Updated: Oct 7
Earlier this year I had an idea: could I use my own coaching techniques to achieve a big goal. The goal I chose was to try to run 50 miles before I am 50 in February 2023. This blog talks about the seven coaching techniques I have used to help me and how they can help you too, whatever your goal is.
On October 1st, 2022 I successfully completed the Round Rotherham 50-mile race. It took me a little under 12 hours. I was the 37th fastest out of 138 entrants. There were 24 who did not finish.
As I write, my legs are still a little stiff, a couple of my toes are rather sore, but I have a lovely feeling of satisfaction. Of knowing that something that seemed very hard has been accomplished. That's a nice place to be, so I hope these techniques can help you get there too -- without having to run 50-miles!
Coaching Techniques I Used
First, a disclaimer. This isn't a blog about fitness. I'm not that kind of coach. However, I have included a few pointers later on.
Rather this is a blog about how coaching techniques can be applied to lots of situations. I hope they might inspire you to work towards your own goals.
Technique 1: What is the Universe Asking of You?
You know the still, soft voice inside? The whisper that is calling you to do something, to try something? That nagging idea that keeps coming back?
I believe it is important to listen to that whisper. To find calm spaces where you can hear what you are being called to do. This can be through reflective practices, mindfulness, journaling or even meditation.
Ask yourself, what keeps coming up?
I wrote about this in my post My Fifty by Fifty Challenge - The Whisper. If you struggle to hear or act on the whisper, consider working with a coach or mentor to help you tune in.
But the first thing you need to be sure of is, what are you being called to do?
Technique 2: Set Clear Goals
Goal setting is a crucial part of any coaching conversation. If you work with a coach this is certainly where you'll spend a lot of focus.
In my case I used the EXACT technique to make sure my goals were set just right. They were:
Once I had this stage complete, I knew exactly what I was working towards and could hold that ambition in my mind. This made it much easier to get out and train on days when I didn't feel like doing it. There have been lots of those.
So what are your goals and how can you define them better?
Technique 3: Know Your Values
It is possible for big goals to be all-consuming. For them to take over your life and attention to the point that your relationships, your work or something else suffers. If you let that happen, you might win in one way, but at what cost?
To avoid this it is important to ask yourself some questions about values. For example, what are you not willing to compromise? What are your non-negotiables? What is this in service of? Think of these things as the guardrails you put in place for yourself.
In my case, I wrote this down in my notebook:
"I want to achieve this goal while also:
- being a good father and son
- being a good husband
- being a good friend
- holding down a job
- contributing to my community
- growing spiritually
- achieving better health
- being in service to something better.
Every part of this is connected. Every element nourishes every other element. It is a journey towards self-actualisation. It is an expression of love."
I feel a little vulnerable sharing that with you all. It is deeply personal and meaningful to me.
Was I always good at the things I wanted to be good at? No, I am far from perfect. But I know of times when every single one of these aims has helped me make a better choice. I'd encourage you to have your own version of this.
How can you be more clear about your values to help you stay on course?
Technique 4: Be Consistent
Perhaps one of the biggest learnings I have taken from this process is the value of consistency. The value of showing up every day and doing the work.
One of the things that has helped my to be consistent is reading The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. I can recommend this to anyone who wants to breakthrough barriers and achieve their goals.
I wrote a summary of this book in a twitter thread. I also wrote an edition of my newsletter The Coach's Couch (why not subscribe?) on the subject of Consistency vs Motivation: You Don't Need Motivation. Here is an extract:
"...consistency compounds. Motivation might get your project started, perhaps with a rush of progress. Motivation might get your trainers on for a day or two, which is a good start.
But, how many times have you started something with enthusiasm only for life to get in the way when your motivation faded? How many projects have you started but failed to complete because one day you just weren't feeling it, and one day turned into two, which turned into three...?
Consistency will keep your project moving on a bad day. Consistency will get you out for a run when the weather turns.
And, little by little, you'll reach your goals."
To help you be consistent, at times when your motivation is low, try asking yourself this simple question: What's the next step? Then, do that. You don't run an ultramarathon in one go. You do it inch by inch, step by step, mile by mile.
This is true of all big goals.
What can you put in place to help you stay consistent?
Technique 5: Set Intentions
Why am I doing this?
Seriously, why am I doing this?
Why am I writing this? Why am I on this run? Why am I putting these thoughts into the world?
Just as it is important to have big goals, it is also important to take each step knowing your why. I call this Setting Intentions.
