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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.

 

My journey

When I reflect on my running career, I find a natural comparison to the life of a cat. My relatively long tenure as an athlete has allowed me to have multiple rebirths. Like a cat I have escaped the “end” repeatedly and always land on my feet. I started as a no name on the streets of NY running away from my problems and towards a new sense of self. I snuck up on the road racing community with quick success. I went from a rewarding college soccer career at Villanova University to a top marathoner all in the blink of an eye. My results led to opportunities that included shoe contracts, an agent, a professional training group and entries into the top road races in the country. I lowered my times to 2:35’s, 16:30’s, 33 minutes, you get where I am going, but this life would soon end. My internal demons were thwarting my efforts on the roads, so with my tail between my legs I returned to my other life as an educator. This part of my story looked a little different because I was working a full time job, but the runner self still earned a few visits to the Olympic trials marathon and doses of top performances at almost every distance. However, I yearned for a different setting with my newfound balanced life, which came via the trails.

When I moved to the mountains in Colorado, I began a love affair that started with mistrust. I wasn’t sure of how to take in the natural beauty while fueling the competitive fire that drove who I am as an individual. Naturally, when my trust was challenged I fled back to the roads that were familiar only to find myself emptier than before. During this time in my life, I diverted my attention away from running when I felt confused and embraced motherhood with the hopes that the fire could be put out and a sense of satisfaction could ensue. I heard comments like, “You are a mom now, running doesn’t matter”, but not one ounce of my being wanted to adopt this philosophy. I dabbled on the trails, but was not sure what distance or type of terrain was where I could find fulfillment. I was amazed by the fact that my body could return after each pregnancy and that my mental game became my strongest asset. My 30’s became a cycle of gaining optimal fitness and clarity around goals mixed with 3 births and the constant of my career in education. I felt pulled in three different directions knowing that each component of my life mattered in order for me to be the best version of myself

So, here I am at the ripe old age of 41 and I still dream like the 7 year old watching the ‘84 Olympics in my parent’s living room. I feel a sense of purpose and a drive to have an impact that goes beyond the podium and into the success of others in my treasured running community. I see myself as a sounding board for other women and men who feel torn in their busy lives. I want to take my enthusiasm for the sport and experience in balancing life with running into your journey. I am ready to spread the love affair, so contact me!

 

Identity

I have been a multi-sport athlete for over thirty-five years who found running after playing soccer, basketball, softball and lacrosse. The summer after I graduated from college I was depressed and lost because my identity as an athlete had seemingly disappeared. I decided to set the goal of finishing a marathon to motivate myself to stay fit and to hold onto self-worth that could only be found in sports. I trained all winter on a treadmill, starting with one mile and working my way up to ten. I had no idea what I was doing, but determined that putting in the work and training my mind through the monotony of the treadmill would get me to the finish line. I never doubted whether I would reach my goal; maybe it was due to ignorance or better yet the belief that I was a runner.

My best running performances came from period of time when I trusted the process and identified as a runner. If I believed in the training plan and my body adapting to the stressors, then ideal results followed. When my running performances suffered it was due to a pervasive self doubt. Early in my running career, I had the privilege of being coached by the legendary Joe Vigil. He often told me that running was 10% physical and 90% mental. I listened and processed what he was saying, but it took nearly a decade for this concept to truly resonate with me. Looking back at who I was in my 20’s, I see a woman who lacked the confidence needed to optimize performances and even questioned the training (despite being coached by one of the bests). I felt like a poser in the running world and sabotaged all of the work that I was putting in training because I did not believe that I belonged at the front of a start line amongst women who seemed different than me.

The question of identity has come up repeatedly for me as an individual and as an athlete. Throughout my day I wear several different hats that can define who I am. Whether I am running 3 miles or 30, finishing on the podium or dead last, I am and always will be a runner. As we work together I encourage you to see yourself as a runner regardless of what level you are at or working towards. This mindset will help you get out of bed in the morning to run, work through tougher days and make it easier to set long term goals.