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 ūüėČ 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 ūüėČ ). 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 ūüė¶

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! 

Quick update about part 1 of becoming a CiRF

It’s getting late and I’ve a busy day ahead tomorrow but I want to start a post about the Coach in Running Fitness Course (CiRF) that I started a week or so ago.

I’ve been a Leader in Running Fitness for over a year now and really enjoy the role. Shortly after doing the LiRF course, I decided I wanted to become a CiRF (although how I’d find the time with everything else I do, I’m not sure as summarised in this rather outdated post) but other priorities and commitments meant that I couldn’t do it last year and expected to have to wait until June/July to be able to start the course this year. However, there was a lot of interest in having an earlier course and several local clubs ‘hounded’ England Athletics to lay on a course locally earlier than they’d planned.

The outcome was a course held in March 2016 attended by about 15 of us of whom 5 were Lordshill Road Runners.

The course is held over 4 days but split as follows:

  • weekend 1 – day 1 and day 2 in March
  • weekend 2 – day 3 held in April (approx 5 weeks after weekend 1)
  • weekend 3 – day 4 held in September

The course was run by 2 very experienced coaches who’d clearly worked together a lot, Simon and Barry. They were entertaining and informative in equal measure. As with the LiRF course, although there were lots of ‘class’ based sessions, there were also lots of practical sessions where we were given experience in coaching and being coached.

Weekend 1 included lots of information and I left both days with a headache! There was simply a lot to take in. The information included:

  • athlete-centered coaching
  • preparing and delivering sessions
  • energy systems
  • health and safety
  • injury prevention
  • technical running drills and how to observe, analyse and feedback to athletes
  • physical preparation including use of medicine balls and strength and conditioning using body weight

After day 2, each attendees had a number of pieces of homework including preparing an athlete profile, preparing a session plan and building a training session plan for several weeks (a mesocycle).

Much of the focus of the course is on building the ‘soft’ coaching skills and how to:

  • observe
  • analyse
  • feedback

how a runner could use running skills for endurance, speed, uphill/downhill and obstacles to improve their running. It’s all very well being taught these skills but they only really sink in if you get the chance to use them ‘in anger’!

I decided that I wanted to get as much opportunity to coach runners as possible so decided to hold several coached sessions. Part of the course requires these to be ‘reviewed’ by a ‘Support Coach’ who provides feedback on how to improve them and their delivery. At Lordshill Road Runners, we have several coaches. However, for one reason and another, not all are currently active. Our head coach, Carol, very kindly accepted my request for her to be my Support Coach and we had a meeting prior to the first weekend of the course to clarify a few things that I wasn’t sure about after having read the Pre-Course Workbook.

Having spoken to Carol, I decided that I wanted to deliver several weekly coached sessions to other members of the club and proposed this to members of the group I regularly lead as a Run Leader on a Monday evening. I was very pleased that 10-12 of the group ‘signed up’ for the sessions and started to work out what I wanted to deliver.

This involved quite a lot of work… in fact, far more than most would realise. I had to consider what the structure of each session would be, what I wanted each session to focus on, how I could progress things week by week, what areas I could use to enhance the sessions and make them safe and once I had all that in my head, I started to work out a session plan for the first session.

I went into quite a lot of detail about the session with the thought that if it was detailed, I was more likely to stick to it and, also, if I wasn’t able to make the session, someone could deliver it for me (although in all likelihood this wouldn’t happen).

Having completed a draft session plan, I sent it to Carol for review and feedback. Carol was very positive and gave some great advice on how to tweak the session and the plan. Thanks Carol!

Choosing the timing of the session was a challenge. Not only did I need Carol to be available but I also had to be there. That meant that I couldn’t hold it on a weekday evening as I already commit one evening to Run Leading and didn’t want to lose out on more family time. I also didn’t want to have the sessions clash with junior parkrun especially as the period the sessions would run would require volunteers as for the foreseeable future, the regular volunteers would be participating in local races (I was due to race at the Eastleigh 10K and Southampton Half Marathon but recovery from my injury – Plantar Fasciitis – has taken a lot longer than I’d hoped and I am far from fit at the moment. I’m also carrying a stone and a half more than I’d like to be at anything like my goal race weight). That meant that the only reasonable day to hold the coached sessions was a Saturday but at a time that didn’t clash with parkrun! I therefore decided to choose to hold the sessions from 7:30am for an hour. That would mean that the Common (where both the sessions and Southampton parkrun take place) would be quiet and there’d be adequate time for participants to rest before parkrunning if they chose to.

