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. 

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.