Coaches: They’re not just for athletes

Coaches: They’re not just for athletes

I work with a running coach. I never thought I would spend money on a coach. It always seemed kind of self-indulgent. But I learned it makes a huge difference. And I went it alone for a long time.

On Friday I will celebrate my 20th “Run-iversay.” It was on March 4, 1996, with my crash and burn performance at the 1995 Corporate Challenge still on my mind, that I decided to walk out my door and actually run. The snow from that January’s epic snowstorm had finally melted and I knew that if I was going to participate on my company’s corporate challenge team again that summer, I actually had to train.

But for me there was no “beginner program.” I just kind of figured it out. Ran a little, walked a little, ran a little more until I did a big circle of my neighborhood, which I discovered was 2-miles. I did this a couple days a week, running more, walking less. Eventually making a bigger loop.

I learned everything I needed to learn about running in the early years from books. And a subscription to Runner’s World. One year my subscription came with a booklet “Get Fitter Run Faster: Training Secrets From Top Coaches to Improve Your Speed and Endurance.” I followed the guide and clocked some fairly decent times. That booklet coached me to a 10k PR in 1998 that still stands today. But it never occurred to me to actually hire a coach.

Running was something I did in the early morning before work…alone. And no one but me really cared whether or not I did or didn’t run. The books and articles contradicted themselves at times and a lot of what I was doing was trial and error. I started thinking A LOT about what I should and shouldn’t be doing in my training.

I joined a running club and started comparing notes with other runners. That helped a little. Eventually I made time to participate in the club’s coached track workouts. That helped a lot. Unfortunately that was short-lived because I took another job with a long commute and couldn’t get to the track for the evening workouts. So I was back to running alone in the early morning.

Except I’d see a coach at the track with his private clients when I was doing my own weekly speed session. He started giving me some unsolicited advice and invited me to come to his group’s evening workouts, which were a little later. I declined. I knew what he was trying to do. But one day I agreed to meet him at Starbucks and talk about what – maybe – he could do for me…that was about two and a half years ago.

Under his guidance, as I closed in on my 50th birthday, I achieved personal records in the 5k, 8k, 5 mile, 15k, 20k, Half Marathon and Marathon – and in some cases more than once, plus I came closer to that 1998 10k time than I ever had before. But my coach didn’t just help me with my running. He helped me through a difficult time in my life. I’m not sure if he knows that; but yeah, by merely taking the “thinking” out of my running, I was able to focus on other areas of my life at a most critical time, while still making me accountable for my workouts that were a key stress reliever. And because my running improved I also benefitted from a self-esteem boost.

Everyone should consider a coach whether to improve your running, your career, or your life. I participated in the Bergen Volunteer Center’s Expert Exchange Webinar Series recently. The presenter was Eli Amdur who writes the Career Coach column for The Record and The topic was “The One Word Missing from Your Organizational Chart.” The word of course was, “Coach.” Mr. Amdur explained that the problem in most organizations is that there is too much managing and not enough coaching. He explained that coaching was positive: “the process of helping others gain and improve skills, ability, and knowledge in order to better perform a task, or job, or to become more productive, integrated members of a team.”

He pointed to the game of baseball for the most useable coaching model: there are 40 players and only one manager – but 10 coaches! “Management,” he explained, “does not equal coaching. When done right, coaching helps people learn; it doesn’t teach them what you want them to know.”

I have always believed, especially in the non-profit sector, that people needed to be better “coached” as they acquired new responsibilities and took on leadership roles. Coaching is increasingly used in the corporate sector as the means of developing emerging leaders, while the non-profit sector has lagged behind. The Journal for Nonprofit Management explains, “The nonprofit sector has often utilized and adapted business strategies years or even decades after they become pervasive in the business sector, e.g. strategic planning, marketing, performance management, and so forth. Coaching has been another example of this trickle-down effect, and it is taking its time to become a standard offering among non-profit leaders.”