As well as the session plan, I prepared laminated sheets for part of the session and created a checklist to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

Having defined a plan, I was ready to deliver it and it wasn’t long until Saturday morning arrived. I didn’t sleep very well the night before worrying about how it would go and whether those taking part would enjoy the sessions and return for the 2nd, 3rd or 4th!

I needn’t have worried. The preparation for the session meant that it went (almost) to plan and the structure of the session was quite a change from our usual training sessions. I’d broken the session down into:

  • warmup (10 mins)
  • physical preparation circuit (15 mins)
  • technical skills – for this session – running for endurance (15 – 20 mins)
  • cooldown (10 mins)

I’d also made sure that I’d factored in time between each element of the session to describe what we’d be doing.

I really wasn’t sure whether the group would like the circuit aspect of the session but it proved to be the most popular bit. I had 5 ‘stations’ each with a different ‘exercise’ and split the group into pairs. Each pair did 45 mins on a station and then had 15 minutes to proceed to the next one before completing that. For those that have done RunCamp, Ant often uses these kind of circuits for S&C. I can remember when I first did one that I felt a little ‘cheated’ that we were ‘wasting time’ doing something other than running. However, physical preparation and all-body fitness is really important to improving running technique and endurance hence it being a good part of the overall session.

As I’ve said, the session went really well. I elicited feedback from everyone that took part and will use that to improve future sessions. I know I wasn’t perfect in my delivery of the session and completed my own ‘evaluation’ of the session as well as getting a ‘feedback form’ from my Support Coach, Carol.

It’s now Monday evening and I’ve already spent a fair amount of time thinking about the next session. It looks like it’ll be well attended and I’m really looking forward to it.

Many thanks to Carol, Claire, Lucy, Amy, Luana, Alison, Jonathon, Aaron and Rachel for their support for the first session.

I’m really looking forward to improving as a coach. There’s a long way to go until I qualify and I’ve still got 2 days of the course, a technical exam and several months of experience in delivering coaching before my final assessment in September.


Catching up

It’s been months since my last blog post and I’ve been putting writing one off for several months.

Last year, I had some great plans for 2016. However, things have gone awry and most plans have been shelved. More about those later.

So, what’s happened since I last posted…

I guess the biggest news is that I’m no longer working for parkrun. Although it was a dream job at times it just didn’t work out and we parted company in early December. It was tough at first. Really tough if I’m honest (no longer working for a company I’m so passionate about and being out of work) but overall it’s been a really positive move which is something I didn’t think I’d say almost 3 months ago. The timing made things challenging. Christmas was much less enjoyable than it should have been. There were few Christmas presents to open but at least it meant less packaging to dispose of!! ūüėČ However, having to live off reduced monthly income (and not knowing when I’d be next paid) meant that we gave a long hard look at our outgoings and reduced them considerably. ¬†We dropped outgoings by 1/3rd at least and continue to do so.

It’s amazing how much you can haemorrhage money each month without a moment’s thought. It becomes the ‘norm’ and you get used to it. We went through a process of questioning every outgoing and working out whether could get things cheaper. Ultimately that meant stopping paying for things and buying things we didn’t need and finding cheaper alternatives for the things we did. Those included phone line rental and calls, gas & electricity, insurances etc. There’s almost always a better deal than the one you’re on and it’s well worth shopping around regularly.

Having some idea of what we were spending money in was a big step forward. Building a monthly and yearly budget and sticking to it has been invaluable.

Another really useful thing has been Tesco Clubcard. We used to shop regularly at Tesco (Aldi is now out grocery shop of choice) and had several hundred ¬£¬£¬£s of vouchers. These were rarely used. However, we’ve now used them to pay for RAC membership, a holiday, restaurant visits, bowling and cinema trips.

I’d recommend reviewing income and outgoings on a regular basis, keeping track of everything you spend and look at how you can reduce that. Losing/leaving my job was exactly the impetus we needed to get our finances in order. What could you do to trim your outgoings if you lost your job? Could you survive for 3-6 months with a vastly reduced income?

