Thursday, 25 August 2016

Stationery exercises: going back to school

Back in July, I walked past a local stationery shop and saw the sign displayed boldly in their window: Back to School. Like Christmas cards in September and Easter Eggs in January, it seems to get earlier and earlier each year. I love my job, and I’m lucky to do it, but the summer holidays are sacred to a teacher and the first glimpse of that sign each year is usually guaranteed to make my tummy do a little flip. This summer, however, the sign wasn’t quite as premature as it might normally seem; I may have closed my classroom door on the term but my pencil case was restocked ready for school.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been back to school several times, and I don’t just mean at the end of a lovely holiday. After helping my friend start out in triathlon, writing a book about it with her, and then watching her development as a terrific running coach, Laura encouraged me to start coaching too. School holidays and weekends have been spent in classrooms, pools and running tracks, and back at home completing coursework and my coaching portfolio. The hard work and late nights have been worthwhile and, earlier this year, I qualified as a Level 2 Triathlon Coach and Level 2 Swimming Teacher so that I can take sessions with my triathlon club and help teach children to swim at school.
You can take the teacher out of school but she will still match her swimming kit with her revision notes: triathlon assessment weekend in May 2016.

This summer, BodyAid Solutions, a fitness training provider based in Peterborough, offered me the opportunity to take one of their courses - I chose the Level 2 Gym Instructor course. The tutors described it as a “stepping stone” qualification in the fitness industry and, while I’m not planning a big change in career path, it appealed as a good base from which to move on, to specialise further and to develop as a coach. I haven’t trained in a gym for a while, not really since I rowed, so it felt like it might be a taking a leap out of my comfort zone as I arrived at the venue in Peterborough; however, the mix of people on the course, with different aims, ambitions, backgrounds and interests, made it clear that there was no one single path to the classroom in which we were all gathered.

There was a good deal of distance learning to get my brain in gear before the course started. Materials were sent out a few weeks before the course so that we could complete the reading and revision on Anatomy and Physiology and the Principles of Sport and Exercise, ready for a multiple choice exam on the first weekend. Our tutors, Martin and Nathan, provided revision quizzes and answered questions before sitting the papers but it was definitely worth spending time reading the resources provided before the course. We were then paired up to work on practical tasks across the two weekends, putting the theory into practice to prepare a programme that we would deliver to our ‘client’ in the assessment on the final weekend. Working in partnership meant we could make mistakes, offer support and learn from each other – where my buddy, Rachel, offered corrections to my dynamic stretching technique, I was able to provide her with a fine selection of coloured index cards and highlighter pens. Support was on hand again from our tutors throughout, and their feedback helped us to improve across the 4 days of the course.

If I could choose only one thing I love about teaching then it would be the love of learning itself. I have really enjoyed coaching over the past year or so for the same reason. I’ve learned so much – about what I coach and about who I coach; about how they learn and about how I learn - and I am continuing to learn all the time. That sign in the shop window might have been a bit early but the idea of going back to school is an exciting one, not to mention an excellent opportunity to stock up on more stationery.

BodyAid gave me my place for free to find out what I thought of the course. The highlighters are all mine (but I'm happy to share).

Monday, 30 May 2016

Power of four: Brigg Bomber Quadrathlon

The rule of three is often used in stories: where three parts or three things are involved, it’s thought that the result is more effective, sometimes funnier, than when different numbers are used. Goldilocks tried three bowls of porridge. Three Billy Goats Gruff troubled the troll under the bridge. The fairy godmother granted Cinderella three wishes. Maybe that’s why triathlon has had so many best sellers.

There is a growing clan of multi-sport athletes who would like to claim otherwise. My brother, Steve, is one of them and, for a long time, he has been trying to convince me to give quadrathlon a try. Similar in format to triathlon, quadrathlon adds a fourth discipline into the mix – kayaking – and, over lunch and a pint after a race in February, Steve talked me into entering the Brigg Bomber Quadrathlon in Lincolnshire last weekend.

