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.