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On getting, having and being a coach

As those of you who have been following my blog for a while know, 2 1/2 years ago I changed careers (again!) and qualified to be a personal trainer.  Yup, in a period of immense change and upheaval for my family, I decided I needed to add something to my already overloaded plate and live and learn in London every week.  It was tough, on me and on my family.  I never really blogged about that at the time, because I felt badly enough about that as it was and I didn’t want to dwell on it.  Let me just say it was a difficult and tiring and interesting and fun and challenging time – all at once.  I don’t seem to be able to rip myself away from making moves like that…

However, the point I was going to make, bringing this up, was that prior to this time I had no experience of a personal trainer, or really, of a coach.  I had used someone to coach me for Boston 2011, thinking it would make me run faster, but I don’t think I knew what questions to ask, or what goals to set, and so the experience, while fine at the time, didn’t leave me thinking that having (or being) a coach was something I ever wanted.  If I’m really honest, when I started my course in London I kind of thought I was onto a little wheeze: I couldn’t really understand why people needed a personal trainer (after all, I’d coached myself off the sofa and eventually to a BQ without one, and managed to lose a mass of weight in the process) but hey – it was something people would pay for, so why not?  As so often when I think the laugh is on others, this one backfired on me.  Even in training, on the course, I could see how much harder and how much more focused I would work when others were watching me.  I would do things I would never have done on my own (even going into the weights part of a gym – that had never been something I was comfortable with) and, because someone was helping me and managing what I was doing, I was willing to try things I was afraid of.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013, and after futzing around for some months with the idea of triathlon while struggling to get my own business off the ground, I decided to once again get a coach.  This time I was more focused.  I wanted my coach to understand my goal – to complete a half ironman – and to have done this herself.  She has.  But more than this, I wanted my coach to appreciate that this goal, of completing a half ironman, was completely outside of my comfort zone.  I had not done this before, and was terrified.  I wanted her to understand this.  I wanted her to understand me.  And she does.  She too comes from a background of not doing that much and then turning to endurance athletics.  She blogs brilliantly and honestly about her own training.  She is a kindred spirit.

I’ve been reflecting this week on how great it is to have a coach.  Finding a coach is a tricky thing – I know plenty of people who go through one coach after the other.  Like any other important relationship in your life you need to just click – there needs to be some kind of understanding.  Lots of my friends have coaches, or are coaches.  And I can see that all of their relationships with their coaches are different.  For me – after 18 months with the same coach – I’ve realised some truths about myself and how I like to be coached.  In a nutshell: I am needy.  High maintenance.  Not for me someone who just says “warm up, do 10 x 800 at marathon pace”.  Oh no.

  • Sometimes I’m needy because I’m not working hard enough and I whine because I want someone to let me off the hook;
  • Sometimes I’m needy because I’ve worked really hard and I want some praise;
  • Sometimes I’m needy because I’m all screwed up comparing myself to Chrissie Wellington and I find myself falling short.

So my coach basically can rely on 3 phrases:

  • HTFU – get moving girl and quit making excuses.
  • well done.  Good job.
  • STOP BEING SO HARD ON YOURSELF!

Time these comments correctly, and coaching Petra is done.  And she does – and more.  Point is though, overall – figure out what works for you.  My coach likes lots of feedback, and I like giving lots of feedback.  She’s very detailed on what she wants me to do in each workout – and I like that detail.

Beyond the generalised therapy point (an important one for me), however, being coached has other advantages:

  • coaches design a personalised periodised training plan.  Have you ever done that?  I have.  It’s hard.  I like paying someone else to do it for me because lord knows I’d procrastinate the hell out of mine and NEVER get it done.
  • it makes you accountable.  I don’t run with a group, occasionally I cycle with a group.  The only thing I do on a regular basis with others is swim.  So having to update my workouts every day means I can’t futz around and pretend I’m doing what I’m not.
  • Coaches with experience have experience.  Duh – but it’s great.  I can ask my coach anything.  Nutrition, what to wear while doing Ironman, managing pee breaks, periods, transitions, technical stuff – there’s reams of things I have questions about and who better to ask than a woman who has qualified for and raced Kona?

And finally – there’s an element of handing over control.  Once again I am staring a big scary goal in the eyes. I can’t say that, at this point, Ironman seems any less daunting than it seemed when I first signed up.  Sure, I’ve been swimming and running and biking for the past 4 months, but good lord! – 140.2.still seems such a terrifyingly long way to go.  But this is where my coach is amazing.  I don’t know Ironman.  But she does.  She has done this.  She has trained lots of people to do this.  So if she thinks I can do this, then I can.  When you get your coach right, it gives you confidence.

Bringing you all down to earth now after singing her praises – I don’t only have a coach, I also am a coach.  It’s a little bit like being a new parent when you’ve had great parents.  The standards I set myself are sky high and my mistakes shine brightly.  Given all the above, being a coach is quite terrifying.  The trust that my clients put in me sometimes takes me aback.  But, feeling the fear and doing it anyway is how I’m rolling these days, so I’m going with it.  And, as so often happens, I’m loving it.  In this past year I have learned, to my enormous surprise, that it really is as good when your clients (who are all friends) do well in races that they’ve trained hard for as when you do well yourself.  It’s incredible to watch someone grow in ability, speed and confidence and to see them bring all that to race day.  To do, in whatever way, something they often didn’t believe possible.  So, inadequate as I sometimes feel at it, I’m going to take what I can from my coach and give it to my clients / friends – passing the good stuff all round. So apply as appropriate: “HTFU! Get moving girl / boy and stop making excuses / Well done. Good job / STOP BEING SO HARD ON YOURSELF!”.

If I were my coach I'd tell myself to stop taking selfies and get moving!
If I were my coach I’d tell myself to stop taking selfies and get moving!
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6 thoughts on “On getting, having and being a coach

  1. I have decided, after coaching one person for only about 6 months, that coaching is very hard work. And it’s OK to be needy. You are paying someone to take care of that need. Proud of you for taking coaching as well as giving it!

  2. It’s providential that I didn’t read this until today, because today I have decided to dump my coach. It’s. Just. Not. Working. This post was the reassurance I needed! Much love to you!

  3. I love having a coach – especially a woman my age. She’s really tough and she’s also really perceptive and hears me saying things that spell out my weaknesses and the things I need to work on. She also gives me way more to do than I would do on my own so here’s to getting stronger and faster and then, in your case, getting others to do the same.

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