Rediscovering my running mojo and a CiRF journey update

Over the last 6 or more months I’ve hardly run and was beginning to wonder whether I’d ever get back into it. 

There are a number of reasons I lost my running mojo including:

  1. recovering and being sensobl after the Plantar Fasciitis injury that plagued the latter end of last year
  2. Working in the office more and commuting by bike most days
  3. Losing love for parkrun 
  4. More time spent coaching

However, last week I decided that after over 6 years of running and an ever-increasing waistline that I needed to try and squeeze a little more running into my week,

I’ve started slowly with a 20 minute run on Tuesday and a 25 minute run on Thursday. The latter was a ramp session to spice things up a little. I finished that session feeling that I’d achieved something but have a long way to go before I can comfortably run 10K or finish a parkrun in under 25 minutes. 

On the subject of parkrun, as I mentioned earlier, my love of parkrun has waned this year. I had been volunteering regularly and running irregularly but decided that I needed to stop volunteering quite so often (250+ times in 6 years could be considered excessive I guess). As well as stepping back as a Run Director of Southampton junior parkrun for the summer, I’d not been running at parkruns due to my Saturday morning coaching sessions and the other reasons mentioned above. However, this Saturday, I think I may have a bimble around Southampton Common. We’ll see!

That brings me into coaching. I’m still loving it. Lots. Almost 20 Saturday morning coached sessions and 6 Tuesday S&C sessions under my belt. The only real challenge I’m facing is self-inflicted and that’s trying to provide some variety between sessions. Given the feedback I’m getting for both sessions is still overwhelmingly positive, I’m going to worry less about dramatic changes in variety. 

It’s difficult to not think I must be doing something right based on the feedback above. 

As well as the coached sessions, my individual coaching is going well. As I think I mentioned before, Jon smashed his goal parkrun goal at the end of his 8 week mesocycle. He also sent me the following graph from RunBritain showing his performance (in RunBritain Ranking) this year annotated with when he started attending the Saturday morning coached sessions and when I started coaching him for his first 8 week mesocycle. 

Hopefully, the benefits are clear to see. 

Many thanks to Jon for sharing and allowing me to use the graph above. 

I’m planning on taking a break from running the Saturday morning sessions in August to concentrate on family weekends away. After that, I’ll be holding structured 8-week session blocks on improving running technique (for Lordshill Road Runners for up to 10 members per block). I’ve already got most of the first block’s participants allocated which is great news. That just leaves the task of defining the session plans and then delivering them. If you’re a LRR and are interested in attending the sessions, please let me know. 

That’s all for now. 

An update on my CiRF journey

With about 15 weeks until my CiRF assessment day, I thought I’d share an update on how things are going with my journey to become a Coach in Running Fitness. 

On Saturday, I’ll be holding my 14th coached session. The previous 13 have all gone well and I’m getting more confident and relaxed in my delivery of these sessions and able to adapt them on the fly as needed. The feedback from the group has continued to be overwhelmingly positive and, although, getting up at 6:10am is a struggle, it’s well worth it. 

I’ve also now held 3 Tuesday evening strength and conditioning sessions and they’ve gone really well. Although similar to the Saturday sessions, they don’t cover the technical running skills. 

In the first two sessions, there was a rough 50:50 split between running and S&C exercises. However, in the 3rd session I wanted the latter to dominate the session. As the participants were runners, I was a little wary that this may not go down too well but my concerns were unfounded. 

There are a few challenges that I go through each week. These are:

  • Making sure there’s some diversity in structure and content between sessions – particularly as several of the participants attend both Saturday and Tuesday sessions
  • Choosing S&C exercises that will benefit runners whilst being easy to explain and have limited margin for getting it wrong and thereby risking injury
  • Targeting sessions at participants of differing abilities and where group size is unknown 

All of these challenges are getting easier to handle as I deliver more sessions and with the likelihood of delivering another 12 or 13 Saturday sessions and a similar number of Tuesday evening sessions, I feel confident that I’ll have enough relevant coaching experience to be as prepared as I can be for assessment day. 

