From running apps to training guides, it’s never been easier to get started or take your running to the next level. Maybe its time you start working out with a running coach says Deepthi Velkur

It’s safe to say that running is having its moment in the sun. More and more people have taken up running or participating in running events than ever before.

As the attractiveness of running grows, so does the availability of online resources that help people get started and get better. But, using these resources effectively is quite a daunting task and maybe it’s time to follow the lead of more than six million people who work out with running coaches.

So, what exactly, does a running coach do? And what are they supposed to help with?

To help us understand this better, I spoke with Mr. Kothandapani K.C (or “Coach Pani” as he is fondly called) who is associated with the PaceMakers running group and has been their head coach since 2012. Coach Pani spends his time training long-distance runners for 10k, Half and Full Marathon events and under his leadership and guidance, several of them have been podium finishers at events across the country.

An Indian Air Force veteran with 21 years of service, Coach Pani started off as a middle-distance runner and won several medals at the Air Force Athletic Championships across 800m, 1500m, 3000m steeplechase, 5000m, and the 10000m.  Furthermore, he represented the IAF at the inter-services cross country championship multiple times and later on transitioned into running full marathons and before he left the air force he had to his credit a sub-3-hour finish running at 42.195km.

His list of achievements is quite eye-catching: completing five out of six world marathon majors (exception being London which he will complete in 2019), finished within the Top 4 at the Mumbai marathon (senior’s run) three years in a row (2016 – 18) and took part in all 11 editions of the TCS World 10K run and won on 9 occasions.

Here are a few pieces from the interview:

To start off, how did PaceMakers start and how did you get associated with the group?

In early 2012, a group of Bengaluru-based runners called 12M12M planned on running one marathon a month and trained at the University of Agriculture Sciences (GKVK).

Six months later, the group realized that something wasn’t right as there were several injuries and fatigue was a huge factor. They made the decision to bring in an experienced coach who could help with putting in place a structured training plan.

Considering my training experience with the Nike Run Club (NRC) and my personal running experience with the IAF, the 12M12M group considered me the right man for the job. They approached my friend Thomas Bobby Philip who also trained with me at the NRC and he was instrumental in convincing me to take up the challenge.

That is how I started coaching with them and later on creating the running group – PaceMakers.

So, how long have you been coaching at the PaceMakers and what changes have you brought about?

Well, I have been coaching the PaceMakers since 2012. At the start, I used to train the 12M12M group for two days at GKVK and two days at the Bhagmane Tech Park.

It was designed this way so that people staying close-by could join the group and train with us.

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We used to train thrice a week – Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with Saturdays dedicated for long runs. The training plan which ran from 5 AM to 7:30 AM included one interval run, one tempo/uphill run every alternate week and one long run. On days when we have the long runs, it might go beyond 7:30 AM.

One of the first changes I brought in was to drive punctuality for all sessions. Second, I made a basic change of having runners bring a water bottle only for long runs. Third, I introduced variety such as interval, tempo, Fartlek and uphill runs in the training.

I also ensured that all workouts start with a proper warm up followed by dynamic drills and cooling down with some stretching exercises. This was a critical element as the 12M12M group suffered injuries in the past because of a lack of this.

How many people does your running group have and how do you categorize them?

At present, we are about 100 members and we have runners of all levels – beginners wanting to achieve a personal goal to intermediate runners yearning to take part in short distance competitions to professional runners.

With our intermediate runners, they are taught to take the load of strenuous workouts like interval and endurance runs to build strength and confidence. Once they are comfortable with these workouts and gained experience, they are trained for half and full marathons using longer runs that last for more than three hours.

The workouts obviously differ according to the type of run being prepared for – correct? Can you please elaborate on each of them?

Yes, they do differ. For instance, when training for a 10K run, I concentrate on the intensity of workouts with shorter distances building the anaerobic energy system and at the same time not compromising on the aerobic capacity. For half and full marathon distances, the emphasis is more on building the aerobic energy system without compromising on speed.

Considering the varied group of runners, building customized plans must be challenge. How do you handle this?

Of course, the challenge is very real in dealing with this, but I look at several factors when building a plan. For starters, looking at their current fitness level and past workouts, I group them and create a group training plan – the senior most in the group functions as the leader to bring the group together and complete the workouts. This approach also motivates the slow runners in the group to push themselves to achieve group objectives. Secondly, to achieve individual goals, I set a target for them based on their individual fitness level and use competitions to gauge their performances and make required modifications for further improvement.

PaceMakers are believed to be a group that trains with a purpose of running injury free. How do you go about achieving this?

We follow a few standard rules – before any session, we warm up well by including 20 minutes of slow jogging/running. We then move on to 10-15 minutes of dynamic running drills, followed by 2 to 4 strides of 100 meters.

Post the workout, we do a cool-down run for 10 mins with 2km run as that will bring your body temperature back to normal and also flush out any lactic acid build up in the muscle. We then end the workout session with 20-30 minutes of static strengthening and stretching exercises.

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No one can guarantee injury free running considering the several biomechanical factors involved but if you follow this routine for every workout, your running injuries can be minimized.

I also recommend toning down your training after every 3 weeks to let your body recover and avoid overtraining.

The military training you received while serving with the IAF helped you become a middle-distance runner and later on to long distance running. What elements from your service days have you brought into your coaching style?

The first thing I brought in was the discipline to get up early and be on time for the training at 5 AM. Secondly, the camaraderie – spirit of teamwork and finally, the training methods and the knowledge gained during my IAF days.

What motivates you about what you do at PaceMakers?

My group consists of men and women from different walks of life – defense personnel, retired personnel (some older than 70) doctors, engineers, IT professionals, businessmen, and students.

Despite their busy schedule at work and home, they are very passionate about running and wake up early every day to start training. Since I also train with them it motivates them to give their best.

When you have such a lovely family like the PaceMakers and you see their passion, it gives me immense pleasure to be associated with such people and give them back whatever possible I can.

Under your leadership and guidance, the runners have made a mark for themselves in achieving their personal best in various events. How do you feel about that?

When my runners achieve their personal best performance, it gives me immense satisfaction that I was instrumental in bringing about some change in them. I teach them to believe in their self, feel confident and motivate them further to achieve even bigger goals.

What is the one thing you tell your trainees?

Be consistent– not just in running but in whatever you do in life. Do that and the rest will automatically follow.

What are your future plans for this group?

My future plans for the group are to see more and more people take up running or any form of exercise to keep themselves healthy.

I also want to see more people from my group qualify and participate in major marathons around the world such as the Boston, New York, Berlin, London or Tokyo and also take up ultra-running. For me, Boston is very special as it has a rich history of 122 years and for an amateur runner, this is like qualifying for the Olympics.

That was Coach Pani with some very interesting points and the key takeaways from that interview are:

  1. Be disciplined,
  2. Don’t forget your warm up before and cooling down after any workout– the key to preventing injuries and
  3. Be consistent.

A good coach is successful when they accomplish one thing: helping their trainees in achieving their goals. This thought is what drives Coach Pani every day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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