Learning Teaching

No thought could have been further from my mind on that 2009 evening, as I threw up in an alley less than a kilometre in to my first ever run and stumbled home in tears, but last weekend I qualified as a Coach in Running Fitness with UK Athletics.

The running continued despite that disastrous start, and eventually got easier. Then I was tricked in to running a marathon so I pounded the streets of London in 2011. Somewhere around that time I joined a running club, smartest move I ever made, and many more races followed. Then in 2014 I was offered the opportunity to do my Leader in Running Fitness qualification. All of a sudden people were looking to me to be responsible for their running, they wanted advice as well as looking after, and I gave them both but often I was passing on things I’d read or heard, but didn’t really understand. I trained with people who got better, I paced people to new personal bests in parkruns and half marathons and I really really enjoyed it. But I couldn’t shift that nagging feeling that whilst I was being effective it was more luck than judgement and while there were people who respected my experience and knowledge they put a lot more faith in me than I did myself.

Then I heard about the Alpkit Foundation, a grant awarding body without all the usual restrictive criteria that leaves men in their thirties stranded. (Why the Princes Trust cuts people off at 25 years old is a mystery to me, no one really knows what they want until they’re 40!) Long story short, in exchange for a promise to get more people outside and active they offered to pay for my coaching qualification, and so it was that in March of this year I started the process of qualifying as a whistle blowing lap counter.


In truth the journey started many years ago. P.E. Teacher is the only career choice that I regret not exploring more, but by the age of 18 I’d had enough of academia and needed to get out in the world. I had done several coaching courses whilst at college, but there wasn’t much call for rugby coaches or tennis advisers in the world of insurance where I began my working life. I have taken the whistle since, instructing in gyms in my twenties and as captain of the rugby team insisting on an extra weekly training session in my 30’s (mostly just to satisfy my desire to coach, but you can’t argue with the two winning seasons that followed!)


The mechanics of qualifying as a coach are long and boring; it involves classroom days, practicals, exams and constantly submitting plans for feedback, some of which is even positive, occasionally! It all culminated last Sunday with a day of assessment on my ability to plan a training cycle as well as individual sessions and then deliver coaching to a group who were far from engaged, primarily because they were all stressing about their own assessments!


Now I’m not one to brag – stop laughing – but here’s how the day is supposed to go: Assess plans, get feedback, deliver sessions, get feedback, present amended plans, get more feedback, deliver second session putting in place all the corrections you were given in the morning, feedback again, go through plans one last time to discuss how you could have done everything better, get a pass or fail.

My day went like this: Assess plans, deliver session, get called Coach and asked if I’d hang around and do the cool down in the afternoon.

So, it seems I actually do know my stuff after all, and now it’s official!


Many people have asked me what’s next or what I plan to do with my new found opportunity, and the simple answer is nothing. Not yet anyway. I enjoyed coaching a group over the summer, and I have a couple of athletes interested in working with me over the coming months. I’ll be more actively involved in my club now, covering sessions wherever needed and doing so with a renewed confidence. But mostly I will be continuing to learn, adding new drills and skills to my portfolio, attending every class and course now available to me to better understand all I can about how to make people better runners, because essentially that is where I get my pleasure, from seeing people improve. This isn’t a career move, I’ve no intention of charging people to work with me or quitting my job, much as I’d love to wear a tracksuit all day!

I think my next challenge, the final piece of the confidence jigsaw, is I need to get myself fit again. After a summer of festival building (read: bbq and cider), injury, distraction and no targets I’m hardly an example to others of the benefits of a jog! So, the next few months are all about me, my running and maybe a spring marathon, and as soon as I can walk the walk I’ll look to take on some athletes and talk the talk with them too.

But in the meantime, I may just blow my whistle a few times, now I’m qualified to do so.



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40 Before 40 Update…

A quick update on my progress with the 40 challenges I have set myself to complete before 4th March 2018 (which is sooner than it sounds!)

parkrun1 – parkrun in 40 different locations – Now up to 24 different parkruns and a proud member of the (un)official parkrun tourist club. I have a few more new venues lined up in the coming weeks before I have to start thinking about where to tour, and there are still 6 venues within 25 miles of home I haven’t been too, with more starting soon…

5 – Qualify as a running coach – The classroom work is done! I’m now coaching regularly and self-assessing all the time. The exam has been done with a 90% pass so I’m ready for my assessment day in October. Pass that, and I will officially be a UK Athletics running coach!