With regards the exercises, the UKA recommend a very limited set of exercises including squats, lunges, a couple of resistance band exercises and medicine ball exercises. However, my view is that the sessions would be a little dull to only stick with this set. Also, carrying medicine balls requires both an investment in this equipment (without knowing how many would be required at a session) and the ability to carry it to sessions (even more of a challenge given the fact I often cycle to sessions) and, as recreational rather than elite runners, participants are likely to be as interested in general fitness as well as improving their running performance. 

Both of my weekly sessions are well attended (Tuesday’s had 17 members) but there are two main aspects to the demographic of the participants that I thought I’d share:

  • 90% of the participants are female 
  • 80% of the attendees are from groups D and E within the club (likely to complete a parkrun in 22:00 to 26:30)

The gender demographic is surprising and leads me to ask myself a number of questions:

  • Do male members of the club not appreciate the important of S&C and the benefits it could have to their running?
  • Are the male members of the club all attending Monday night training (that’s predominantly running dominated) and not able to get out for a consecutive club night session?
  • Do the male members of the club feel that the sessions are an ‘exercise class’ and that’s not something macho to do?

Who knows! All I can say is that those male participants are apparently enjoying and benefiting from their involvement in the sessions. 

Where’s 2016 disappearing?

This year appears to be flying by. Can’t quite believe that it’s June in less than a week. And what a year it’s been. 

I started the year without a job (after a rubbish Christmas) not quite sure what was going to happen in the coming months. Now, almost 5 months into the year, things are far more settled. 

I guess the 4 main things in life at the moment are:

  • Family
  • Work
  • Coaching 
  • Training

I’ll start at the bottom of the list and work up. 

Training isn’t going well. Due to being busy with the other 3 things on the list above, I just don’t have the time to train myself. More about that in a bit. 

With regards coaching, I’ve now held over a dozen Saturday morning coached sessions and they are going really well. 

It can be a struggle tearing myself from beneath the duvet at 10 past 6 on a Saturday morning and I’m often feeling a little grumpy on my way to the venue but by the time the sessions start, my mood flips and I’m really happy. I couldn’t enjoy the sessions more. 

Most have gone really well although there have been a couple of niggles I need to work on. 
The feedback has been phenomenal. I send out a short survey via Google Forms at the end of each session and have received a 98% satisfaction rating so far with an 80% response rate. My goal is 100%. I have to admit that when asking ‘on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you enjoy the session?’ I get disappointed in myself if I get a 8 or 9. Fortunately 8s are rare and 9s or 10s are the norm. Even when receiving a 10, I know that I can still improve and am working hard to do that. 

I’m keen that the group are honest and don’t just give high ratings because they feel they should. The feedback is anonymous and greatly valued by myself. 

As well as the Saturday morning sessions, this week I led my first strength and conditioning session. (I’ve stood down as Run Leader at Monday evening Lordshill training sessions as I couldn’t do both plus post-injury and under-trained I couldn’t keep up with the group I was leading). There were about 15 at the session and the structure was similar to that of the sessions I hold on a Saturday morning but without coaching on technique. 

I have to admit that I was a little scared prior to the first session as:

  • I didn’t know who or how many people would turn up
  • I didn’t know the ability range of the attendees
  • The original venue was unavailable and I had to create a loop on a heavily populated area of the Common

Fortunately, I knew all but a couple of the attendees by name and several of my Saturday morning group attended so that made it easier. 

As well as preparing and delivering sessions, I’m coaching Jonathan and am currently 5 weeks into his first 8-week mesocycle. 

Jonathan is a good runner with aspirations to improve his running across all distances. However, in discussion we decided that for his initial goal, he should focus on improving his 5K times. 
As a family man with a demanding job that takes him away from home and several races and other event on his calendar, building his first 8-week plan (a mesocycle) had its challenges. However, I managed it and drew up a summary spreadsheet covering the main sessions each week. This included his existing, known, commitments and included progression and periodisation. 

