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How Coaching Works: Couch to 5k

In November 2018 I registered for Parkrun, the 5km running community that has sprung up in parks around the country. I had always wanted to run, but having always considered myself as “built for comfort – not for speed”, I had never really taken that first step. Registering for Parkrun was going to be the impetus I needed to get me out there.

It didn’t work.

Two years later, and I had still not popped my Parkrun cherry!

That same year, I was taking part in a two-day intensive coaching practice workshop where we were to be coached by at least three other coaches over those two days. Everyone was asked to bring a personal challenge to work on in these coaching sessions, and I brought running; or more accurately, not running.

Knowing how coaching had worked for me in the past, my aim with bringing running to the coaching scenario was to establish what was holding me back; was it confidence, was it time or energy, was running even really the right thing for me? I knew by the end of this engagement that if the thing stopping me from being a runner was me, I would have to face that reality and make a decision. Either I was going to have to have a word with myself and sort it out, or accept I was never going to run and shut up and move on with my life to other pursuits.

Recognising that you yourself are the biggest barrier to achieving something you desire is a really common outcome to coaching – and one of the scariest when it’s first encountered. The possibility of reaching this conclusion is sometimes a barrier itself to people engaging with coaching. But the realisation and acceptance of this, and creating and owning a way forward is enormously liberating and empowering. And coaching certainly helps you achieve that.

So this was the scenario I took to the coaching workshop:

“I want to be a runner, and have wanted to be a runner for a long time, but I never seem to move it forward.”

How did coaching help me work through this?

For me, there were three key things:

  • First, it gave me a safe space to explore my challenge without the fear of being judged, or having unasked for opinions and advice pushed at me.

  • Second, through facilitated questioning I was able to reflect on and explore all my arguments for and against pursuing running as an activity, including some that had not occurred to me before and some I had actively been avoiding considering

  • Finally, it ensured I had no place to hide – these challenges and barriers were out there, in the daylight and ready to be understood and resolved, and I too was in that daylight and neither me nor those issues were going anywhere until I tackled them.

Through the process we discussed why I wanted to run, what it would mean to me, how I would feel, how I would start, what was stopping me, how I could overcome the barriers, how I could take small steps, what resources I had available to me, what I needed, what else, what else, what else…

During the coaching I looked again at options I had considered previously, but with a neutral person asking me carefully constructed questions to help me analyse those options and select those that would work for me. I looked at other options that I hadn’t considered and found options that would work for me. I explored why I wanted to go down this path and what would be the best or worst outcomes. I went into such detail that if I subsequently took no action, then I had to admit I was the issue as there were so many options available to me. And I really didn’t want to be the issue! I also didn’t want to do some of the ‘easier’ options as they didn’t fit in with my approach and value base.

The very next day, I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, donned my lycra and did my first run.

I completed week one, week two, week three, missed two days due to holiday and so pushed to fit in extra days to stay on target for week four. Week five (OMG!), week six (brutal!), week seven, eight, nine and GRADUATED!! I ran without stopping for 30 minutes. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t attractive, but I did it.

On 31 July 2021 I did my first Parkrun.

31 July 2022 I will run my 20th Parkrun.

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