If I set out on a run, I can do it without thinking. Just go and get it done. However, if I pause before I start and think about my intention, it always flows better.
That intention might be, to stay present, to notice the weather, to practice a stride or to have fun. Similar to listening to the big whisper, pausing to feel what you need is a great way of connecting with your deeper self.
Can you practice setting intentions with whatever you have to do after reading this?
Technique 6: Note Your Progress
Greg Lemond is a three time winner of the Tour de France. One of his most famous quotes is:
“It never gets easier, you just get faster”.
In my journey towards ultra running, I haven't got much faster, but I have been able to go further. So now running 20 miles feels like running 2.
While that is great, a consequence of this is that you can fail to recognise the progress you are making. It doesn't feel any easier, the challenges just keep changing.
After all, when you summit a mountain, you just see more mountains.
That's why tracking your progress towards your goal is important. Mark out the stages along the way and acknowledge when you achieve them. Write them somewhere that you can see them.
If you don't, all you experience is the pain. And if that's all you experience you are much more likely to quit.
What's the best way for you to track progress towards your goals?
Technique 7: Know That Achieving Your Goals Will Not Make You Happy
This is a counter-intuitive statement. Perhaps not the sort of thing you'd expect from a professional coach? But I think it might be the most important piece of advice I can give.
In case this doesn't make sense right away, try this thought experiment:
Think of the first time you were able to buy something yourself that you really wanted. Something that you had to save up for, or that you could only buy because you earned a new salary.
Remember the feeling that you had when you first got the thing you really wanted. Really take a moment to enjoy it again. Picture where you were and who you were with.
Picture the thing now. Does it still make you as happy as it did in that first moment?
Of course it doesn't. So what does that tell us?
It tells us that happiness does not reside in objects, or achievements. Sometimes, objects or achievements can temporarily draw happiness from us, but then it fades. It can even make us depressed when we achieve something only then to realise that the feelings do not last.
The truth is that happiness resides within us. It is there at all times waiting to be accessed. But it is often veiled by the rush and noise and busyness of life.
But one way we can find contentment is to work. To truly dedicated ourselves to an endeavour that challenges us. Through this path we find contentment on the whole journey, not just at the end.
"To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top." Robert M. Pirsig
I am very glad that I knew that achieving my goal was not important for my feelings about myself. It has allowed me to benefit from all of the experiences along the way, as well as to be satisfied at the end. Which is a very fulfilling way to live.
How can you see that the happiness you seek is within you right now?
Technique 8: Be of Service
This final technique is something that I had no hint of before I started (so I've added a bonus one). It is a crucial part of my understanding now.
Whatever you are working on it is important that some of it is in service to others. In my case I chose to raise money for a charity called Women's Health Matters (still time to donate). That's a traditional act of service for this kind of event and it has become an important part this work.
But what has emerged through the process is that I can give my knowledge to others. To share my time and my understanding. To offer encouragement or just a listening ear.
So how can your goals help you to be of service to others?
I didn't know why the universe called me to do this, but I think this might be the heart of it. I know that I am the same person I was 6 months ago, but running a long way draws attention. I could chose to use that attention to feed my ego, but I know that wouldn't lead to contentment.
And so, I shall try to use the attention to serve others. I look forward to seeing where that takes me.
I wonder what will the whisper as of me (or you) next? Let's just be quiet and listen.
Some Notes About Running
As I wrote before, I am not a running coach, but here are some random tips I picked up along the way. Some of them are useful metaphors for everyday life:
Ultra races are not won by the people who run fastest, but by the ones who slow down the least. (I am well aware I came nowhere near winning, but I did okay.)
Ultra races are really eating competitions with some running. That's because the sustenance you need can be hard to digest as you're running a long way.
Trail running, if it is accessible to you, is really a form of moving meditation. It takes you into the countryside for hours and hours and while you are there you are connecting with yourself and everything around you.
Tracking your health is vital. I used a Whoop 4.0 which constantly monitors my health and tells me exactly how recovered I am and how much strain my body can handle. It never leaves my wrist. (Affiliate link entitles you to one month for free.)
Having support is crucial. I'm very grateful to my wonderful wife and family for understanding me. I love you all so much. I'm also very grateful to my friends Alex and Kyle who both "got" what I was trying to do and offered advice and encouragement.
When you start to think you are done, your body has another 40% more to give. We don't challenge ourselves enough in the modern world, but when we do, we can access parts of ourselves that we didn't know existed.
Alcohol has a far bigger impact on your body and your mind than you r