Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

7 Lessons I Learned From 6 Coaches

I've quite a few coaches over the years. I grew close to every single coach I've ever had. And I have learned an important lesson from every single one of them. Here's the lessons I've learned over the span of 10 years that every runner could benefit to learn from.

Coach Evans and his girls
  1. Breath like a Rhino: Coach Evans: I'm a scrawny 60 pound 12-year old and its my first day of cross-country practice in my life. I show up at the high school to run with the high-school team because this super old guy had invited me. He takes me and this other new girl aside as we are running to the park and gives us the low-down on how to run. He told us all the normal things like arm swing and controlling our stride but then he told us how to breath....he started making these grunting noises and we lost it. It was so funny. But the principle behind what he was trying to demonstrate has stuck with me and really helped me improve as a runner.

    What he was trying to show us, was to breathe out really hard (thus the grunting noise). People tend to focus on breathing IN as they are running because you want to get as much oxygen as you can right? But you tend to forget about breathing all that old air and CO2 out. You can't use the oxygen you breathe in if all your red blood cells are tied up to CO2 molecules. When I learned to not only focus on getting oxygen into my system, but also learned to focus on getting the "bad air" out, a lot of my breathing problems went away.

    That "really old guy" is now a volunteer coach at my college and I get to work with him every day. He still reminds me to "Breath like a Rhino!" and it still makes me chuckle, but it also is still a good reminder :)

  2. Run with your Heart: Coach Chambers: She was my first female coach and the coach I looked up to the most. I don't know what it was about her, but I wanted to make her proud probably more than any coach I've ever had. I respect her so much and wanted to be just like her. Maybe it was the fact that she ran in college, I don't know. But after two years of being my coach, she was moving to coach at a different high school. I was devastated. She left a note for me on my car one of the last days that we would see her. I have kept it and to this day I still read it before almost every race.

    She knew just what I needed to hear, and she knew how to say it from years of running. She wrote me her "Principles for Winning". There were four, but the two that I needed most said 'Run with your heart' and 'Running is fun-don't forget why you run'.

    Those lessons have been the two most important lessons I have ever needed to learn. Running IS fun. But it is so easy to get caught up in trying so hard to be good that you forget that having fun needs to come before having success. And to have fun, you need to run with your heart. Heart and fun will lead to success, but only if they are your first priority in running.

  3. Don't dwell on your disappointments: Coach Struna: The other female coach I had, that took over when Coach Chambers left. We developed an amazing relationship as well and she really helped me gain confidence in my running.

    The lesson I learned from her also came from a note she wrote me. This time it was taped to my locker. I had written a note on her whiteboard (she is also a teacher) and told her how sorry I was that I let her and my team down because I had a bad performance at state. She wrote this note back to me,
    I am never disappointed with your performance. You are way harder on yourself than I ever could be. I'm proud of your dedication and determination both in practice and in the race. You had a great season.
    So take a minute to beat yourself up, and when 60 seconds is over look back on the season to learn and make next season that much better.
    I had to include the whole note because no matter what, the people that love you aren't going to be disappointed in you. Its hard not to feel like you let people down when you don't do well in something, but if you did the best you could and you gave it your all, they will always be proud. Beat yourself up for 60 seconds, everyone does it. But when that 60 seconds is up, there can be NO more feeling sorry for yourself. From every bad race comes a lesson learned. Think about what you can learn and do better for next time.
    Coach Chambers, Coach Struna, and Coach Jen

    4. Whether you run fast, or you run slow its gonna hurt like hell, so you might as well run fast!: Floyd Tippetts: So Floyd wasn't technically ever my coach, but in high school when we traveled we would always travel with the same teams. He was a coach for one of the other teams and also dad to one of my friends. I used to get so incredibly nervous before races it was ridiculous. I remember at one indoor track meet, my coaches weren't there so I went to him seeking advice.

    He told me whether I run fast or slow, its going to hurt like hell, so I might as well just run fast. You know what, he's right. When you are racing, it always hurts. No matter how fast or slow you are going. So you might as well be running fast!

