Getting Uncomfortable: My First Year of Coaching

Katie (2)

By Coach Katie Fitz

After 15 years of growing roots in the running community, I recently completed my first season as an assistant coach to the Centerville High School Girls Cross Country Team (placing 2nd at State this November).  While I’ve learned countless lessons from training and running my own races, coaching gave me a deeper understanding of what makes us better as runners and happier participants in our sport.  Below are some of the highlights from my story this past season with the Lady Elks of Centerville.

Learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

If you are going to enjoy our sport and excel at it, you need to embrace the idea that you are going to need to get uncomfortable.  Through 15 years of running, I thought I was accustomed to the comfort-discomfort roller coaster, but stepping onto a bus with 70 high school girls heading to our pre-season camp brought on a new level of discomfort.  In that moment I had two options: retreat or invest.  I chose to invest.  Finding discomfort is the first step to growth.

Are you involved or committed?

Running and coaching taught me that if you’re going to invest your time, do it right.  When I accepted my role as coach I knew it meant I would dedicate up to 25 hours a week to building up these girls and learning the process of how to coach.  I knew if I was going to commit my time that I needed to be “all there.”  The same goes for running.  If you only have half an hour to run, make the best use of that time.  Coaching taught me to value my time differently and to see the opportunity in each minute.  Stop wishing you had more time and making excuses for yourself.  Pour yourself into the time you do have and you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in short, focused sprints while maintaining a long term vision towards your goals.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Comparison seems to go hand-in-hand with running (Strava anyone?) and coaching was no different.  I was fortunate to be joining a talented staff of coaches with their own accomplished running backgrounds.  Using my initial framework of thinking, I found myself afraid to dig in.  I was buying into the comparison trap:  Did I measure up?  Was I way out of my league?  The interesting thing about this narrative I heard is that I was having it with myself only.   No coaches or athletes were saying these things to me! In the midst of comparing myself to others, I wasn’t finding the joy in coaching until I started reflecting on my strengths.  The moment I started focusing on my role with the team and on what impact I could make was the moment I started to excel.  The moment we cease comparing ourselves to others is the moment we can lift each other up.  Coaching helped remind me of this critical lesson.  Running is more enjoyable when I focus on lifting others up and running my own race, regardless of what the outcome may be.

Running is 90% mental and the rest is in your head.

Running provides us time to think.  For some, it’s an opportunity to let the mind wander and remove the stress of the day.  For others, it’s an opportunity to think of all the scenarios in which a run could go wrong.  Did I eat the wrong cereal this morning?  Is this singlet starting to chafe?  Is that a hill up ahead?  Is it going to be raining by the end of the race?  In my early years of running, I was definitely the latter.  I wanted to be ready for anything that could come my way.  I would worry about things outside of my control, such as the weather, the course, or the other runners around me.

When I started coaching, I saw this trait begin to manifest itself in some of my younger athletes.  I used my experience of how negative concerns affected past performances and I used those lessons to help our athletes avoid this same pitfall.  As a team we began challenging ourselves to turn the unknown factors into our competitive advantage.  While we couldn’t control the weather/course/competition, we controlled our mindset.  We learned to attack challenges with a fearless attitude that gave us an advantage and lifted up our performances.  This mentality was a huge factor in bringing our team the State runner-up title this season.

As runners, we tend to focus on nourishing our bodies with the right foods, but too often we forget to feed our minds with positive thought and the narrative that we are stronger than we think and capable of more than we can imagine.  I encourage all runners to establish a bank of positivity – fill your mind with examples of how you’ve fought through challenges and reflect on difficult workouts allowing these thoughts to be at the forefront of your mind when the going gets tough.  Feed your mind, focus on each mile, and control what you can control.  If your mind is right, the race will follow.

Above all, love the sport and what it provides.

For years, I loved running for the way it made me feel, how it made me look, and for the shiny new medal hanging on the wall.  I loved running for what it gave me:  confidence, athleticism, strength.  When running went well, I felt validated and accomplished.  When running didn’t go well, I felt defeated and dejected.

I returned to practice this summer after a disappointing race.  I was dreading sharing my results with the girls.  How would I tell them that my race plan blew up and that I hadn’t hit any of my goals?  Would they still respect or trust me as their coach?  Much to my surprise, when I shared the news with the team, they were encouraging and not one expressed how disappointed they were.  Instead they were proud; I had made a big attempt, fought through the struggle, and finished having learned from the experience.

As an experienced runner, validation is often found through the lens of social media, race results, or people’s opinions of your effort.  These girls on the cross country team didn’t use that type of validation to measure their efforts.  The way they lifted each other up through the trials brought me back to the way running began:  humbly moving forward and getting better with each mile.  The girls celebrated a teammate’s PR even after falling short in their own effort.  Their love and care for each other was authentic and deep.  Through hundreds of miles they shared an unbreakable bond.  Surrounded by 70 fearless women, I saw this transformation happen in each one of them and I want to thank them for sharing their transformations with me.  They reminded me to love the sport when I am at my best and also when I am feeling defeated.

Love running for what it does for you, but also love running for what it does for others and for the power it has to connect us.  You are essential to our community; you don’t have to be the fastest runner to make your mark.  Get messy, uncomfortable, and go challenge yourself.  What else do we have to contribute?

OHLORU thanks Coach Fitz for sharing her story and for contributing to the lives of many young women this season.  You can find her and her husband Chad out on the road and trails encouraging other runners to dream big, go fast, and have fun while they’re at it.


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