6 days of workshop preparation followed by 6 days with inflamed vocal chords (my friends felt blessed) and a bad cold meant the Blog has been quiet for a few weeks. It was my first bad cold since last Winter, a reduction of 3 to 4 incidents, so I have clearly improved my health in 2013 as I had set out to do. Stress = illness (look up Richard Flook to learn more).
Jason filming in the morning of Day 1 (pre-workshop)
We had a great time in Castleisland and despite a busy schedule managed to enjoy an evening in the company of John Lenihan, who as always was good for a tale or two about “the auld days” and provided a story that was more of a parable about hope and belief. I will talk about it on another day as it deserves its own post.
Back from the Kingdom
My colleague, friend, athlete and partner in ChampionsEverywhere – Jason Kehoe and I had returned late Sunday evening from could best be described as a “coaching road-trip” in Kerry.
The idea to host a “Masters of Running” workshop in Kerry has been on our minds for a while and finally got traction after speaking to Elite Events manager Oliver Harkin, organiser of Killarney Marathon and Adventure Race series. After failing to secure an appropriate venue in Killarney we booked the An Ríocht Health and Leisure facilities – home of local powerhouse Ríocht AC.
Attendees busy practicing posture
Regular readers know that I believe we over-emphasize the value of expensive facilities to the detriment of grass-roots coaching but as I said to an attendee: “I’d sell my mother to have the freedom of a facility like this.”
The Value of Planning
With only four weeks to spread the word about the event and Christmas coming up we initially expected a small intimate group but by the time we shook hands with the first arrivals in the car park ahead of the An Ríocht Leisure Centre in Castleisland, we had an almost full class.
Yep, best write this down!
It was an intense weekend from start to finish – you don’t turn off during a weekend like this. The car trip down was a good illustration. With three hours to utilise, I drove while Jason (armed with pen, paper and print-outs) goes through each line of our plan
When I started coaching I thought I’d improvise more and prepare less with experience. But I find the opposite advice needs to hold true – I prepare more than ever now, often down to the minute. Experience, if anything, shows the value of timing. Sixteen hours may sound like a lot of time to train, but for what we are trying to do, I’d easily take double. But you have to be efficient in the modern world, as we all have busy lives so it’s about what you get out of each minute more than how many you have available.
A story of local initiative
I cannot praise the venue at An Ríocht enough – fruit of the vision of two local men, the construction of the track and facility began in 1999 after many years of fund raising. What now stands there is template for how to turn dream into lasting reality – a large well-maintained athletics track, a towering club house and fitness centre all surrounded by a gravel trail and a scenic park. Not to mention the famous “Lenihan’s hill” – a short but steep artificial hill for cross-country training. It’s a place built by athletes for athletes and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it my favourite venue so far and all we were missing was a big hill!
Fun and games on “Lenihan’s Hill” in the facility parkland
We had looked into the option of driving to the nearby valley of Glanageenty as well, where former world mountain running champion John Lenihan used to train John along with other locals have built what now tallies as 11 miles of heavily undulating woodland trails there and it was here that he practiced a “MovNat”-style fartlek of jumping, crawling, lifting rocks and other exercises long before there was “MovNat” brand or the resurging interest in Paleo and “natural movement” began to take hold in the late Nineties and early Noughties.
With a large group we opted to cut out the travel time that would have cost us to go there so perhaps for a hill running master class some time, we will.
Anyway, as we spend the weekend in the facility, I was reminded again Arthur Lydiard’s vision to establish a training facility in natural surroundings – a vision turned down by New Zealand Athletics. This was the driving force behind founding ChampionsEverywhere and remains so. It’s a lesson that if you want something done – don’t wait for politicians, officials or associations – find a way to do it yourself with the help of like-minded people.
Another view of “Lenihan’s Hill”
The key lesson from athletics dynasties of the past is that the same charismatic master coach that creates the dynasty will eventually be it’s undoing – because once he is gone, things tend to crumble. Often the head coach also reach a limit to their desire to innovate. Assistant coaches pick up on this if they are suppressed or their ideas squashed, often leading to a splintering of the coaching group rather than the head coach overseeing a careful grooming process where they eventually step back into an elder statesman role.
Those dynasties that have survived the inceptor coach where those who put systems in place so that even “mediocre” successors could apply the same method and get great results. The strength of a system is not defined by it’s top practitioners but it’s worst practitioners. Because of that before every workshop, we go through the system of delivery again to refine it further – and there’s no better place than a car: distractions are limited on the highway and it leaves valuable time out of the car for other work.
When we travel to a location far from Leinster, it’s critical to push on each evening until you have a result you can be satisfied with as a coach. Each coach goes into the workshop with an image in their head of how they want the athlete to look and move by the end. But that’s only the first part of the puzzle. A saw a question posed to one of our previous attendees where the questioner repeatedly asked “but where their long-term results”. It’s slightly amusing that his question is rarely asked of physiotherapy, surgery, drugs and “conventional interventions” who routinely fail this test.
The An Riocht main gym. What’s on the floor???
But the constructive answer is that it depends on whether you “follow the script”. As with everything it requires compliance to the methods taught. Success rarely requires 100% compliance but runners with injury history must aspire high. As an organisation, ChampionsEverywhere has a responsibility to make this compliance as easy as possible. This will very much be the theme for 2014: systems, processes and support. There are many trap-doors on the journey to perfecting your running form – our team are aware of most of them.
Some clues to what 2014 must bring
A workshop like the Kerry workshop aims to provide a tool-kit broad enough to navigate many of these issues unsupported. Our Leinster group have the advantage that they can pop into a session every Monday if they wish or book in for a “refresher” consultancy. Speaking to the attendees down in Kerry there’s no doubt that the two major opportunities for this coaching system spreading far and wide in Ireland a) success in races by runners in technical footwear trained on our system, especially high profile runners and b) increasing the number of people training like this.
Jason coaching the group in Kerry
It is a big challenge to “cut against the grain” and be the only person in your training group doing technical training, using technical footwear, replacing stretching routines with natural drills and exercises and focusing more on sound practice than “just” tough workouts. If people tell you often enough that what you are doing is crackpot, it takes a special type of personal obstinacy not to harbour doubts.
Our team is full of renewed energy after the last few months of support from the people on our workshops. “Your success will inspire others,” I told the Kerry group over lunch. “No pressure!” That’s where coaching becomes really only facilitation – no coach has ever “healed” anyone and no coach has ever “made anyone”. What they have done is help people heal themselves or make themselves. We are facilitators – we setup the environment and throw in the right inputs. But the rest is up to the runner. So let 2014 be the year of the runner.