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 http://www.magic-mile.co.uk 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?

No!

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. 

Pulling off a Wednesday night training session

Last night I lead my 2nd Wednesday night Lordshill training session and it was one that had me worrying more than I’d expected. 

My Saturday morning sessions have an ‘envelope’ that I have some control over as I know each of the group members, their ability (and that the ability of each member is similar) and that the group attendance is unlikely to be more than 10. Wednesday evening sessions are open to all members of the club and that means they can be of any ability and the group could be of any size. 
Given the popularity of the physical prep circuit element of my coached sessions, I was keen to include this within the session but was worried that this may not be liked by all. In fact, in a recent Run Leader meeting, the Vice Chairman of the club said that the club’s faster members didn’t see any benefit of S&C and just wanted to run and run and run.  Given that I was expecting at least 1 or 2 of the ‘elite’, I was expecting a bit of a mutany as soon as I mentioned such favourites as squats and lunges. 

I was also worried that if I discussed technique that those same runners would baulk at the idea that I, a 23 minute 5K runner when in PB shape and certainly not recently, may have some skills knowledge. to impart to those that were running well under 18 minutes for 5k. 

Putting my worries aside, I ‘threw caution to the wind’ and started work on my session plan for an ‘Oregon Circuit’ session which comprises of an interval session where the recovery consists of S&C rather than rest, walking or jogging. 

Having a repetoire of possible S&C exercises to throw at the group, I decided to include the following:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Single-leg balance
  • Rope skipping 

To cater for the range of abilities, I had some progression options too:

  • Squats or squat jumps
  • Lunges or walking lunges
  • Single-leg balance or SLB with medicine ball
  • Rope skipping with or without rope

To ensure that there wasn’t overcrowding of the circuits stations, I decided to pair up runners of similar abilities and one of the pair run 400m (2 lengths of 200m out and back) while the other did a circuit station. The running member of the pair would then swap with their other pair. 

To give me time to set up the circuit, I’d get the group to do a warmup without me. 

My plan also included some tech skills associated with running for endurance and speed (relaxed shoulders, tall posture, positive backward arm drive) and a cooldown with stretches. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Having given lots of thought to the session plan (and lost some sleep over it), I decided that I could adapt the session on the fly if there was a mutiny. 

Wednesday evening arrived and I packed my bag with all the equipment I needed and headed for the Sports Centre. The bag was laden with my circuit station cards, medicine balls, skipping ropes, cones and hurdles. I was hoping I’d not have to run far with it on my back!

Having negotiated the traffic caused by roadworks on almost every road along my journey, I arrived at the Sports Centre 25 minutes before its start to find the car park almost full. Eek. It seemed that the Sports Centre was the most popular place in town. I may need to scrap all my plans to deal with having lots of other footfall at the venue. Luckily, early arrival meant I had time to check things out and make changes to the session where needed. 

Fortunately, it appeared that much of the venue ‘traffic’ was centred around an area away from my planned session so as long as everyone took care, the session could continue with no changes. 

As 6:50pm approached, I returned to the meeting point for registration. 

In total, 24 runners turned up. This was a typical recent attendance for a Wednesday evening session. It was great to see some friendly faces from a wide range of abilities. It was also great that Alison, Gary and Loraine were helping out with the session. Many thanks. 

Having explained the session to the group, there were a few puzzled and bemused faces. No one left though so maybe a mutiny had been averted. 

As I sent the group off for their warmup, I headed up to the boating lake to set up the circuit stations with the help of Gary. 

Once the group were warmed up, I gathered them in to further explain the session. To help the session flow, I skipped the tech skills unit and got the group into pairs, introduced the circuit stations and off they went. 

It was clear from the outset that the session was going to be a tough one to participate in! However, there were some smiles between the grimaces. 

It was interesting to see how the ‘elite’ struggled with the S&C as much, if not more so, than the rest of the group. This was particularly apparent on the single leg balance. 

However, morale was good amongst the group and it was good to have some banter. Fortunately, I knew a good percentage of those taking part by name and could interact with them injecting humour where possible. 