Not only are we much better off financially but I’m working with a fairly new startup created by some ex-work colleagues that I worked with 12 or so years ago. The projects we’re working on are interesting and challenging, we’re using interesting technologies (D3, AngularJS to name a couple) and it’s fun. The team are overwhelmingly positive. Although I’m contracting (and have restarted the limited company I ran for several years), I feel very much part of the team and it’s great that my opinion (and years of tech experience) are valued. Who knows where the opportunity could lead…

As well as work, I’m investing time in learning new things. I’ve signed up to some Udemy courses and am focusing on data science and machine learning. All good stuff.

Aside from work, training – my own at least – has suffered mainly due to injury. I developed Plantar Fasciitis in the Autumn last year and decided I had to stop running in order to recover a couple of months later. I should have stopped sooner of course. I’m gradually getting back into it but am unfit and have doubts over whether I’ll manage to make it around the Eastleigh 10K later this month or Southampton Half in April. My grander plans for solo at Endure 24, 2 Oceans Ultra and Tough Mudder have all been scrapped as I’m simply not sure I could run and not end up back injured.

It’s not all bad news though. Saving money and wanted to keep reasonably fit has meant more time on the bike. I’m cycling when possible and that normally means cycling to and from Lordshill training and parkruns.
I’ve also been volunteering at parkrun and junior parkrun often. In fact, I volunteered at 19 consecutive events before having a Saturday morning off and am now less than 10 events away from having volunteered at 250 parkrun events.

The only other thing to mention is Run Leading and stepping this up. I’ve now been a Run Leader for over a year and really enjoy it. I’ll be attending the first weekend of the Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) this coming weekend and will be leading some coached sessions from next week. Really looking forward to it.

Where did the summer go?

In this post, I share news of my latest injury, its impact on the events I’d planned for the rest of the year and one special event next year and finally master bilateral breathing in the pool!

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog. Have you missed much? Um… Not really if I’m honest and that begs the question of why I’m bothering to post…

The summer has disappeared and it’s now late in October and there are 2 months until Christmas Day. Argh!

Today, I should have been running my 4th Great South Run. However, I’m injured and having to reassess my plans for the rest of the year. The injury is Plantar Fascitis in my left foot. It’s an injury I’ve had before and means I’m struggling to run more than 5km without pain for a couple of days after. 

Last weekend I ran about 7 miles (before, during and a short distance after parkrun) before having to walk and then was hardly able to walk the following day. My right foot isn’t much better than my left with a burning sensation under the ball of my foot which I suspect is caused by Metatarsalgia. 
Running 10 miles today would therefore be very foolish. 

The impact is greater than today’s race though. The GSR was one of 3 races I’d lined up for the rest of 2015; the others bring the Gosport Half and the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon. 
The latter was my chance of getting a place in the 2 Oceans Ultra as the entry is dependent on having run a sub-5 hour marathon before the end of February. With so few marathons in the UK over the winter, the PCM was really my only realistic chance to qualify. 

Lots of calf stretching, rolling, RICE, some insoles and a reduction in mileage are on the cards. 

My long distance training is going to have to be put on the backburner for a while I recover. It does mean that I can stop procrastinating and head back to the pool and get on the road bike, both of which have been neglected recently. 
In fact, I hit the pool midweek and enjoyed 900m of front crawl whilst bilaterally breathing. Yes, you read that right. Bilaterally breathing. 

While on holiday in Florida, I’d been practicing a little in the pools in the water parks (as well as reliving calmer moments from the swim at last year’s Challenge Weymouth Half Distance Triathlon when they turned the waves on) and made the decision to swim more (and do more S&C) and get into the habit of bilaterally-breathing at every opportunity as I’d lost the habit of not doing so in the months of not swimming. Hopefully I can keep up the good habit!

Rather than racing in Portsmouth, I volunteered at Southampton junior parkrun for the 71st time (the 211th parkrun event I’ve volunteered at) while Denise and the boys ran 2/3rds of the course. 

That’s all for now! 

My fitbit made me do it

I’ve been the proud owner of several Garmin devices in the past and currently wear a 920XT all the time. It’s a great device that monitors my activity and sleep as well as running, cycling and swimming. In the past, I’ve worn the the Garmin vivoactive ¬†activity wristband but sold it when I got the 920XT as the latter tracked steps and sleep.

I had no reason to consider another activity wristband but recently was given one of the lower-end fitbit devices, the Charge, which tracks:

  • Steps
  • Stairs climbed
  • Calories
  • Distance
  • Sleep

The spec is certainly not extraordinary given that other models in the range introduce heart rate and GPS.

