Friday, 2 September 2016

The Water Cooler Coach

Are you a Water Cooler Coach?
You know what I mean. Folks gather by the water cooler, and discuss things - life, the universe, and everything, so as to speak.
I didn't choose to be a water cooler coach. Debbie chose me.
Debbie is one of my colleagues, a lady about my age, who, in a moment of madness signed up for the Great North Run (Debbie is from the "North", and supports "the Toon" at football).
Anyway, we have a few very keen runners at work. I have tapped into their skills myself.
So Debbie spoke to some of them, and came away with a running plan.
All good, except ...

Debbie said to me the plan was to hard!
It started with about four 10k runs a week.
Now for someone like little Tim, who runs a marathon in three hours dead (pretty impressive for a guy in his late 50s), that's not hard. His "running season" training is four X 10k and two X 20k a week (!)
But Debbie said to me that she could only run about 6k tops, so 10k four times a week was far too much.
So I went home, and copied out a plan from a running book I had out of the library. A plan designed to get you up to 10k. A plan by Frank Shorter, former 1972 Olympic Marathon winner, and now coach and writer. It started more at about 3 or 4k a time, working up to about 10k (although, it might have gone to 11k once or twice).
Then I gave Debbie all the tips a new runner needs - just run every other day. Run slowly. Take a week off every three months if you haven't had a week off in that time. Start early - don't wait until a month before the big day. Know your limits - I think myself that if you can't do the distance over 9 days added up, you can't do the distance. So that gives you two weekends, plus the week between. And taper for a week or two before an event. Be well-rested at the start line! Indeed, for an new amateur, a straight week off is a good tip for a week before an event.
Now I know that Debbie walks about 40k a week, same as me, and I told her that. I told her, that if she put her mind to it, she could walk a full marathon, and as the Great North Run is only a half-marathon, then she could always jog the 6km she can handle, and walk the rest, so she could always finish by walking the other 17km. So failure was not an option.
I also told Debbie to enter a "proper" 10k race in the meantime, just to get a feel what it would be like - pinning on numbers, waiting about, needing the loo, the nerves etc. etc.
Turns out Debbie's entry had an automatic entry into a 10k "up North", too. Looks like the Great North Run organisers know that new runners would be well advised to enter a shorter event as part of their training, and have planned accordingly.
So that gave Debbie a nice target to go for.
Train for 10k first, then after that, worry about the 21k.
Ok, so I had to nag a bit to keep her on her training plan.
Some weeks it didn't happen.
A few times I got a rather curt answer to my enquiries, and left it at that.
Everyone has a "real life" to deal with, and Debbie is a single parent, so it is important to remember that folks can't always follow the training schedule, and it isn't your business why.
So you just gotta stick to the basics.
When the weather is good, the old argument of "if not today, then when" comes up.
But mostly Debbie did the training.
And as she ran a bit more each week, so when was able to run a bit more the week after. Nothing strange about that - that's how training works!
Then the 10k race came around.
Off Debbie went.
She finished.
Running the whole way (as she proudly told me when she got back).
And, being a "proper" event, you get to find out how you did.
Debbie was about 2/3rds of the way down the field, which is pretty impressive for a Mum a touch over 50 in her first event! (And I told Debbie that, too!).
So, after a week to recover, Debbie picked the mileage up.
I didn't give her a plan this time. She just ran the mileage she felt.
Give a man a fish, and he has lunch. Teach a man to fish and he has a future. Debbie takes care of her own training much more now.
She came to me and said she had run 19km - from her home out to a nearby small town and back.
Then she said she was going to run to the same small town, but turn left at the clock tower, and make a loop.
I knew where she was planning to run, as I have cycled it in the past.
Indeed, a part of it is on the Tour de Vale route I rode a couple of months ago.
It isn't flat. Not at all flat!
There are several climbs when a cyclist is either up out of the saddle, or wishing they had a lower first gear (I have an extra low first gear!)
More importantly, there is a decent downhill section. Maybe a 10% slope.
So I gave Debbie an essential tip. Run slowly down hills. The temptation is to run faster, as it is very easy, and to feel like an Olympian as you whizz along.
It is very easy to overextend your joints when running fast downhill. So it is better to run more slowly than usual, taking shorter strides, and just easing yourself down the slope.
So off she went.
And came in to work after the weekend grinning.
She had practically run the distance she needed, but with a series of 10% climbs (!).
I said to Debbie that the Great North Run would be easy now, because she just had to run the same, and there certainly isn't as many hills on the course as there is on the edge of The Chilterns (we live just north of that area, and Debbie had run up and down the side of the slope).
After a week off to recover, Debbie's tapering plan is a 10k run three weeks out, a 10k run two weeks out, then no running for the final week, then the event.
But remember Debbie is still walking 40k a week anyway, so it is not as if she is doing nothing!
I asked Debbie what the best thing I had told her was.
I thought it was the "run slowly" tip, or the "run slowly downhill" tip.
But she said it was the confidence.
I had never doubted that she could do it.
And, in truth, I never did doubt it. The only question was how much would be running, and how much would be walking.
Remember my "mileage model"?
If you can't do it in 9 days (two weekends plus the week in between), then you need a LOT more training.
Like I said before, Debbie walks 40k a week anyway, so a 20k event is perfectly doable for her.
Debbie says she will keep on with the running, even after the Great North Run. Sounds like the "runner's high" at work.
Running makes you feel good about yourself.
It just does.
Embarrassingly, Debbie runs better than me, now ;-)
But the important thing about being a teacher/coach is to let your students/trainees be better than you. It mustn't come down to a competition between a coach and a trainee as to who is better.
I take satisfaction from Debbie's progress. Her success is due to her own hard work. All I did was give her a few pointers to be what she already was (but she hadn't realised it).
And I guess that is why the company I work for (where Debbie also works) pays me a few hundred dollars (equivalent) a month extra - for helping folks be what they are anyway, but hadn't realised.
Debbie taught me, in a way, too.
Reminded me of the journey of self-discovery I undertook a number of years back, when I reminded myself what I was anyway, and it was partly a lack of confidence that held me back.
Recently I was involved with the roll out of some new tech to staff.
Looked very different, and seemed very different to the previous stuff.
But it had been cleverly made, and if stuck one could usually either do what one did before, or one could choose the most obvious option, and almost always, that worked.
The tech looked frightening, but it was just unfamiliar.
And that is what the original running plan I gave to Debbie was.
It wasn't a running plan, it was a road map to get her from where she was to closer to where she wanted to be.
When Debbie had gained more confidence, she drew up the next training schedule herself, with only a minor input from me. But even than bit of input from me was more about confidence than information. I just agreed with what Debbie chose, and asked a few questions.
Think about all those motivational speakers. I heard one once, telling a funny tale about how he got shot down over Iraq, and was held by Saddam Hussein. (Yes, really). It had some funny little tales, and some drama and dilemmas, but the main point of it was confidence. Everything else in life seems easy after that.
One of my colleagues spent three years in the Army. Hated every moment of it. Only joined up because unemployment was so bad in his area. He says the main thing he got out of it was that nothing else in his life has ever been so awful or so hard as that. Indeed, by comparison, challenges seem easy.
So I keep saying "Confidence".
I guess that is the real role of the Water Cooler Coach.
We aren't experts at physiology or psychology.
But we can give confidence.

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