10 minutes into the session and there were lots of tired-looking faces. A break was going to be needed. I decided to give everyone another 5 minutes before drawing everyone back together for a breather and an opportunity to go over some tech skills. I used a couple of the fun demos from the first weekend of the CiRF course and asked how everyone was getting on. 

Having completed that unit, I sent the group out for 12 more minutes of Oregon Circuit fun before the cooldown and stretches. 

The feedback at the end of the session was very positive. Participants had enjoyed the S&C bits and had felt that the change from a typical session was a positive thing. Several of the group said that they knew that they should be doing S&C but never did (particularly by themselves) and that the session was a good way of incorporating that into their training. 

Overall, I was really happy with the way the session had gone. It was a slightly difficult concept to grab, explain and deliver but I think I got away with it. Just!

More coaching

Time for a quick blog post before I get up to set up the course for junior parkrun. 

I’ve not held 5 coached sessions and am loving it. Saturday’s was the best so far in my opinion. Fortunately, my support coach Carol and the group appear to think so too!

  
  
I started the day feeling tired and a little grumpy and the thought of a 6am alarm wasn’t helping. However, I knew that once I was out of the house, my mood would lighten. 
On Friday evening, I’d done lots of prep. This included reading through my session plan, printing and laminating a couple more cards for new circuit stations and swotting up on some theory and benefits of the ‘plank’. Each week, my repertoire of knowledge and things I’ve laminated gets bigger. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation between the two. 

On Saturday morning, with my bag packed with a new waterproof clipboard, session plan, attendance record, circuit station cards, skipping ropes, cones, first aid kit etc, it was time to head to the Sports Centre for a session on running uphill. 

I’ve held a couple of sessions at the SC now and am loving the venue. There’s a variety of areas, routes and terrain to experience and it’s quieter than my usual haunt, Southampton Common. 

On arrival, I chatted with Carol about how I was going to adapt the session a little from my plan to make it flow a little better and then waited for the group to arrive. 

There were 7 in the group (a great number in my opinion) and we headed out for a warm up jog to the boating lake where we held the circuit ‘unit’ of the session. I’d ideally prefer not to run during the coached sessions but sometimes it’s necessary. 

The circuit consisted of:

  • rope skipping
  • calf raises
  • walking lunges
  • planks

In previous sessions, I’d had 5 stations but felt in hindsight that this was too many. It also meant that the circuit was taking 15 or so minutes. IMHO, having 4 stations worked much better. 

Once the circuit unit was over, we headed over to the incline to Coxford Road for the main technical skills unit. As it was a discovery session, I sent the group up the hill and back a couple of times before talking them through the technical skills. This worked well as it gave me the chance to organise myself and get the laminated cards I’d prepared for the skills and triple extension. 

The unit went well although I think we all struggled to grasp triple extension. It was clear everyone was doing it but difficult for anyone to judge so I videoed each runner in slow motion to share later. 

One that unit was over, it was time for the cooldown and stretches. One thing I struggle with is silent demos. For someone that’s quite introverted and shy, you’d thing being silent would be quite natural. During stretches, I seem to get verbal diarrhoea. Oh well, I think I was better but still plenty of room for improvement. 

So, overall, I’m pretty happy with how things went. Carol sent though her assessment and it was very positive. She picked up a couple of improvements I can make and I’ll be incorporating those in future sessions. 

I’m really enjoying coaching. Have day 3 of the CiRF course next Saturday which means no coached session😦

Another update on my journey to become a CiRF

I’m now a few weeks into my journey to become a Coach in Running Fitness, CiRF, and wanted to share some information on how it’s going. 

The CiRF course is in a state of transition/improvement and this has lead to a few discrepancies between the information provided on the uCoach website and the information we were given during the first weekend of the course. Also, I believe that there have been recent changes to allow coaches to provide more ‘physical preparation’ within the sessions they lead. My personal view is that the UKA has been a little rigid in terms of what non-athletics coaches can do but this is changing as they realise how important the rest of the running population is to the future of grassroots sport, running and athletics. 

As mentioned in my previous post, I want to get as much experience of coaching as I can and am holding a weekly session pre-parkrun in order to do this. 

Although the homework only requires one session to be planned and delivered between days 2 and 3 of the course, I’ve decided to do 4 sessions and then keep offering weekly sessions so I get as many opportunities to coach as I can before assessment day in September. 

