Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 8 Oct 2003 08:11:00 -0400

Herding Cats

RUNNING COMMENTARY 487

(rerun from October 2000 RC)

Doug and Diane Clement have spent their lives as runners and by giving back to running. They met when both ran for Canada in the 1956 Olympics.

Doug is an M.D. with a special interest in sports medicine, Diane a nutrition expert who has written a half-dozen books on the subject. They both have coached at a club they founded, the Kajaks, in the Vancouver area.

Now well into their 60s, they are cutting back on their professional and volunteer activities. Part of their extended good-bye party came at the Royal Victoria Marathon, where they were honored at the pre-race dinner.

Several of us were asked to speak about coaches we have known. I told Diane and Doug they served as stand-ins for my early coaches, and this was my chance to tell them thank you and I'm sorry.

Thanks for all their support. Sorry for giving them so much grief.

It's said that controlling runners is like trying to herd cats. Through high school and college I was one wild kitty, determined to go my own way even when it clashed with the coaches' ways.

Dean Roe, Bob Karnes and others sometimes rolled their eyes in frustration. But they stood by me while letting me make my own mistakes.

I'll always remember them for that. Dedicating books to them is too small an expression of thanks.

At an earlier talk on Victoria weekend, a woman from the audience stood to ask a question. Her first words were, "I am self-coached." She then said otherwise by telling of the articles and books she had read, and how their conflicting advice confused her.

I used to pride myself on being self-coached. Training and racing plans from early high school onward were largely of my own design -- or so I thought.

Now I know that those plans came from every writer who had moved me. Dozens of them were my coaches without knowing it.

Some were as well known as Percy Cerutty, Arthur Lydiard, Fred Wilt and Bill Bowerman. Others have names that none of you would recognize, but they helped me as much as the giants did.

Even the most independent of us has known coaches like these. Our running reflects what they taught us.

Each of us also can BE a coach like this. We don't need to recruit a team, write advice, or even give a speech.

We can coach by example. What we do well, others might copy.

If each of us influences just one person this way, we have coached. If we move just two people, we've helped the sport grow.

My favorite type of writing is advice-giving. I can't really know what effect this indirect coaching has, but my mail tells me that it sometimes helps.

This winter I'll coach runners face to face for the first time and will see the immediate results, or lack of them. The University of Oregon has asked me to teach a beginning running class.

Justice might finally be served. The frisky young cats await, daring me to try and herd them as I dared my coaches.


UPDATE. Classes started shortly after this column appeared and have continued ever since, with some of the first students also continuing to run ever since. Eleven present or past runners from my classes finished the recent Portland Marathon.

I didn't directly coach any of them during their marathon training or advise them on raceday. Running this race was their idea, and they devised and followed their own plans.

My only role was to stand and cheer for them. The greatest joy a teacher can experience is having pupils learn their lessons well enough to run away from him.

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