Don’t Just Run…Coach

I’ve been a little quiet recently because I’ve been a little busy.  I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions but back in January I set myself a goal for 2014 and last week I achieved it.  The goal was running related but nothing to do with a distance or a time.  This achievement would be longer lasting!

Despite dabbling with running at the turn of the Millennium I only caught the running bug a few years ago, as I turned 30 and decided to do a bit of charity running to get fit and give something back to some organisations that had helped my wife and I while she went through Cancer treatment.

Running was hard work but felt amazing; I must have been doing it wrong back in the Noughties!

My passion for running was growing by the day helped by the fact I was interacting with runners all over the world through my blog and Twitter.  I wouldn’t say I was evangelical about running but you’d be hard pushed not to notice that I’m a big fan!

It felt strange when friends who don’t even like running told me they enjoyed reading my blog.  Some even said they were inspired by things I had written.  Were they genuinely connecting with my passion or politely feigning interest?  I just couldn’t be sure.

The strange thing about this new passion was, back at school, I wasn’t sporty at all.  To be honest, I wasn’t very good and had no inclination to work to be better.  I found the academic work much easier so a swot I became.  I watched a bit of sport over the years but never felt inspired to get involved.  That was, until the circus that is the Olympics came to town!

Having the opportunity to walk on the Olympic athletics track at a test event in the stadium and spending a few days in London soaking up the festival of sport that was on show reached deep down inside me and flicked a switch.

I enjoy this running lark but as a thirty-something with no sport history I’d realistically left it too late to become an Olympian; but what if I got myself involved and could inspire others to get running? Who knows, perhaps one day I could be coaching an Olympian.  And my own personal London 2012 legacy was born.

Before the memories of the greatest Olympics of all time faded, I jumped at the chance of becoming a UKA (now British Athletics) Leader in Running Fitness.  This one day course uses a mix of classroom and practical sessions to introduce you to the skills that will enable you to lead adults through fun and safe running sessions.  Whether you’re part of a club or want to start a recreational running group, this is the course to give you all the tools, and insurance, to help people get running.  And what’s more, you don’t have to pass a test to qualify!

After a false start I eventually got a Run England group up and running (don’t wait for me to apologise for the pun!) a year down the line. Initially I was very nervous. Would people turn up?  What will they be like?  And most importantly, could I really give up one of my own running sessions each week?

I needn’t have worried. It soon became clear that, pretty much through Facebook alone, I’d managed to pique the interest of a very friendly, keen bunch of people who wanted help to get running.  Over the coming weeks, it also became clear that giving up an hour a week to help these determined individuals was going to be easy.

Any runner will know what it feels like to complete your first race or to claim a new PB: amongst the dripping brow, the gasping lungs and the shaky legs is a sense of achievement, pride and elation.  Imagine how it feels to help someone who has never experienced those feelings before discover what it feels like.  It’s just as good as your own runner’s high only this one requires slightly less blood, sweat and tears.  Well, not so much of your own bodily fluids anyhow!

Seeing the look of surprise as a new runner realises they’ve just run a lap of the park without stopping for the first time is immense.  And it doesn’t stop there.  The beauty of leading a group of new runners is that the achievements keep on coming: running for half an hour without stopping, completing a parkrun, entering their first race, setting a new PB.  Each time, you’re reminded of your own running achievements and it spurs you on to find your own new challenges.

Just as I’d got hooked on running a few years previously, it was obvious that I was hooked on helping people to enjoy running too.  In order to help people run further and faster I would need to take the next British Athletics qualification and become a Coach in Running Fitness.  This next step was not a small one and with good reason: British Athletics need to know that you are going to be able to develop the runners’ fitness and technique safely and responsibly.

The CiRF course starts with a full weekend of theory and practical sessions going in to a huge amount more detail not only about the technical aspects of running and fitness but more importantly, how to coach well.  You then get around 6 weeks to go away and practice the new skills you have learnt before returning for a third day of sessions to soak up even more knowledge and techniques.  It doesn’t end there.  You now have to go away and work with a group of your runners and a support coach to hone your skills and complete an 8 week record of your coaching to demonstrate your understanding and identify areas where you want to improve.  Invariably, your submitted Coaching Diary will be returned with some comments and areas for further work.  Only once your diary has been given a pass by the assessor are you able to apply to attend the fourth and final day, involving both a knowledge test and practical assessment.

So that sounds easy, right?!

Maybe not, but it’s not as hard as I’m making it sound.  There’s no denying you need to take a lot of information on board and commit time to doing it but all the way I found tutors, assessors, coach mentors and also my runners were supportive and helpful.  At the end of the day, British Athletics needs coaches so it’s not in their interest to make it impossible to qualify.

The whole qualification is set up to be a continuous process of learning and development – even when you pass, the next step is to identify an action plan to improve your coaching knowledge and technique.

Having attended the first three days of the course in April and May this year I eventually got round to submitting my diary last month and, after a little extra work, was able to squeeze onto an assessment day last weekend.

Passing the knowledge test with 38 out of 40 (the pass mark is 30) helped to settle my nerves, along with the friendly demeanour of our assessor Simon.  As has happened many times in my life, having a surname beginning with “W” meant I was bottom of the list so took my practical assessment last.  There’s no waiting around though, as when you’re not being assessed, you’re being an athlete for the other people being assessed.

Considering it was an assessment day, I had a fantastic day: I ended up having a great work out (so much so that my chest and arms were still feeling Mike’s circuits 2 days later!) and saw some interesting ideas for different sessions from my fellow coaches-in-training.  By mid afternoon we’d done what we needed to do and British Athletics had 6 ecstatic new endurance running coaches.

So my goal of qualifying as a running coach in 2014 is complete and now I embark on a journey of developing athletes whilst simultaneously developing a coach: me!

If you love running and want to spread the love I can heartily recommend climbing onto the British Athletics coaching ladder.  If the desire to help other runners doesn’t outweigh your concern over sacrificing your own running straight away I’ll leave you with this:

This year I’ve run less miles and less times a week than last year but by applying the knowledge I’ve learnt about technique I’ve run my fastest mile (5:58), my fastest 5k (21:28) and taken just under 6 minutes off my half marathon PB (now 1:41:11). I’m also looking to set a new PB at 10k next week at the Eynsham 10k, and my training runs suggest I might just sneak a sub-45 time which will be about 4 minutes quicker than my 2013 PB.

So becoming a coach can benefit your own running as well as those of others.  Who knew?

If you think you might be interested in climbing on to the coaching ladder and want to ask me questions about my journey then by all means get in touch.


11 thoughts on “Don’t Just Run…Coach”

  1. I’m pretty sure I will be in touch with you soon to pick your brains. Need to speak to a few folks first at the club I’m helping with. 🙂 Awesome work though, well done coach. x

  2. Great to read this Dan! I’ve just registered for my LiRF course in December and can’t wait! I think your last paragraph was really inspiring too – it’s not all about how much you run, but how smartly you run and equipping yourself and those you coach with important knowledge can only be a good thing – informed, less likely to get injured and aware – brilliant! How is your running and run coaching going now?

    1. Hi Tim, glad you liked the article – I can’t believe I wrote it nearly 2 years ago! I’m still enjoying helping people run further and faster and I’ve continued to improve my own PBs too. Good luck with your own coaching journey and let me know if you have any questions or would like any advice.

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