Blog

Fear

I have tried to write this blog for a few weeks, but it has been a challenge to capture my thoughts around the topic of fear. I referenced fear when I publicly shared this blog, but neglected to provide much context aside from confronting my fears. In the last year, I have made several life changes that impact all areas of my life. To say that I fully jumped into a life change would be putting it somewhat mildly. Most of these changes have been for the better and I have been fortunate that things have gone relatively smoothly. However, I would be remiss by not admitting that I have days and nights filled with fears that I cannot ignore.

Ironically, it has not been the major life changes that are most pronounced, but rather the simple shifts that have caused the most fear for me recently. Writing this blog has been a tremendous fear inducing experience. I have been wanting to write a blog since blogs became relevant and it has taken me this long to do so. This fear is not unfounded but goes back to my early years in high school when I had two teachers who scrutinized my writing and intellect regularly. I have two graduate degrees that required a significant amount of writing, yet I still can’t shake the notion of being inept. I wish it took me a lot less time to work through the self-doubt created when I was 14, but here I am finally facing my fear with writing.

In addition to writing, I also struggle with self promotion, especially in a public forum. I have no fear when I go into interviews, in fact I enjoy them! However, when it comes to selling myself on the internet I start to panic and question my approach. I have no doubts in my ability to be an effective coach or guide other individuals through this wonderful thing called life. However, when I am told to share my site, make myself a product, push notifications, etc. I want to close my laptop. I am not someone who enjoys the spotlight and also feel that I am being a bit inauthentic advertising myself through technology when I believe the reason for hiring a coach is to get an individualized plan that is derived from the connection between a coach and an athlete.

This topic is going to lead to another self disclosure because I fear being perceived inaccurately, especially by those of you who are interested in working with me. If you are looking for a coach with a strong online presence or influence then I can direct you towards a better resource. If you are seeking someone who has been a student of the sport for twenty years alongside raising a family and managing a career then I am your person. If you need a coach who is relatable, accessible and who can empathize with the challenges of life then look no further. I want you to invest in someone who truly cares about your progress and takes responsibility for your failures, which is what I will always do. I owe it to everybody who is apart of my life to get the real version of me, especially my athletes.

Time Management

Often times when I tell other people, particularly those close to my age, that I am a distance runner I hear a few common things. Sometimes, it is a straight up, “I hate running how can you do it so much?”, other times I get asked how my body holds up, but mostly I hear “how do you find the time?”. The idea of being too busy to run is not far fetched for many people including myself. However, lack of time may really be an excuse to avoid the impending pain that will occur when you start to push you body outside of its comfort. I have been a runner for two decades and aside from illness and pregnancy I have been able to carve out time to run regularly. Sure, I am not able to do back to back long runs, tag multiple peaks, choose the best training locations or finish up my runs with brunch at a trendy cafe. However, I make the daily commitment just like I do to shower (except when camping) because running benefits me in so many ways beyond just being race fit.

I found it really funny that my older two children recognized the psychological benefits of running about the same time they learned to speak. They could tell immediately on our way to school/daycare if I had ran. Somehow, they sensed the tension in the air when my daily fix was neglected. I struggled with rest days even before I had them, but now I am truly aware of how my mood is impacted by the natural endorphins and time spent outside. This time may be as short as 20 minutes and even at times happens on the dreadmill, but the point is that I make it happen. My daily run has different intentions depending on training cycles and whether my other priorities need to take precedent. Running is important to me, but so are other things and especially people!

I like to stay organized in life and try to have as much control on how I spend my time. I believe I do this well, but when it comes to relationships you will find it hard to manage your time with the humans in your life. I cannot tell my child to adjust their needs to fit into a time slot, just like I cannot tell my husband that he gets a five minute snuggle.  Fortunately, I am a morning person and have always enjoyed running first thing in the morning before the light of day shows and the energy of the world changes. When I first started running I felt like I was a step ahead of the rest of the world and somehow this made me feel empowered. Now, I am just relieved to get the run in before my children are awake and I am pulled in twenty directions. I also am lucky that my husband is not a morning person and is never racing me to the door to get the first workout in.

I may be partial but I would suggest to those of you who are very busy and have the responsibility of other humans, to run early. It is so easy to lose time as the day goes on or to lose motivation when every system has been drained. Life happens, but you cannot blame it on interfering with your training because if you make running a priority you will find the time. I firmly believe that starting my day with a run increases my energy and mental acuity, in addition to what I already mentioned about stabilizing my mood. As your coach, I will not tell you when to run but I will encourage you to make it a priority because it will help you in all facets of life. The daily grind does not have to be glamorous or worthy of enviable posts. It just needs to be for you!

 

 

Illness

I have been down and out for about a month now and before I got my diagnosis, the doctor stated, “this just doesn’t make sense because you are so healthy”! Yes, even healthy individuals get sick and as runners we are not immune to illness, especially if our stress levels are elevated due to training or life in general. My recent illness has been one for the books, but a good reminder to be careful with what you ingest on the trails! In any event, my training has taken a major hit just when I felt my motivation return.

