Last year in August or so, I was signed up for a Road Runners Club of America coaching certification program in southeast Michigan. On the Friday night I was scheduled to leave for the weekend, a massive rainstorm surged northeast along the same route I needed to take to get to the program. I drove for an hour and the rain beat down so hard that I could not see the road. I pulled over and stared at the phone. The sound inside the car was so loud from the rain that I could not even hear the radio. The map showed a furious red dragon of storm pattern right over the I-94 corridor I was expected to drive. And it would have lasted for hours.
So I turned home.
And it stung that there is a no-refund policy with the coaching certification program. But I get it. No one has time to chase down the dead fish in the wake of a fast motorboat. Time rolls on. There’s always another city like another island in the ocean for the RRCA to attend.
So I got proactive and studied the RRCA website thoroughly for opportunities to attend another coaching program. They fill up fast all over the country, so you either have to make a decision early and find a spot near enough home to drive or bite the bullet and fly to a certification program in another city.
As we all know, there are pros and cons to either. If you drive, there are hours to spend in the car, hotels to reserve and meals to buy. Same goes if you fly, plus the hassle and expense of air travel is seldom fun.
So I decided to get smart and host a coaching certification program myself. Right in my own “back yard.”
Not literally, of course. But close enough that I could host the course and never have to leave home. As it turned out, there was tremendous demand for a session right here in Chicago. The class filled up with many registrants from the Chicago area, but also travelers from Colorado, Texas and other farflung locations.
The host’s main jobs are securing a venue to host 35 students and purchasing food for the Saturday-Sunday needs of those people. So I chose the Vaughn Center, a recreational facility just two miles from my house. The RRCA gives you a budget for the room and money for the food. Then it’s a matter of mapping out the breakfast and lunch plans for two days.
It doesn’t sound that hard, but today’s dietary needs are different than when I hosted so many events back in my days as a marketing manager for a media company. These days there seem to be far more people who don’t eat meat, or gluten. Dairy, or sugar. The list goes on and on.
So I roamed the aisles of Woodman’s, a massive supermarket near my home. I was carrying the grocery list I’d made, and normally I’m good at planning it out for our family groceries so that I don’t have to backtrack. Because if you forget something on one end of the store it is nearly a five minute walk to get back to the other side. But when you’re shopping with a mind open to goods you might not normally buy, such as gluten- free oranges or sugar-free bananas, the shopping circuit isn’t so easy. By the way, I just made those foods up, but I made you think I bet.
Woodman’s claims to be ’employee-owned’ but secretly, I think they actually live somewhere in the back of the store. It’s that huge.
I’d already ordered bagels for breakfast and deli sandwiches for lunch on Saturday. So the real mission was finding snackables that would keep people happy during eight straight hours of coursework.
So it was bananas, oranges and grapes. Then pretzels, granola bars and a new product that I had not seen before, granola bites. There were peanuts and trail mix with M&Ms mixed in. Then peanut butter and mini-carrots, which I’ve learned are deformed large carrots shaved down to bite-sized orange edibles. Which proves that God even loves deformed carrots. Or something like that.
I bought some chocolate chip cookies too, because they are a major food group. But I tossed in a couple bags of relatively harmless animal crackers in standard and chocolate form because they’re relatively low sugar and still give you that cookie satisfaction.
All that proved to be a decent plan. People seemed happy with the mix of healthy and indulgent choices. Or they were too nice to complain.
Drinks on me
The real problem in today’s health-conscious culture is what to buy to drink. Beyond the coffee jugs from Panera one day and Dunkin’ the next, there were four cases of bottled water. Guilt still surges through me at the sight of all those plastic water bottles. But the market for bottled water only seems to be growing despite 7 zillion tons of plastic floating around the Pacific. So onto the cart they went.
Then the soda option? I bought Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Pepsi, Sierra Mist (I HATE SPRITE) and a couple cases of LaCroix. And lots and lots of ice.
It all seemed to fit the bill. At least people did not complain.
The only hiccup was the pizza on Sunday. A sweet gal from the class walked up and quietly asked if it was too late to order a vegan pizza. Just dump the cheese. Nothing to it. The local pizza place gladly accommodated the request at the last minute.
But later we had an interesting moment while covering the nutrition section of the coaching curriculum. The subject of vegan diet for runners came up. The instructor surveyed the crowd to find out how many vegan or vegetarian participants were in attendance. Now understand: I’d ordered a set of veggie sammies on Saturday and a veggie pizza on Sunday. But the complete ban on animal products favored by vegans includes even honey as a product to avoid. I was learning things.
Then one of our class vegans blurted out. “My dog’s a vegan.” Well, it so happened the instructor for the class is a veterinarian by trade. “Your dog…is not a vegan…” she responded, with a bit of astonished perspective in her voice. “Your dog is an opportunist. They’ll eat what they can. They even eat dog shit.”
It was not mean-spirited in the least. Just a statement of fact. The point behind the commentary is that human beings are equally opportunistic, and a lot of us do eat shit that’s not good for us. Yet we need to be realistic about the facts of our evolution and our biology. The world may not be as pure the ideas we impose upon it.
No shit. Well, maybe some.
Rabbits even eat their own poop. It’s a way for them to get back the nutrients lost to digestion the first time around. Indeed, Entire ecosystems in Africa depend on the leftover nutrients in elephant poop. And get this; the world’s most expensive coffee is made by feeding coffee beans to elephants and plucking them out of their poop. Perhaps it’s time to open a line of coffee shops called Starbutts.
Shit that counts
Don’t worry, I did not feed intentional shit of any type to anyone in the Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Program. Yet I did stare down at the second Coke I was drinking on Sunday afternoon. When the fizz goes out of that stuff it sits there like a cup of dark poison. The ice had melted too, so the liquid looked like one of those iron-soaked springs in the north country where bogs spew acidic contents into the water.
So I walked over to the sink and poured out the last of the flat Coke. The caffeine did not seem to be having the desired effect of keeping me alert and engaged. That effect took hold when it was our turn to stand up and talk about the training program we’d written for a mythical character called Robin. And unlike some others, we treated Robin’s lifestyle choice with respect, allowing him to keep his prized yoga session and his weekly Spin class. Then we mapped out a twelve-week program to prepare him for a Boston qualifier race.
What we learned
All the participants in the class were encouraged both to think inside the box and learn baseline coaching principles. But were were also encouraged to think outside the box on what kind of coach we’d like to be. There was even some discussion of ‘personal brand’ and a test to summarize our inherent personality. I tested so far into the AMIABLE category my measurement shot off the chart.
But others showed up Expressive or Domineering. None of us is wired the same. Nor are the athletes we coach. Which means that as a running coach what you actually know about running is always going to be balanced by what you can effectively sell to others. Athletes don’t just soak this stuff up automatically. They may hire you as a coach, but it might turn out what they really want (or need) is someone with whom they can argue, or complain, or find themselves apart from all the other relationships in their lives.
The core of the course is common sense running knowledge with a bit of proprietary insight mixed in. The RRCA also provides coaches insight on the business of coaching and the ability to become insured if they get serious enough to make it a business. That’s critical, because there is no shit like the real shit that happens when the shit hits the fan and someone sues you for an injury or an accident. It can happen. Maybe not that often. But life is full of mistakes and miseries. You can’t be too careful in anything you do.
Here’s my advice to all prospective coaches: don’t ignore the importance of elephant poo. It will likely show up in the next Runner’s World as the Diet of the Future. You heard it here first.