If the fitbit hadn’t been free, I’d not have considered buying it. However, having worn it for 3 weeks, I’m now thinking quite the opposite. It has me hooked. It’s not because of the wristband (which is sleek and very simple to use, haa a battery that lasts a week) but because of the web-based dashboard whIch is a much nicer-looking and user-friendlier UI than Garmin Connect, the simple-to-use and engaging smartphone app but, most appealing, its fun challenges.

It’s true that Garmin and Strava have such a feature but compared to fitbit, they’re a little dull and functional. fitbit challenges are much more fun and that makes them engaging whic,h in turn, and most importantly means that they make you more active.

Let me give you an example. This weekend, I’ve been taking part in a challenge called ‘Weekend Warrior’ with several parkrun friends including founder of parkrun (my boss) Paul Sinton-Hewitt, his wife, Jo, Kerri French and James Kemp. The purpose of the challenge is simply to complete as many steps in the 48 hours of the weekend as possible. This is the Kind of charge that has a much lower barrier to entry against much better runners as steroid can be counted regardless of pace.

With 10 of us in the challenge, all of whom were parkrunners, the weekly parkrun gave many an opportunity to get some steps in. However, as Denise was away, I had the boys to look after and was awaiting some deliveries so had to miss the opportunity. I managed to register some steps by spending most of the morning doing chores but was a long way behind all of my ‘competitors’ by lunchtime.

A visit to the Berry Theatre in Hedge End to see the film Home in the afternoon wasn’t the best opportunity to register some steps either. My challenge wasn’t getting off to the best start. However I had an ace up my sleeve.

I’m training for a marathon and am a couple of weeks into my training plan. The plan calls for 3 runs per week and my long run was 14.5km this week, longer, I hoped, than most of my challenge-ees. As I was at home with the boys, this meant a treadmill run.

Prior to my run, I was long way off the fitbit challenge podium for the day. However, having completed the run in 90 minutes I rocketed to the top of the leaderboard, much to the dismay of Paul who sent me a congratulatory message (‘Damn you James S!’). Hoping that my beating my boss wasn’t a career-limiting move, I knew that I’d have no chance of doing as well on Sunday as I had no run planned. I really was going to be ‘a one day wonder’.

On Sunday, Daniel competed in his 2nd triathlon. It was organised by a local junior triathlon club, Chapel Tri, and was held at Fleming Park.

Daniel was in the 9-10 age group (also known as Tri Star 1) competing against lots of triathlon club members. The distances for his race were:

  • Swim 150m (6 lengths)
  • Cycle 2km
  • Run 1.2 km

We arrived early to register at 8:30am and then proceeded to wait for registration to open for over 20 minutes. Things settled a little disorganised (compounded by the fact that no race instructions were sent out and no one answered emails about the event) but this was partly explained by the fact that on arrival, the organisers had been given twice as many lanes as they’d expected so had to rearrange swimmers into those additional lanes.

Once Daniel’s ¬†bike was racked, we worked out the course and most importantly transition and where run in, run out, cycle in and out were.

As the sun was beaming and I’d not really expected it to be so hot we went and bought some sunscreen and applied it whilst trying not to wipe off Daniel’s ¬†race number. We also checked out the route from the exit from the pool to transition to make sure it was runnable barefoot. It was do-able and so Daniel chose to do that.

Unexpectedly, T1 athletes were called to swim start early so we headed to the pool. In the rush, I forgot to give Daniel his goggles but a few minutes later he came to get them anyway.

At 10:45am, Daniel started his 6 lengths of the pool. Given that he’s used to swimming many more than this in his swimming lessons, it wasn’t difficult. As he got half way up the first length, I left to jog around the building (and earn some fitbit steps!) to swim exit to take some photos.

Daniel was about half way through the pack coming out of the pool but there weren’t many behind him as he headed for T1.

The cycle course was pancake-flat but windy (necessary to fit a 1km course into a small area) and this slowed Daniel down as he rode the course. He’d lost a few places by the time he got into T2.

As he racked his bike (with the help of a marshal) and took off his cycle helmet, he was off out on the run for the 2 lap course.

Clearly looking tired, he had to walk a few times and was looking shattered and emotional as he crossed the finish line. He wasn’t quick and that didn’t matter. He’d completed a triathlon, sometHing that none of his school mates had done. Well done Daniel. I’m a very proud dad.