To provide continuity and to (hopefully) ease the burden on my aging brain, each of sessions I’m planning follow the same basic structure:

  • introduction
  • 10 minute warmup
  • 15-20 minute bodyweight circuit (physical preparation)
  • 15-20 minute technical skills
  • 10 minute cooldown

As detailed on the course, this kind of breakdown is likely to keep everyone engaged as you don’t spend too long on any one thing. 

I decided that the ‘circuits’ segment of my sessions would always be broken down into 5 stations and would then modify the circuit each week by changing the exercises on a station and progressing others. 

For example, my first session had the following stations:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Carioca
  • Single leg balance
  • Star jumps

As you’ll hopefully see, these not only provide some opportunities for increasing strength but also the fundamental ABCs:

  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Coordination

In session 2, the stations were:

  • Single leg balance (same as previous session)
  • Star jumps (same as previous session)
  • Walking lunges (progression)
  • Squat jumps (progression)
  • Lateral hop (new)

A similar pattern will develop week by week. 

I also added another type of progression to the circuit by changing the station and recovery time as follows:

  • Session 1: 45 seconds per station with 15 seconds recovery/changeover
  • Session 2: 50 seconds per station with 10 seconds recovery/changeover

My plan is also to include more upper body and core exercises such as planks, press ups, burpees etc in future sessions. 

With regards the main technical skills, I’m focusing on a different skill each session. In the first weekend of the course, these were:

  • Running for endurance
  • Running over obstacles
  • Running at max velocity
  • Running uphill
  • Running downhill

I’m therefore planning each session to follow this list (in the order shown above although I may combine uphill and downhill into one session).

As a coach, I’m resisting the temptation to do any running and am organising the sessions logistically so they use a small area where I can see the runners clearly at all times while remaining fairly stationary. This has meant that in sessions 1 and 2 that I’ve used a 200/250 metre loop which has worked well. 

There are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  • A Support Coach is invaluable – many thanks Carol. You are awesome  
  • Maintaining continuity and some consistency between sessions helps… a lot. 
  • It’s difficult setting out courses and coaching the session without one impacting the other. This was particularly so with the obstacle session where there were a lot of hurdles to set out. Using Run Leaders or Assistant Coaches would prove invaluable here. 
  • Providing individual feedback is a challenge – there are often a lot in the group as as a trainee, there’s a lot to think about during the whole session. More on this in a moment. 
  • Feedback is invaluable – as well as excellent feedback from Carol, I’m sending out a short feedback form to the group after each session which may seem like overkill but gives thr kind of information I need to ensure I’m progressing and offering the best sessions I can – so far the feedback has been both really useful and overwhelmingly positive. I know things haven’t been perfect but I can use the detailed feedback from my Support Coach, the feedback from the group and my own self-assessment of the sessions to help improve them for the future. 

Because I’ve not been able to provide individualised feedback so far (I will I promise), I decided to use video in the last session. As it was an obstacle session, there was one bit on a straight gravel path where a number of low hurdles were placed in quick succession. This provided a great opportunity for a video, some feedback on technique and then an after video. One of the group had shown great technique over the hurdles and we decided to use her (well done Luana) to demonstrate the technique she was using and to them ask the rest of the group what the technique was (due to the time taken to set out the course, I’d not had the opportunity to share the technical form/skills recommended for running over obstacles so the session used ‘discovery’ as a learning technique. 

Rather than show the videos of ‘before’ and ‘after’ during the session, I uploaded them to a Facebook group I set up for the group for everyone to see the improvements they’d made. That worked brilliantly. Needless to say, I’ll be videoing segments of future sessions. 

Before I close, one other benefit of videoing (with permission of course) is the ability to use freeze frame and slow motion to hone in on technique matches and mismatches. 

So far, so good. Really enjoying what I’m doing and achieving. I do feel like a fraud at times though given I’m not running much at the moment, am unfit and most of my group are faster than me. However, speed, fitness and current ability don’t define how good a coach you can be. There are many other skills that are equally or more important and hopefully I have one or two of those to make up for my lack of any athletic ability!