A Run Down Memory Lane, Part 8: Coach Megan

Are you getting tired of reading about my slow two-mile runs? I sure am. Or, oh wait, maybe I’m just tired because I’ve been running. Or because of all these poorly timed 1:30am thunderstorms that wake me up when the sweet little angel would have let me sleep. Hmph. Before I get to a (hopefully) more entertaining story, here are the latest training  stats:

Monday – rest day (‘cuz it was hot, duh)
Tuesday – 2 miles, 6:00am, 10:02 pace
Week 3 weight: 125.8 pounds (I weighed myself right after my run but am fairly certain that the water lost today and whatever I gained from our delicious carb fest at Zio’s yesterday cancel each other out. So I’m going to assume that’s a reasonably accurate weigh-in and also that I’m down 1.6 pounds from last week. Woot.)

And now, on with the show.

Long-time readers of the blog (or those who know me personally) know that from a fairly young age I spent my summers running. I quickly discovered that I had little aptitude for that other summertime sport of softball, and one can only spend so much time at the pool with skin tone like mine. So, from ages 12 to 18, if you wanted to find me between the hours of 6:30 and 8:00pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays during the summer months, you’d better come to the track.

Summer track was a lot of fun for me. We worked hard and many of us made it all the way to the national meets, but somehow things managed to remain low-key. I’m not sure how this was done, but it was a very healthy environment for developing athletes. (Sidenote: If you know me, you know I have little patience for overbearing parents or coaches who rob whatever joy a kid might have had in the sport by pushing them way too hard way too early on life. I was lucky enough not to experience that, but I’ve seen it play out all too often.)

For a summer or two after I was too old to compete, I opted to return to the track to give others an opportunity to find the same enjoyment in the sport that I did. Or, more likely, after spending so many summers at the track I just sort of naturally gravitated back there. It worked out well for the “real” track club coaches — they had their hands full with the field event folks and could really use someone to start the watch on the distance runners’ workouts and keep tabs on everyone for the longer runs around town.

It was intimidating to try to coach others. Even though I had nine years of running, seven years of track workouts, and a season as a collegiate athlete under my belt, I didn’t really feel qualified. Particularly challenging was coming up with the weekly workouts. I had at least some idea what to expect of the high school and middle school kids, but how much can you ask a tiny one to do? I was responsible for 10 and even 8 year olds, and I was very afraid of asking them to do too much. I sure didn’t want to be responsible for some of the burnout I was ranting against earlier.

Of course, my worries turned out to be unnecessary. The kids loved having Coach Jimmy (another college runner and volunteer) and I to run with and goof around with, no one got injured, and mostly everyone had a good time. (More about that “mostly” in a minute.)

I remember that one of their favorite workouts was the “continuous relay.” We’d gather everyone in teams and hand each team a baton. Each of their relay legs was an interval, and their rest was the time it would take the other members of their team to run. We’d go for a predetermined number of intervals and see which team “won” in the end. It wasn’t the most strenuous of works, but it added a little competitive spice that everyone enjoyed. And, of course, the littlest guys thought that carrying and handing off a baton was the coolest. thing. EVER!!! One time, Jimmy and I teamed up and said that if one of their teams beat us, we’d do push-ups. Otherwise, the whole squad would be doing push-ups. It was close, but they did manage to beat us and were delighted that they had made us workout for a change.

Another time, the littlest girls were being particularly squirrelly and not really paying attention to their workout. They were all of 8 years old, so this wasn’t exactly a big surprise. After running with them for two of the intervals and encouraging them a best as I could, I pulled them aside and said, “ok, ladies. You have one 200m rep left and you have sooooo much energy left over. I want you to leave it ALL on the track. Got it?” I almost believed the cute, innocent-looking faces that chirped back “yeeeeeeesssss!” in response to my “orders.” They were SMILING while spending time at a track, however, so even though I doubted their dedication I couldn’t help but be pleased that they were enjoying the day.

I turned my attention to the older groups of runners, sending them on their way around the track. When I started to herd the little folks to the starting line, I heard a rather insistent chorus of “meganmeganmeganmegan!” I turned to find two little girls bouncing up and down exuberantly in lane 2. What’s up, ladies? They giggled as they jumped, exclaiming, “we’re leaving it ALL on the track!” Not quite what I had in mind, but wow. Hilarious.

Of course, I’m giving you the idea that I was a nice, benevolent, pushover of a coach. This isn’t always the case. I said earlier that, to my knowledge, mostly everyone had a good time. Here’s the story of the kid who didn’t.

We didn’t always stay on the track. Once a week, we’d head away from the stadium for a “long” run. Jimmy would run with the front group to make sure that they set the course correctly for all those following. I would stay at the back to check on any stragglers and run every step with the little girls to make sure that they didn’t get lost or run over by a car. Obviously, a “long” run for these girls would max out at a mile. One week, Jimmy was out of town so I entrusted the bigger kids to run by themselves. After I’d seen the tiny ones safely back to the track, I headed back out to get some mileage in for myself and insure that everyone else made it back OK. A mile away from the track, I saw two boys coming towards me. They were walking. As I thought to myself, “I hope no one’s overheated!” the pair noticed me. As soon as they did, they started running again. Huh. In another couple of blocks, I was on them. “Hey, guys, everything OK?” “Yeah, Megan, we’re cool.” “Sooooo…why were you walking?” “Um…well…” They couldn’t even think of a good lie. I followed them back to the track to make sure that they wouldn’t suddenly forget how to run again, giving them a lecture about Jimmy and I trusting them to do a workout even if we weren’t there to monitor every step and that if they didn’t want to run they could always stay home, etc. etc.

When we returned to the track, I didn’t let them leave. “All right, fellas. For slacking on long run day, you’ve got to do 20 sit-ups.” They grumbled a bit but mostly looked sheepish. Kid A plopped down, did his 20 sit-ups, said “sorry, Megan,” and kept coming back for workouts for the rest of the summer. Kid B plopped down, did 2 sit-ups, and then stretched out on the track.

You have 18 to go, Kid B.
“It’s too hard!”
You can do more than that. Besides, if you would have just run the workout then you wouldn’t be in this situation.
“I’m not good at sit-ups. Can I do something else?”
Sure. You can do push-ups, but the count starts over. That’ll be 20.

Kid B does about 5 push-ups, then sprawls back on the track.

15 to go, Kid B.
“I’m just taking a break.”
Ok, well while you’re taking a break it’s getting dark and I still have 3 miles to run.
“You know what? I’m not good at push-ups either. Can I go home?”
No.
Then can I do something else?”
Sure, you can do a wall-sit. Two minutes.

Kid B makes it about 5 seconds into the wall-sit before standing back up.

“This isn’t fair.”
Hey, man, Kid A is already done. You’re now making this much worse than it had to be. Want to go back to sit-ups?

After very, very short stints in just about every calisthenic exercise I could think of, I finally let the kid leave. He, um, never came back. So that’s the story about how I made a 14-year-old quit track, although I like to think of it as providing a life lesson in honesty and following through. No?

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