A Chat on Running & Coaching, with Coach Fabian Williams

Fabian Williams, 38, is well-known amongst local running circles for his numerous running achievements, most notably becoming the Champion at the Sundown Ultra Marathon 2008 as well as coming in first in the the Men’s Duo Ultra Category at the SAFRA AVventura race in 2012.

Coach Fabian Williams puts his proteges through their drills. [Photo Credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

Coach Fabian Williams putting his trainees through their drills.
[Photo Credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

He started out as a sprinter

Said Williams, “I had started out running like everyone else in school, but the difference for me, was that I began as a sprinter for a year before I realised that i was actually better at distance running. But it was only in the army when I took the leap into ultra running – the army was sending a four-man team to Hong Kong to race. I had established myself as the fastest guy in Commando, so it was a natural decision for me to join them.”

He added, “But when I signed on, I did not know that it was a 100km race. They said it was a 4-man team running 100km so I assumed that each of us would be running 25km. It was only after I had committed myself that I realised it was actually to be 100km per person.”

But after that, Williams realised that he had found his calling, excelled in the run, and had continued to race in marathons and ultras for several years after that.

Fabian found his calling in ultra running. [Photo from adventure.nationalgeographic.com]

Fabian found his calling in ultra running.
[Photo from adventure.nationalgeographic.com]

Said Williams, “Running is a beautiful thing to do when you are able to do it; nobody realises that until you cannot run any more due to, for example, injury and then you really start to appreciate it.”

Now Coaching full-time with his own company

Now, Williams has retired as an athlete, and he is working as a full-time coach with his own company, Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts (FWCC). While he may still run for fun himself these days, he now no longer does so to win competitions.

Said Williams, “I had realised that I was meticulous enough to tell someone else what he or she needed to do to improve. I had actually been unknowingly doing that since college when I was self-coaching myself. I could get someone better and faster in a short space of time, and the joy in seeing someone else conquer their demons after a while, overweighed me wanting to win myself, in the sport.”

Getting a coach is the best way to improve as a runner

For the everyday recreational runners, Williams said that getting a coach is still the best way to improve themselves. He said, “Runners need to know what their goals are and how comfortable they are in understanding these. If they have the aptitude to go out there and understand what is needed of them, and execute it, then that is good. But at the end of the day, you should realise that the coach acts as a second pair of eyes looking at you and seeing things that you can’t see.”

A coach is the best person to tell you what is wrong with your running, according to Fabian. [Photo credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

A coach is the best person to tell you what is wrong with your running, according to Fabian.
[Photo credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

He added, “So even if you are good at self-coaching, you will come to a point whereby you will need someone else there, unless you have at your disposal, high-speed cameras, and people to help you videotape yourself. Still it eventually comes down to the coach to tell you what is missing and let you know what you are doing wrong, so that you can improve.”

And a running coach is the best person to tell runners all of these, for example, what dysfunctions and shortfalls in terms of their running movement they are making. Said Williams, “The coach will then fix all of these and then put a sound running programme in place.”

Added Williams, “The problem with many runners is that they tend to do too much, too soon. Once they see slight improvements they overload and more often than not that leads to injury. So it is very important to hold your horses and be progressive with training and performance – a running coach will tell you this.”

Coach has to sit down with the athlete

And to begin with, the coach needs to physically sit down together with the athlete and to work the runner through a training plan. Said Williams, “The whole purpose of the coach is to put this plan in place for the athlete and make sure that the athlete can follow through comfortably with it. The coach also needs to understand the athlete’s flexibility in terms of other issues such as work, lifestyle and family time – to help the athlete achieve his or her desired results.”

And Williams pointed out that not every running coach is good though and that not everyone and anyone can become a coach. He said, “There are people who attend a short course of 10 days and call themselves coaches after that. But before you can teach students, there is a lot more to learn about coaching someone. You need the aptitude and capacity to see what is wrong and analyse that, to educate the athlete, and it is many years of experience, not simply a 10-day course, that teaches that to a coach.”

