The Coaches in our Heads (For Leo)

I am always surprised at the ability of a coach to continue coaching far after the coaching event. I had a coach who wanted me to focus on my form, so she told me to think about kicking my butt with my feet. This was intended to both straighten my stride and make sure I picked up my feet. I had a coach who wanted me to focus on my upper-body form, so he told me to put my arms at a 90 degree angle, curl my fingers, and think about brushing my fingers across my waistband as I swung my arms with my stride.

The moments these coaches shared these tips with me took mere seconds, but every time I run I think of them. Every time I’m struggling and tired, I think of these moments with my coaches because they center me in the moment, the run, and my body. These coaching moments improve my running experience for years because they take me out of my head and into the experience of the run.

We lost a coach a couple weeks ago. He was one of those quiet coaches. He would run up along side you and chat. No matter how slow you were moving or how far you had to go, he’d slip in and join you where you were at – on all the levels (pace, emotion, distance). He shared his running stories and, in doing so, made you feel a part of the running community, his 50 years of running history, and completely supported in your own individual running journey.

In memory of Leo, my recently-adopted running community ran the race he had been training for, in his honor. He wanted to get a Boston-qualifying time. By all accounts he was running well and he would have easily made it. We wanted to get his bib across the line within his BQ time. We wanted it for him, we wanted it for his surviving spouse, and we wanted it for us.

So our dedicated and loving coaches at SWET got the race director’s approval and we ran our own relay through the 26.1 miles of the REVEL Mt. Lemmon marathon. We ran because it was our memorial for him. There is more than one person in this group who could have run the entire race in his honor at his BQ pace, but the community of this group is committed to the community part of it. Several of us ran legs down the mountain, then met in one large group a mile away from the finish and ran his bib number in.

Leo’s bib and his cadre of runners finished well within his BQ time. We talked about him on our way through the miles and brought his spirit along with us. I’m certain that his penchant for finding adventure on his runs and his sense of humor created all kinds of adventure and fun for everyone who ran today.

For me, I had a hard run. I found speed at the beginning of my run and decided to run the rest of the course through the finish. My early speed down the steep road early caught up to me and I got tight. I felt sluggish and slow and didn’t want to bog down the rest of the relay team. But, in true Leo-fashion, my fellow runners rallied and rallied me. Remembering Leo’s ability to bring everyone along on a run, no matter their individual abilities or goals, propelled me through my own mental and physical challenges today.

I ran only 12 miles today, and even though it was physically and mentally challenging, Coach Leo stayed with me in my head just like any good coach. Except, Leo’s coaching moment for me wasn’t about form; it was his kindness, encouragement by example, and dedication to simply having fun on every run.

More on my Dopey training later. This one is for Leo.

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