REFLECTING ON THE RIFT VALLEY

Three months later...

I didn't release an article immediately after returning from Iten, the reason, Iten is a place that is close to my heart. We have history. Whether it was my dad going out there in the '70s and shaping the athlete in me or retracing his footstep three and a half years ago and connecting with a place I'd grown up hearing so much about. I went on this most recent trip as a coach, willing and ready to be coached.

Marcus, Tom, and I all set out with very few expectations and were blown away by what we had learned. The consequences of what we experienced have been profound and personal.

I have been open about our trip, with my personal stories and anecdotes, a podcast or two, and more importantly, my athletes, who have seen some changes in my coaching approach. Now I am ready to share what I have learned from a place that truly is the 'home of the champions.' 

A Coaching Methodology
I witnessed a different coaching style while I was in Iten, and it made me question a lot of my practices. I have summarized in four parts the coaching methodology that I thought about the most and that I have implemented into my coaching practices. 

The Simplicity 
What we witnessed there was incredible and honestly eye-opening. Just imagine this, as an athlete, you have no idea what you're doing. You do what you're told. As a coach, the group you coach turns up to where you are and tells them what they are going to do in very vague detail. No real explanation of why, simply what. This requires a deep level of trust and confidence in each other. 

In some ways, I feel it is important to make sure an athlete understands the why to sessions. However, I am now far less concerned about giving 'boring' sessions or repeated sessions because I know their value, and my athletes trust that I am programming sessions that will enable them to reach their goals. The theory of the training is solid, and repetition breeds success. Repetition doesn't have to be complex for the athlete. They simply have to get on and do it. 

If you look at Kenyan athletes and how their training is structured, you'll find a very simplistic structure; hard run, easy run, tempo, fartlek, hill efforts, long-run. All at specific paces, and that's it. In fact, when I openly ask 'Is that it?' when given the instruction 1;1;20, the person who answered 'Yes.' had just won the Kenyan national cross country title.

The Mind Game 
Our coach, Ian Kiprono, stated that coaching is 80% tending to an athlete's mental game and 20% physical training. I wouldn't say I 100% agree with this. Still, I agree that the building of discipline, respect between coach and athlete, and athlete behaviors and attitudes are essential to developing a trusting relationship. As coaches, we need to appreciate, nurture and respect this aspect of our job. 

Since coming back from Iten, I've been looking beyond training as physiological. I often think, how is this session going to test the athlete? By purposefully making it hard or pushing someone beyond what they believe they are capable of, you can unlock potential they never knew was in them. Equally as important, teaching them how to accept failure and respond to it will benefit the pursuit of a goal and other situations in life. I am also giving more ownership to the athletes I coach, creating a more self-reliant athlete. This makes more productive communication, as the focus of dialog moves away from micro aspects of a session to a much broader macro perspective.

The Community
I don't just mean knocking about each other daily over great coffee and chat. I mean a strong athletic community. Surrounding yourself with people who have an honest and positive attitude and who understand your situation is super important. I have reflected on some of the most successful athletes I have trained. The strong network was with them throughout their athletic journey.

I recently attended a talk with leaders who have excelled in their field, and one of the points raised was the importance of a solid support network that supports your ambition and inspires you to do more than you ever thought you could. As an athlete, your community also keeps you accountable, they lift you and will not shy away from giving you a kicking if you lose perspective.

In Iten, runners always run together, eat together and succeed together. 

The Big Picture
Considering the bigger picture is something I've really tried to implement in my coaching process and is one of the lessons that hold the most significant value for me. As a coach, I'm winning if I can get across the implications of a session, where it holds value in the week, and what it's helping to build over the months. In this way, a session is rarely a failure. I embody the bigger picture, and the trust that I have built with my athletes means that they trust me and, subsequently, the process. The athlete can simply focus on doing each session with the knowledge that all the puzzle pieces will come together. 

Iten is an incredible place, and being there reinforced my love of running, the beauty of a good running stride, the power of focus, the love of my job as an endurance coach, and the Innerfight Endurance community.

Everything I have discussed in this article was highlighted to me while we were in Iten. If you want to hear some more anecdotes, join this muzungu over a coffee, we will have a great chat!

Connect with Rob Foster :
Instagram: re_foster
Email: rf@innerfight.com