‘Leadership in Running Fitness’ Course – my experience

As an active member of Lordshill Road Runners, I’ve been participating in training sessions for several months now and have really enjoyed them. On some weeks, they are the highlight of my training week. It’s great to train with others and it’s also been a great way of making new running friends.

At training, we’re indebted to those that deliver these sessions; the coaches and Run Leaders (also known as a LiRF or Leader in Running Fitness) who often put their training on hold for an evening to help others. They do so voluntarily out of the goodness of their hearts!

For quite some time, I’ve been thinking of training as a Run Leader but never quite committed. However, late last year I decided that I’d stop procrastinating and sign up for the next Leadership in Running Fitness course which was being held at my local sports/leisure centre – Fleming Park in Eastleigh.

As my intention was to help out at club training sessions, I was fortunate enough to have the course paid for by the club. I had offered to self-fund but was grateful that the club’s coffers were bursting at the seams!

As a club with well over 300 members, we’re fortunate to have 2 coaches and several Run Leaders. However, this isn’t really enough as it means that for many sessions a group of 15 or more runners only has one Run Leader. Although this isn’t often an issue, the bigger issue is that it’s difficult to cover sessions when those Run Leaders want to take a holiday or need a break (and believe me, they deserve one). We do have several trained Run Leaders who are currently inactive for a variety of reasons (work, family, injury etc) as well as some that have taken the training course but never led a session. I’m not too sure why that would be the case…

From a club-perspective, I’m sure that the ideal would be to have so many coaches and Run Leaders that they can lead sessions for so many weeks and then take a few weeks off to concentrate on their own training or take some time off and chill out and I hope that this post will help encourage some club members to consider taking a LiRF course to allow this to happen. It would also be great if a few of the more experienced Run Leaders would consider taking the extra steps to become a Coach in Running Fitness.

Of course, there may be lots of great reasons for not wanting to become a Run Leader:

  • I’m too busy training – just because you’re a Run Leader doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a session. You could lead the pack during a tempo run or long run
  • I need to focus on slower paced runs – drop down a group and help with that group or act as tail runner for your group
  • I’m not confident leading a group – you can simply act as tail runner and offer support to the others in the group
  • I can’t commit to leading every week – the more Run Leaders the club has, the more time Run Leaders can take time off.
  • I don’t have enough technical knowledge to feel confident in the role – next to no technical knowledge is required to be a Run Leader. Most of it is common sense!
  • I’m injured and can’t run – Run Leaders can lead a group from a bike or, in many sessions, from a stationary position!

Anyway, back to the day of the course…

The course started at 9am and when I arrived at the Park Suite at Fleming Park, I was quite surprised to see about 30 chairs set up. I was expecting about 15 to be on the course but this was a big underestimate.

I recognised several faces from various places. There were a handful of club members there from LRR, as well as Henry from WADAC. I also recognised a couple of local parkrunners and parents of children that take part in Southampton junior parkrun.

The course was a mix of theory and practical and was delivered by two experienced coaches; Suzy and Beth. There was also another lady, Peggy, whose primary role appeared to be making sure that the course was delivered correctly and to appraise Suzy and Beth.

The first task we had to do was to call out what we wanted to achieve from the course and these were then written on a board. After that, we had to each write down why we wanted to be a Run Leader on a post-it and affix it to a board. We then had to take someone else’s post-it and then try and find that person. This was a great way of introducing ourselves to each other.

Although the LiRF role was probably introduced as a way of getting Running Groups set up in communities (as part of Run England), many clubs have chosen to get enthusiastic members trained up to help deliver their training sessions in a safe way. I’d say that a majority of those present were going to be providing the latter.

After we’d done our introductions, we discussed the roles of a leader and what being ‘individual centred’ might mean. After that we heard about the ‘Athlete Development Model’ which comprises of 3 stages:

  • fundamentals
  • foundation
  • event group

Next up, we discussed the various stages of planning a training session and the importance of ongoing risk assessments and safety for participants.

Next, We moved out of the conference room for our first practical which was related to the safety and organisation of the warm up for a session.

Initially, the trainers gave us a warm up session and then described the approach they’d taken to make sure that we as participants understood what we had to do, that we did so safely and that the person leading the warm up was positioned well to keep an eye on those taking part in the session.

As part of the warm up, we were introduced to the Endurance Technical Template which provides a few simple pointers for a good running form (imagine having a helium balloon attached to your head and that will lead to a good running form).

In the warm up, we were reminded that dynamic stretching and flexibility exercises were important and that static stretches prior to activity were not considered best practice. We were also reminded that the warm up should be progressive and build up gradually to ensure that the participants were ready mentally and physically for the main part of the session.

With a fair amount to take in, it was then our turn to split into small groups to deliver a warm up session to the other participants.

In each group, we were given a target group demographic so that we could tailor the warm up to them. These included:

  • a group of children
  • a group of ex-sportsmen and women
  • a group of over 60s
  • a group of beginners

Each time we lead such an exercise, we could add one to our tally of leader activities.

The practical sessions were a great way to make use of what we’d learned and to bond with the other people on the course (they were also a way of keeping warm on a very chilly day!)

