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THE MARATHON COACH: Ken Mendola Takes You To Your 42

Photo by CNCreatives

When Coach Ken Mendola decided to start running in 2010, he didn’t expect what was coming to his career. In 2013, he started giving advice to runners who randomly approached him for inputs based on his experience. Little did he know that he was being led to a greater purpose.

“I started coaching leisurely with three aspiring newbie runners, and from there it grew through word of mouth. Until now, these three athletes continue to run and do international marathons,” he shares.

As an athlete himself, Coach Ken qualified in MILO National Finals for three straight years from 2014 to 2016.

He is also a finisher both in Chicago Marathon 2015 and Tokyo Marathon 2017.

His coaching started professionally in 2016. He recalls, “I shared what I know to athletes who got inspired by my running journey. When I joined the USA Track and Field coaching camp, it was for my personal experience to know the sport better. There was no intention of going into professional coaching. But then, when I got back in Manila, surprisingly friends started asking for my services.”

Photo by Joseph Nebrida

The Starting Line
Coach Ken’s love for sports started when he was in Grade 2. With his height, of course, it was basketball. He then transitioned into running in 2010 and began training for his first 5K.

For him, sports makes you feel better, happier, healthier and more fulfilled. It builds self-confidence and skills that positively influence life beyond sports. He believes that the running community needs not just a running coach but more so a marathon coach. One would think running a marathon is just a fad. But running goes beyond that.

“Marathons are here to stay especially in present times where a lot more runners are geared into having an active lifestyle and becoming more health-conscious. Through marathons, you don’t only create better athletes but develop stronger people through building self-confidence,” he shares.

This belief, his love for the sport, and willingness to help other athletes to get better in running are the key reasons that led Coach Ken into coaching.

“Running chose me and I believe it is my calling,” he added.

Photo by Joseph Nebrida

The TBR Dream
Coach Ken started as a participant in The Bull Runner (TBR) Dream Marathon where the majority of aspiring participants are doing their 1st  official marathon and a few 2nd-timer marathoners. As an alumnus and part of Batch 2012, he got familiarized with the system and actively volunteered as a pacer for the past six years for bull sessions and on race day itself.

In 2018, TBR’s founder Jaymie Pizarro approached him and asked if he is interested in taking the Lead Coach position. “With Jaymie, being one of the very few people who sincerely believed in me and how I myself believe in TBR, accepting the offer was a no brainer for me,” he said.

Training for a marathon can really be daunting. In TBR, you meet people and build relationships with them. This experience allowed Coach Ken to know himself better.

“It took one person to believe in me, fellow TBR alumni and batch mate named Erwin Isla. I helped him with his best marathon time after his 1st  TBR marathon. And the rest was history so to speak,” he added.

According to Coach Ken, it helps to have a system in place preparing for a TBR Marathon. Aspiring marathoners are introduced to the run walk method.

“As their coach, I help reinforce their knowledge on training holistically and keep them on track being healthy on race day with their goal of finishing their 1st marathon. Beyond coaching, I help develop and nurture an environment that supports these new experiences which, when shared amongst their fellow batchmates, becomes more bearable and relatable,” he shares.

Obsess to Progress
Being a coach has a lot of responsibilities in one’s mind and body. For Coach Ken, the most challenging part of being a coach is making the athletes believe in themselves and making them believe in his system. Inspiring them is one to help them improve and grow.

“My principle as a coach is first to believe in your athlete. When you do this sincerely, it positively impacts their self-confidence and resonates in their overall disposition. Coaching is more than the X’s and O’s of running. It’s about building the person behind the athlete. When you do this, coaching the athlete becomes easier and you go beyond running. You help build character and positively influence their life beyond running,” he shares.

Coaching and being an athlete at the same time is tough. For someone like Coach Ken who loves competition and pushing himself to go further, he still needs to take a step back to adapt and balance himself as both.

“Above all, coaching still becomes my priority. I have athletes who have dreams that depend on my coaching. That’s one huge responsibility I don’t want to mess around with,” he said.

Like everyone else, Coach Ken has a goal and a growth mindset. He aims to help his students to qualify in local and international marathons.

His ultimate goal: “To make my athletes qualify for the Boston Marathon and even the Olympics. These are unspoken benchmarks that you can call yourself a full-fledged marathon coach.”

Coach Ken’s regular group training sessions are Wednesday mornings in Alabang Hills, Thursday evenings in Filinvest, Friday mornings in ULTRA Track Oval. The rest are individual or group session by appointment.

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