One downside of the CiRF course is although they highlight the importance of building mesocycles (8 week plans), the associated microcycles (a weekly plan decomposing each week of the mesocycle in greater detail) and session plans where applicable, not enough time is given to actually devising meso and microcycles. 

So far, the plan is working really well. In addition to 2-3 training runs per week (some of which include parkrun as a tempo run or similar), I included some S&C sessions and cross training. Jonathan has committed himself to follow the plan as best he can and adapts it where necessary. 

Last week, I set Jonathan a time trial at parkrun to give us both visibility of his progression. Having completed the parkrun, he sent me the following message:

Just back from parkrun – I managed 24:18! My fastest time this year. Your coaching is showing results!

I’m not sure either of us could ask for more. 

So, that’s coaching. 

Onto work… this time last year I was working for parkrun and travelling quite a lot. My dream job wasn’t quite the dream I’d hoped. Fast forward about 6 months and I was unemployed and having to consider what I’d have to do to pay the bills, or indeed whether I’d be able to. 

Fortunately, I’m now settled into a contracting role with a great company and great team overseeing the development of their technical platform.

The work is really interesting and I’m getting my hands dirty with both development (Python, Angular2 and PHP) and acting as Scrum Master. 

Having worked from home for the best part of 15 years, I’m now heading into an office 4 days a week (on average). That office was 2 miles from home and easily runnable, cycleable or walkable. 

Yesterday, the company moved to a larger office at Chilworth Science Park which is about 6 miles from home. No longer walkable realistically and probably runnable but not twice in one day at my current fitness (or lack there of) levels. 
That means I’ll be mostly cycling which is actually great as the distance makes cracking the bike out for the trip worthwhile. 

The only downside is cycling up Bassett Green Road on the way to the office which is a long incline from start to end of approximately 1.6 miles. I guess that for many that’s not much of a hill but it’ll take a bit of getting used to. I’m hoping that cycling 12 miles a day is going to help reduce my expanded waistline. 

Finally onto family. 

The boys are growing up fast and we’re making sure we do as much as we can as a family. Having reined in my other activities and ensuring that my coached sessions are early in the day, that’s certainly achievable and it’s working well. 

The extended work day (caused by travelling time due to going into the office) does have some impact but this is partly negated by the fact I can use those journeys as part of my exercise regime. I’m also hoping to be able to run at lunchtimes and, ultimately, run to and from work occasionally. That’s the plan anyway. 

Reaching another (unofficial) parkrun milestone

Having completed my 100th parkrun at some point last year (I should look it up!), my next proper milestone of 250 parkruns is likely to be 4 years away given the frequency that I run at an event. 

However, I can today claim that when I am timekeeper at Southampton junior parkrun later this morning that I’ll have reached another unofficial milestone of having volunteered at 250 events in the last (almost) 6 years.

There’s no free T-shirt to celebrate this milestone so I photoshopped one (badly) to mark this occasion. Cheap huh?!

I started parkrunning in May 2010 and volunteering at the events in the August of that year and became Event Director for Eastleigh parkrun in December 2010/2011. Life changed quite a lot from August 2010!

Since then, I’ve volunteered more than I’ve run especially since founding Southampton juniors where I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer on a Sarurday and Sunday. The good news about volunteering on a Sunday means that I can run on a Saturday guilt-free. Hint!😉

parkrun has turned me into a fairly prolific volunteer especially in the local running community. 

