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Are Coaches Allowed to have a Bad Performance?

Published March 27th, 2009 in BAMFing, Just B

I should have never left T2 (bike to run transition) My body was telling me at the tail end of the bike that it was done for the day, but I decided to give the run a try anyway. I stopped less than a mile into the 13.1 mile run. It was then that I noticed a dead snake on the side of the road. It looked as though it had just expired from the heat. I thought to myself, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel,” and I started walking back to transition.

Wait a minute! What do I always say? “Unless you’re hurt, or at risk of injury, try not to give up. Always finish what you start, even if you have to walk.” Which is what I did – very, very slowly to the tune of a three-hour-and-five minute half marathon.

I finished the race, and take pride in the fact that I’ve never DNF’d (Did Not Finish). Only half heartedly though, did I accept the “congratulations for finishing” acknowledgements from volunteers, officials, other athletes, etc. You see, I’m a coach. A certified USA Triathlon Coach! This wasn’t the performance a coach was supposed to put on!

Now I can look back and make a list of half a dozen reasons for what happened to me on race day. As a coach, I can’t help but ask, shouldn’t I have been prepared for all of them? Oh don’t think this was my only bad race. No, I had plenty before I became a coach. I’ve learned from every single one of them, and I believe that those experiences are what help me to be a better coach. Nonetheless, the whole time I was walking, I kept asking myself, “Are coaches allowed to have a bad race?”

In high school and college I played football and ran track. I was a running back, and a 200/400m sprinter, respectively. Suffice it to say, I was never an “endurance guy.” To this day, I swear that if one of my old college track teammates had not been there to witness my first marathon, no one else on the team would have believed that I had finished one. I came to triathlon looking for a new challenge for my competitive juices, and since I was already a strength coach, expanding my knowledge to endurance coaching was a natural progression. I was not, and will never be a professional triathlete. I am an Age-Grouper, just like so many others; I always have been, and always will be. As a busy coach, husband, and father, I am content knowing that even with a relatively short training schedule (10 hours per week or less) I will usually finish in the top third in my age-group, if not overall. I know how to prepare on limited time. At least I thought I did….

The ego is always the hardest hit following a performance such as mine. It’s especially hard to swallow if you are someone who coaches others. “If I can coach someone else, why couldn’t I help myself?” “Will anyone want my coaching services if I don’t perform well?” These were the serious questions I could not avoid. After all, this is how I make my living! “Is it time for me to seek another profession?”

Continuing along my “death march,” I attempted to answer my own questions in between numerous futile attempts to do something resembling a run. Along the way, I met some very nice people. There was David who was inspired to sign up for the race because of his friend, who apparently is an “endurance rockstar,” and who was way ahead of us, if he had not already finished. All David wanted was to not finish last in his age-group, and since I happened to be in that very same group, I assured him that he would meet his goal and congratulated him on a job well done. Anne, another fellow sufferer, seemed to be really struggling to catch her breath. I walked even more slowly with her, and gave her my ice and a gel. She then proceeded to snap out of it and run away from me! She did say “thank you” before going on her merry way.

There was also Tom, a decent swimmer and cyclist, who couldn’t seem to get his run figured out. He was feeling bummed out about his performance. I told him not to worry. I said “I’m a tri coach, and look where I am!” I chatted with him for a few more miles giving advice on tempo runs, and including brick or combo (bike followed by a run) workouts into his training plan to help get him through the last leg of his races. He was very appreciative, and ultimately said, “Thanks Coach!” and ran ahead as well. I just continued slogging along, trying to get through the day. Even bad things come to an end eventually, but it was a good hour-and-a-half longer than I’d envisioned. I was feeling down and wondering if I really should look for another job.

A few days after the race, It occurred to me that there were many wonderful people on the course who I would never have had the opportunity to meet if not for my “bad race.” I also realized that I did some of my best coaching out there on the course with some athletes that really needed it. My coaching had taken the various forms of physical assistance, training advice, and much encouragement and motivation. My “bad race” helped others have a good race, and hopefully better races in the future! Maybe my day wasn’t really all that bad. I was out there struggling, but I was also doing something I love: helping others improve! I was back in the trenches with other age-groupers connecting to the people who enable me to practice my chosen profession. That can’t be a bad thing.

So, the answer to my question was a resounding YES! Coaches are allowed to have a bad race!

It doesn’t matter how much you know, or how much you prepare, sometimes it’s just not going to be your day. I had a bad race, but ultimately, I had a good Coaching Day, and for me, that’s more than good enough!

Oh, and I didn’t finish last, that snake was still out there as dead as ever on the side of the road when I crossed the line!


Category: BAMFing, Just B