A running coach is much more than simply holding a stopwatch. [Photo source greatist.com]

A running coach is much more than simply holding a stopwatch.
[Photo source greatist.com]

Main challenges of coaching

The main challenges, Williams said, of being a coach, is that many runners want to “jump the gun” and they tend to want more, the moment they start to see the slightest improvements.

Explained Williams, “That is the biggest difficulty in managing recreational runners who run for personal bests rather than podium positions. While some are fine, there are others who don’t know what they want, and after a while they feel the coach cannot deliver if their progress isn’t fast enough. But that may not be true – the runner’s goals may have shifted when the coach was simply sticking to the original plan.”

He added “At the end of the day, it all boils down to what you are looking for and the type of coach you want to meet those needs. There are different types of coaches ranging from those who coach runners in a big group to those who ‘babysit’ and run together with their clients. As well, it is also common for coaches to gain and lose clients because the clients see improvement and they want to see more change, quickly.”

Williams added that personally, he is the type of coach who will draft out a training plan for his runners to follow and execute. He said, “I am not the sort of coach who will come down and run 30km with you or join you on a 100km bike ride to keep you company. If that is not what you are looking for, I will be the wrong match for you.”

Fabian targets steady progress and improvement from his proteges. [Photo credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

Fabian targets steady progress and improvement from his trainees.
[Photo credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

He added, “I have had a few runners who trained under other groups and they came to us, badly injured and slower than before. So we had to sit them down and check with them why they went to the other coach in the first place. For example, we had one client, who had trained with another group for a year. Her marathon timing had improved by two minutes with plenty of injuries at the same time. But after we took over, in less than three months she had improved by more than 30 minutes.”

So Williams said that if he feels that a runner is not the right fit for FWCC, then he will redirect him or her to another coach. He explained, “Most coaches will know other coaches who are good so referring the athlete to them, rather than taking the client on ourselves, will be more beneficial to the runner, in the long term.”

A lack of education in Singapore about running coaches

However, the majority of runners today generally do not have a coach and Williams attributes this to a lack of education. He said “Everyone thinks that running is easy. Till today you can ask anyone, how come they can pay for a swimming coach but they find it so hard to pay for a running coach. Most people believe that swimming is an important skill but running is something that anyone can do.”

He continued, “But it is only when you come into the running circle that you realise that running comprises of so many components and is much more technical than you ever thought. But the general public will not know about this – they think that they just need to slip on a pair of shoes and they can run already. But without a coach, every step that you run may possibly be damaging to your body and that you could be running inefficiently – nobody knows this till they get injured and it becomes too late.”

Williams added that it takes a life-changing decision for runners to take on a coach. He said, “When runners get injured they tend to blame themselves rather than the way that they execute the running process. So unless they sustain a serious injury or suddenly have a higher goal in mind, such as aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon, then they realise they need external help through a coach.”

Fabian reiterates that coaching is not an easy career. [Photo credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

According to Fabian, coaching is not an easy job.
[Photo credit: FWCC Pte Ltd/Shawn Wee]

Misconceptions about running coaches

And some common misconceptions that coach wannabes generally have about coaching for runners, Williams says, is that they think it is an ‘easy’ career. He explained, “It has become apparent in the past five years that anyone who wants to become a coach, has no clue what it takes.”

Continued Williams, “As a coach, everyone thinks that it’s just about holding a stopwatch and a whistle but actually, there is a lot of additional work in terms of planning, analysis and research at the back end that nobody wants to put in.”

But coaching, as a whole, is very unique and rewarding, according to Williams. He said, “Coaching requires a lot of both science and arts – the science, everyone can get their hands on by attending coaching courses. But the art of coaching is very unique and individual and that is the part whereby people have to choose the right ‘artist’ that will be a perfect match with them.”

If you want more information about coaching, or you are looking for a coach, get in touch with Fabian Williams and FWCC at +65 9645 0320 or fabian@fwcc.sg. You can also read more about FWCC at http://www.fwcc.com.sg.

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