Just like the landscape gardener who is too busy planting other people’s rhododendrons to tend to his own, or the marriage guidance counsellor with a string of failed relationships, being a running coach can come at a personal cost.
In the beginning
I didn’t start my relationship with running as a coach. I started my relationship with running… well as a runner! I wanted to run for me. I wanted to challenge myself in one of the purest activities in the world. I wanted to see what times I could achieve over different distances, on different terrain, on different courses – times and distances that were challenging for me.
That hasn’t changed.
What has changed since I qualified as an England Athletics Running Coach however, is where my passion lies. There is zero doubt that I get far more out of helping and encouraging others to run and achieve their goals than I do my own. My goals are still important of course, but over the past few years they have taken a back seat, distracted by their Nintendo Switch rather than riding up front with their hands on the wheel, eager to get to the destination.
Over the past few years, and as the emotional intensity for my running coaching has grown, I have noticed the focus and commitment in my own training drop off – an inevitable change. I mean it had to really! I’m pretty certain that while Roger Federer’s coach was putting all his energy into helping the Swiss great attempt to seal a 9th Wimbledon title, he himself didn’t have his own eye on winning the US Open.
I may be drawing a comparison with a world class professional tennis coach here, but I’m sure you see my point.
People often talk about ‘work/life balance’, but what does that really mean? Does it mean that work is a very defined set of tasks set in a strict timeframe, and once elapsed ‘life’ then begins? For me personally, work/life balance means a perfect blend of integration – both compliment each other, and both can (and often do) cross over into each other’s space, yet neither negatively impacts the other, or the people close to you.
Running is my life. It is my work, it is my hobby, and if I am to really achieve what I believe I am capable of achieving then there is certainly some tweaking to be done.
The wake-up call
As many of you know from my social media posts (as I am always nothing but honest and I very much wear my heart on my sleeve) the 2019 Manchester marathon did not go well for me. The long, and quite literally the short of it, is that I pulled out at 18 miles. “It must be an injury!” thought those who were tracking me. No. I was mechanically sound, and in fact returned to running a mere three days later. The problem wasn’t the body. The problem was the mind.
I have always said that to run well takes far more than just physical ability. If you are targeting a race of course you need to train the body hard (and safely) to maximise your fitness ready for the big day. One thing that is often overlooked however is the mental aptitude (and resilience) to actually extract the physical fitness that you have built. Having the ability is one thing, but being able to use it is something vastly different.
My preparations leading up to Manchester had been solid. Months of hard graft, quality training sessions, and a commitment to those important peripheral factors – good nutrition, sleep, and recovery. The question of my mental strength however would not be answered until the day.
Throughout my years of running I have always been pretty well stacked in the mental strength department, but of recent years I have noticed a steady decline. On April 7th 2019 I basically had nothing left. I’d given so much out to other runners – whether working with me officially, sending messages of support on my social channels, or through chance conversations with people in the street – that I had nothing left for me. I had mental burnout.
I remember feeling numb during those 26… sorry 18 miles. It was almost like I didn’t really want to be there. It didn’t feel like a race. It didn’t feel like me against the clock, a goal I had yearned to achieve in the several months building up to it. It just felt like something that was taking place at that time and I just happened to be caught up in it.
I learned so much from my experience (as I do from every race I take part in) but the biggest thing I learned was that just like the runners in my performance community who I coach, I also need support, motivation, and the occasional pat on the back.
*Enter Clevedon Athletics Club stage right*
I’ve been down in Yatton for about 8 months now. It’s a small but beautiful little village (to give you an idea of the size, when it rains they take it inside). Since moving to North Somerset I’ve frequently toyed with joining a local running club, predominantly to meet people. Although it never really became anything more than a thought…. that is until Manchester.
I am now four sessions in and I can tell you wholeheartedly that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Initially, being a running coach I was a little apprehensive. In fact I even considered saying I was a taxi driver when some of the members asked the inevitable question “So what do you do for work?”.
It isn’t that I am not proud of what I do – on the contrary, I am super proud of what I do (and more importantly WHY I do it) but I just didn’t want my new club mates thinking I was coming in to steal the show, or tout for business, because that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I am there for my running.
Yes of course…. I can’t help myself from encouraging others during the sessions as it is in my DNA, but ultimately I am there to reignite my own mental strength. I want to be on the receiving end of “Come on Jake, one more to go!” when I’m 5 laps in to a 6 x 800m track session and my legs feel like lead.
“100% of me is nothing compared to 1% of the whole team. That’s teamwork.” – Eluid Kipchoge
Just like I tell my runners that I coach that they are not alone, now I am no longer alone. It’s time to hit the reset button on my own personal running journey. The future starts here.
I have a great team around me, and I have no doubt that together we will help each other to reach heights unattainable on our own.
Manchester marathon 2020… I’m coming for you. We have unfinished business.