Friday, September 15, 2017
From August 31 to September 10, I participated in an excellent 6-week online boot camp called Miler Method. The camp is led by 2x Olympic medalist in the 1500m, Nick Willis, and his wife Sierra. The camp led up to the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile in NYC.
As I have posted about before, I have enjoyed taking some massive open online courses (MOOCs), and I think all educators should familiarize themselves with this form, as the online world is already impacting even the most traditional courses.
The Miler Method, like MOOCs, taught me not only valuable substantive information, but also further instructed me on the art of online education. Below are a few reflections on the pros and cons of the online format as applied to the Miler Method running training camp. My thoughts follow below the page break.
Expertise. Online education can allow anyone in the world access to top-level experts as instructors. To my knowledge, none of the top-10 middle distance runners in the world spend any significant time in Nashville. Nonetheless, I was able to learn from two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis from the comfort of my own home. Obviously, this would not have been possible at such a reasonable cost without the Internet.
Flexibility. Currently, my schedule is pretty tight. I do most of my running between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Other runner friends of mine prefer running later in the morning or in the evenings, times that simply do not work at my stage of life. I have morning classes to teach and a wife and two young children at home waiting for me in the evenings. Miler Method’s online format allowed me to do the assigned running whenever I had time, and I did not have to coordinate with others. I didn't even have time to run with the other two Nashvillians in the camp.
Diversity. Miler Method allowed the campers and instructors to connect with people from all over the world. Campers included a range of abilities and experience levels. This type of diversity would be atypical for an in-person group, which is typically made up of runners of similar abilities from the same geographic area.
Frugality. The online camp cost $72 for six weeks of coaching. This is about half the cost of my favorite pair of New Balance running shoes. In-person running camps can cost many multiples of the online class cost, and the in-person camps are often shorter and with less expert instruction. For example, a local running coach in the Nashville area is reported to charge $400/month.
Accountability. Without the accountability of in-person meetings, online instruction requires a great deal of self-regulation by the students. This is one of the reasons that MOOCs seem to have had the most success with those who already have college degrees and have largely been deemed a failure for the less motivated and less educated groups. To address this accountability issue, Miler Method had a Facebook group where campers shared stories of workouts. This sharing, however, was entirely voluntary and a number of campers did not post at all during the six-weeks. The accountability issue could have been lessened by requiring (or strongly encouraging) that GPS data of workouts be uploaded to the online platform used, Final Surge. Even so, I doubt that online accountability will ever match in-person accountability; less accountability is simply one of the costs for a cheap, expert, flexible, diverse product.
Community. While the Facebook group did help build some community, it did not even approach the community built by the in-person club workouts I sometimes do with the Nashville Harriers. Online, you simply cannot replicate the in-person challenges, encouragements, and conversations. Helpfully, Nick and Sierra took time to meet with campers in New York City, and we also got to meet some of our fellow campers, so, in this case, the connections were better than in an all-online class.
Personalization. Nick and Sierra did a really nice job personalizing the training to each different camper. This personalization, however, does probably come at a significant time cost for the instructors and will likely cut against the ability to scale easily. Also, unless the athlete sends running videos to the online instructor, which I did not hear of anyone doing, it is difficult for the instructor to offer personalize coaching about form and effort. Nick and Sierra did, however, post instructional videos that were quite good.
Responsiveness. I was quite impressed by how responsive Nick and Sierra were to questions, but, again, I do wonder if they can keep that up as the groups grow. Also, being online prevents a coach from being responsive in real time – for example, telling a struggling athlete, mid-workout, to dial it back, to focus on his form, etc. Of course, as mentioned, this type of in-person coaching is typically much more costly.
Nick and Sierra did an amazingly good job with their online boot camp. It was an incredible value. Given the personalization and their responsiveness, I think Miler Method is probably under-priced, but the price did keep it from being too exclusive. Nick provided the Olympic-level expertise, and Sierra provided a bridge to the campers, all of us who were simply recreational runners. The video instructions recorded each week provided a level of connection that e-mails and mere typed words could not have done. The videos also helped explain the drills and various exercises. The Facebook group went a long way to building some community among the campers, and, as mentioned, the in-person meetings at the end of camp were invaluable.
I must admit to wondering, at the start of the camp, why there were some repeat campers among the group. Hadn’t they already received the advice Nick and Sierra had to offer? By the end of the camp, however, I realized the value of the responses from the group and coaches, the last-minute changes in the workouts based on your unique situation, and how the plans evolved as the runners evolved. As such, I would be open to doing a second camp. I highly recommend the camp to runners of all skill levels because even if you are an expert you aren’t going to be more skilled than Nick Willis and even most novices can eventually run 1 mile.