After a coffee break, we covered cool down and stretches in the studio. There were about 6 different stretches covered and the method of delivering the demonstrations was interesting. It basically consisted of a brief intro to what the stretch was for, a couple of pointers for what to look out for in the stretch, a silent demo and then some open questions back to the group to make sure they understood the stretch and its benefits.

Our next practical exercise was to then each deliver a stretch demo. After each, we were given feedback from the group and the trainers.

Before long it was lunch-time, a chance to speak with the other participants and to look forward to the rest of the day.

Our next session was a theory session on:

  • performance factors
  • components of fitness
  • FIT factors
  • and Energy Systems

This may sound overwhelming but the reality was that none of the theory was very challenging and, as will the rest of the course, was delivered really well in a fun, engaging and easy-to-understand manner.

The biggest practical session then took us outside. Before we did that though, we were introduced to several example session plans. These included sessions such as:

  • Out and back
  • Fartlek
  • Indian File
  • Raid the Goal
  • Fixed point repetitions
  • Meet and retreat
  • Loop back
  • Relays or pairs running

We were then split into groups of 3 or 4 and each group was given a session to delivery. This meant that in each group, we had to:

  • perform a risk assessment
  • decide on equipment needs (cones, whistle, etc)
  • provide a suitable warmup
  • provide the main session (ours was ‘out and back’)
  • provide cooldown and stretches

As we weren’t quite sure of where we’d be delivering the session, we had to work out the main session once we got to the location where we were delivering it.

Fellow LRR, Ashley, was in my group and we decided to do the main session part with an ERC member, James handling the warm up and Matt providing the cool down and stretches.

Before we could do that though, we had to participate in a couple of the other group’s sessions. These were fun and gave a good opportunity to steal some good ideas and also avoid any mistakes they’d made.

After each session, the groups provided feedback along with the trainer.

When it was our turn to deliver the session, Ash and I quickly organised how we’d do the main set. We decided on a pyramid set of timed runs with the out being at a steady pace with the back being faster. The pyramid was:

  • 10 seconds
  • 15 seconds
  • 20 seconds
  • 15 seconds
  • 10 seconds

We had 2 minutes to deliver the warm up, 4 minutes for the main session and then 2 minutes for the cool down and stretches. Clearly, a very condensed session but more than long enough to get the idea of what worked and what didn’t.

After James had delivered the warm up, it was time for Ash and I to take centre-stage! Eek!

It was amazing how long the 4 minutes took. The group participating in the session were trying really hard. So hard in fact, that I think a couple of the runners almost broke themselves! Result! 😉

Once Matt had delivered the cool down, it was time for some feedback.

Overall, it was very good. I’d forgotten to ask some open questions to allow the participants the chance to demonstrate that they understood what they’d be doing in the main set. However, we got praised highly for running alongside the runners to give them feedback and encouragement (and for us to keep warm!)

That was the last practical of the day and after the last group had delivered their session, we returned to the ‘class room’ to go through a paper exercise of delivering a 6 week programme for participants working towards a 5km run. Ash and I worked together on this and worked out a detailed plan including locations, paces and session types.

The last couple of sessions were related to the role of the leader in injury prevention and management and the personal development of Run Leaders. Again, these weren’t that detailed or technical and as with the rest of the course, there was a lot of audience participation and discussion.

Before long, the day of training was over. We’d learned a fair amount, put lots of it into practice and had a good amount of fun along the way. The course was really well delivered throughout and a great mix of theory and practical sessions. The theory was never dull or too detailed and there were plenty of opportunities to talk about each subject and for people to share their experiences. Also, there wasn’t any individual assessment so really no pressure at all to perform.

So… Now I’m a Leader In Running Fitness! I’ve already put some of what I learned on the course into practice! This evening, I attended a LRR training session and assisted experienced LiRF, Dave, by tail running in the group and by delivering the post-cool down stretches. I had anticipated that Dave would ask me if I wanted to do those and had been practicing during the day so that I didn’t look like a complete wazzock! I’m not too sure whether I managed that but would like to think that I got away with it.

Overall, the training was excellent. I’d recommend it to any club member who wants to do a little extra for the club. For our club, the more members we can get to help with Run Leading, even if it’s only helping with part of the session, (e.g. the introduction, warm up, main session, cooldown or stretches), the easier it becomes for the rest of the Run Leaders. As Run Leaders become more experienced, they could start to lead the sessions and then provide an opportunity for a couple of Run Leaders per group and/or the ability for RLs to have time off to concentrate on their training. If you’re a LRR member and want to give a little more to the club, why not consider becoming a LiRF! You don’t need to be super-fit (I’m not!), be one of the faster runners (I’m most certainly not!), know all about running technique and optimising perfomance (I don’t!), be the most popular member (I’m not!) or do more than help out in a group. Try it, you might just love it! Take a look at what the course entails and then contact the coach in your club (or any committee member). If you’re a LRR member, it’d be best to contact Ben Pitman. Please let them know that this blog post helped you decide to go that extra mile (if it did!)

I have come away from the course and this evening’s training session feeling really positive. I’m even considering taking the next step and taking the course to become a Coach in Running Fitness! You know me, I love a challenge!! 😉

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