Coach in Running Fitness Assessment Day

Today was the assessment day for the Coach in Running Fitness course that I started way back in March

With 3 days of training and 6 months of sessions under my belt (almost 50 hours of coached sessions and many more hours of session planning, building mesocycles and Internet trawling), I was quietly confident that I’d get through the assessment without too many issues. 

Many of my Saturday morning sessions have been witnessed by my excellent Support Coach Carol who has provided invaluable feedback on how to improve content and delivery and I’ve done my best to take that advise on board. 
Even with all that prep and the technical exam successfully completed, I didn’t sleep well last night and woke feeling far from rested. With the assessment being held at the Ageas Bowl in Hedge End, at least I didn’t have a long journey ahead. 

I arrived early but fortunately wasn’t the only one as two of the course tutors, Ana and Simon had also just arrived. It was good to chat with them and that helped settle my nerves which had started to build. 

Over the following 30 minutes, the two other assessors arrived as well as the remaining 14 training coaches. 

The day was divided into 2 halves. The first half would focus on the delivery of a 20 minute unit from a pre-prepared session plan. Our performance were compared to a 2-page checklist with the assessors having to witness and document how we performed against 20 or so criteria. These were essentially the key points from the ‘On Track’ cards which I’d handily typed onto one page for quick review. 

The afternoon would then be used to get an opportunity to deliver another unit from the session plan in order to cover any assessed elements that weren’t successfully witnessed by the assessors in the morning. We’d then have to discuss the mesocycle (8 week plan) we’d devised for an athlete, how that training had gone, any issues along the way and next steps we’d taken or had planned with the athlete. Finally, we’d discuss our future as a coach and build an action plan for ourselves with the assessor before finding out whether we’d passed or failed. 

The 15 trainee coaches were divided into 3 groups of 5 and we then headed out to start delivering our sessions with our assessor. As trainees, we’d only met 2 of the 4 assessors and it was a little scary to find out that our assessors was new to us. However, Paul turned out to be very friendly and positive. It also transpired later that Paul Moseley was in charge of all the coaching education and courses for England Athletics and had led the team devising and delivering the CiRF course. He was the Head Honcho! Eek!

I was in a group with fellow Lordshillers trainee Martin who I’d worked with closely during the 6 months; helping review his session plans and mesocycle. 

The other members of the group were Clive, Deena and myself. 

Clive was up first and my unit was 3rd while Martin was 5th. 

I won’t go into much detail about that others’ units but I will say that we almost all chose ‘arm drive’ as the technical skill to focus on. This was a good choice IMO as any discrepancies from the desired ‘positive backward arm drive’ are easy to spot and address. Although with experience, we all develop of ‘coaching eye’, confidently spotting issue with foot landing or CoM is more of a challenge. 

My plan followed my normal Saturday morning ‘recipe’ of a warmup, tech skills, S&C circuit and then cooldown and stretches. 

As I was delivering my ’20 minutes of a session’ midway through the group, I chose to deliver the tech skills bit of my plan focusing on, you guessed it, a technical skill of positive backward arm drive (as well as tall posture and relaxed shoulders). This involved some visualisation, silent demos (which I find impossible), some group participation and then a short pyramid session followed by an intervention and then a longer pyramid. 
All went well and I was happy with how I delivered the session and the fact that I delivered the whole unit without referring to my session plan. I’d had enough practice. 

We were given feedback immediately after delivering the unit and my assessor had passed me on every element apart from one. He guided me to try and establish the one issue I’d not resolved during the unit but I couldn’t think what it was. Fortunately, Paul happily let me know that I’d had the group facing the sun which made it difficult for them to concentrate during part of the demoing. D’oh. 

As each trainee was participating in the other trainee’s sessions, we all had quite a workout during the morning. I was shattered by lunch! I don’t think I was the only one. I was just glad that I didn’t need to run my pyramid session!

After lunch we headed back outside to deliver a 10 minute unit from our session plan which provided the opportunity to showcase any skills we’d not been able or hadn’t used in the morning. For me that meant making sure the group weren’t facing the sun. 

Again I was the 3rd to deliver and chose to include the S&C unit. I was pretty confident about that given both using S&C in my Saturday morning sessions and the dedicated weekly S&C sessions I deliver to club members. 
Again, that unit went well and I was happy with how I’d delivered the unit. That just left the conversation about my delivered mesocycle and discussing an action plan. 

