Have you ever wondered how big a coach's role is for a training group? Meet Allison Benton, founder and coach of the AB Training Group in Brighton, England, who is a former elite runner that transformed her love for running into coaching.
A training group is all about team mates and group spirit, but a coach is the glue that holds the team together and keeps everyone motivated. Allison is not just a normal coach, her passion shines through in every aspect of her mentality and devotion. Read the interview below.
Could you start this interview by introducing yourself and why you started running?
I am originally from Northern Ireland and was born into an athletics family. My father was a former Irish mile champion and coach, and my mother was President of the Northern Ireland Athletics Federation. It was natural for me to become a runner and I became an Irish champion myself as a teenager. Like many young athletes, I suffered injuries in my late teens and didn't compete again properly until my late thirties. But running has always been part of my life.
When and why did you switch to coaching?
In some ways, I have always been "coaching" as I am so passionate about running! Becoming a runner (and especially running fast) transforms people's lives and it makes me want to motivate everyone to do it. When I turned 45 and could no longer compete due to injury, I took the plunge to qualify as a coach and set up my own performance group. It is by far the best thing I have ever done!
What inspired you to start the AB Training Group and how long has it existed?
During my first 3 years as a coach, I led sessions within one of the local clubs where I live, Brighton & Hove AC. Historically, this is how most grass-roots coaching is done in the UK under the umbrella of the local athletics clubs. The downside of this model is that most clubs only have a small number of faster runners in their ranks who can work together in training and help each other progress. This was something I wanted to change. So, in January 2013, we set up the AB Training Group, bringing together high potential athletes from 4-5 different clubs in our area (East Sussex) to train together as a group and inspire each other to the next level. Roll forward 6 years and this is exactly what has happened!
Did you imagine that the group would be where it is today?
The group was set up to enable and inspire performance so, to some extent, the continuous progress we have experienced is simply a case of fulfilling our goals. However, the rate at which this has happened has surprised me! Each year the bar shifts again over every distance from 1500m to ultra-running. Five AB Training Group athletes have been selected so far to represent England at 10k, Half Marathon or Marathon (including SAYSKY athlete, Paul Navesey) and we have three Great Britain Internationals at ultra-distance (including World medallist, Tom Evans). The “group effect” is incredible to watch, as what is considered special one year (e.g., sub 31 for 10k) starts to become normal the next.
What are the benefits of training in a group?
As you can tell, I am a huge advocate of group training!
Firstly, there is the obvious practical benefit of having people next to you in training who can push you to the next level. This is particularly important for the tempo sessions and long reps that form a big part of our training approach and that are hard to do well on your own.
Secondly, there is the inspiration that comes from seeing people whom you train with achieve new levels of performance – "if they can do it, so can I"!
Finally, but no less important, is the sense of belonging that comes from being part of a group. In a tight-knit training group, there are always people to support when you are down and to celebrate when you are flying! Our Training Group motto is “Believe; Belong; Perform” and the “belong” is critical.
Where do you see the AB Training Group in 5 years?
Firstly, in terms of performance, we would expect to see some of our current athletes compete in Major Championships at our core distances of 10k, Half Marathon or Marathon. This would be a natural progression of our current trajectory.
In addition, we will aim to integrate more younger athletes into the group (U23/U20) and to become stronger on the track at all distances from 1500m to 5000m. This will help lay the base for elite performance over longer distances in the long-term.
And, finally, something else I could foresee in the next 5 years is possible geographic expansion of the group beyond our current base in Sussex. I am already coaching remotely some my athletes who have had to leave Sussex, and I could imagine a world where this evolves into satellite training groups in new locations. Who knows, we could maybe have an AB Training Group in Copenhagen some day!
Do have any advice for runners out there wanting to join a training group?
Go for it! The right training group will not only make a difference to your performance but also to your overall enjoyment of being a runner.
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