Coaching in the nonprofit sector is becoming more acceptable. Some funders are starting to encourage it. That’s good news. Since I established my consultancy in 2008, I have worked with clients to develop and manage fundraising events, have conducted organizational assessments, and created development and strategic plans; but where I have found I can have the most impact is when I have the opportunity to coach them through implementation of the recommendation or plan. And after doing this full time for a year and a half, I’m now moving more toward coaching nonprofit leaders so they don’t have to go it alone.

Coaching isn’t about making one accountable to someone (although I feel my running coach does and that’s a good thing). A coach helps us develop new skills, get feedback and support, maximizes our performance and assures we reach our potential.  Coaching isn’t just for athletes. And it’s not self-indulgent. It’s what will make us better.


Over-Training – in Running and Non-Profit Work

Over-Training – in Running and Non-Profit Work

When I mention “over-training” to my running friends they know what I’m talking about. We have all experienced this from time to time in our running careers. Last fall I ran two marathons, Chicago in October and Bucks County just 5 weeks later. It was probably not the smartest decision I ever made; but I fell short of my BQ goal (Boston Qualifying time) in Chicago and wanted to take another shot while I was “all trained-up.” I did cut 8 minutes off my time, but still came up short on the BQ. I knew I needed some down time. I gave my coach a month off and was just running shorter distances at slower paces, while I enjoyed my recovery time (and analyzed what went wrong in Chicago).

Two weeks into my “recovery” I decided to join a gym – well more accurately, a training center. I had decided that a big difference in my training for Chicago compared to NJ in 2014 (where I came within a hair of a BQ) was the time I was putting into strength training. So I hit the gym hard. It was a great workout. It was challenging. I was going to an hour class, 3 times a week. It was a fun group and a fast moving class with great trainers who were liberal with the positive reinforcement. All good!

In January, I started training with my running coach again, this time for the New Jersey Marathon coming up on May 1. But as I started to increase my weekly mileage, I noticed I was getting sluggish – especially on my long runs. Finally 3 weeks ago, I hit an all time low. My 15-mile run – not usually a challenge for me – was a real struggle. My pace got slower and slower, I couldn’t keep my heart rate up in the desired zone, and my legs felt like cement blocks. I discussed it with a friend who said it sounded like a symptom of “over-training.” I knew I wasn’t over training as far as my running was concerned and my coach agreed. But we also decided that maybe while I was training for the marathon, I should keep everything else simple. So I took a week off from the gym classes, and then another. And as I did, I gradually began to return to my old self.

So if I ask you, my non-profit friends, about over-training, do you know what I’m talking about? I’m sure everyone at some point in his or her career – in any profession – has dealt with burn out. But after reading something a couple weeks ago and reflecting on my own experiences in the non-profit sector, I wonder if we don’t set ourselves up.

Mazarine Treyz of Wild Women Fundraising interviewed consultant Sheena Greeer recently about non-profit professionals being prone to “boundary issues” – that is, little separation between work and life. She described her work in non-profits, not unlike many of us do:

“I love this sector. I’m working exactly where I need to be. I’ve always had a big heart. I’ve always had a lot of empathy for people around me. I’ve always been very responsible in my relationships and my workplaces, and I’ve always been driven to solve problems. So all of these things that essentially make this sector such a wonderful place to work are also a lot of the reasons why I’ve struggled with boundaries. I care deeply for people, so when I see – and I want to solve their problems. I want to solve problems. So when I see all of these broken things or things that need fixing or things that need help, or people that are struggling or whatever, I can’t help but want to just dive in and fix it for them.”

To read the entire interview, please visit Wild Woman Fundraising.

I’ve certainly been there. Although I’ve been less open in admitting it, tried to manage it for years, and I wound up getting sick before I realized I had to do something about it. I started my first non-profit job in 1996. I was really driven, very organized and disciplined, and had high expectations for myself – and others. When I started supervising staff, my boss told me that I needed to lower my expectations of them because “no one could possibly be expected to work at my level.” I certainly worked the occasional evening and weekend as that’s the nature of fundraising. But the organization valued its staff and our personal time and encouraged flexible hours as necessary. In spite of how hard I worked, the success I had, and the reputation I built for a strong work ethic, I really wasn’t working much beyond 40 hours most weeks. I had boundaries.

