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

Sat, 04 Aug 2007 05:54:30 -0400

Coaches and Coachees


(This is some of what I said -- or intended to say, or tried to say -- in my talk at Jeff Galloway's running camp this summer.)

My subject today is "Adventures in Coaching -- and Being Coached." You might think this has nothing to do with you. You might say you're self-coached and never get to advise anyone else.

You'd be wrong there. Everyone is coached, and everyone can become a coach.

None of you got to where you are alone. Someone inspired and instructed you -- a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a runner from the neighborhood or office or school, a writer in a magazine, an author of a book, a running star of TV or DVD.

You also can be a coach in many ways other than formal. You need only to set a good, positive example in matters of health and fitness. The highest compliment is for someone to say or think, "I'd like to do what you do (or did)."

My first high school coach was the most influential. Without him, none of the last 50 years (as of next April Fools Day) would have happened for me.

Dean Roe didn't know the finest points of running training and technique. But he knew exactly how to deal with fragile young athletes' egos.

Mr. Roe (and out of respect I still call him "Mister") knew when to kick a boy in the butt and when to pat him on the back. He gave me the right touch and words when I pulled out of my first race before its finish.

I wouldn't be here now without Mr. Roe. He put me back on a run that still hasn't ended. I can do him no greater honor than to keep passing along the lessons in pacing and persisting that he handed to me.

Only in this decade, my fifth as a runner, have I given to today's runners some of what Mr. Roe and then my college coach, Bob Karnes (see a tribute in RC 686), gave me so long ago. Only now can I speak to them directly, at college running classes and in marathon training groups, and not through a printed page or from a speaking stage.

These runners I greet with each new training cycle don't know where I came from, and wouldn't care if they did. All they want to know is what I might have to offer them now.

A recent example came as an innocent remark, quickly forgotten by the man who voiced it. John (as we'll call him here) is about my age but still a kid in running-years.

He trains boyishly in pursuit of PRs and age-group prizes. He knew me only as someone who wrote the training schedule, schlepped drinks, led cheers, recorded times and posted results on the team's web page.

After one Sunday's run he asked me, "Do you run yourself?" The question raised several of my own, all unspoken.

Do I look that unrunnerlike? Does he think I'm only a preacher, not a practitioner? Can he trust the advice of someone who doesn't appear to take it himself?

"Yes, I run," I said, and left it at that. If he'd wanted details, he would have asked.

John's question was fair and good. He'd never seen me at group training or a race except as a stationary figure with a loud voice and a proud smile.

His question tells me that I'm doing something right. That's to retire my running into near-anonymity. I seldom talk about it unless asked, and even then keep the answers short.

My history as a runner stands in silent support of the teaching and coaching I now do. I translate my experience into the words that these runners really want to hear -- about the experiences THEY are having and will have.

That's how I acted as a runner being coached. I knew only the barest details of Dean Roe's experiences flying dive-bombers as a teenager in World War II, or returning to pseudo-warfare as an undersized but ferocious college football player.

I knew little about Bob Karnes's days as one of the greatest runners on the storied Kansas University track team (after Glenn Cunningham, before Wes Santee and Jim Ryun). I never asked for details from either coach, and they volunteered nothing.

Now it's my turn to play the role that my coaches did with me. My teaching and coaching are about other runners' running, not mine.

Helping them run longer distances and faster times is every bit as gratifying as when I ran that way myself. Ask me about my running, and I'll change the subject to theirs -- or yours.
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