    This quote helped me learn how to push through that barrier in your mind. The barrier where you think you can't handle the pain, but once you cross it, you realize the pain doesn't get any worse. I would not be the runner I am today if he hadn't taught me to face my fears and run through them.
    Coach Floyd Tippetts

    5. Your body can do more than you think it can: Coach Zufelt: My dad was my track coach for two years and I loved it. He would run the workouts with us (the team) so he would know how hard it was. This would mean that when people would try to drop out or complain that it was too hard, he knew if they were being wusses or if they really did need a break.

    By running with me, he taught me to trust in my body and to learn to listen to it. There were times when we did need more rest time than he had scheduled. Since he ran with us, he listened to his body and knew when it was time to go again. This taught me to listen to my body. You can always do more than you think. He knew we could go harder, and he made us do it when we didn't think we could. I learned to push the limits, but also when my body was trying to tell me something.

    Every runner's vital skill is learning to communicate with your body. Its a language that you need to learn. And it only comes with practice. My dad/coach taught me how to practice it.
    Coach Zufelt

    6. Be strong, don't be dramatic: Coach Houle: There is a quote that says "If I am still standing at the end of a race, hit me with a board and knock me down because it means I didn't run hard enough." this used to be my running motto. I literally would run myself into the ground and I would collapse at the end of every race. I honestly did not have a choice. I didn't like collapsing but I would run so hard that I would.

    My college coach HATED this trait about me. He hated with a passion. It would annoy him so bad. I have learned that you can still run yourself into the ground. You can still give every single ounce of energy you have during the race, but you can train yourself to stay standing at the end of a race. It takes strength to stand at the end, it is weakness to collapse. Collapsing doesn't mean you gave it your all, it means you aren't strong enough to give more than your all.

    I know this sounds crazy, but keeping my feet under at the finish line, when I can't even think straight has built so much confidence in me! I feel like a more mature, stronger runner. It has also helped me with lesson #3, don't dwell on bad races. Because I stay standing at the end of a race, I am forced to face people and to keep my emotions in check. There is nothing worse than a runner sobbing at the finish line. It is heart breaking to see and so discouraging to the competitors around her. DO NOT TALK ABOUT WHAT A HORRIBLE RACE YOU HAD IN FRONT OF THE PEOPLE YOU JUST COMPETED WITH. This is a personal, private conversation you need to have with yourself and your coach, and your loved ones if you want. It makes other runners feel horrible when you go and talk about how bad you just did, when you beat them by 20 seconds.

    So don't collapse, and don't cry at the finish line. It makes you that much stronger and that much better of a person and racer.

    7. Running isn't everything: Coach Houle: One of the things I love most about my college coach is how much he cares about every single member of his team. He cares about each of us, not only as runners, but also as students and people. He takes the time to talk to us one and one. Something that surprised me was how much he emphasizes that running isn't everything. Of course he wants us to do well. If we don't run well, he loses his job. But he reminds us that life goes on after running. This goes hand in hand with Lesson #3 as well. When you have a bad race, a bad training day, a bad run, you know what? Life goes on. The world isn't going to stop and mourn for you because you just ran crappy. Its going to keep moving on. You should too. Running is a priority for me, but it is not my ONLY priority.
    Coach Houle and his girls

    I love every one of these people. A coach is a mentor, a hero, a father, a mother, a friend, a teacher. They care about you not only as a runner, but as a person. Thank you to all the coaches out there.

    What are the lessons you've learned from your coaches? Or from the people that have influenced you?


  1. I loved this post! Isn't it amazing how much coaches influence your life? I feel so blessed to have been able to run under so many wonderful coaches. All of them have had a positive impact on my life. I always feel bad because I think that most coaches and teaches don't get the credit they deserve. So I just loved this post!

  2. Great post and a great tribute to the coaches I know so well that work with their heart everyday because the pay isn't good enough to work for anything else.

  3. Kalina-
    Did you know I still have a note that you wrote to me? You also helped me learn some good coaching lessons.
    You brought tears to my eyes. :)
    Thanks for this awesome post! Those are fantastic lessons. I miss coaching, especially people like you.

  4. Kalina, that was awesome! I love that we share high school cross country coaches! They were all great and I definitely learned things from each of them. This was a really sweet tribute.


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