When you are used to doing things a certain way, it is often difficult to change. Throughout my coaching experience over the past 5 months, I have learned that being able to adapt is a necessary characteristic of being a coach. It took a bit of time for me to realize that the run was not about me and my goals. It was about someone else and their goals. You would think that a teacher should have realized that from the beginning, but it took some time for the realization to hit. Even up until the end, it was still difficult to make the transition. I would often increase my pace without thinking, forget about the constant hydration reminders or continue past the bathrooms without allowing for a pit stop. Maybe I just liked dispelling cruel and unusual punishment… but most likely it was because I would fall back into “my” zone.
I must admit, that even when it came to event day, I was kind of disappointed that I would not be running the 13.1 mile course just like everyone else. I was assigned to reside in between mile 9 and mile 12.5. As we walked to mile 9 and placed ourselves along the course, it seemed very odd to be standing there wearing a race bib as the elite runners whizzed past. As the course grew thick with runners, I felt a sudden urge to jump into the crowd. Yet, I stood my ground. I was waiting for our first team member. I knew he would be there soon because he was our fastest runner. It didn’t take long before I spotted him in the crowd. That was my chance, so I jumped in and started asking all of the coach-like questions. “How are you doing?” “Have you been staying hydrated?” “Did you take some nutrition?” “How is that leg feeling right now?.” I wasn’t sure what else to do after I asked all of the questions, so I just stayed by his side and every now and then I would offer some words of encouragement. Then it was time for me to let him go and run back to find our next team member. At that point, I was feeling good and I just ignored the people who tried to tell me I was going the wrong way. Not like the large letters on my shirt spelling out the word “COACH” had anything to do with my unusual running behavior.
Then I spotted our next runner who was running with the other coach. I joined them for a bit until I decided to jump back out onto the sidelines and run back for the next participant. He wasn’t too much farther back. He seemed so peppy and cheery that I wondered if he had really just run 11 miles. I asked my usual questions, but felt no wave of concern. He was motivated to get it done. He had a personal connection to cancer and it was his motivation to make it to the end. I had no doubts when I left him on his own at mile 12.5. He was strong and determined.
I went backwards, yet again, and was once again told that I was going the wrong way. That only motivated me to run faster in the “wrong” direction. And that wasn’t easy because the wrong direction usually involved running through the grass and over slopes and rocks (since I obviously wasn’t about to run head on into a crowd of determined runners). Fortunately, it didn’t take long before I saw her. Another team member who had come so far over the past 5 months. She was one of our most dedicated trainees. As I ran alongside her, it appeared she was her usual cheerful self. It didn’t even appear as though she was breaking a sweat!
Once again, I turned around at the mile 12.5 mark and ran back. As I ran through the grass along the course I noticed a participant who looked tired and worn out. She was not a member of our Jax team, but I called out her name (written right on her shirt) and ran alongside of her. When I asked her how she was doing she started crying. I asked her why she was running the race tonight and she told me it was for her grandmother. All I could do was tell her that her grandmother was watching over her and that she must be so proud to see her granddaughter finishing her first half marathon. Then she stopped crying and started smiling as I offered up some more encouragement and cracked a few jokes to lighten the mood. By the time I left her at mile 12.5 she was stronger than ever. At that moment, I finally realized why I was there. I got back to work right away.
Before I knew it, the sweeper was in sight and it was time for the coaches to head to the finish line. Even though we had been on our feet for over 5 hours, we were so full of life as we finally danced our way across the finish line. I never thought that I could be so happy to come in last place. I think I accomplished something great that night. I finally learned to run like a coach.