The truth is that I didn’t ever really participate in volunteering at all before getting involved with parkrun so have gone from one extreme to another as both a parkrun volunteer and for my running club, Lordshill Road Runners, as a Committee member (as Vice Chair), Race Director, regular Run Leader, Welfare Officer, LRR Mile series co-organiser and ‘tech guru’ and, most recently, as a (trainee) Coach in Running Fitness. 
On occasion I’m asked but I can’t really explain why I like to volunteer! I just love being involved in parkrun and Lordshill Road Runners. I once got accused of doing it for the glory but that certainly isn’t the case. There isn’t any! Having said that, my efforts haven’t gone unrecognised as I did earn an award at the Eastleigh Sports Awards in 2014 and carry the Queen’s Baton in the Commonwealth Games Baton Relay in 2015. But mostly, I just help out when I can. 

However, I’m certainly not unusual as I know many who’ve contribute far more than me. Gareth Jones has volunteered at parkruns in excess of 250 times for example and my CiRF coach, Carol Bradwell, puts several hours a week into coaching and supporting trainee coaches. These are just 2 of several including Dave Williams, Dave Clothier,  Gary & Lisa Trendell, Lynda Cox and Meg Draper. 
So what does my volunteering future hold? I’m scaling back a bit. I’m currently taking a break from Run Directing at Southampton juniors (but am still a regular volunteer mostly as stopwatch button pusher). This is to give me more time to train as a Coach in Running Fitness. I’m really enjoying the latter role. Loving it in fact. It takes a fair amount of time devising and preparing sessions and swotting up but I’m hoping that will make me a better coach in the long run. The feedback I’m getting has been overwhelmingly positive and that’s a catalyst for working harder to get better as a Coach. 

I’m also busy helping bring a new junior parkrun to life in my role as a parkrun Ambassador. Winchester junior parkrun should be ‘born’ in July. I’ve got two other junior events simmering away too. 

One of the regular events I really enjoy being part of is the Lordshill’s Mile Series. I introduced these to the club after organising several enjoyable Magic Mile events. Chris Brown organises the series (great work Chris) and organise all the tech and results processing. These events are, IMO, great and, if  you’re a club member in the Southampton area and you’ve not participated, you should. They’re free, fun and brilliant. Register via and come along. There really are no excuses. 

Anyway, enough trumpet-blowing ang glory-seeking. I’ve got a stopwatch to operate. 

Should parkrun events pay to use parks?


Ok, so that was my answer but let me elaborate. 

In the last week or so, parkrun communities around the world have reacted with the same response to the fact that a parish council has insisted that parkrun pay £1 per participant at the Little Stoke parkrun event. The council cite several reasons for the charge including the wear and tear caused to the park and its car park and the complaints they have received from local residents. 

They also state that other organisations pay to use the park and that as parkrun is an organisation that has paid employees that it should do the same. 

Ok, so let’s break this down and make it a little more generic. 

There’s every likelihood that parkrunners cause wear and tear to a park and a car park. They likely do so in equal amounts to another park user including walkers, dog walkers, etc. parkrun event teams design courses to reduce the footprint of their events and try to ensure that wear and tear is kept to a minimum. 

With some events having several hundred participants, there is likely to be an impact from 8:45am until 9:45am on a Saturday morning on a park’s infrastructure but I’d suggest that the number of parkrunners in a park per week is a small percentage of its overall visitor population in that time period.  
In my experience, parkrun event teams are very concerned about their venues and work closely with the park management teams to ensure that any issues that arise are resolved quickly. 

This is certainly the case with all of the local events in southern Hampshire. An example is my home event, Eastleigh parkrun, who recently cancelled for several weeks to allow the venue, Fleming Park, to recover after a lot of wet weather. The council, who I’d spoken to, had said that they were happy with the event continuing during the period but the event team chose to make the decision to not make the ground conditions worse that they were. The event also regularly makes small adaptions to their course to ensure that there is no lasting damage to the venue caused by the event. 

Another example is Southampton parkrun. Again, the event team have a great relationship with the local council and work with them to ensure the event has a negligible impact on the venue, Southampton Common. The event has several course variations and moves to accommodate other events at the park including festivals, fairs and the like. In many cases, these other events cause far more lasting damage that several hundred parkrunners on a Sarurday morning. 