Although I’ve build mesocycles for a few athletes, I chose the one I’d built for Jonathan Smith that had gone really well and the outcome of which had exceeded both of our expectations in that Jon had smashed his parkrun PB. That discussion went well and a short time later, Paul let me know I’d passed my assessment and was now a Coach in Running Fitness. He’d also commented on how I had a very natural coaching style and that it was clear that I enjoyed coaching. Can’t really ask for more than that. 

So, 6 months of hard work is over and I can now carry on coaching. Phew! As I’ve mentioned many times, I really enjoy coaching and am confident that I’ll continue to improve both my knowledge and delivery of sessions in the coming weeks, months and years. Many thanks to Carol and all the Lordshill Road Runners I’ve coached to date. I’m looking forward to building more interesting sessions and seeing more LRR members benefit from the technical skills I help teach them and the S&C sessions I deliver. This journey has only just started. Who knows where it’ll take me. 

10 things you probably already know about me – new for 2016

In middle-age, for many, there are often fewer opportunities for people to make new friends and for past generations, many people’s circle of friends contracts rather than expands once reaching one’s 40s, 50s and beyond. I get to meet new people regularly. Mostly, the expansion of my circle-of-friends has been via the running club I’m a member of, Lordshill Road Runners, or parkrun.
These friendship start with a ‘hello’ or an introduction. Before long, we’re seeing each other more regularly at training sessions, parkrun or other events… just about remembering each other’s names, discussing recent achievements and slowly learning a little about each other.

One opportunity to get to know me better is to read my (infrequent) blog posts right here where I post about my running and triathlon-related experiences. Most of it is dull I’m sure but my aim is to keep track of what I’ve done in the hope that when I’m old(er) and grey(er) and my memory has diminished (more) that I can remind myself, and maybe others, what I’ve done and achieved since getting off my rapidly-expanding derriere, deciding to start running at the grand old age of 39.
However, to ease the introduction and to provide a summary of a little about me (mostly related to running, triathlon or similar activities) for recently acquired friends, here are 10 things you may (or may not) know about me.

a) I’m rapidly approaching my late 40s (!!!) and have been married for 16 years to Denise and we have two boys – Daniel aged 9 and Connor aged 7. We also have an old, black, overweight Labrador named Milly who is nearing the end of her life unfortunately. 

Unfortunately, Milly is no longer with us. Miss her every day but I’m no rush to get another pet!

b) Until early 2015, I was the Technical Director for an online florist where I’d worked for about 12 years. I was very lucky to be able to work from home and  had few reasons to leave the house due to this. I get to spend a lot of time with the boys and get then ready for school, wave then off and greet then when they returned.

In early 2015, I worked as Head of Technology for parkrun Global in what felt, for a time, like a dream job. I guess it was on occasion but a decision to outsource technology meant that I left (along with all of ‘my’ team) to pursue other interests in December 2015. 

I’ve now restarted my own limited company and am doing contract work for a new startup in Southampton. The startup was ‘started up’ by friends I’d worked with 14 years ago. It’s a great team, really positive and with a positive outlook on technology and who value my experience technically as well as an experienced team leader and project manager. 

I’ve been contracting for Tonic Analytics for several months now and really enjoy the work and working with the team. I commute to work by bike (5 miles each way) and that seems to be keeping me fit…ish!
c) In 2009, the fact that I rarely left the house, increasingly more mobile children and feeling less and less active meant that I took up running to train for a charity 10K (it was also the first 10K event that Di Mattingly did)

d) I found out about parkrun in late 2009 and attended my first parkrun event at Eastleigh parkrun’s 3rd event in May 2010 (also Lewis Chalk’s first parkrun – Lewis was first across the line)

e) I took over as Event Director (ED) at Eastleigh parkrun in late 2010 and then went on to set up, and become ED, at Netley Abbey parkrun and Southampton parkrun before passing on the reins to others once established. Along the way, I helped with setting up other local parkruns including Winchester and Brockenhurst’s events.

f) I founded Southampton junior parkrun in November 2013 and was the Event Director for about 18 months. I’m also a parkrun Ambassador for junior parkruns in Hampshire (helping existing events as well as helping teams establish new events) and a parkrun Event Adjudicator. To date I’ve volunteered at about 240 parkrun events undertaking over 400 roles (including being Run Director at over 55 events). I’m currently supporting 3 junior parkrun activations. 

My volunteering efforts resulted in me carrying the Queens Baton for the 2014 Commonwealth Games Queens Baton Relay with Iwan Thomas. 

g) I’m a proud member of Lordshill Road Runners, a club I joined about 4-years ago. I became Vice Chairman for the club in September 2013 and held that role for 2 years. I also help organise the popular LRR Mile Series and have been Run Director for several of the club’s races (10 Mile 2013, 10K 2014 and 10K 2015).

