For many runners who grew up in Lima, some of their best memories have Ralph Bennett in them.
“Most people I’ve talked to felt that was a good part of their life, even if they were a back-of-the-pack runner,” Bennett said. “I definitely get something out of coaching when I hear that.”
For 35 years at Lima Senior and nine years at Lima Central Catholic before that, Bennett has been on the sidelines for the cross country and track seasons. He offered runners tips on how to get the most out of their bodies.
“The way I gauge success is the way people turn out,” Bennett said. “It’s what you see 10 to 15 years down the line. And luckily, I can do that since I’ve been doing it so long.”
Bennett, 81, didn’t coach for his first decade in the workforce. He decided to try coaching when Lima Central Catholic added a team before eventually moving to the Spartans. He resigned as an assistant coach effective Dec. 1, in part so he can get surgery on two compressed discs in his back.
Over the years, he realized running wasn’t as much about the legs as the brain.
“The greatest change has been psychological, and that’s what interested me most in coaching,” Bennett said. “In the last 10 years, I’ve been concentrating on that psychological aspect of coaching, more than the physical.”
Old-school notions that yelling helped went to the side. Instead, he realized he got the best results from runners when he was positive with them.
He also realized coaches setting goals didn’t help.
“Sometimes coaches make the mistake of setting goals for athletes,” he said. “It doesn’t mean much for an athlete if someone else sets the goal for them.”
He urges runners to put their goals wherever they’ll see them: taped onto a book, stuck in a locker, whatever works.
Once they accomplish that goal, it’s time to set another goal.
“For some people, the objective is just to finish the race,” he said. “That’s an accomplishment for them. Others want to set a particular time. The important thing is you have to have a goal.”
A high school and collegiate runner himself, Bennett ran with the athletes for many years. When he hit 50, medical setbacks slowed him down from that. And now, after years of watching state champions, collegiate runners and even one qualifier for the marathon at the Olympics, it’s time to focus on recovering from his back surgery.
He acknowledged he’d set a goal too, with hopes of returning as a volunteer assistant some day.
“I’ve been very thrilled when I’m with people who find what they’re doing may be the hardest thing they’re ever done in life,” Bennett said. “You just have to continue to do it and improve. As long as you always finish, you’ll feel satisfied in what you’ve done.”