With regards to car parking, at some venues, this is clearly an issue and parkrunners and their events have to take responsibility for reducing this impact. With a growing number of venues, the likelihood of being in the catchment area of a parkrun increases and the need to take a car lessens. 

Many parkrun venues charge for parking and thereby generate revenue from parkrunners. This is certainly the case at two local event; Winchester parkrun and Netley Abbey parkrun. Other local events offer free parking. 

The timings of parkrun events means that the impact on parking is minimised as typically the footfall in local parks is quite low on a Saturday morning than, say, the afternoon. 

parkrunners can help though by:

  • parking considerately
  • car sharing or finding alternate means of getting to an event
  • parking outside or a distance away from the venue

In reality, taking the car to a parkrun is often the easy choice and certainly one I used to regularly take. However, more often than not, I now cycle the 4 or so miles to any of my local events. 

Another issue cited is that large (or small) participation parkrun events take over parks making it difficult for other venue users to make the most of the park. This certainly can be true especially on large participation events, small parks or parks where the course takes in a large percentage of the park’s paths. This isn’t always the case though and parkrun event teams factor in the physical footprint of the event in its course design. They also have to and do consider how growth could impact that footprint. 

There are certainly issues with large participation events where parkrunners congregate prior to the start in one area and this is certainly the case at Southampton parkrun with 800+ runners. However, this only lasts for 10 minutes prior to the start. There is also a compromise that needs to be made at these events where the parkrunners are likely to create less wear and tear on a path than they would on a grass verge. 

parkrunners and event teams can minimise the impact by:

  • designing courses where the start is away from the main thoroughfare of the venue
  • act considerately to other park users and leave a physical path for cyclists and walkers

There have been suggestions that because others pay to use parks that parkruns should to. Many of the organisations that are charged make money from their participants or restrict who can participate. parkrun does neither. Some examples of other venue users could include BMF who charge 40 quid or more a month or a local soccer team who only allow the better players to take part.  parkrun is, and always will be, free to participate in parkrun events and they are available to anyone. 

This brings me onto the fact that Little Stoke Parish Council believe that parkrun should pay a fee per participant per week as parkrun is an organisation with directors and employees. 

The latter is certainly the case. parkrun in the UK has a board and about a dozen employees. 

Even with events being run by volunteers, there is much to do to support those teams and ensure growth of parkrun events across the UK and globally. parkrun volunteers aren’t paid. The Event Directors, Run Directors and Ambassadors all fulfil their role for free as do the core volunteer teams and ocaassional volunteers. The Directors are not company directors. However, parkrun events wouldn’t be what they are without the centralised function provided by the organisation that supports event teams. 

These functions include (but not limited to):

  • event activation and growth management
  • IT provision 
  • partner management – more on this shortly
  • marketing and communications
  • financial/accountancy
  • HR
  • event support – providing support to country and event teams
  • runner support – answering questions raised by the running and volunteer community members

Let me add some meat to these bones. 

In order to make a positive impact on the health and fitness of the nation and globally, parkrun has to grow. In order to do so, local volunteers need support to activate events. This has to be centralised and with several new events starting each weekend and with the issues both new and existing events encounter is a full time job for more than 1 person. 

As parkrunners, we need to register. We complete a parkrun and expect our results emails and SMS messages to be delivered within 60 minutes of the event finishing, we want to go to the event’s website to check out our results and the results of our running adversaries. We expect a weekly newsletter email. All of this and more relies on IT. We want to be able to claim a milestone t-shirt. This includes maintenance of the extensive IT infrastructure that has to support big spikes in usage on a Saturday morning, development of new features and improvements to existing features. This requires resource (this was an in-house function although in recent months, some of the technology function has started to be outsourced and that clearly has an associated cost). 