Anyway, back to fitbit. It looked like most of those in the challenge had run at races whilst I’d been out and the corresponding step totals were suitably high. Almost out of reach. It didn’t look like I’d get anywhere near of the the top leaderboard and I resigned myself to being a 1 day wonder. However, we had a shopping delivery due which clashed with the boys’ swimming lessons. During the afternoon, I cleared the deck of as many of my chores as I could to Give me the opportunity for a quick treadmill run before the grocery shopping delivery.

I kept an eye on the leaderboard knoWing there was no way I could take first place. However, with some fancy foot work, 2nd was a possibility as long as the rest in the challenge didn’t have any evening activities planned.

Paul and Jo Sinton-Hewitt were in 3rd and 4th places respectively ¬†behind Andrew G and James K. There was the chance to get silver! Based on my cadence and the number of steps I had to run to pass PSH in the leaderboard, I worked out that I’d need to run fit approx 38 minutes and hope no-one else had any step counting activity lined up.

I ran for 50 minutes to give me a good buffer just in case. Took 2nd place and uploaded my data.

2nd place. BOOM! My fitbit made me do it!

ABP Southampton Half Marathon

Yesterday, I ran in the inaugural ABP Southampton Half Marathon. This was the first major mass-participation running event in the city for over 2 decades and was organised by TryTri’s experienced team including Chris Reed and Ben Cook.

I’d known about the event for well over a year and had signed up early knowing it would be a popular event. As there was to be both a 10K and half marathon race on the same day, the event would suit many runners. The only negative was that it fell on the same day as the London Marathon. However, this didn’t stop the event filling up in the weeks and months leading up to the event with 6000 runners.

The course for the half marathon meant an ambitious plan of road closures and interruptions to bus timetables. Fortunately, Southampton City Council were supportive and helped to ease the process. With some big sponsors on board, the event looked like it was going to be a success. Chris and his team has their work to do as it was a big step up from any event they’d put on before.

My preparation hadn’t gone quite to ¬†plan with a weight gain and a reoccurring foot problem that threatened my arrival at the start line. I had managed to run the course a couple of times and tackled the worst of the inclines so knew what to ¬†expect.

Due to a car breakdown on Friday I had to cycle the 5 miles to the event. A good opportunity for a warm-up I guess. Fortunately, the forecast rain had held off and I left home at about 7:45am and arrived at about 8:10am just before the 10k warm-up started.

The race village at Hoglands Park looked great. A big marquee for t-shirt collection, another for baggage and a stage with large screen for the warm-up, footage of the start and a few interviews with celebrities and other runners.

I collected my technical t-shirt and meet a few friends and wandered around the village. Before long I met up with fellow Lordshiller Chris Brown and chatted to him for a while before being accosted by a lady trying to ‘sell’ charity places for another event. She was persistent.

We watched the 10k runners start (a little later than expected) and then more Lordshillers started to arrive. One of my friends, Carlo, was running both the 10K and half marathon for the charity MIND. What a nutter/inspiration.

Once the club had a group photo taken and I’d consumed some flapjack provided by Rob (thanks), chatted with a few more friends, it was time to drop off my bag (pretty painless) and then head to the start area. I was walking along with friends Gary and Lisa but lost them as I got to the hordes of runners.

The start area was handily signposted with expected finish times so I headed forward to the sub 2 area. I’d not really set myself a goal time due to the fact that the course was more challenging than Gosport where I have a PB of about 2 hours and not being sure how my right foot would be especially later in the race.

As I walked along, another friend, George, caught me up and we chatted until the start.

By some coincidence, the sub-2 hour pacer ended up stood right next to us as the countdown to the start commenced.

We were off. The first bit of the course was a slight incline before we turned left and left again and then right down the pedestrian high street of Southampton. With no real pacing plan in place, I stuck to sub 2 hour pacer like glue. I felt ok generally at the pace but could feel my foot and knew that things could change at any moment.

The race had started 10 minutes late due to the delay of the 10k race and I hoped this didn’t mean that I’d still be running during the heat of the day.

As we passed through Ocean Village, there was a bottleneck where the path narrowed and we ended up walking for about 20 seconds. Can’t complain. It gave a brief break before the first real challenge of the event; crossing over Itchen Bridge and then turning around before running back over it.
Although this was part of the course I was dreading, I’d run it a few times and knew that the return leg was kinder than the outbound leg. It was also a great opportunity to see lots of other friends and give them and receive some encouragement. It wasn’t long until Paul Eves and I met and we tustled for position a little.