8 – Go vegetarian for a month – I was going to do this in February, as it’s only 28 days long! That feels like a bit of a cheat though so I have called on my veggie/vegan friends to share their best recipes for me to practice, and I’ll consider doing this in September/October.

kayak13 – Learn to canoe – I have completed a 6 week course with Cheltenham Canoe Club and done a river trip, but I’m far from capable! I’m still pretty terrified of going for a swim, and it’s highly likely as I have a tendency to swerve violently to the left which can be a bit worrying in fast water! More practice (and bravery) needed…

18 – Work with a life coach – The amazing Liz Goodchild deserves a post of her own, and it will happen, but suffice to say the 6 week group course I took with her was life changing.

21 – Interview 10 people for “Who James Met Running” – I have now met and questioned 5 “celebrity” runners, so it may be time to write them up and start that series! Always on the look out for new subjects to interview…

28 – Send 10 handwritten postcards/letters – I have ten addresses now (I couldn’t tell you a single one a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know what number my mum lived that!) and I will write things as and when it feels right. There’s still a chance to get added to the list so if you fancy receiving some post sometime in the future email your address to whatjamesdid@hotmail.com

35-39 – currently blank – I have a couple of ideas for activities to fill these slots, but I’m in no hurry to add them. If you have any suggestions though feel free to comment below!

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parkrun reports: Conkers & Richmond

Conkers ~ #92 ~ venue 23

On my third trip to Thunder Run I finally got to take in the local parkrun on the Saturday morning, which will give you some indication of how seriously I was taking the upcoming 24 hour race!

screenshot_2016-07-31-09-13-52_1.jpgIn previous years the influx of TR24 runners has seen a crowd of over 500, but I can only guess that all the Thunder Runners have ticked off this particular parkrun as a sociable 339 took to the course. Being a leisurely run with the afternoon’s exertions in mind I think I must have chatted to at least 300 of them!

CaptureThe course is a “lollipop” with a steady climb on hard-packed trails through the woods. Bursting out in to the open we followed a reclaimed canal teeming with fish and birds before dropping quickly back to the woods and a steady downhill to the finish.

We didn’t hang around after as we had to get back to Catton Park and await the team, but the Conkers volunteers seemed as wonderfully welcoming as I’ve come to expect from parkrun and the cafe was very tempting! Definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby.

Richmond ~ #93 ~ venue 24




I’ve wanted to run Richmond for a long time. I’ve seen many photos of the deer, the trails and the trees of Richmond, it looked a wonderful place to explore and a parkrun is as good a way as any to see some of the sights. Knowing I had a day in London coming, plans were made…

Unfortunately, following an infection from insect bites at Thunder Run, I really wasn’t supposed to run, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Richmond while I was in town.

imag6335.jpgI was met by the brilliant Andrew Brown, a fellow cow cowl wearer, who was looking after first-timers and tourists. He was even more welcoming than most and gave me loads of information about the park and their parkrun. Every venue should have an Andrew!

I took to the course for a run/walk, quite content to be at the back and just take in the views. I’d heard much about the downs and ups, but the course is actually quite comfortable with a gentle roadside climb to begin, then a rolling descent to wide open grassland. I’d been hoping to get a sight of the majestic deer that roam freely in the park, which I did, but at quite a distance! I did see the Ride London police cavalcade rolling out though which was impressive. There is a climb towards the end of the route but it’s short and managable, and there was lots of support hanging around at the finish which was lovely.

Sadly I couldn’t do the course justice, but I still loved my Richmond experience. Again I didn’t stop for the cafe but the folks were lovely, so much so I could be tempted to head back one day…when I’ve ticked off all the other options in Central London!


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Have You Ever Learned How To Run?

26.2 miles is a long way to be alone with your thoughts and during the recent Copenhagen Marathon it was just me and them for most of the course. I wanted to share with you one of the things that kept rolling around my mind though as I rolled through the streets of the Danish capital…

As part of my “40 before 40” I recently started a beginner’s canoe course. Let me talk you through how the first session played out…

