Writing this report summarising our very first Coach in Residence week, it doesn’t quite seem real that we have just experienced the inspiring coaching and training from one of the world’s leading coaches – Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Eshetu – who has discovered and developed multiple Olympic champions and world record holders. ‘Coach’ as he likes to be known, made the long journey from East Africa, widely regarded as the ‘home’ of distance running, to Shropshire and to The Hunt, whose history dates back to 1831, and can therefore also lay claim to being the ‘home’ of running. The union seemed fitting, and as we welcomed Coach just hours after touching down from Addis Ababa, we already sensed that we were in for a very special week.
Having only ever been out of his native Ethiopia once before, no doubt the bracing cold winds of Shropshire will have been a shock to Coach, but having had a good look around the school during his first day here, he felt more than at home once the afternoon Benjies session got underway on the first Monday and he was given charge of the sixty or so boys signed up for the run. As we walked down Central, the heads turned as the boys waited by the Darwin Statue curious to catch a glimpse of the great man, resplendent in his yellow, green and red Ethiopian national tracksuit top. I can’t say such reverence and awe is afforded to us normally as coaches when we make our way towards the Benjies sessions, but then we haven’t coached any Olympians (yet!). After a brief introduction, Coach took charge of the warm-up routine, where he spent 15 minutes preparing the boys in exactly the same way as he would his own athletes in the small town of Bekoji. The routine was certainly different, but a very interesting insight into the great man’s methods. Indeed, much of the week saw such innovative coaching techniques, not least the unforgettable ‘tree’ session on the Friday afternoon (a session that four days on I for one am still aching from!) and the highly technical hill work undertaken on the school bank midweek. There was the unique experience of early morning training, with a brave handful rising at 5.30am to undertake a speedwork session as the sun gently crept over horizon, tough track sessions, and individual guidance and encouragement to all of our runners. All of this was invaluable in terms of experience, and we are hugely grateful to the Old Salopian former Huntsman who financed the trip and made it possible.
It was certainly a hectic schedule for Coach, who worked alongside over a hundred runners including Prep school athletes from Packwood and Birchfield, and some of our talented female athletes. There was also something of a media frenzy surrounding Coach’s visit, with a BBC crew hastily making their way to the school to produce a piece about the Hunt’s experience with Coach, interviews with Radio Shropshire, press releases in the local papers and running magazines, and countless photo shoots. No wonder, of course, given Coach’s credentials; amongst his former charges, he can include the great Bekele brothers, triple Olympic medallist Tirunesh Dibaba, and of course his protégé Derartu Tulu would become the very first African female athlete to win Olympic gold. We really were in the midst of a legend of the sport, and I have no doubt that his visit will have a lasting impact on all who were a part of the week. We as coaches have learned a huge amount, and certainly count ourselves extremely fortunate to have been a part of this once in a lifetime opportunity. We very much hope that this won’t be the end of the relationship, however, and indeed, Coach returns to Bekoji with a suitcase full of running spikes and kit, partly donated by the Hunt and the running store Up & Running in Shrewsbury, all of which will benefit Coach’s next generation of athletes, some of whom may go on to be future Olympians. And who knows, perhaps the boys and girls who experienced the coaching of Sentayehu here last week may end up in Bekoji one day for the return visit...