But something changed. When I became a CEO, I felt more personally responsible for the financial success of the organization. There were a lot of difficult decisions I had to make that affected the livelihood of those we employed and the well being of those we were there to serve. I put in an insane amount of hours, even though I think as my hours went up my effectiveness went down. Things didn’t get any better when I took myself out of the CEO position and went back into development positions at larger organizations. I was also dealing with family issues – the fallout from my father’s death, managing the affairs of my mother and aunt both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and being the sole financial provider for my family. But in my professional role I also felt a responsibility to be successful because the number of people my organization could serve was directly related to the amount of money I could raise. That was my non-profit career equivalent of over-training. Taking on too much, both personally and professionally. In 2012, I was treated for herniated disks. I took a year off from running. I made an amazing recovery and comeback. But I still didn’t do anything about the other stressors. I compartmentalized. Finally in March 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s when I finally decided I was putting myself first.

I left my last fulltime job at the end of June that year and have been consulting since. When I work for a client – or if I ever go back to work for another organization – I’m remembering who I was earlier in my career; when I had those high expectations, but boundaries – and was actually at my most successful. And I take with me the lesson of over-training, and why although we might be able to do everything, we can’t do everything well.

Next week we’re going to continue this conversation and talk about why everyone needs a coach.

IMG_3168Darlington County Park, Mahwah, NJ, January 2016



Cause-Running Review: Run for Our Sons

Cause-Running Review: Run for Our Sons

I have run marathons and half marathons for nine non-profit organizations collectively raising over $85,000. One of those organizations was Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD). While working with them a few years ago, I became familiar with and joined their Run for Our Sons program that raises money to support their mission to end Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is the most common fatal genetic disorder diagnosed in childhood, affecting approximately 1 in every 3,500 live male births (about 20,000 new cases each year worldwide). Because the Duchenne gene is found on the X-chromosome, it primarily affects boys; however, it occurs across all races and cultures.

I sat down recently with Nicole Herring, PPMD’s Endurance Program Manager, to catch up with Run for Our Sons. It’s now in it’s 12th year! Like other “cause-running” programs, it began when a couple of parents with affected children, who happened to be runners, organized a group to run the Disney World Marathon. 86 people ran and raised over $186,000. The program has since grown to about 600 participants,15 events, and raises just shy of $1 million annually. This covers about 15% of the organization’s annual operating budget.

Run for Our Sons participants receive guaranteed entry, paid entry fee, technical team shirt, a fundraising web page, fundraising support and access to staff. There are also monthly training tips offered through a parent blog and a team pasta dinner the night before the event for the participant and a guest.

Nicole said that 95% of their runners have a connection to Duchenne – family members and friends. “Diagnosis brings ‘hopelessness’ and this is a way to do something – sign up and run – it becomes a way to feel good and do something positive,” explained Nicole. There is a very moving video on their web site where participants offer reasons for “Why I run.” 

Houston Marathon Weekend (5k, Half, Marathon), January 2013

Run for Our Sons is currently recruiting for The Shamrock Shuffle 5K in Rockford, IL (Mar. 20), The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Chicago (Apr. 3), and the Inaugural Walt Disney World Star Wars Races (5K, 10K, Half; April 15-17). Registration for the Star Wars races is now only available through travel providers and charity partners like PPMD. Fundraising commitments vary by races. For more details, please visit the Run for Our Sons web site.

In addition to half marathons and marathons, PPMD encourages supporters all over the country to host their own fun runs, 5Ks and 10Ks to raise money for Run for Ours Sons and in doing so, awareness for PPMD. Their website,, makes it easy for not only runners, but non-runners (which they call “spirit” runners), to get involved at whatever level they feel comfortable.

The take-away for non-profits is that this is a great way to raise funds and awareness for your organization. Programs like Run for Our Sons have relatively low overhead. That being said, they do take an investment and require staff time. While Nicole coordinates all the details for each race, a number of additional staff and volunteers provide support leading up to each event and help organize the groups on race day.

