Monday, September 28, 2009

Giving Back

After explaining that morning's run, an eight mile jaunt past the Pentagon, up the Virginia side of the Potomac, over Key Bridge, down the Georgetown Waterfront to Rock Creek Park, past the Lincoln Memorial and onto the Mall, around the World War II Memorial and back over Memorial Bridge into Virginia for a return to our starting location at Pacers Running Store in South Arlington, I announced my retirement from coaching for my club to the 32 runners waiting expectantly. (Right: Four coaches actively engaged.)

"After four years of being blessed with the ability and opportunity to run with persons such as yourselves, good folks working to bring running into your lives and striving to bring fitness to the community, I am stepping down as a coach for the running club. I will coach further, if at all, only upon a drop-in basis for the benefit of my friends. And all of you standing here, about to go on a run with me on this beautiful, sun-dappled morning in our nation's capital, are my friends."

They applauded me. After so many early morning hookups in all kinds of weather, sunny days, cold drizzle, bright but cold dawns, sweltering humidity, it was over. Being the current president of my club had showed me that other duties awaited me.

(Left: Coach of the year Lauren leans back and talks easily to questioning runners, approachable, open, friendly, concerned, but fast.) The pleasure of running along with eager friends, and imparting to them what little modicums of running wisdom and racing lore that my nine years of running, three hundred races, RRCA coaching certificate and experience directing or coaching ten training programs allowed me to, had come full circle to this bright, warm morning.

Interestingly, in an hour I would be running past the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on my way back to Pacers and the end of my coaching career for the club twenty minutes after that. By my side would be the lead small-group runner with several more burgeoning athletes close by behind me as we progressed past the place where it all started for me on a similar morning so long ago. Then my very first running group was anxiously forming up and I was about to head out with it, embarking upon a long and productive journey of self-development and giving back.

(Right: A coach giving back, having arisen at 5:30 on that weekend morning so that he could run alongside newer runners and offer them encouragement.) I actually believe that running is about giving back. I also believe that there are runners who don't give back, who descend into the grip of hubris, narcissism and ego and impede the giving back of others. Have you ever noticed how critical some runners are? But that is another post, one that perhaps will never be written.

Embarrassed by the small but sustained applause, I started out on the run and everyone fell in behind me, twenty-seven trainees, raw runners three months ago who were now nervously but confidently awaiting eight days hence when they would line up for the Army Ten-Miler Race, and overcome the largest physical activity many of them had ever attempted. I took the lead that morning, the four other coaches strung out along the giant moving group. Several of the faster runners fell in beside me and I adjusted my pace to theirs. My Garmin told me 10:30 m/m and I subtly picked up the tempo slightly, imperceptibly I hoped, in order to draw the aspiring athletes along.

(Left: Rachel, program person of the year, listens patiently.) I suddenly remembered that my car was parked at an expired meter in front of Pacers and Arlington's aggressive parking enforcement would start in half an hour. No matter, I was running alongside four or five runners bursting to let their inner selves out and hang with me, the fast coach today. This was by far the greater good than abandoning my lead role for the group in order to return to my car to feed the meter.

Perspiration was just starting to bead upon my face as we headed towards the Pentagon at a steady lope, chatting easily but breathing raggedly in the throes of the first mile of my last training group run. I was going to miss this so.


Petraruns said...

Wow. You've made me want to think about coaching.. Impressive stuff and it sounds like it's been as good for your as it has been for those you coached.

jeanne said...

aw peter, you've done so much good for so many runners throughout the years, me included! I hope this is just a temporary retirement. You're such an asset to DCRR. It sounds like you recruited the right coaches. I still remember you running besides me, encouraging me. It meant a lot then and still does!

Danielle in Iowa said...

Aw, congrats on a great tenure as a coach! Now you can just coach us over the internet :-)

DawnB said...

You're a good man Peter, congratulations on being an awesome coach you'll be missed. I'm sure there will be occasions when you will come out of retirement.

ShirleyPerly said...

I only know a handful of folks who give back like you do. Kudos to you. I'm sure you'll be missed but it's good that you know when to clear your plate to make room for other things.

David said...

Well done, old man.
When I get back to DC I hope you'll run me out again from Iwo Jima to RFK and back.