Runners are generally a tough group of people who can push through a tremendous amount of pain, as well as illness. However, there is a time when you have to relent and realize that you body needs to recover. I am a terrible patient and always take medical advice with a grain of salt, but for this illness I knew that I had to slow the fuck down. My body could barely keep anything in for nearly four weeks, which made me susceptible to dehydration amongst other concerns. Every time I tried to resume normal activity I found myself back in bed for a solid day. This was not an illness to push through and this damn parasite reminded me everyday that I was no match for its potency. However, there are some illnesses that you can work through, but I would suggest connecting with your health care provider first. I believe that runners are very attuned to their own bodies and if you feel that your illness benefits from some fresh air and movement then go for it, but use those days as easy days. Just like my suggestion in the motivation blog, start with ten minutes and if you start to feel worse turn around and head home.

Now, when it comes to racing I don’t think it is a good idea to race with illness. Even if its a key race, I would suggest having a plan B. It is hard to hold back in a race and the likelihood of worsening your symptoms is very high. I have seen athletes who have raced sick and even have raced well, but it could also be a recipe for disaster. For most illnesses, taking two to three solid days of no running will help fight the illness faster. You will not lose much fitness at all during this time and it far beats being laid up for a few weeks or in my case over a month!

Half wheeler

I had never heard the expression “half wheeler” until I met my husband who is a former cyclist. If my memory serves me correctly, he labeled me within a mile of our first run together. My husband and I have very different intentions when we go out for a run and have yet to find a common approach that we can both enjoy. He is convinced that I purposely run one to two steps ahead of him because I lack patience and take my runs too seriously. I think he purposely putters along just to piss me off. In any event, we do not lose sleep about it and we do not run together.

When I first started running I was mostly on my own before joining a team in California.  These elite women were exceptional human beings and leagues above me in terms of running talent. I had grit and worked my ass off, but I was struggling. Everyday that I trained with these women felt like a race for me. I was barely hanging on and instead of admitting to my struggle I punished myself with extra junk miles. As you can imagine I fell apart fast and it took about three years for my body and mind to recover. I beat myself up every single day instead of realizing that I was probably in the wrong training group or needed to do my easy runs by myself to assure full recovery. I was young and denied the need for recovery even though I would have panic attacks before bed every night thinking about my morning workouts.

If you prefer running with other people or training groups be selective in choosing who you are with, particularly during specific training blocks. It is so easy to get caught up in what other people or doing, which can sabotage your own plan. If you need to run fast then train with people who are fast, if you need to run easy then run your own pace. Running should be something that you look forward to doing and adding unnecessary stress to training is counterproductive. Aside from the actual training that can be impacted by training partners, there is also the psychological component. If you are training with someone who is constantly trying to bury you in a run, please reconsider. If you are running with someone whose negativity is leaving a layer of grime on your shirt, please reconsider. Surround yourself with running partners who you look forward to training with and never feel compelled to run with someone if you are not feeling it. We can talk more about this when we start working together as every situation is different and also depending on what phase of training you are in.

Fortunately, my husband and I did not break-up when we realized we were not compatible training partners. And we did not begin as training partners who got romantically involved because this could lead to disaster too. Been there done that. My choice to run alone often is because I am looking to get different things out of running then when I was racing competitively. I like the silence that is do hard to find with three children at home and 800 at school. I value the opportunity to reflect while out on my runs and to be conscious of how my body feels, especially since it talks to me a lot more these days. Some days, I chose to run with individuals who contribute to the joy of running and who also add great conversation. Whatever you decide is a personal decision and know that training partners can be both an asset and a hindrance to your own goals as a runner!

Motivation

It is fitting that I am writing about motivation during a current slump in my training. I decided to name my coaching business Cooper’s Conscious Steps because I believe that mindfulness is a critical component of both training and racing. Being mindful of each and every step, both figuratively and literally, needs also to apply to your activity outside of running. However, none of this is relevant if you are struggling to take even one step forward.

It is important to identify what is getting in the way of your motivation or desire to run. For many runners, the lack of motivation can come from burnout, which can cause both physiological and psychological stress. It is very easy to get caught up in the more is better approach to training, as well as the FOMO impact on your race schedule. Through our communication I will be able to see signs of burnout sooner than later. However, you need to be honest in all of your feedback so that we can safeguard against any form of over training. Some runners lose motivation because they lack both short and long term goals. Creating those goals will be an important part of the process as we work together. Not having a goal to work towards makes it a lot easier to skip on those early morning cold, dark runs. Your goals are going to look different throughout the year and will require more dedication when you are peaking for a key race.  Finally, a loss in motivation can be a result of monotonous training. Being a distance runner does necessitate a daily grind that can wear on most of us. This grind will develop grit, but also cannot be established at the cost of someone’s mental health and life functioning. If this is the cause of your lack of motivation then we need to mix up the training! I like to mix up the terrain or effort depending on what kind of mood I am in that day and if cross training works for you then I can incorporate that into your plan.

