Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 1 Apr 2006 20:34:10 -0500

Advice to Advisers


(rerun from April 2002 RW)

Once you've learned the basics of running, you become a potential teacher, coach or adviser. You can give the help you once received, or wish you had, by passing along what you know and love. If each of us influences even one recruit, the future of the sport is secure.

The ways to help are many. You simply can counsel and cheer on a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker. You can lead a marathon-training group, or work with Race for the Cure or Corporate Cup runners. Or you can step in to coach a school or club team.

Recently I heard from a runner in Minnesota who had volunteered to organize a cross-country program at a high school where none existed before. She knew how to write training schedules but realized that building a team involves much more than posting the week's runs.

"I'm becoming extremely excited to start what I hope to be a very long-lasting tradition at this school," wrote the new coach. "What would be your top-10 list for a successful program?"

My 10 tips on organization and motivation are phrased in terms of what I'd want from any group running program involving a child of mine, a close friend, a student in my university running classes -- or myself.

1. Let anyone and everyone run. This includes runners who don't look the part and don't appear to have much talent. You never know which ones will catch fire, achieving surprising results in the short term and making running their longtime love.

2. Start slowly. Assume that most of your runners have trained very little recently, or maybe ever. Try not to discourage -- or worse, injure -- them in the first weeks of training. Start with modest distances and slow paces, and work up from there.

3. Reward improvement. You can't praise or celebrate too much a jump in distance or pace. It's as big an accomplishment for a runner to drop from 10-minute to nine-minute miles as to go from the sixes into the fives. Let all the runners know that you appreciate their efforts equally.

4. Emphasize PRs. This relates to the point above, with a slightly different twist. It's a way to measure success in races. Teach runners that they can "win" by setting personal bests. Winning this way doesn't require beating anyone, but if their PRs keep dropping the higher placings will come automatically.

5. Preach pacing. New runners -- especially the young -- are notoriously impatient, typically starting their runs and races too quickly and finishing too slowly. Show them that their best times come from running at an even pace, or from finishing slightly faster than they started.

6. Require attendance. Improvement in running comes through repetition and consistency. Runners who keep showing up get better, and those who don't, don't. Make training so exciting and rewarding that they never want to skip it.

7. Train beyond the season or the next big race. The foundation for success is laid outside the racing months. This is when persistent runners gain the edge on those with more natural talent who take long vacations. Even easy off-season training still beats doing none.

8. Practice hard-easy. No runner can train hard every day. The harder days are essential, because racing is hard. But the easier, recovery days are equally important -- and maybe more so because they're more numerous and they make the hard work WORK.

9. Watch for trouble. Look out for the early signs of injury or illness, which a committed runner might try to hide or might not even notice. Cancel a run or stop it early to keep a minor problem from becoming major.

10. Teach by example. Show the runners your excitement for the sport. Work to improve in your coaching, as they do in their running. Ask them to do no training or racing that you wouldn't do (and haven't done, or are doing now) yourself.

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