I’m active as a Run Leader on Monday night sessions with LRR and have been doing this since Frbruary 2015. 

As well as this, I’ve started training as a Coach in Running Fitness (since March 2016) and hold a weekly coached session and have started leading some of the club’s Wednesday night sessions. I’m hoping to qualify as a CiRF in September 2016. 

My assessment is on Saturday. Hoping to be a qualified coach then. I’m no longer Run Leading or leading Wednesday evening sessions as I now hold a weekly S&C session on Tuesday evenings. 

h) As well as enjoying running, I’m a keen, yet currently lapsed, triathlete (although not particularly good!) and have completed several since my first in June 2013. The longest triathlon I’ve completed to date is the Challenge Weymouth Half Distance Triathlon in September 2013. I do have ambitions of doing a full Iron distance event one day!

i) I like organising things (as should be apparent from the above) and am fairly good at time management in order to juggle the things I do, training, work and hectic family life.

j) I enjoy challenges. I know lots of people who don’t appear to set themselves any other challenge other than living from day to day. I did that for many years just plodding through each day, week and year. However, my life is now made up of multiple challenges and they give a great focus and reasons for living. 

So, there you go. That’s a little about me!

Coached sessions – places available

The following is for Lordshill Road Runners. 

As many regular readers of my blog will know, for the last 6 months or so, I’ve been holding a coached session for Lordshill Road Runners members on a Saturday morning from 7:30am until 8:30am.

I’m currently a few weeks into an 8-week block of sessions that will finish at the end of October and am seeking participants for the next block starting in November 2016. 

I thought I’d use my blog to try to entice you to considering joining these sessions. 

The sessions are for runners of all Lordshill Members of all ages and abilities and the session block is designed to help improve running form for:

  • Endurance running
  • Running uphill
  • Running downhill
  • Max velocity running
  • Running over obstacles
  • Running off road

as well as get you fitter and stronger. 

The sessions comprise of a number of parts including:

  • Introduction
  • Warmup
  • Technical skills work
  • Strength & conditioning
  • Cooldown
  • Stretches

Here’s just a sample of the feedback received for previous sessions:

“I enjoyed the mix of running and S&C and it was good to learn about uphill running technique, as some of the information was new to me. I’m looking forward to being able to put it into practice!”

“Really well run session, well explained and well balanced.”

“I really enjoyed this morning’s session. It was fun and I definitely felt like I’d had a good workout afterwards.”

“I thought today’s session was great, thank you. I really enjoyed it.”

“Your sessions are great James. You put lots of different parts to your sessions. I love the way you mix it up.”

“This was definitely my favourite session so far! The ‘play your cards right’ theme and obstacle run made the session really enjoyable…it was good to do something a bit different.”

The sessions are fun, free and are for Lordshill Road Runners only. 

I’m sure you’ll be concerned that a session before parkrun will impact your ability to PB. Evidence shows this isn’t the case with many of the participants of previous groups smashing their parkrun PBs. 

If you’re interested in joining the current or a future block of these sessions, please let me know.

Moving on

It’s 3:14am and I’m thinking of pi. I’m often awake or wake up at this time, quite often looking at the alarm clock and seeing the same time. 

Anyway, I’ve a blog post to write and now’s as good a time as any to write it. 

The title of the post might sound a little more severe than it actually is. Let me quickly allay any fears. I’m only talking about parkrun. 

So, as many of you will know, I’ve been involved with parkrun for over 6 years as more than a runner or volunteer. I’ve done lots of things and I’m sure I don’t need to repeat them here. Needless to say, parkrun has consumed many waking (and sleepless) hours over that period. I’ve always loved doing stuff at the events or behind the scenes whether it be creating new events, helping new events start up or Run Directing.

However, in the last 9 or so months, such involvement hasn’t had the same appeal that it has had in the past and, although, I helped Winchester junior parkrun get off the ground over the period of about 6 months earlier in the year, it wasn’t a process I particularly enjoyed being part of or want to repeat again anytime soon.

There’s little point in doing something voluntarily if there’s no enjoyment gained from it hence my decision to move on from anything related to parkrun other than running at events or occasional volunteering… and I really do mean occasional. Having volunteered at hundreds of events, it has become more of a chore than something I get enjoyment from and the contribution largely appears to go unnoticed and unappreciated. 

