Seeing Runners Come & Grow

“There is no joy without sorrow” – Hungarian Proverb

Our half marathon training sessions ended recently, with the running of our own race! The runners all did well, and the smiles on their faces told me that they were happy with themselves, and maybe a little surprised that it went so easily. But it was all the hard work and training that they did that made it possible. There was a lot of joy that day, and it dwarfed the joys, and the sorrows, of all the steps and obstacles that they overcame just to get to that day. There is no joy without sorrow, as the proverb states, and as a coach, I have the same highs and lows as my athletes, but maybe on a different level.

I have always tried to convey that I truly care about my athletes and want them to succeed, because I really do. I was helped on my journey by many that I can never repay, and helping others is one way to pay that kindness forward. But there is no greater feeling than to watch someone discover that they can do what they once considered impossible. I won’t be able to properly give justice to the journey in words, but I will do my best to paint a picture from begining to end so you can better understand h0w amazing it is to help others achieve their goals.

As always, we start with an “Open House” at Fleet Feet Des Moines, where we will be starting and ending the journey. Generally, the first to arrive are the runners that have done the group before. They are all smiles and have specific goals in mind. A different half, a faster time, etc. and we discuss them in detail and get caught up on events since the last group run. I always enjoy hearing what they have accomplished, and see how they have grown.

Then I notice the next group of runners entering the store: the first timers. They are nervous, excited, scared, and unsure . . . all at the same time. they are not sure who to talk to or what to ask, much less wondering if they should be there at all. It’s one of the reasons I wear my “coach” shirt to the event, so I am easily spotted. I try to take as much time with them as I can; answering questions, calming fears, and trying to  let them know that coming to this was the first and biggest step they will take . . . the rest is just running. I like them to know that this is their training time, not mine or the mentors that assist me, we are here for them. They worry about speed, about not running very far, and a host of other things. I try to let them know that they don’t need to worry about speed or distance or anything else, that they only need to focus on one workout at a time: the rest will come on it’s own. I can usually see the worry, but also a glimmer, that they think they can do it.

The day after the Open House is our first workout, and we conduct a timed mile. We run at a converrsational pace, and I tell them their times as they cross the finish. This give the runners an idea of what their zone 2 runs should be like, and also a time to gauge improvement with. 

We conduct 3 of these timed miles, and while the first doesn’t bother me, the second one makes me a nervous wreck! It is run after a few weeks of training, and we look for improvements in time, cardio conditioning (if it feels easier than last time) or both. The reason it makes me so nervous is because this is the event where the runners will see how these workouts improve their running and fitness, even though they don’t notice it. It always makes me smile to see the shock on some of their faces when they hear their times. They go from amazement to disbelief, and I have to assure them that yes, you did this! You can do this!

So the weeks go on, and as the mileage ebbs and flows, the conversations we have trying to prepare them the  best way possible increase. When to replace shoes, nothing new on race day, nutrition, hydration, how to dress for weather, how to write a race plan, stretching, recovery, are just some of the topics covered . . . along with everyones favorite: chafing. But we cover as much as we can through emails and chats while running. 

Another thing I love to see and it happens with every group, is how they start to form a running family. When they first entered the store, they didn’t know a soul. Now they actively look for one another and cheer each other on, in an effort to help everyone improve. Seeing that is amazing, and one of the greater joys of coaching: watching a group bond together. 

As the group heads further along in the training, and the once considered long runs turn into the recovery week runs, we get to the 10 mile run. As the runners complete this I like to change the way I address them, from Runners to Distance Runners. This is because 10 miles is a long way, and it deserves recognition. But even as this milestone is achieved, fear and worry take over some of them. They fear they cannot run the entire 13.1, that they are not ready. I have to assure them that they are indeed ready, that they need to taper down to be ready to race, and that they did not need to run 13.1 miles before they race 13.1 miles to know they can do it. That’s what race day is for! I still see the uneasiness in their faces, but that they know I haven’t steered them wrong before, and they trust that I am telling them the truth.

Finally it’s Race Day! It’s an exciting day, but this time around, we had to do our own race as Covid-19 put a damper on the racing community. So we set up a route, and a water stand, and decided to run one anyway. I find running a race alone, without the crowds or multiple water stations, harder than a “normal” race. A normal race provides comfort, encouragement, distractions, and memories. Racing on your own provides you with a deep look into your very soul, and nothing to distract you from the voices in your head telling you to stop.

As the runners cross our homemade finish line, there are smiles all around. They did it! Just calling them “half marathoner” invites the biggest grin to come out, and it’s one of the days that bring a coach the most joy: seeing your runners succeed. They tell you their tale of how it went, and while the route was the same, every story is unique and personal. I enjoy every moment of this time with them, and so glad I could be a small part of their huge accomplishment.

But as the proverb says, there is no joy without sorrow, and shortly after the race and we head our separate ways is when I go over the sessions. What went right, what went wrong, what can we add/delete/change to make things better? Did I help them enough? Did I miss anything? This is usually a couple days of pondering, until the first run group session day comes up that is no more. I’m not needed on this Tuesday, as the group is done. I usually feel a little sad and lost, as if my kids have all left home and taken off running on their own. I wish groups could go on indefinitely, but that’s not rational or practical. Plus they all have the knowledge now to help them along, and now they need to learn by experience. I look forward to the day when we cross each other on the run path, or at a social run, and can catch up. Before you know it, another group session will be preparing to start, and a new group will come in, along with the now experienced group, to start training again.

And then the process begins anew. New hopes, new fears, new faces, new dreams….

And I will be there, to help them believe in themselves and achieve their dreams.

Live healthy, be happy!


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