The simple fact is that parkrun can’t offer free runs for free. There is a considerable cost to providing the infrastructure and support needed by local teams to deliver a common experience across many hundreds of events each weekend globally. Part of this cost is covered by an event set up charge and this is paid for normally 50:50 between local councils and parkrun. This charge helps cover the cost of the infrastructure as well as:

  • Equipment
  • Training

parkrun requires funding or other forms of support from external sources; sponsors, supporters and partners as well as from the retail sales of parkrun branded clothing and a small cut from the barcode tags and wristbands. 

In the UK, the main sponsors and supporters include Fitbit, Intersport, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Wiggle and Tribesports. 

These are all big names and the relationships need managing professionally. In addition, new partner relationships need to be found occasionally and, on rarely, relationships ended properly. Again, this is a full-time role for more than one person and as more partners come on board is likely to require additional resource. 

parkrun communicates to the outside world via email, social media and other forms of communication. There are partner offers to share, promotional emails to deliver, weekly newsletters to write and publish. In addition, media coverage of parkrun is increasing and needs to be managed. Marketing and communication of the parkrun message is clearly key to growth and currently requires 1-2 full time staff. 

As an organisation, parkrun has income and outgoings that need to be managed properly. It has responsibilities to deliver accounts to the authorities and have financial management competence when dealing with partners and other stakeholders. Clearly, this requires professional, paid resource. 

Both events and parkrunners need support. Although largely supported by local parkrun Ambassadors, new event teams need support with activating their events, having their event websites created and set up, etc etc. Also, parkrun receive 1000s of questions each week and these need to be answered. In addition, the support resources for both parkrunners and event teams need managing. This is the role of a couple of full-time members of the organisation. 

parkrun’s UK team also provides considerable support to the country teams across the globe and are exploring and supporting the growth of parkrun in countries such as the USA and Sweden. 

As you’ll see, allowing local event teams to deliver a common free experience around the world require dedicated, hardworking staff working full-time and they need to be paid. Many have moved from well-paid jobs and taken a pay cut to work for an organisation that they believe, quite rightly, could change the world. I know because I was one of them for several months. I know how hard the team work and that they’d love to do so for free as a volunteer but, just like you and I, they have bills to pay, families to support etc etc. It would therefore be naive to think that parkrun couldn’t deliver what it does without paid employees. 

parkrun UK is a not-for-profit organisation. Just to be clear what that means, here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

“In economic terms, a not for profit organisation uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its purpose or mission, rather than distributing its surplus income to the organization’s shareholders (or equivalents) as profit or dividends.”

Just to be clear, parkrun UK has no shares nor shareholders.  No-one is benefiting financially from the success of parkrun and yet thousands of us benefit as parkrunners each weekend. 

Because we benefit by being able to attend a weekly free event, we’re getting active, we’re immersed in communities with passion, we’re volunteering and all of that is (possibly) making us better citizens. Our fitness and the fitness of our families and friends who are becoming parkrunners is likely to have an impact on the health of the nation and beyond and as fitter members of the population, we’re likely to require less of the NHS’s services in the future rhereby reducing our burden on it, our local councils etc. 

We’re joining running clubs, buying kit, entering paid events etc etc. We’re doing so because parkrun is able to provide us with an opportunity to get active with likeminded people for free every week. This opportunity is priceless but shouldn’t have a price put on it particularly by local councils who want to make some money whilst getting all the benefits to the residents that parkrun provides. 

One final thing. Keeping our parks full and vibrant provides a real barrier to them closing. In many towns and cities, such parks provide the only safe green space and with increasing populations, a need for affordable hoisting etc, such parks are at risk of closing. Yes, managing and maintaining such parks costs ££££ but charging parkrun is not the answer when it provides so many explicit and implicit benefits. 

So, that’s my opinion and the rationale behind it. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and no council will ever charge parkrun or parkrunners to participate in a free event that has the power to make a massive positive impact.  

