What I learned about coaching by training with Olympic gold medalist, Michael Johnson
I’m just back from a training session with Olympic gold medalist, Michael Johnson. I’ve been working with Michael for the last 9 weeks to build up the fitness to run for 30 minutes. It’s been an awesome experience.
Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve just been training with Michael Johnson. And the best thing is, you can train with him too!
It’s all thanks to the BBC One Couch to 5k app, which allows you to pick a “coach” in the app, to listen to as you progress through the 9 weeks of jogging. The nine weeks culminate in being able to run for 30 minutes straight. I’ve done the Couch to 5k plan before, but using this app was so much more fun and rewarding. It also reminded me of all the reasons that working with a coach is a fantastic experience.
I’m not a natural runner, so running 5k was definitely a challenge for me. Using the app, and thanks to Michael’s encouraging words, I worked through the 9 weeks, starting with walking and jogging at different intervals. I knew easily when to walk, and when to run, as I built up my stamina and fitness.
Here are the several things that made the app so powerful – and they happen to be fundamental aspects of coaching that are so important:
Empathy: “I know you’re tired”. The BBC One app allows you to choose one of 4 coaches, and I had a cycle through them to see which one would be the most motivating for me. In the end, I chose MJ given that he’s been there and put his own miles in. This line was a great motivator for me. When I’d hear it, I was able to trust that Michael could relate – although in different ways, he’s no doubt been tired after running. Coaches can put themselves in the shoes of another person to see the world from their perspective. Working with a coach can help normalize that we’re not alone in our challenges and opportunities. Knowing that someone else “gets it” can be liberating: we can trust it’s not just us who’s ever faced this and we can feel connected to our experience of being human.
Championing: Right toward the end of the 30-minute run (week 9) there is this line: “You can do this. You can definitely do this.” A simple reminder that yes, I can do this. My legs are burning and I’m not sure if it actually still counts as running with how slowly I’m moving, but yes, I can keep going. The finish line is not that far away now, and I’ve got what I need to get over the line. Coaches are cheerleaders, the encouraging voice that helps you to connect with your ability to achieve something that isn’t always easy but is meaningful.
Silence in the discomfort: As I made progress throughout the 9 weeks, Michael said less, letting me get on with my run. There were times when I’d be wondering if my phone battery had run out as it sat in my jacket pocket, or if the app had accidentally closed, because I hadn’t heard him say anything in what felt like forever! But the app is designed so that the coach’s encouragement comes just at the right time. Just when I thought I might have to stop or give up, MJ would chime in with some information to let me know how far I’d come. So often when we’re struggling through something – a new role, a challenging time at work or at home – we just want the problem fixed and for it to go away. Coaches are great at holding space, not jumping in to solve the problem, and letting the coachee be ok in the often uncomfortable space of not knowing what the answer is. In our struggles, it can also be hard to get perspective. A coach can say, “Look how far you’ve come” when our instinct might be to see only how far the road ahead is.
Helpful tips: In its purest form, coaches don’t really give advice, instead allowing our coachees to come up with solutions themselves. This approach creates more ownership and empowerment; after all, what might be the right way forward for one person, will simply not be the right way for someone else. That said, in the app, Michael would pipe up with a helpful hint that was useful: he’d tell me to breathe a bit more deeply, or if I was finding it hard, letting me know that I could slow down the pace, but always keep moving. Sometimes we just need these little reminders that can help make the process better. I was still always the one putting one foot in front of the other, doing the work, but the pointers from my coach helped.
On Saturday when I finished my last of the 27 runs, I felt amazing. I had a huge sense of achievement at having completed the program, and also felt as if I’d enjoyed the process and the habit of the regular activity. If you are looking for a way to boost your fitness, work toward a goal, and want to claim an Olympic medalist as your running coach, I highly recommend the BBC One Couch to 5k app.
Today proved something that is perhaps one of the most exciting aspect of working with a coach – that it’s not forever. I was traveling with work and wanted to wake up early to do my 30-minute run, but as I was in a new place, I didn’t want to run with my headphones in. By this point, after all these runs, I knew what to do. I just went out and ran. I listened to my own encouraging voice and the beat of my footsteps, to my inner conviction that I could keep going. That I could do it. That I could definitely do it. MJ was still with me in a way, but I didn’t need him. Coaching can leave you with a set of tools, ways of seeing the world, and insight that you get to keep forever, long after the coaching has finished.
If you should want to experience coaching, as an individual or for a team you’re a part of, please get in touch. When I’m not jogging, I love supporting people to improve their communication, collaboration, and enjoyment at work.