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…
- An introduction to canoeing and where we would be safe to do it once we’d finished the course
- A guide to kit, what we would need, what it might cost, why we use it and where to get it
- A tour of our canoes including details of how to adjust every last lever and clip to make it fit like a soggy glove
- An explanation of the paddle, how to hold it, how not to wave it around and hit people with it
- Advice on how to position weight and how to maintain as much contact with the canoe as possible
- Instruction on what to do in the event of a capsize
- Demonstration of how to empty a boat of water
- Demonstration and practice of how to lift and carry a canoe safely.
- 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…
- How to paddle slowly forwards, sometimes in a straight line
- How to make small adjustments to direction so you don’t go in to trees
- How to do huge great turns to avoid ramming whales
- 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)
- How to go forwards fast
- How to stop going forwards fast, fast. (It involves lots of splashing)
- Capsize training
- 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…
- Put on old Nikes
- Sprint up the road for 800 metres
- 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…