Sunday, November 12, 2006

On achieving excellence

ORN: Day off.

I’ve read over a dozen marathon reports this fall. All special, all inspiring, all well-told.

Yet, all but one had a melancholy tone to them, either a goal not met, an injury incurred, a deep disappointment. All but one had a “gut it out to the end” feel. Which is certainly what a marathon often does and in itself teaches one many lessons.

All but one.

The one was Dianna, the
Running Chick with the Orange Hat, in her description of the Hartford Marathon. In contrast to the other descriptions (and indeed to descriptions of her earlier marathons), her report was one of anticipation, planning, execution, exhilaration, finishing and stated goals achieved. In her case, qualifying for the Boston Marathon while smashing her previous PR.

What was the difference? I’ve mulled it a lot.

Di had a coach. None of the rest of us did.

What does a coach do that made such a difference? What is the dynamic?

First, a coach is outside of ourselves. Running is a lonely sport. Indeed, many of us describe one of the great joys of running is being by ourselves, savoring time away from work, obligations, phone calls, emails, errands. Yet, in that isolation, we can’t see ourselves. A coach breaks through that self-imposed isolation. The coach watches us, literally or figuratively. The coach sees things we can’t see ourselves. And we only improve when we get outside ourselves.

Because of this, the coach tells us things we don’t want to hear. In contrast to our running blogs, where we voice our own opinions and most comments are encouraging, the coach will disagree. The coach must correct. The coach must tell us the effort we considered excellent 6 months ago is now inadequate. The coach will not let us slack off of our goals. The coach will make us mad. The coach will make us uncomfortable.

Face it, we all tend to self-justify our actions. A coach won’t accept that. She will say “Hey, do you want a 4 hour marathon or not? If so, you have to do the mile repeats I laid out for you. Do it again tomorrow.”

A coach is a steadying influence. A coach is not concerned with the day-to-day fluff we throw out, though he may listen to it anyway. A coach helps us get where we want to go. And when we get our eye off the goal, the coach puts us back on task.

In telling us things we don’t want to hear, the coach builds humility. She builds the attitude of a learner. This is itself a very difficult thing for most of us to accept. We simply don’t want to be “coachable” because we want to know it all ourselves. Without humility, though, we will not improve. With it, we can go amazing places.

Di had a magnificent marathon, finishing strong, blasting through the pain to reach her goals. As a result, she’ll be running on a Monday in April.

Most of us “got through” our fall marathons.

There is a difference.

A coach.



Anonymous said...

I've often wondered about having a coach but just never felt fast enough to do anything about it. You did list some good reasons to get one.

G.P. said...

I did my best running when I had a coach, though I think there must be that "inner" perseverance/motivation or when the coach goes.. so does the runner

Happy trails
GP in Montana