Looking nervous on race morning and wishing I’d had some porridge like Goldilocks, I put my bike and paddles in transition. A friendly lady racked next to me and struck up conversation, “are you Steve’s sister?” she asked. “It’s your first quad, isn’t it? Don’t worry, if you’re anything like your brother in a kayak, you’ll be great.” I smiled and thanked her, “yes, it is, but, no, I’m not…”

Until this year, I have probably paddled a kayak about once every 5 years. Once the race entry was in, we hatched a plan for some emergency training on the river and managed to squeeze in 4 outings - one of which was the night before and where I practised getting in the boat from the left, rather than the right, ahead of race morning. Steve had arranged to borrow a boat from his kayak club and some paddles from a friend, and met me in Brigg on Saturday evening, even though he’d fallen off his bike the week before and some sore ribs were putting his own race into question.

Quadrathlon started as a sport in late 1980s and I don’t think it was much later that Steve did his first race. In 2014, when the Brigg Bomber hosted the World Championships, he won the race and became World Quadrathlon Champ, which might explain why the kind lady in transition held such high hopes for me. Steve explained that the lady I’d been talking to was Jean Ashley from the British Quadrathlon Association - an experienced yet modest sportswoman with an impressive background in white water paddling, iron-distance triathlon and 15 years of quadrathlon – ‘The Quad Mother’, as he called her. “It’s great to see more and more women competing in these events,” said Jean. This year, doubling as the European Championships, Brigg had attracted a field of 10 women and, while there’s a way to go, perhaps my race entry was a very small nudge towards tipping the balance.

Arms bare, don't care: the start in the River Ancholme
There aren’t many European Championship races where a novice can race alongside the best: at 8.30 am, a mixed field of about 60 athletes started the 1.5 km swim in River Ancholme. It was chillier than I’d expected - my shoulder has been a bit grumbly in a full-sleeved wetsuit so I’d opted to go sleeveless and had to swim hard to keep warm. The kayak leg then followed straight after a quick trip to transition where I grabbed my paddles and ditched the wetsuit. “Be careful,” I reminded myself pushing away from the bank, “it’s cold in there,” and, given the number of beer bottles I'd seen float past, I couldn't be certain there weren't trolls under the bridges.

Jean overtook me shortly into the paddle and gave me a cheer – for a moment, I tried to match
"Swim then paddle, not paddle then swim" Photo from Danny
her stroke rate but I wobbled as she eased away into the distance. “Be careful,” I said again - I like swimming but this wasn’t the time. I saw Steve racing back from the turnaround, sitting just behind the race leader, and people continued to pass me. “It’s better to keep moving than to keep up,” I thought as I tried to stay relaxed and stay upright for the rest of the 7km.

Relieved to reach dry land, I lifted the boat out and gladly left it for the marshal to take up the bank while I ran back to transition. Another marshal yelled out to me as I ran the wrong way towards my bike, distracted by the ‘Kayak Out’ sign, “Sorry, I got confused – I’m OUT OF MY KAYAK!” It felt great to be on my bike. After nearly an hour in a boat, I was almost dry and definitely happy to be doing something more familiar again. I saw Steve for the second time, charging back towards the finishing loop; he’d lost the guy who I saw him paddling with and he looked to be having a strong race. Jean passed me in the other direction with another cheer; my mouth full of chewy energy bar, she had to settle with thumbs up from me in return.

The announcer called my name as I left transition with a big grin for the third and final time: “just a 25 mile run to go, Katie – that’ll give you something to smile about,” he joked. Two laps of a course through Brigg town centre and alongside the River Ancholme would take the run up to 10km – quite far enough for me, thank you. I saw Jean for a third time – a high five and a smile from my Fairy Quad Mother gave me a push to keep going and finish the last chapter. I finished towards the back of the field in a little under 4 hours to find out that Steve was 2nd placed and had been finished long enough to put my boat back on the van already.

Throughout the event, the volunteers, organisers and competitors had all been fantastic, enthusiastic and friendly – on the second lap, as I passed the marshal who had the role of being the turnaround point for the run lap, I asked if anyone would be along to collect her soon, “No, I like to run back with the last runner,” she answered. This is exactly what happened and we saw the team of run marshals running back across the last bridge to celebrate with the final finisher of the day. It takes more than just the power of three to come up with a fairy tale ending like that.
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