  1. An introduction to canoeing and where we would be safe to do it once we’d finished the course
  2. A guide to kit, what we would need, what it might cost, why we use it and where to get it
  3. A tour of our canoes including details of how to adjust every last lever and clip to make it fit like a soggy glove
  4. An explanation of the paddle, how to hold it, how not to wave it around and hit people with it
  5. Advice on how to position weight and how to maintain as much contact with the canoe as possible
  6. Instruction on what to do in the event of a capsize
  7. Demonstration of how to empty a boat of water
  8. Demonstration and practice of how to lift and carry a canoe safely.
  9. Demonstration and practice on dry land of getting in to and out of a canoe once it is afloat. So that’s eight things, in depth, before we even got to the side of the training pool. Next…
  10. How to paddle slowly forwards, sometimes in a straight line
  11. How to make small adjustments to direction so you don’t go in to trees
  12. How to do huge great turns to avoid ramming whales
  13. How to go backwards…without looking…and without rear view mirrors (the assumption is that if you’re going backwards nothing behind you can be as dangerous as whatever you’re escaping from)
  14. How to go forwards fast
  15. How to stop going forwards fast, fast. (It involves lots of splashing)
  16. Capsize training
  17. How to get out of a boat which is afloat and back on to poolside, which inevitably became more capsize training.

All that in one hour, but it has set the standard for a lifetime of safe, efficient paddling which should improve my enjoyment of the sport and also keep me safe from injury and potential drowning.

Then I compared it to the first time I went running…

  1. Put on old Nikes
  2. Sprint up the road for 800 metres
  3. Be sick in an alleyway and cry/limp my way home

I thought about all the other sports I’ve ever played. I spent hours each week perfecting the art of scrummaging and throwing line outs in rugby, I faced 100 identical bowling machine deliveries to practice my forward defensive at the start of the cricket season (and another 20 to practice whacking the ball for 6 but that’s not the point). I’ve built my golf swing by paying attention to every minute movement it entails from the moment I approach the ball to long after it has left the club face and I even got some netball coaching involving how to jump and catch for a charity tournament many years ago. In all these sports I was taught how to do the actions needed to be the best I could be – at throwing, pushing, catching, jumping, hitting – and yet one thing was missing from all the coaching I ever received.


Running. No one ever told me how to run. No one told me the most efficient way to run around a rugby pitch, conserving energy for when it mattered. No one ever taught me the fastest way to run between the wickets on a cricket square. Certainly no one ever taught me to run over long distances – all the training advice I could find was on how far to run, how fast to run, whether it should be up hill or down dale – and I imagine that is true for the vast majority of us out there who are pounding the pavement every week.


So maybe now you can see part of the reason I am so excited to be qualifying as a running coach with England Athletics. All that untapped potential in every runner, who has been dashing around without ever knowing how good they could be purely because no one has ever explained to them how to run well.

I can’t wait to start coaching people and watching them succeed, pushing the boundaries of what they thought possible whether it’s more speed, greater distance or even just ease of running. It’s exciting to think I’ll soon be making people better runners, one step at a time…

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Who James Met: Steve Edwards – Marathon Man

At the time of writing, Steve had just completed his 726th marathon with an astonishing average finish time under 3hrs 16 minutes. His book “The Man Inside The Machine” is available now.

NAME: Steve Edwards – Marathon Man

LOCATION: Almost Athletes AGM

BEEN RUNNING FOR: Since school, but distance running for 35 years

HOW DID YOU START: Whilst running 400-800m on track as a teenager I saw a poster for the first Coventry Marathon and thought “why not?”. After that first one it was definitely “never again” but the feeling didn’t last!

FAVOURITE DISTANCE: Unsurprisingly, 26.2 marathons

FAVOURITE RUN/RACE: There’s lots, too many to pick one outright, but a few that come to mind…Stockholm, New York (for all the tourist hot-spots you pass), Tromso Sun Race – starts in the middle of the night and by 3am you’re in a bar celebrating in bright sun!, Chicago for the fantastic organisation and infrastructure and closer to home Windermere.

FAVE BIT OF KIT: I run in asics Gel Cumulus shoes and have done for years, besides that my rehab kit is probably most important; foam roller, tennis and cricket balls and a small rubber ball for rolling the soles of the feet.

DREAM RUN: A marathon in my home town, Moreton-In-Marsh

DREAM RUNNING PARTNER: Other than my wife Teresa who has been so supportive, in a few years when he’s old enough it would be my grandson Farren. He’s 8 at the moment so it may be another 10 years!

RUNNING ASPIRATIONS: Initially it was a marathon, then t was 100 marathons, then 500…the target now is to complete 1,000 marathons with an average finish time under 3hrs 20.

FAVOURITE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE: Never underestimate your potential, follow your dreams.



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