My journey to becoming a running coach

Photo of Tamsyn in running kit.

A few years ago, I was encouraged to do a one day course to become a Leader in Running Fitness. This was the start of my journey to becoming a running coach. I wasn’t sure whether it was right for me, but I figured that it would teach me a little more about myself as a runner. Hopefully, I would help a few people on their running journey.

I was a Run Leader for my running club for quite some time. Helping other people was enjoyable, but I was aware that I was out of my depth. I had never been to any running sessions led by a coach. My running sessions were mainly runs of a set duration. I had never been formally taught any drills or anything about running technique. The first step for me was to go along to Run Camp, where I learn a lot. I  then decided that I wanted to develop my skills, so in June 2013, I did the first two days of a course to become a Coach in Running Fitness.

Run Leading with James Saunders
Run Leading with James Saunders in November 2014 ©Teri Pragnell

The course and coaching diary

The course lasted for three days. Then a coaching diary needed to be completed before an assessment day could be completed. The whole process was supposed to take no more than two years… but it wasn’t that straightforward.

The scheduled date for Day Three of the course was when Stuart and I had already booked to go to Thunder Run. This meant we had to book to go on another course in Watford. This put the schedule back by a few months.

We then had to complete the coaching diary. This necessitated working with one athlete in particular and coaching an eight-week programme for a group of athletes. I tried to fit it into LRR sessions, but it just became too complicated. Consequently, I spoke to Rob, a friend and qualified coach. I asked whether he would give up some of his free time to supervise my sessions. Fortunately, Rob agreed, so it was a chance for me to get back on track.

Finding volunteers

I then needed to find some victims willing volunteers, who could give up 8 consecutive weeks. I have a lot of friends who are keen runners, but most of them have a wide variety of other commitments. They knew they could not turn up every week. Thankfully, some friends did agree and I am very grateful to them (Loraine, Donna, Jules, Andy, Jo and Kirsty). I am particularly indebted to Kim who agreed that she would be the main focus of my sessions. Without Kim’s commitment, everything would have fallen apart.

I planned all of my sessions. Then each week I would arrive early to explain my session plan to Rob and tweak it if necessary. This was down to factors such as knowing that a participant was stuck in traffic or had some injury, or the weather conditions, or simply finding that another group was training in the area where I had intended to run my activity. (There are not many outdoor spaces in Southampton that are suitable for training. There are quite a few running clubs and groups as well as personal trainers and fitness clubs all vying to use the same areas).

The participants would then arrive and I’d do my best to lead the session, before gathering feedback from the runners. They had a tendency to be kind. I made it clear to them that it was more helpful for me if they were brutally honest about areas where they thought I could improve. I also let them know the specific areas that I was trying to work on, such as ‘giving instructions’ or ‘silent demonstrations’.

Coaching my running group
Coaching my running group © Rob Kelly

Post-session evaluations

Afterwards, Rob, Kim and I would adjourn to the nearby pub with my husband, Stuart. This provided us with a warm and comfortable location where I could go through my session plan again with Rob. I was able to reflect on what had gone well and areas that I would change if I were to do the session again. Also, the relaxed and informal atmosphere meant that we had some really lively coaching discussions as Kim is also a Run Leader (and Rob’s wife) and Stu was a trainee coach.

Winning pairs
L-R: Kim, me, Stu and Rob

Writing my coaching diary

The next part of my coaching journey was the longest and hardest part for me. I took really detailed notes on all of our discussions, but I had to type them up into my coaching diary. Regular readers will know that brevity is not my forte and I found this part really challenging. In the end, I got lazy and didn’t type everything up immediately.

Then life got in the way. My coaching diary ended up under the coffee table with more and more of the detritus of everyday life piled on top of it.

I lost the motivation I had and my coaching journey almost ended there.

The final push towards becoming a running coach

Then, many months later, I saw an email reminder that coaching diaries had to be completed by the end of July 2015.

I set to work (and nagged Stuart to complete his as well). It was a painstaking process. Not only did I have to fill in my initial reflections, but I also had to ensure that I met the required criteria. I spent quite a few evenings typing away. Eventually, I dedicated an entire weekend to filling it in.

When I sent my coaching diary off, I was fully aware that most people’s diaries do not pass the first time. Changes are usually required. I wasn’t certain that I had met the expectations, but as a qualified teacher, I knew that I had used clear and concise English (unlike on this blog. Sorry!)

How did I do?

A few weeks later, I received an email. My coaching diary had passed with no amendments required. Yippee!

Booking onto an assessment day

The next hurdle was booking onto an assessment day. When I submitted my diary, I knew that there was an assessment coming up. It would be in November and would be under 25 minutes drive away. It sounded ideal. Unfortunately, by the time my diary was marked, that day was fully booked and the nearest venue was several hours drive away. I really wanted to finish the course, but coming so close to moving house, I just didn’t have the time or the money to attend that session.

After a nervous wait, I was contacted by the brilliant local England Athletics staff. They had managed to squeeze Stuart and me in at the local assessment venue. However, we would be assessed on the Saturday with the Athletics Coach trainees as the Sunday Coach in Running Fitness course was oversubscribed.

As the day grew closer, I became increasingly tense. I planned my session, but it’s very difficult to plan a session for an undisclosed number of people at a venue you have never attended. I had no idea of the athletes’ abilities either.