Once safely back to the western side of the bridge, it was time to head north around the back of St Marys stadium before crossing Northam Bridge. Still feeling ok, my pace was steady and things were going pretty well. I knew I was ahead of the sub-2 hour pacer but not by how far.

Once over Northam Bridge there was a small incline before heading towards Bitterne Triangle and Riverside Park.

The first 10k was complete. As we ran along the water’s edge in Riverside Park, my foot started to ache. This was not good news. I knew that the worst of the course was yet to come. To make things worse, the sub-2 pacer passed me and my race started to unravel.

Having got to Woodmill, with 10K to go, the most challenging bit of the course hit me head on. With every stride my right foot ached and I started to have doubts about finishing.

I had to adopt a run/walk strategy to get through the rest of the event and didn’t enjoy the latter half. It was unfortunate that it was the bit of the event where I saw the most friends spectating and for most I gave them plenty of opportunity to give me encouragement as I walked by :-S It was good to see several juniors from¬†Southampton junior parkrun as well as their parents and members of LRR and Southampton Tri Club (Julian and Steve to name but two) on the hill up towards the Common.

It wasn’t long until we reached the Common for the short¬†(but energy-zapping)¬†incline of the top loop before the gradual descent to the finish.

My Garmin was giving me a predicted finish time of between 2 hours 15 minutes and 2 hours 20 minutes Stopping in the Hawrhorns for breakfast crossed my mind as did just walking to collect my bags. Fortunately, I dug a little deeper and carried on as best I could.

It was great that there was so much support on the course. Southampton had come out in force to cheer on its runners.

The finish was about 4km away and it was great to see Kirsty, Tony, Alice and Lou. I took the opportunity to walk and take some jelly beans before setting off again towards London Road.

My Garmin was gradually decreasing my estimated finish time as I walked less but was still showing 2:11 at that point.

The last part of the course wasn’t great for me as my foot ached and the finish line grew closer.

Finally I crossed the line in just under 2 hours and 9 minutes. I don’t feel too happy at this point but was really glad I’d got to the finish.

There was a lot of congestion to collect water, goodie bags and a seriously impressive medal. Fortunately, there were space blankets being handed out so I wrapped one around me. Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes.

By the time I’d part-shuffled, part-hobbled back to the race village, I was in somewhat of a grumpy mood. Of course, that was when I bumped into many fellow club members looking euphoric about their PB successes. I tried not to sound more disappointed and think I managed it. Just.

The queue for baggage was going nowhere fast and I was almost cooked through thanks to the space blanket. I took it off and immediately felt cold.

After a long wait for baggage, it was time to collect my bike to cycle home. At this point I noticed the 3 serious chafing injuries from my race belt/bag and HRM strap and started to feel the pain from that. Oh happy days.

As I cycled back home cycling through parts of the course my mood darkened and I developed a bad case of cursing under my breath. ¬†Fortunately as I cycled past the discarded gel wrappers on Northam Bridge, I started to reflect more positively on the morning. I’d completed the race and enjoyed over half of it. My foot was painful but no worse than it had been in the previous month which meant that with some golf ball massage and some reduced mileage, it would ease.

I got home to an empty house and showered. The pain of the hot water on the chafed patches took my mind off my foot. Every cloud!

Overall, it was a great event. The organisation was excellent. The course was ok given its location. The support from spectators was great. It felt like a much bigger event than it was and could well support 10,000 if the bottleneck  at Ocean Village can be resolved. The only other little niggles were the congestion after the finish and the baggage collection queue. Neither was really too much of an issue though.

Having spent a couple of hours doing chores and massaging my foot, I signed up next year’s event vowing to myself to be injury free and give it my all.

On Monday evening, I was hoping for a chance to relax a little and lead the LRR training session from a fairly static position. Having golf-balled my right foot for most of the day, I guessed I’d be ok for a short warm up run. However, the session morphed into a 8-9 km run through areas of Southampton I’d never seen before. My Garmin reports the route as ‘hilly’ and I’m not going to disagree. My previous day’s bout of cursing returned at about the 7km point where there was quite a hill to climb. I shouted ahead for the rest of the group to carry on as I scaled the mountain ahead of me at a walking pace.

Having got back to Winchester Road, I ran back through the Common and caught up with the group as they were completing their stretches.

As I finish off this blog post at 1:40am on Tuesday morning, I’m stretching ¬†out my right foot and lt doesn’t feel too bad. Hopefully a day of rest today will ¬†help and then I’ll be fit for Monday’s Sprint Triathlon.