Coach and be Coached

In my career as a Professional Life Coach, I’ve learned that many people don’t understand how their lives might change if they worked with someone who does what I do.

Let me tell you a little bit about my clients.  First of all, they’re doing great, thank you very much!  They are highly functional, successful individuals who are living rich, abundant lives.  What brings them to coaching is their desire -not need - to create a more purposeful, exciting, and powerful life for themselves.  Deep down inside, they know that they are capable of living more intentionally. I help them achieve that goal.

Recently I realized, much to my surprise, that I myself did not fully understand the impact of powerful coaching.  This past weekend, I completed a race for which I have been preparing for the past 4 years. Did I have to attempt this race?  Of course not. But I chose to, just as my clients choose to challenge themselves rather than remaining where they are in their relationships, careers, and self growth. 

This race meant everything to me, but I never hired a coach.  I thought I could do it alone. But mostly, I thought I wasn’t a good enough runner to make that investment in myself.  I often hear folks say, “I’ll get a coach when I make more money, when I have more time, when I leave this job.” But in truth, they don’t feel like they deserve to make that investment in themselves.  

I suffered the same error in thinking and it almost cost me one of my most important long-term goals.  

The Broken Arrow 52K is a Sky Race.  It involves running/hiking/climbing and scrambling for over 30 miles in altitude between 7,000 - 9,000 feet, with ascents and descents that add up to more than 20,000 feet.   It involves covering the same 16 mile loop, twice. As well, there are cut off times, that if not met, will result in being pulled out of the race. The last time I attempted Broken Arrow, I quit after the first loop.  In a race, just like in real life, not completing something can stay with us and take a toll. This year, I came back to finish.

When I finished the first loop 5 and a half hours after setting off and arrived back at the start line, I was in a daze. But knew that if I stayed there long, I would never leave.  I forced myself back on the course, but one mile into the second loop, I was hit with the enormity of what was ahead. Just put one foot in front of the other, you can do this, I said to myself.  But it didn’t ring true and I just wanted to cry, to quit. My brain was fried, and I couldn’t do the simple math of when I needed to be at the next aid station or how fast I needed to move in order to make the cut off and not be pulled from the race.  I suddenly had no perspective, no plan, and no one who believed in me in this moment when I couldn’t muster the ability to believe in myself.

The fact that hardly anyone was behind or ahead of me, made me think that I was likely at the back of the pack.  What if I run for 12 hours and get pulled? Despair started to settle into my bones.

At mile 17, I began closing the distance between me and a male runner who was moving at a steady pace. We started talking. I was in a hurry to get ahead, a tendency we all develop when we feel we are behind.  He stayed with me and provided me with tips and tools on how to remain focused. He let me know how far the next aid station was and how much time we had to get there. He told me inspiring stories and shared his own personal experiences of struggles, failures and successes.  

Michael had completed this race before and knew what was ahead. He gave me a heads up about the big climbs and showed me new ways to climb the steep uphills so I could be more efficient.  When my mind would rush ahead, he would slow it down and help me focus on just getting to the next aid station.

Something was crazy familiar about what he was doing and at some point I blurted out, “Wait,  are you a professional coach?” Almost apologetically, he said yes. As coaches, we try not to coach unless we’re asked.  Michael didn’t wait for me to ask, he just showed up and served me selflessly and powerfully.

For the next 6 hours, he made my success his own.  At any given moment, he did whatever was required to empower me.  Whether he was running ahead and pulling me along, telling me to stop and take 3 deep breaths, teaching me new running and climbing skills, inspiring me with his stories, or simply doing the math of how fast we needed to move in order to stay in the race, this man did it.  When I just didn’t believe I could climb one more mountain, he was patient, supportive and refused to give up on me. When I confessed that I had never been this dirty, smelly and gross, he gave me a hug. When I thought I’d be sick if I had one more gel, he shared his delicious homemade food that powered me up yet another steep climb.

I was the last female to finish this race.

In reflecting back, here’s what I know for sure.  I must have done something good in this lifetime, to have the universe literally send me a professional running coach at Mile 16.  And there is no question in my mind, that without him, I would not have finished this race on time. My coach made the difference between coming in dead last or not at all.

The myriad lessons from this experience will stay with me for a lifetime, but the one I want to share here is this: we are all in this together, we are all trying to figure it out, and you never know what you can achieve when you allow another mind, heart and soul to support you in your journey.