Assessment day

On the day, Stu and I arrived early. We headed to the classroom where the initial briefing was to take place. We had been advised to wear clothing that would be suitable for participating as well as for coaching, which had caused me a dilemma. Eventually, I chose a pair of tracksuit trousers that I bought in Portugal, along with a parkrun t-shirt, Lordshill hoodie and Nike running jacket. In my pocket, I popped a buff and a pair of gloves.

I was told that I would be leading the first session of the day. I had to take a warm-up and then go into the main part of my session. The assessors would stop me when they had seen enough. This terrified me as it meant that I would have no chance to observe any of the other participants before the session started. I tried to convince myself of the positives. At least I wouldn’t have to wait around and get more nervous.

We headed outside and I assessed the area where we would be training. I also did the usual safety checks and then started my session. I know I forgot a few things, but I managed to correct myself, so it wasn’t all terrible. After a while, the assessors stopped me. I was taken to one side for some feedback.

Feedback on my session

One of the biggest problems that I was having at this time was that the temperature had dropped suddenly overnight and I was really cold. I had put my buff on over my ears and had my gloves on, but I was physically shaking and could no longer feel my fingers. This combined with my usual exam fear meant that I was in fight or flight mode.

The feedback that I was given was generally fair. However, I did feel frustrated that the assessor said I had no made the objectives of the session clear to the participants. I had definitely done this and they confirmed that I had when I asked them. The assessor had not heard this as he was talking to the other assessor at the time. We had been told that we would have to take two sessions, but I felt really disappointed that I had covered so few of the checkboxes. I felt despondent. If I had been on my own, I think I might have made my excuses and left.

I then had to participate in someone else’s session, which was hard as it was so cold. Fortunately, at that point, the assessors decided that it would be sensible to relocate into the sports hall. I was so grateful.

My second session

In the afternoon, I had to deliver my second session. I felt more confident, although I was still very nervous. Immediately after the session, I had more feedback. I knew there were still things that I could improve on, but the assessor said that I had passed. It was such a relief. We had been told that it would be best not to discuss our results with others (so that they wouldn’t be put off). I let Stuart know as he was aware of how on edge I was.

At that point, I was able to relax and enjoy the other trainees’ sessions much more. One guy got us to run through mini hurdles (which I’ve always been bad at). Another got us to practise throwing balls. This should have been a straightforward activity, but I’ve never been good at ball sports. He asked me whether I had been making the adjustments that he suggested, but I had to admit that I had been so focused on catching the ball when my partner threw it to me that everything else had gone out of the window!

Being a participant

The funniest part of the day was when one person decided to coach us on the basics of the triple jump. He had a mixed group including an athletics coach who is very good at running, another athletics coach who previously ran and then Stu and I. Stu was in an athletics club as a teenager. Although his specialisms were 800m and 1500m, I figure that he must have done some field events in the past. I went to a ‘nice’ girls’ school in the days when girls didn’t do triple jump. I also was a failure at long jump. We tended to do it as standing long jump and I think my record was about 3ft. Anyway, the coach was great. The session was a lot of fun and that combined with the throwing session meant that my arms were very tired the next day.

Onto the next stage of becoming a running coach

Now I need to start the next stage of my coaching journey. From January, I will be coaching a large mixed ability group every other Wednesday. Luckily, Kirsty (one of the people who took part in my training sessions) has agreed to help out as a coaching assistant, which I am really grateful for. I need to start planning the sessions and hope that I can live up to people’s expectations.

Have you ever considered becoming a running coach?

6 Responses

  1. Running is a new world to me, but I love it and I love the way it picks people up. I would love, in time, to train as a coach. I know I’m a fair bit off yet as my max distance is 10k and I assume to coach you need to be a pretty strong runner! It is something I’d like to do though. Well done you xxx

    • It all depends on who you want to coach – as I’ll be coaching a large (up to 50 people!) mixed ability group then I won’t be doing any long runs, but will keep my group in a specific area and be focussing on sprints, hills and drills. When I used to lead a group of similar ability runners, we used to run for up to 90 minutes, which was 8-9 miles for that group… which meant I had to be able to do that. However, on Monday evenings my club has 7 smaller groups of 12-20 people – each group is given a letter from A-G. My group was Group D, so they were middle ability. If I’d had to lead Group F or G then I would have gone out on a bicycle with them as they are much faster than me, and if I’d run with Group E then I would have been at the boundary of my ability and wouldn’t have been able to be as positive and encouraging as others would like.

      Out of all of the triathlon disciplines, running is the one where I feel most confident. I’m not fast (and am not training regularly enough at the moment), but I know that I’ve got enough stamina to keep going 🙂

      UK Athletics and Run England have various campaigns going on as there aren’t enough female coaches. It might be worth looking into becoming a Leader in Running Fitness as there may be funding available. A lot of Run Leaders work with novice groups, doing something similar to the Couch to 5k programme, so you don’t have to be able to run far or fast.

      Good luck with your running journey 🙂 x

  2. Giving something back and helping others is a great thing to do. I Team Lead occasionally at club nights but I mainly enjoy sorting out the weekend runs. It’s so satisfying to hear people say, “loved that Rog” thanks for organising. Good Luck and “keep giving”

    • It is great to find a fun route that people enjoy – especially when you’re able to show fellow runners an area that they don’t know well. Before I started running, I had no idea how pretty a lot of Southampton is… I just saw it as an urban sprawl!

      • I run off road as the name suggests, South Downs Way is only 11 miles from Fareham. We park at Meonstoke and then head out from there. Lots of trails, hills, scenery and views !! Maybe come and join us one day 🙂

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