31 Oct

Coach Thy Neighbour

Our regular columnist Christine Appel tells us about her short-lived career as Coach Christine…

I’d really love to run the local 10k,” my neighbour announced out of the blue at my kitchen table one morning. “Would you help me train for it?”

Being genuinely keen to help him – and a bit of a sadist – I agreed. “Are you doing much running now,” I asked while pouring him another cup of tea. “Not really”, he replied. “My Achilles has given me grief for years. But I used to do pretty well in secondary school.”

Expecting tales of track-star glory, my ears perked up. “But that was probably because most of the other boys stopped for a fag halfway round.” Hmmm. This was going to be tougher than I thought.

“OK, super,” I replied as cheerfully as I could while passing the milk. “And do you have a time in mind for this 10k?”

“I’d really like to run sub-45. Do you think we can do that?”

I shot a sideways glance at my wall calendar: the race was just five weeks away. This was definitely going to be tougher than I thought. “Of course we can,” I said.

With no time to waste I sprinted up the stairs. Down came the training manuals: Radcliffe, Higdon, Noakes, Galloway. This was going to be some learning curve for my neighbour. On the plus side, just taking all these books back to his house would be a workout in itself.

Snapping a family-sized bar of sea-salt chocolate in two – the ‘sensible nutrition’ lecture could wait until tomorrow – we went over the components of a solid training plan. I explained how and why interval training works, and even caught a glimpse of his schoolboy past as he sniggered at the word ‘fartlek’.

I shared with him the one undeniable truth of racing, distilled from many years of experience: no matter how well you think you’re doing, no matter how much of a god you feel striding along manfully at your perfect race pace, you will be overtaken by a giant banana. Or a man carrying a fridge. Or maybe even a giant banana carrying a fridge. So make peace with that fact right here, right now.

Over the next few weeks my friend ploughed on with his training regime. Occasionally he even followed the plan I wrote for him. But that didn’t matter. I got a huge amount of satisfaction from just seeing his confidence grow as quickly as the distances he could run.

Until a few days before the big event, I thought I had every possible aspect of training and racing covered: pacing, hydration, rest, shoes, stretching. A sport I once thought quite simple started to sound quite complicated. But despite disgorging nearly everything I’d ever learnt about running onto my poor neighbour, I forgot to give him a very important – maybe the most important – piece of pre-race advice I could: never, ever drop a sledgehammer on your foot. 

And so, with little aubergines where his toes should have been, and the local 10k off the cards, my neighbour has yet to find out whether or not he can break 45 in his first race. When the time comes, I hope he can. But I know he’ll never outrun the banana.