For the love of coaching

This weekend I had a new experience, and one that I found intensely rewarding. I have been a runner for several years now – or a reasonably competent jogger at the very least. I have run quite a few races now including a number of half marathons, and found that my competitive instinct when it comes to running is limited purely to competing with myself. For me, this means that if I am racing, I like to run alone. I don’t need someone next to me to push my pace, in fact I can find it demotivating when my head isn’t in the right place.

But I recognise that this isn’t the case for everyone. So, when my best friend told me at Christmas that she had entered the London Marathon ballot, hadn’t got in, but wanted to train for a challenging running event, I jumped at the chance to help. She was pretty fit anyway, but at that point hadn’t run more than about 3 miles, and you cannot under-estimate how tough it is to get both your legs and your head to the point where 13 miles is runnable. We both entered Stratford half marathon giving her until May to work her distance up. I offered support when it was needed from my experience – whether on distance, footwear, nutrition or whether we should have a gin & tonic the night before the race.

We ran together just twice before the event, and on Sunday we ran Stratford half marathon together in glorious sunshine, and she was an absolute superstar every step of the way. Given my love of running alone I was worried that I would feel frustrated by running at less than my normal pace but actually it gave me the space to take a step back and observe the journey she had taken to get to this point. It also gave me some observations on coaching and relationships:

  • Building up a relationship is important. Not only did my long-standing relationship mean that I had a good instinct of what she needed and when, but it also meant that she was comfortable giving feedback to me if I was pushing her too hard – and, on the day, sometimes I was. This level of confidence in each other, and comfort in communicating openly, in a coaching relationship is key. Easy in this case with someone I have known for 25 years, but need more conscious focus to build up quickly in a formal coaching context.
  • The intensity of coaching interventions needs to be targeted to individual need – someone who is truly self-motivated may only need light touch coaching. My friend needed very little – she was so committed to the challenge. She shared her decisions with me – the app she was using to train, the footwear she had chosen, what breakfast worked for her before a long run. She knew she could ask advice when it was needed, and beyond that we just had the occasional check in so she could share her progress – and how much she was enjoying it! Its easy to fall into a trap where the parameters of coaching interventions are process or time-driven – an hour a week may be too much for some, but not enough for others. Part of the coaching relationship should be to identify together what is going to work.
  • Don’t under-estimate the impact that coaching can have on the coach. There is an inherent assumption that coaching is all about the coachee but actually it’s much more balanced than that. Don’t forget to reflect on your own growth as a coach to develop your arsenal of coaching tools. After all, why shouldn’t you get something from the experience aswell, something that gives you even more to offer in the future.
  • And, yes, it’s ok to have a gin & tonic the night before a race.

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