Scottish's coaches are a diverse bunch. The expression that pops to mind is herding cats. Anyone who has owned a cat knows they come in many varieties but they all like to watch other people work.
As potential cat owners, it's nice that we have a choice. In looking for a coach, do you want a house cat or a feral cat? Long slow distance from a sleepy cat, short sharp intervals from a frisky kitten, or cross-training from catfish? Just don’t call them lolcats.
To learn about the Scottish coaching network, On the Run talked to several Scottish cool cat coaches and one new athlete who has taken up Scottish's offer of free coaching.
One thing our coaches all have in common is the joy they get from their athletes. Coach Hiro Tanimoto says he's most proud when his athletes are happy and have great smiles at the finish line.
Coach Emma Bassett says the pride comes from the "OMG I thought was going to be so hard but I did it!" moments, collected through cumulative training.
Coach Todd Stevens says he loves working with achievement-oriented people who are motivated and focused.
"Coaching gives that opportunity," he says.
Being ready to race
Hiro and Emma also agree about when an athlete is ready to race - it is when, as Emma says "their excitement is in equal balance with the nerves".
"There's a quiet confidence in the training in the bank over the course of weeks, months and years. Things that felt hard are now easier; something that wasn't possible is now achievable."
Hiro says "If the athletes are ready, they are quite calm and concentrate for the race. However, if the athletes are not ready, they are too excited or too worried about the race and preparation."
Todd says being ready to race is a mental process.
"I'm a firm believer that hard work in training pays off. But equality, if the work isn't done, then the results won't come. Distance running is hard to bluff. So an athlete is ready to run well when they have trained well, and, importantly, they have their head in the right space. Great results come with a lot of hurt, and athletes need to be mentally up for the challenge."
This steady preparation and consistency is something that new Scottish athlete Bill Wang has experienced, being coached for the first time:
"The program my first-ever running coach provided was just easy runs most days in a week. It was quite different from what I did for self-training, such as no intervals or tempo run at all. I was confused, and kept my way in the first week, until the coach said, 'when it comes to running - patience and repeating a pattern are what pays dividends.' I believe this quote will guide me all the way through my running career forever."
Bill has been trained by a Scottish club coach since early in March, 11 weeks before the Hawkes Bay Marathon, which he was entered for.
Bill found “patience and repeating a pattern” became the theme for his training.
"I accepted the coach totally and trusted him."
Bill got a new best time of 3:28:30, 10 minutes faster his previous best.
Todd says his proudest coaching moment is his most recent - the Christchurch Marathon this year.
"I coached three athletes, and all did lifetime bests, and all aged over 40. All had done the hard work in training by sticking to the programme and, when confronted with terrible weather conditions on race day, they stayed positive and executed the plan superbly. I was so proud and so happy for them. And it was nice to receive their appreciation, especially for my efforts being at all points of the course to support them when the weather had left me hypothermic!"
Our Scottish coaches were all willing to own up to mistakes (and the lessons they learned from them).
Hiro tells how he trained a girl who was a good sprinter:
"She has had a chance to win races anytime. I thought winning was good fun for her. However, her for fun was just running comfortably - not on a big stage or to be competitive. I knew it after her race in her running career by her tears. And she said she does not like the pressure of running coming from anyone."
Todd says he made most of his mistakes when coaching himself.
"I've been the guinea pig for all my coaching programmes. At least my athletes know they are getting a programme that I've proven works! I think my biggest lesson is the need to train smarter not harder as the body ages. Looking back, I've done some ridiculous mileage volumes only to break down with injury or end up on the start line so tired that I needed a sleep rather than a race."
Emma describes a mistake with a small group when trail running one rainy evening it got dark very quickly and she had to deploy a backup plan.
"We're always learning. I learn about people, I learn about myself, I learn about the craft."
Learning the craft
For Hiro and Emma, the craft is to instil an enjoyment of running. Emma says the best thing about coaching is to have someone in your corner who knows you better than you sometimes know yourself and to offer a different perspective.
"My best coaches have told me when I really need to rest and, sometimes in the same sentence, when I need to go hard. It's powerful to have someone in your corner when you're doubting yourself."
Hiro beleives, simply, "if they know how fun running is, I’m really happy as a coach and runner."
Bill says of his coach "I really appreciated his fantastic training methodology and guideline. I got heaps of improvements in the last few months."
Coaches learn a lot from each other - it is a craft passed down often by word of mouth. Coaching is a shared citizenship that often has disregard for allegiance or nationality. Emma cites Lauren Fleshman (Oregon, US-based) as a coach she admires, for "fostering communities of women runners and championing people at the very top of their field. She brings an important voice to running.
Closer to home, she says James Turner is one of the most supportive voices in Wellington and is always there with a kind word as well as going speeding fast.
Todd says his programmes are based on the schedules Arthur Lydiard wrote 60 years ago.
"I still keep his book Run to the Top close to hand. And I've been heavily influenced by Scottish life members Don Dalgliesh and Brian Cattermole, who both coached me. They are both amazingly wise, yet very understated. They would just say to me one or two things before a big race, but they were things that made a difference."
Hiro says he admires many Kiwi coaches.
"They are great motivators for athletes, whether kids or adults. They show how to enjoy our running. Fun is first for the athletes. Being faster, stronger and harder follows it. Kiwi coaches are talking and discussing with their athletes, always on the track or outside the track. It’s very important to build our relationships and understand each other."
Jamie White coordinates Scottish's network of coaches. He herds the cats. The club offers free coaching to our members. If you want a coach, contact him and he will link you up with someone who best matches what you are looking for. Even better, if you're inspired by our current clowder of coaches, talk to Jamie about how you can become one. It's a rewarding task which experienced club members donate to our running community. Who wouldn’t want to be a cat?