, not all running coaches were created equal, and coaches just like runners have different motivations and objectives for their time in the sport. Chances are if you’re going to see Coach Blue, it’s for one thing only.
“As a coach, I'm really not interested in creating marathon finishers. I want to create people who are really good at the marathon. That doesn't have to mean that you're super fast, it just has to mean relative to you, this is the best that your body can do”.
Anyone that has tackled a marathon knows there is a lot to consider on race day. They say half the battle of a marathon is getting to the start line healthy and fit, while the other half of racing a marathon can be a crippling numbers game.
“Physiologically there's just something about the marathon that I love. The percentage of failure is so high and it's because we just don’t have enough muscle glycogen to get us 26 miles. We’re put in this position of balancing variables - do you hold back on pace, do you start taking more gels, what’s it gonna be?
The marathon gives me something to compare myself to. I get to check in with myself and find out how fit I am and how far i can push myself”.
While Blue puts the challenge of marathon running down to balancing variables such as nutrition and pace, it's the mental and physical pain barriers that are often the hardest to break through.
LA runner Marquis Bowden shares some insight on what it's like to work with Coach Blue.
"I’ve been training hard with Coach Blue for all most 2 years now. He’s instilled so much inspiration and motivation in me that I could probably write a book. But there’s one quote that he told me that has resonated and that I’ve buried in my heart that I’ll never forget".
"He said 'If the workout is painful or your experiencing pain at Mile 20 of a race hitting the wall, make it hurt more and dig deeper'".
"Coach Blue teaches his athletes not to quit but embrace the pain, be grateful for it, and teaches you how to push through it.
It has unlocked so much potential not just in me but in so many other runners I know.
I'm forever grateful and appreciative for all he has done".
Running has clearly had a major impact on the life of Blue Benadum since he was first introduced to it via tales of Bob Marley in his teenage years. Growing up in a family of fighters, it's obvious Blue had the spirit and the mental toughness to become a good runner.
What's interesting is Blue's impact on running. Not many people can say they've given more to our sport than they've taken; especially not people who ran 60 marathons in a ten year span. But that is exactly where Coach Blue finds himself, not that he'd ever claim it.