Coaching News February

I had intended to write about other matters this month, however, I received a lot of feedback including some questions on last month’s musings (, and therefore I have decided to respond to this first.

I am reliably informed that the rats chosen for the experiments were young and male and the main question raised last month was whether the outcome would be the same had the rats been female.  Sadly, I simply do not know.  As yet, I haven’t had the wherewithal to track down any specific research (of which there is an awful lot with whole journals assigned to the subject) and in truth, I am not a fan of laboratory-based research on mammals.  Rodents they may well be, but rodents form over half of the world’s mammal types, and over 100 million mammals are used in laboratory testing every year.  This fact always leaves me feeling just slightly queasy.

My guess is that the result would be different with female rats.  Exactly what form this difference would take, I do not know, but I do know that this answer exposes me to the risk of being accused of applying stereotypical beliefs to these complex biological and social interactions.  In today’s politically correct climate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss differences between the sexes.  Even from a scientific standpoint with appropriate research data to support the intrinsic differences, this is currently treacherous territory and, in Canadian and American universities at least, such discussion is potentially career ending.

The stated aim of this particular piece of post-modernism is to achieve equality of opportunity for women and thus this appears a laudable objective.  At face value, you would think therefore that understanding and, better still, celebrating the differences between men and women may actually increase the likelihood of successfully facilitating this outcome.  If you can recognise the differences, you can establish which of these are significant and make the necessary allowances and or adjustments to overcome them.  However, on closer inspection, by denying that evidence exists, it is becoming apparent that it is in fact equity (equality of outcome) which is the post-modernist goal.  To understand the difference between equality and equity or, more importantly, the dangers of equity from a coaching perspective, we need to bring the conversation back onto common ground and an example which I regularly introduce into both my coach education and Natural Running Form workshops.

Under the current climate of social culture, certain ultra-running races are under pressure to provide equal numbers of male and female participants on start lines at their events.  So, why is it that currently more men sign up for these events than women?  If you compare men and women in a very general sense, then you will discover much overlap of attributes including many aspects of physiology and other biological characteristics.  This is a very useful thing to understand when preparing training for athletes.  However, it is when you turn your attention to interests that the real differences appear and, it is at the extremes of characteristics and interests, that the significant differences begin to manifest themselves.

Those women who are interested in ultra-running, also happen to be very good at it.  I would guess that if you even suggested that anyone had levelled the playing field for the likes of Ann Trason, Nikki Kimbell or Jenn Shelton to achieve success in their chosen field then this would both genuinely cause offence and devalue their achievements.  These women may be at an extreme end of the ultra-running scale, however I have chosen the extreme for a reason.  In a reflection of life, athletic competition also selects for extremes.  Therefore, although when at the height of their competitiveness, these three could arguably (and often did) win any race they entered, they tended to be lone women amongst a large and equally competitive field of male runners.  Unfortunately, this will remain the case until such time as more women have an interest in running rather than through social manipulation of start numbers.

As with your own athletic successes, had you known you needed to do less to achieve, not only would this devalue the achievement but it would also risk diminishing the goal setting and preparation in the first place.  This reduced challenge, I would argue, would result in none of you taking up the challenge in the first place.  Thankfully, among my athletes, I am blessed with a 60:40 ratio in favour of women, all of whom already display the necessary characteristics and interest in athletic achievement.  To underline this point, congratulations to Helen Sahgal, who is certainly getting back to the top of her game, running an early season 38:55 at Oulton Park last week to win the women’s race; also to Kathryn Hanson whose gutsy performance along with husband Ian, earned her yet another iron distance finisher’s medal at Challenge Wanaka in New Zealand!

Closer to home, spring is hopefully just around the corner, but please take care during this period of extreme weather.  This is no time to take risks and we can always pick up the pace as the weather improves.  Many of you have races coming up ranging from qualification duathlons to both Manchester and London marathons.  I am therefore now fine tuning your tapers but will be doing so over the next few days from the pool side in Lanzarote.  We have such a busy period ahead that we must make some room for a couple of days off now.  I will of course have the tools of my trade with me, but there may be a slight delay in responses to questions and feedback.

Enjoy the snow!



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