Agreeing to Be the Running Expert
For some odd reason when people recognize passion in a person, they automatically think the person passionate is an expert. While a reasonable thought, as a passionate person might have greater insight, it isn’t entirely accurate to call them an expert per se. Logging hundreds of miles of year and planning weekends around a long run seems commonplace or even automatic but others often struggle, not only to run, but to set a consistent exercise program altogether. We all have the co-worker, neighbor or family member working on a bucket list or trying to get on (or back on) the fitness wagon and usually running is the activity of choice. Often a dedicated member of their inner circle, who runs like it’s as obvious a daily chore as brushing their teeth, is usually targeted to be asked to “Coach”. This could entail anything from endless questions, to advice, to actually writing or approving a training plan. Truthfully, it’s a humbling and sweet favor to be asked; however, making sure the parameters and goals are in line is crucial for success for both parties. There are a few things to keep in mind and keep you sane when you agree to be the expert.
Why are you doing this? or What are you hoping to accomplish? is the best place start. The answer to this will help direct your support and advice. Someone wanting to run (not run/walk) an entire 5k is probably at a different beginning point than someone wanting to cross a half marathon or Tough Mudder off their bucket list. The other piece that’s really important to have knowledge of is their current activity level, especially if a training plan is something you have agreed to help with. Make sure to ask them about how much time they are willing to dedicate, or more realistically, time available. Some people run three days a week, others six. There are drastic differences in training methods and overall goals. To steal from some 1980s Public Service Announcement, “The more you know…” It’s true though. The more you know, the more you will be to help.
You are not the one running, nor are you the one completing or aiming for the goal. That may be really obvious, but an important thing to keep in mind is that motivation, desire and fitness levels are probably not going to be at the same level as yours. The idea behind your support should be simple: support and kind nudging. Not Biggest Loser style pushing. Now, if someone has come to you asking for help with speed, pushing might be warranted. What doesn’t need to occur is you projecting your workout ethic on to someone else. The approach could be entirely different with someone who wants help completing a race versus someone who is asking for a push. And don’t forget about yourself, if you become uncomfortable at any point answering questions, say you are. If you are not a physical therapist or personal trainer and yet you are really being pushed and held accountable to act and answer like you are, it is very fair to point them in that direction.
Be a Cheerleader
No reason to learn any choreography and break out the pompoms but it might be helpful if you pay attention. If a high mileage week is coming up ask how they are feeling. Can you notice any marked changes? Compliment them on it. Did they come to you with a really good, insightful question? Remark on it. As someone that was sought out, make your support stand out from their partner’s comment on how amazing they look or their parent’s comment on their new found commitment.
Anything you provide in terms of training plans, suggestions on apparel and nutrition isn’t going to guarantee anything. Put that out there. You cannot make anything happen but they sure can. Place the power behind their own actions. It’s a great way to support them and allow them to support themselves. Ideally, you are guiding them and giving them instruction so they won’t keel over or show up to run (or run/walk) a half marathon never having completed more than a 45 minutes of consecutive activity. Be brutally honest with the ugly parts of running. (Within reason of course. You do not want to scare them off!) Explain about chafing and direct them to purchase Body Glide or some other preventative. And in that conversation explain that it can happen in random places and embarrassing places. Providing them with “inside information” will help boost confidence and in the meantime, hopefully save that post-run shower surprise chafing tends to lead to. The list of other items to note are long and obvious to runners but not necessarily beginners: for men, protecting their nipples, nutrition gels and chews and the effect they can have on your gastrointestinal tract, remind them “tennis shoes” don’t mean running shoes, we all know cotton is rotten but they might not, race day logistics and rules of the road. The list goes on, but try really hard to recall any surprises you had at a race and inform them.
Being the resident expert can be a lot of fun. It needs to be noted, if you are uncomfortable or unsure answering a question, say so. You can always say you are still learning as well. It’s fun to have people not only want to hear about running but actively seeking our your advice. If everyone comes to the table with a reasonable expectation, this can be a great experience. I mean, who doesn’t want to claim they converted someone into a runner?