The benefits of supporting other trainee coaches

As well as training to be a CiRF myself, I’m helping another trainee with his sessions. Martin is a fellow Lordshillers and is on the same course as myself. Due to other commitments, he’s not been able to secure the time of a Support Coach for every session he’s coached to date so I offered to help out when I can. 
I’ve attended two of his sessions so far. The first was the Flying 30s session a couple of weeks ago and last night’s session which was a pyramid session where the technical skill was bringing the heel up to your bum when running at speed. 
Although I’m not a qualified coach as yet, I think I’m able to provide some useful feedback to Martin based on the experience I’ve had of coaching my own sessions.
I’m also very grateful to fellow trainee CiRF Gary for his help with some of my sessions. Cheers mate!
Martin sent me his ‘session plan’ a couple of days in advance of the session for review. It was very detailed which was great. The idea is if you have a detailed plan, you can pass the session plan onto a Coaching Assistant or another Coach in order that they can hold the session in your absence. Having spotted a couple of improvements that could be made to the plan, I fed these back.
Monday evening arrived and I cycled the 5 miles to Taunton’s College ready for the session. (Roger, this, along with running a couple of km, is the reason I was stretching at the end of the session!)
My role during the sessions is to support Martin and do what he wants me to do. This was simply to observe the session, offer any suggestions to him and provide feedback at the end of the session. As such, I don’t need to coach any of the session myself or intervene in the session. I don’t think the members of the group that Martin was coaching were necessarily aware of my role so it may well have looked like I was just loitering! I certainly wasn’t participating as a runner in the session and had struggled to keep up on the warmup!
Martin did a great job during the session but I was able to provide a few pointers along the way which he incorporated as soon as he was able. That seemed to work well so hopefully my involvement was useful. 
A side-effect of helping support another trainee coach is to plagiarise ideas from their sessions. We were told that this was a useful coaching skill and one I’m trying to use to my advantage😉 Ultimately, if we can all learn from each other and pick out the best ways of coaching from each other, we’ll all benefit as will those that we are coaching. 
I personally think that by the end of September, we’ll have a great new set of CiRFs within the club ( myself excluded😉 ). I also think that the club offers an incredible package to club members of Run Leader-led sessions and now additional coached sessions for an incredibly reasonable annual subscription of £15 plus affiliation fee. The introduction of more opportunities for sessions including group strength and conditioning circuits within sessions is a major benefit to membership in my view.
I’m investing a good few hours each week training to be a Coach (as well as doing shed-loads of printing and laminating) and if you’re considering becoming a CiRF, it’s worth factoring in the time it takes to attend the 4 days of the course, the time taken to plan sessions, hold the sessions themselves, obtain feedback etc and the time spent increasing personal knowledge of running technique, anatomy, strength and conditioning, technical knowledge regarding energy systems and how to train for these such that we can coach with confidence and authority. 
I’m sure that you could pass the course with far less work than I’m putting in but the investment I’m putting in will hopefully make me a better coach in the long run. 
The decision to try to become a CiRF shouldn’t be taken lightly but, so far at least, I’ve found it really interesting and rewarding. 

Day 3 of the CiRF course complete

Having now led 5 coached sessions and 2 club sessions, I’m getting the hang of this coaching lark. Did I mention that I’m loving it?!

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) course is spread over several months with days 1 and 2 on the first weekend. Day 3 is then normally 5 weeks later and then the final assessment day about 6 months after that. 

I attended day 3 on Saturday. It was held at the Ageeas Bowl in Hedge End and as it was an all-day event from 9 until 5pm, it meant that I wasn’t able to coach my ‘normal’ Saturday session nor attend parkrun. I was more gutted about the coaching if I’m honest. 

The course still had the 14 attendees from days 1 and 2 as well as a newbie to the group, Paul, who’d joined after completing days 1 and 2 elsewhere. 

Simon Mennell was our main instructor again and was joined by Ana as Barry was recouperating from a hip replacement operation. 

