Neil Featherby: Why it can be so frustrating being a running coach

Matthew Robinson, during one of his ultra runs. Picture: Matthew Robinson

Matthew Robinson, during one of his ultra runs. Picture: Matthew Robinson - Credit: Archant

I have to say Mark’s column last week did make me smile with regards to his 26.2 miler of the previous weekend having ran with Alison, his wife the full way during her Virtual London Marathon.

Matthew Robinson - ultra runner, transformation coach & hypnotherapist. Picture: Matthew Robinson

Matthew Robinson - ultra runner, transformation coach & hypnotherapist. Picture: Matthew Robinson - Credit: Archant

Since Conkergate (for those who regularly read the columns they will know what this refers too), we have followed a very careful and progressive plan so as in the first instance to re-motivate him before then moving on with the training to not only bring him back to where he was prior to his injury, but an even better Mark Armstrong this time around.

This was most certainly apparent by his performances in the recent Joe Skipper track challenges.

Mark has always struggled with knee issues too, so there has always been lots to consider when organising his programmes.

When he called me up to tell me he had run the full distance though and despite his programme saying do no more than a maximum of 16 miles, I just laughed and said why does this not surprise me? Needless to say, I said a big well done to Ali on her new PB, but deep down I did have to shake my head somewhat.

I have spent many years advising people with their running and whilst it can be very rewarding, it can also be very frustrating at times too.

I have lost count at the number of times I have sat down with athletes coming back from long term injuries whereby everything starts out with good intentions ie “this time I won’t do anything silly, as I really do not want to go through that again” being the usual initial quote. However, and once back into it, it is so easy to get impatient and go off track especially when things are going really well. Sometimes we get away with it and at other times it all goes wrong again for which it can then mean the coach and the athlete having to go back to the drawing board once again.

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At the end of the day, running is about having fun, staying fit and of course taking part in events, particularly ones where thousands of others are also having a go. However, we all have goals and whilst it might just be completing couch to 5k when first setting out, goals become addictive and more ambitious each time one is attained and this is where careful guidance and direction maybe required.

Personally, I really do not mind whether people follow my advice or decide to do their own thing as I am far too busy with so many other things prevalent in my life. However, busy is the word for which I and all coaches will put a lot of their own time into helping others improve for which there should always be clarity.

Incidentally, this week’s column is not all about me having a pop at Mark as I had several other athletes moving the goal posts last week too. For instance one saying it was far too wet and windy to run, another who said he could not get himself up to do the session and last, but by no means least, another saying he got too drunk the night before and spent the day in bed. On a positive note, at least they were all honest about it.

At the end of the day I always remind any athlete who I advise that it is down to them and they are only going to get out what they are prepared to put in. At the same time if they think I have a magic wand, well they need to think again as I definitely do not.

Anyway, this all led to me having a conversation with Matthew Robinson earlier this week about the subject of coaching. For those who may not know of Matt, he is not only an ultra-runner, but a Transformation Coach too for which he told me about his six step system. “It’s called Resist and Transform to become the runner you want to be” he said, prior to then sending me details of this system.

Step 1: Acknowledge and resist. Be brutally honest with yourself and then identify what you need to resist during the rest of 2020. For instance, look at where you are currently at with your running – who or what is holding you back – what is your goal and how are you going to achieve your goal.

Step 2: Visualise your future and imagine the runner you want to become. See what you see, hear what you hear and feel how good you are going to feel when you cross the finish line. Thing big, think Super Hero!

Step 3: Purge! Get rid of any bad habits, limiting beliefs, negative self-talk, it all has to go.

Step 4: Pay the price to action. If you want something big, then be prepared to make equally big sacrifices. Nothing in life comes free. Create your own game plan and be the “Hero in your own movie.” Discipline equals freedom.

Step 5: Replace and renew aka resistance training. For instance replacing and switching any bad habits with high performance ones such as a poor diet for a good one or lethargy for extra running or exercising.

Step 6: Run the gauntlet and measure up. Now is the time to do the work and be held accountable by others. Put your running shoes on, tie your laces and pull your socks up whilst reminding yourself of why you are doing it. Time to let the world hear your roar and let them know you have arrived.

All pretty powerful stuff that is for sure, but Matt is so much more than just a coach hence the words Transformation Coach and Hypnotherapist after his name. In a nutshell, his work is applicable to all people who want to fulfil their ambitions be it as a runner or anything else in life for that matter.

As for Mark, this weekend he will be competing in the Blickling Half Marathon for which I know he will want to prove to me that running a marathon two weeks ago will not have a negative effect on his performance. Nevertheless, I did feel somewhat bad upon my sarcasm after he told me that he felt tired and heavy legged after doing a recce of the course last Saturday. “Is that so? I wonder why that is?” I could not help, but say at the time.

Good luck to everyone running in the Half Marathon this weekend, particular as it is one of the few live events to go ahead this year albeit under strict rules.

For those who may want to find out more about Matthew Robinson and his work, he can be found at –, Ultrawarriorway (Instagram) and Ultramind (Facebook & Linkedin).