I have been a runner for two decades and know the times in the year when my motivation dwindles, so I try to schedule important races around those times to avoid the guilt of not training right. Yes, I feel guilt when I am not training hard! It is important to give yourself permission to have some down time throughout the year or when the rest of your life stress is at a peak. When we talk about a race schedule we need to factor in the times when you feel less motivated so that we are consciously avoiding dips in motivation. If your motivation is dwindling during a tough training block we need to evaluate when and how to push through the rut.

My general rule of thumb for those days when I cannot get out the door is to start with ten minutes. If after ten minutes, I am still not feeling it then I turn around and go home. There are some days when I simply can not even get off of the couch. Those days I reflect on what is going on in my life (that may getting in the way of running) or if it is one of three elements named above regarding my running. Once I identify the reason I create an alternative plan and try my best to get through my day without harboring guilt. On these days, I encourage you to reach out to me, so that we can work through the thought/emotion and get you back out the door when you are ready. I have also found that having someone to meet for a run makes it easier to commit. I do not always like running with other people because running is a time when I can turn off everything else in my life. However, when my motivation is low I try to meet with someone at least once a week and I chose those people very carefully. More on the topic of training partners in an upcoming blog!

 

Nutrition

When it comes to nutrition my advice never replaces that of a dietitian or nutrition specialist. What I will speak to is having a healthy relationship with food and seeing food as the fuel that starts the engine. As a female, I would lie if I told you that I have had no issues with food and how it affects my body image. There was a period in my life when I had disordered eating patterns and was heading towards an eating disorder faster than any split on the track. Fortunately, I had the best support system with my family, friends, coach and training partners who halted the process of my decline. I experienced my unhealthy relationship with food and distorted body image when I was in my early 20’s. I cannot say that it came out of nowhere, but I can say that it caught me and everyone who knew me by surprise. I am telling you this because disordered eating can impact anyone at any age and runners are a cohort that is particularly vulnerable to eating disorders.

Basically, I was told that if I did not fuel my body properly, running was not an option for me. At that time in my life, running was everything because I had just put the rest of my life on hold for it. This message scared the shit out of me and I wanted nothing more to prove to myself and everyone around me that I could be an elite marathoner. It was not a clean processing breaking up with my eating issues, rather one that I have to keep in check even to this day. I have learned to acknowledge the negative thought or feeling about my body/eating, assess what may be driving the desire to restrict or critique and then I make a plan to address what is really going on in my life. This process is difficult and I have found that identifying aspects of my running and life that I really appreciate helps me move on from the negativity faster. As your coach I want you to talk to me if you are struggling with disordered eating patterns. Keeping it a secret will only fuel the disease more and if it is manifesting itself into an eating disorder it is essential to receive adequate care.

So, I digress from the topic of nutrition a bit, yet needed to make you aware of how I came to approach my own nutrition as an athlete. There are so many philosophies on nutrition and basically it comes down to what works best for you. I do not prescribe to any diet or nutrition plan that is not balanced or that can cause deficiencies. There is no harm in trying various approaches to see how your body responds. I recommend doing this during an off season or when you are not training for a key event. As an athlete, and for those female athletes out there, it may be beneficial to have blood work done to make sure you are getting everything you need through your diet and if you are using supplements.

I like to keep everything simple and quite honestly I am too frugal to adopt any nutritional/supplement plan with fidelity. I listen to my body and can tell when things may be a bit off and adjust accordingly. This has allowed me three healthy pregnancies, regular periods and maybe a couple of illnesses in the last decade. Bottom line, do what works best for you, don’t fall prey to the latest fad and eat to train.

 

 

Don’t Look Back

Has anyone every told you to not look back when you are racing? It takes a great deal of discipline to maintain your focus in a race without assessing who is coming from behind. This race tactic, which is incredibly valuable, can also be applied to your training and race goals. I sometimes make the mistake of comparing my current running self to who I was in my early 20’s. However, I will never be that person and quite frankly I don’t want to be her because she was an asshole. I may have been younger and fitter, but I appreciate all of the wisdom that I have acquired throughout the years and the stories that can be told from my experiences. I try to look back only to reflect on what I have learned in the process about who I am as an athlete and I encourage you to do the same. If you have had a structured training plan before, then I would benefit from knowing how your body responds to specific stimuli. If you have been racing for any length of time then I need to know what your personal bests are and how got you to those personal bests. Looking back for this information is beneficial, comparing a workout from one several years ago could be a positive or negative. I will need to know how you respond to this information because if your comparisons cause you to become self deprecating then I will avoid similar workouts. This holds true for selecting race schedules. Every athlete has a different emotional attachment to a race and I want your races to be a celebration of the hard work that you have put in. Despite the outcome, I want you to leave the event knowing that you gave it your best and that you feel good about yourself as a whole. I never want any athlete to measure their self-worth by a workout or a race. This is a dangerous slippery slope that can lead to low self-esteem and depressive feelings. Running is a choice and a lifestyle that should bring fulfillment, excitement, health and happiness. As soon as one of those things are compromised we need to readjust what we are doing.