Day 3 consisted of a similar structure to days 1 and 2 and covered both theory and practical sessions. 

Topics included:

  1. The energy systems (alactic, lactic and aerobic) 
  2. Designing mesocycles
  3. Planning sessions
  4. Nutrition
  5. Running drills

The practical sessions focused again on session delivery and also observation, analysis, feedback and intervention. 

I’m not sure we learned a great deal more than we already knew but it was good to have the opportunity to be assessed by the instructors and also ask questions. 

If I were being critical, I’d say that the instructions on designing mesocycles and microcycles are too vague and we need much more guidance on this. The course is structured so these topics fall at the end of the day when brains have turned into mush and the sessions are being rushed due to the fast-approaching home time. I think that I’ll be relying heavily on my Support Coach, Carol, for advice here. 

The practicals were good and I had the opportunity to deliver a cooldown. I wanted to hit a couple of ‘how2’ goals of delivering 1-2 key points per stretch and silent demos but again developed a bad case of chattiness. Fortunately, Simon was happy to impart advice and reminded me that it was best to:

  • Introduce the stretch
  • Mention 1 or 2 key points about correct form
  • Demo it silently from 1 or 2 angles 
  • Let the group do it 
  • Observe, analyse and feedback as necessary

Given that we do lots of stretches, I think that in normal sessions that you would do this for a couple of stretches and then just get the group to stretch without silent demos for the rest. 

The course isn’t too heavy on theory but this is one area I’m struggling a little with in particular the energy systems and which session types target which energy systems. It certainly became clearer in day 3 but this is something I need to work on. 

Passing the course seems both cHallenging and straightforward. Let me explain… 

We’ve been taught all the theory we need to know and provided the details of how we should coach and also been given opportunity to use those skills. We now have about 5 1/2 months to make sure we know the theory, pass a multiple choice exam and then pass assessment day at the end of September where we will be expected to deliver part of a session based on a complete session plan we’ve decided. We’ll also be expected to have developed a mesocycle (an 8-week plan) for our ‘Guinea pig’ athlete that demonstrates:

and focuses on the athlete achieving a SMART fitness process goal (as opposed to an outcome goal) where SMART is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

The mesocycle must be one that has been used with the guinea pig athlete as, during assessment, we’re expected to discuss how well the 8 weeks went and whether the goal was attained. 

I’m glad I now have 5-6 months before assessment day. I plan to hold 15-20 coached sessions during that period to really give me opportunity to develop my coaching skills. I also plan to work with my Support Coach to build 3 8-week mesocycles and deliver at least 2 of those and be most of the way through the 3rd. I also want to gain more knowledge of anatomy related to running and bodyweight strength and conditioning exercises and also the energy systems and how these can be trained. 

Lots to do!

In other news, it’s time to get back and running. Most of my target events for 2016 have now either been missed due to injury or lack of fitness due to recovery (and weight gain due to lack of training and lack of control in the company of tempting food). 

I’ve got two events booked and paid for:

  • Lordshill 10k
  • New Forest Half Marathon

I ran the LRR10k the year after I started running and, if I’m honest, didn’t enjoy it much as it was so hot and I wasn’t really fit. Having been a member of Lordshill for 3-4 years, I’ve been unable to run the event but have been Race Director for the event for a couple of years (2014 and 2015). As an active Run Leader, a ‘perk’ of the role is being able to run our own event as long as we pay for the entry fee. I’m hoping that the encouragement from fellow club members will help me around. I’m sure it’ll be a challenge but I have 11 weeks to get fit. 

I’m taking a break of about 4 months from Run Directing at Southampton junior parkrun. There are a number of reasons for this including my coaching commitment, wanting the occasional lie-in, wanting some more family time and giving the rest of the team more opportunity to manage the event. I’m also helping set up a new junior parkrun so it’ll give me more flexibility to be available for their event in May/June. I do still plan to volunteer regularly and hope that the boys will start running at the event more often. 

That’s all for now.