Several of my athletes have big races coming up, either their first "A" race of the season, or their "A" race to dictate the "A"-ness of the rest of the season. I've got nothing coming up (unless you count another 5k in another month; I'm not). But yet, I'm having pre-race jitters.
If ever there was a reason not to coach athletes, vicarious pre-race jitters would be it. Thankfully, they are only one among many (non-monetary) gifts my athletes give me.
I coach and have coached a wide range of athletes - Kona qualifiers; first-time IM finishers; 50k, 50 mile, and GC Rim2Rim2Rim trail runners; weekend warrior half- and full marathoners; marathon open water swimmers; and probably a few people whose races were shorter than 2 hours too - and everyone came, and will always come, bearing gifts.
To a (wo)man they come bearing excitement. For just about everything really: a finish line, a PR, the unknown, or a qualification long over-due. For a new bike, a power meter, and the longest swim they have ever completed. For me, many of these occasions have lost their lustre, but when someone shares theirs with me, the unappreciated can take on a renewed remarkability.
My newbies bring the virtue of fresh eyes. How many times do you put on a wetsuit before it becomes a rote drill? I can't even remember the first time I slithered into neoprene, but years later, I helped a nervous athlete through the Chinese puzzle-box-ness of it from 2,000 miles away using youtube videos and long step-by-step emails. It was like a game of Pictionary crossed with a game of Operation, and we both learned a few new rules.
"Ok, so a swimsuit, bike, and pair of running shoes walk into a bar." With the best jokes, you never see the punch-line coming...unless you have heard it before. Fresh eyes still have a chance to laugh at the punch-line; stale eyes have heard it before and can at best, groan. By coaching a new triathlete or someone who is going far past their own imagined boundaries, I get to see my sport - my job and its daily motions, the punch-line for which I have memorized - as if I were seeing it for the first time.
My veterans bring a quiet, get-er-done attitude than speaks volumes about consistency and pacing in sport as well as life. They have a path, set it long ago, and they control it, not it them, and nothing will force them to deviate from that path. They do their best to live in control, a trademark that extends to their training. And their example drives me to do the same, because while the loss of control is disorienting, having it makes you feel like you can accomplish anything.
The gift I sometimes wish came with a gift receipt is the "why?"s. However, they are perhaps the most important gift, professionally, because the "why?"s keep me honest and on my toes. "Why?" convinced me to earn my license and keeps me reading long after I should be in bed.
The gift that never ceases to amaze me is their presentation of evidence, every day, as to the tenacity of the mind and the adaptability of the human body. My athletes choose to do things I will never (ok...have yet to) want to do, but the tenets of physiology and "test, train, tailor" remain infinitely applicable. So at least I know how to train for the Rim2Rim2Rim of the Grand Canyon. Which I will complete when pigs fly.
Every once in a while my athletes actually hit me! The gift of a gentle whack upside the head that sport is just sport, and that the stakes tend to be artificial. My athletes remind me of a time when the amount of skin in the game was less, and occasionally actual skin: a hand-shake promise between friends to make it to the finish line.
They remind me that offices are sometimes dreary places, where the expectation of endorphins is the only thing that keeps the clock ticking clockwise. And I am helped to recall that we don't have to do this, we get to do this.
On big occasions they go in together to buy me a crane. To get me off the couch, of course! Their enthusiasm, motivation, energy, and longing to be outside doing sport, seeps out of their emails, session comments, and questions, and soaks into my daily life. Until I can't in good faith procrastinate on a workout when others are trapped behind fluorescently-lit computers.
The personalized gift, the engraved iPod, is that my athletes have asked and allowed me to help them. I know how difficult it can be to extend that trust, how frightening to place your chance of success in someone else's hands. It means the world to me that my athletes make that choice, and frankly, they are probably doing everyone else a favor. It keeps me from being the woman at the pool that no one wants to share a lane with because the constant reminders to "keep your elbows high" or offers of "here, why don't you try swimming with a band?" come across as ever-so-slightly off-putting.
And perhaps the most cherished? My athletes believe in me, that I can help them reach their goals, just like I believe in them, that they can reach their goals. We are partners, for better, worse, bonks and flat-tires. Otherwise, I don't imagine I would be sitting around feeling nauseous and worrying that they are keeping their feet up.
Your feet are up, right BG?