I’m hoping that by removing a negative thing in my life (and my involvement with parkrun has certainly become that) that I can focus more on the positive things. I shouldn’t need to mention that coaching is one of those things as I’ve droned on about that numerous times. 

On another subject, I really need to sort out my waistline. If I ever want to run again regularly (and I do), carrying enough lard to baste 100s of chickens isn’t going to help. How I’m managing to put on weight (or at least maintaining) whilst burning several hundred calories a day commuting to work on the bike 5 days a week must show that I like to reward such activity by consuming as many (or more!) calories. Numpty!

I guess the good news is that my lack of running this year appears to have fixed my plantar fasciitis and achiles issues. 

Every cloud…

Fun S & C sessions delivered free

Having briefly re-found my running mojo, life has gotten in the way and I’ve not had the time to do much. One September arrives, I’ll try to get back into it but for now my involvement with running includes coaching, organising the Lordshill Mile this month and marshalling at last night’s LRR hosted RR10. 

The summer has arrived and I’ve got 4 weekends of family activities which means that parkrun and my Saturday morning S&C sessions take a back seat. I’m certainly going to miss the latter.Fortunately, my Tuesday evening S&C sessions are unaffected and I’m really enjoying delivering these. 

I spend a fair amount of time on session design (primarily how the session is structured and the exercises to include) and use the feedback from previous sessions to help improve future sessions. 

Of the 9 sessions to date, there’s been a fair amount of variety in each session in terms of structure but, before too long, there’ll have to be a point where I have a set of structures and then vary the exercises. 

On Tuesday, I used a ‘Play Your Cards Right’ structure where each numbered suite card had an associated exercise as did the picture and ace cards. That meant 12 different exercises. To simplify things a bit, all picture cards were runs which cut down the exercises to 9. Those included:

  • Press ups 
  • Leg lifts
  • Squat jumps
  • Lunges
  • Squat thrusts 
  • Burpees
  • Calf raises

I’d actually created 4 different sessions based on playing cards and used one session at the Saturday group which received good feedback. That left 3 other potential sessions and I was unsure which one to use. A couple of the sessions involved some floor-based exercises and following a fair amount of rain, I was concerned that participants wouldn’t welcome getting down on damp grass. However, to add a fun element and given the weather had improved, I decided at 4pm to allow one of the participants to blind m-choose the session and put the different session cards into separate envelopes to make the choice as random as possible (even I didn’t know which session plan was in each envelope) ready for the session. 

As the sessions included a run, I also put the possible run times of 30 seconds, 45 seconds and 60 seconds into separate envelopes. Finally, as the session would use playing cards, a 3rd participant would shuffle the cards. There really wasn’t much more randomness I could introduce. 
Getting members of the group involved in this way gave some good opportunities for banter during the session and that made the session fun too. 

Having packed all the envelopes, the oversized playing cards and my assorted collection of cones, I cycled the 4 miles to the Common hoping that the earlier bad weather wouldn’t put everyone off coming. 

Cycling to the session has its challenges. The biggest (aside from cycling up Burgess Road)being how much equipment I can carry. I have used resistance bands, skipping ropes, medicine balls etc in other sessions but do like the sessions where there’s no equipment at all. 

On arrival at the area that I was holding the session, I was pleased to see that the ground was mostly dry which meant that floor exercises wouldn’t cause too much discomfort. There was a little drizzle shortly after I set out the run loop but that didn’t last for long. 

I was relieved once the group members started turning up and about 10 took part in the session. 

The session went really well and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. As always, I sent out a feedback survey once I got home and a majority of the group responded with the following scores:
I really couldn’t ask for more than that. 

As well as asking ‘would you recommend the session to a friend?’ which is the main ‘Net Promoter’ question, I ask what influences the rating given and got the following replies:

Again, great feedback and a tough act to follow. 

It’s certainly great to know that the sessions are appreciated and feedback such as the comments below hopefully show that the sessions are hitting their target:

Rest assured I’m working on more fun sessions for the future…

…Regular attendee Dave suggested a ‘Wheel of Sporture’ session modelled on ‘Wheel of Fortune/Torture’. Another fun idea and one I’ll definitely be using sooner rather than later. In fact, the session planning is already underway and here’s a sneak preview at what you might expect at the session…

Note that the above is a representation of the possible exercises and not the final set. 

It always amazes me what I end up doing. I’d never have thought a couple of years ago that I’d be holding these kind of sessions or that I’d be fairly good at delivering them. 

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.