David Chalfen reflects on the opportunities and challenges of lockdown from a coach’s perspective

The numerous athlete blogs sought out by the FR crew since mid March have been great to illustrate the various ebbs and flows of leading enduros over this tough and not brief spell. If you wanted a 3 word summary, glass half full might serve. (Though I believe Lottery Funded athletes need to go for at least 2/3 full, with seasonal progression)

It seems ages ago since one tuned into the virtual 12 stage with Jake Shelley being offered a paltry 6 minutes to commentate on over 3 hours of top end aerobic shenanigans. In typical overachieving way he wrapped it up in 3 minutes, reportedly using the banked 3 minutes for a vocal chords warm down designed by Barry Fudge. Though Alan Storey probably invented it whilst waiting for some papadams in 1989.

The virtual full spectrum

A predictable spectrum of athlete responses to virtual races covers the gamut from “brilliant, I prefer it to the real thing” to “over my dead body” and a kind of bell shaped curve in the main (Do any human traits not have bell shaped curves?).

It’s testament to runners’ sense of social awareness and general Good Eggery that although they are clearly amongst the very lowest risk categories for the worst severity of covid 19 they seem almost universally to respect the rules and guidelines imposed to best contain it (There are reportedly other analyses of said guidelines if you dig deep on the internet. Google ‘Bojo winging it’).

David Chalfen is a coach with Serpentine and author of several books on training for endurance. Photo – Maren Urner www.visual-expressions.net

So, coaching. Yes, yes, athlete focused in that if you see a bunch of guys and women, a tad past their physical prime and just on the acceptable side of dishevelment, reminiscing round a track perimeter without a bunch of athletes on the business side of the railings, it looks, well, somehow lacking.

And as long as we get ample time to fictionalise our PBs to inspire athletes; to bang on how the Reading Half is fine but things were miles better in 1985, to motivate athletes; and to moan about the fing parking ticket we picked up last week, to steer them towards optimal and prudent lifestyle planning; then yes I’m all for athlete focus.

Obviously we wrap the technical stuff around the softer aspects; if there’s anything better than a Beer Mile video to cover off both pacing and hydration strategies, with a side order of spatial awareness thrown in, well, I clearly haven’t read my Daniels properly.

Still a long way short of the real thing

But it isn’t always easy. Two of the absolute big beasts of why coaches coach is that we like spending time with keen runners and we really like watching them and countless others racing, all together, for real. Especially at Parliament Hill.

Virtual things are better than nothing, no doubt, but still a long way short of the real thing. (Speaking of the real thing, the BBC’s ‘live coverage’ of Jacob Ingebritsen’s startling 4.50.0 2000m seemed to amount to live notes from a reporter. I cry foul. I reckon he could push for medal at the Euro U23s if things fall into place.)

Engaging content

In the meantime, big thumbs up to England Athletics for a diverse and very helpful series of endurance webinars and masterclasses set up since the world changed. For marathoners with only 33 minutes to pick up some top advice, Aly Dixon being hosted by that Craggs dude is well worth a listen.

If you want to hear how a highly driven coach can successfully combine maverick tendencies with a structured system, there’s Mark Rowland, and if you want someone else to confirm that there was some heroic and memorable stuff going on around 40 years ago, tune into blunt-speaking Kiwi Rod Dixon.

I’m not sure quite what people expect for those less-than-gargantuan EA affiliation fees and if you think they are steep, I guess you’ve never ordered the partridge and endive on bruschetta in Islington. Right, must catch up on the latest swathe of race cancellations before asking a glute-weak runner why being furloughed still doesn’t offer a suitable time window for those scintillating glute bridges.

David Chalfen is wondering how the Met League will work with social distancing, especially the fiddly bottlenecks.