It’s getting late on Tuesday afternoon. It could be any Tuesday of any week of the year: coaching and training is relentless. There are always runners in our group, Love the Run, with events coming up and each race needs to be prepared for adequately. Each runner’s race needs to be given importance. Unlike team sports with clearly defined seasons, for the recreational-competitive runners I coach, the calendar of races is continuous. The desire for runners to train in pursuit of their target events – and others in between – sustains the training edge.
Tuesday is one of our weekly training sessions, held after work alongside the Yarra River which runs through the heart of Melbourne. We meet roughly in between central Melbourne’s most famous running track, The Tan, and the training base of the Collingwood Football Club on the site of the old Olympic Park. The Tan is densely filled with all level of runners and we only use it occasionally: more keen on utilising expanses of pavement and bicycle paths up and down the Yarra. The South Bank where we base ourselves is lined with beautiful elm trees, providing relief from the summer sun, but only scant protection from the winter elements once leaves have been shed. We train through extremes in weather extremes: 40 degrees plus in summer, to the cold, rain, hail and just above-zero temperatures of winter. Our Tuesday session helps our runners to regroup and refocus after weekend events.
Starting the Group and Becoming a Coach
I formed Love the Run in 2009 for what then covered both running and triathlon coaching. Over time, the emphasis has shifted to a middle-to-long-distance running focus. My own coaching, like many other coaches, has stemmed from a lifetime in athletics. Overtime I have come to realise I have knowledge of running worth sharing and valued by others.
The popularity of running in Melbourne has also led to an abundance of professional and semi-professional running coaches, fitness advisors and the like. Who is a coach and the best kind of coach is difficult to define. Some just hang up a shingle and offer their services. I don’t see other coaches as competitors, however, instead, I have come to realise that we all complement each other, offering a slightly different experience based on the common thread of running.
I look for any new tidbit of training information I can find. I love seeing what training people are doing on Strava (a ‘social network for athletes’ which allows one to follow other athlete’s activities), reading countless books, articles, blogs and talking with anyone who has a common interest in running. As an athlete I’m probably “un-coachable”. I test out a lot of methods on myself and am always trying to develop new training strategies. Sometimes they work, other times not. The quest for the ideal training methodology continues. I have drawn on some of the established training methods such as the approaches of Lydiard, Daniels, Canova, Hudson and Magness. Perhaps the ideal is a mixture of them all.
The success of a coach may be measured in numerous ways. It is equally getting someone from the couch to running 5km; a newbie to running a marathon; an experienced runner to achieve personal bests and developing an athlete able to win races.In our group, we have a mix of runners and one of my tasks is to respond to their enthusiasm for running by both taking on board what they want to achieve, as well as pushing them a bit further.
The science of running is a complex study of energy systems, physiology, muscles, nerves, tendons. It tells us that if you do a particular type of training, you’ll get a corresponding physiological improvement, although in reality science is several steps behind coaches in seeking to understand why a particular coaching technique is successful.
Ultimately, coaching is a fluid, dynamic and ever-evolving interplay of science, psychology, counselling, friendship – just some of the many parts that create the whole. It cannot be reduced to any single element. The art comes from blending these into working with inherently individual athletes and manoeuvring through any and all obstacles that will arise on a daily basis. The art comes from experience.
My coaching career and experience is in its relative infancy compared with the wisdom of my esteemed peers who’ve spent a measurable part of their lives ‘in the trenches’, in the elements with athletes in every and any scenario and circumstance imaginable. It’s a humble path to becoming experienced, and is an avenue that motivates me as own athletic prowess wanes.
Meeting Up at Training
Preparation for the Tuesday session began days earlier when the planned training session is published in our twice weekly group email newsletter. Any training plan is idealistic, and assumes runners come along to training feeling good and ready to train. However, runners are people who arrive at training with different goals, abilities, fitness, life issues, motivation, etc, so while the benefit of group training is the group training, each runner is an individual who benefits most from adapting the planned session to their status on the day. Happy and satisfied runners do good training.
The cycle path along the Yarra is a major thoroughfare for commuters heading home from the CBD, while rowing crews splash their way over the water. As the world passes by, our runners emerge from different directions, some on foot, several on bikes and just a few via car – training is a stopover on their way home. The talk prior to training commencing is wide and varied; there is no standing theme or topic. As a group we are a cross-section of society; running is our common meeting point. Friendships are made across running and racing ability.
Interaction and Outcomes
The small window of time with the running group is critical for the training week. With my coaching hat on I am all eyes and ears. I watch how each person walks and move as they arrive – their physical body language tells a powerful story. I listen (and watch) as they respond to my standard query of “How are you feeling?” Moving among the group I get a sense for how everyone is, and form a judgement about how prepared they are for the planned session – its two-way communication. Some are fine. Some will have slight variations to their training intensity. Some will have wholesale changes to the plan. The longer I’ve known each runner for, the better the judgement I can make and the better the training that gets done.
Continuity of relationship is crucial. The runners are friends, colleagues, training partners and supporters. The coach-athlete relationship is built on trust and understanding. Each runner has their own life story, which is as much a part of their running as how fast they move their legs. There’s Anna, who completed her PhD last year, is part of the running group fabric, enjoys participating over competing and shuns big events – although New York marathon last year was an exception.
On running in a group, Anna says
“I have learnt consistency and adopting a ‘just try and do something’ attitude to training, rather than give in to feeling flat, bad weather, or overwhelming thoughts of work or home. Love the Run has also taught me the importance of commonality and connectedness; sharing training (pain) and competing experiences with my running mates are priceless life experiences.” Long-distance running is often perceived as a highly individual sport; but training in a group is essential to becoming a better runner.
Tim (pictured at the top of the page) is our speedy runner. He wasn’t always the fastest, but has developed as a runner in every way and is a great example of hard work. With a recent new baby his life has changed quite a bit. Then there is Jacqui, mum to a two yo girl who loves the challenge of training and striving to improve, and tag-teams with her husband to even get to training. And there are more runners, all whom are unique.
For Jacqui the sessions have provided some focus to her training, saying “Originally my training was of a ‘more is better’ approach, however since returning from a 2 year sideline to train under the guidance of Love the Run, I’ve come to appreciate quality over quantity. The quality of running I’m able to achieve in the group sessions has really helped me excel as a runner/triathlete without sacrificing the energy and time required to balance work and family. Of equal importance is the social outlet and positive energy of the group training environment.”
Ticking Off Another Session
As the clock ticks to 5:50pm, we start the business of training – a warm-up routine of dynamic exercises and drills, followed by a warm-up jog. Before, during and after the training session is when I am working, and coaching is done; running is just the mechanical implementation of the plan. Every runner at every session on every Tuesday of every week is different. The beauty and thrill of coaching is successfully weaving all the loose threads into a pattern that reflects all the people in our group who love the run, and, at the best of times, love the training.