Run for Our Sons is a real grass-roots effort with a lot of heart. The families I met in the short time I was involved touched my soul. This is a small organization achieving a magnitude of success toward finding a cure for Duchenne. To my running friends: if you are looking for a way into the Disney Star Wars Races, please consider fundraising for Run for Our Sons. The Half Marathon requires only a $1200 fundraising commitment and you will find yourself part of a very special team.



Cause-running: Is it for you?

Cause-running: Is it for you?


The blog is a day late this week because I just got back from a long weekend destination race…the 20th Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA. It was a little warmer at race time that I would have preferred, but it was a nice race in a spectacular locale…and no snow! I didn’t run this race for charity, but there were many who did. The event’s official charity was Free Wheelchair Mission (“Transforming lives through the gift of mobility”). An announcement was made at the start of the race that the biggest individual fundraiser running raised over $10,000 for the cause.  So let’s explore “cause-running.”

Bruce Cleland, the father of a Leukemia survivor, formed a team of 38 people to train and run the 1988 New York City Marathon. In the process, Cleland’s “team” raised $322,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Team In Training was born. The program reached national significance in less than 10 years. By 2001, the organization’s top three fundraisers were Team in Training events raising a total of $26.1 million. It’s estimated that in its first 25 years, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society raised a total of $875 million with the TNT program.

But they’re not the only ones. Many charities big and small have been able to capitalize on this grassroots fundraising movement. In 2015, New York City Marathon participants raised (according to CrowdRise) $19,605,126 for 317 charities.

“[Charity running] is the ultimate win-win,” says Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski. Charities develop a revenue stream and increase their public visibility. Their training programs and cheering sections provide support for runners, many of whom never would have attempted a marathon (or half-marathon) without the pull of doing something for the greater good. And the charity partnerships strengthen the race’s relationship with the community. (Runner’s World, July 2013)

“Cause-running” serves to create an outlet for any supporter to take control of their health and in the process provide needed assistance to those who can’t. Athletes are trained according to their fitness level to run marathons and half marathons (and other endurance events). In exchange for the training, event entry and other perks (sometimes including transportation and lodging), the athlete agrees to raise a certain amount of money for the charity.

The appeal of these types of fundraisers for the non-profit is the cost is far less than traditional fundraising events while also serving as a high-level awareness tool. Plus these types of events are not limited to elite donors with disposable income. Participants ask friends, family and co-workers to pledge or sponsor them, thus making them ambassadors for the cause. Now social media is extending their reach even further.

Besides the training, perks, and the good feeling that comes along with raising money for an important mission, cause-running has also become a way for runners to earn a coveted spot in a sold out race, or, as in the case of the Boston Marathon that limits participation with qualifying times, it may be the only way for some to gain entry.

So how does your organization get involved? First invite supporters to run a marathon (or half marathon). An organization I worked with recently did this through the Young Professionals group. Through them and their friends a team of seven was recruited to run two marathons, the New York City Marathon and the New Jersey Marathon the following spring. No minimum fundraising amount was required that first year, but participants also had to secure their own race entries. They received really nice technical singlets with the team name, and a cheering section was provided. It started small and then an application was submitted to be a charity partner for the New York City Marathon the following year. For information on the NYC Marathon Charity Partner Program, go to

Non-profits doing this type of fundraising successfully have made the investment in database software that allows individual participants to create fundraising pages with the look and feel of your organization’s web site. Organization’s just starting out or experimenting in this area should look at Crowdrise. It is a great vehicle through which you can build an event and form a team. For runners wishing to raise money for a cause that does not have a formal “cause-running” program, Crowdrise can be the vehicle through which you can do it without requiring their help. I have set up Crowdrise pages several times when I was fundraising for small organizations without anything structured, or when I didn’t want to sign up for the formal program and commit to a specific fundraising goal.

I will from time-to-time share information about organizations that engage in this type of fundraising; how they succeed, what differentiates them from other “cause-running” programs, and what lessons they can teach us. First up next week will be Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy’s Run for Our Sons program.

IMG_3223Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon, February 2016


Don’t just run the event; volunteer!

Don’t just run the event; volunteer!

Do you volunteer? I suspect that most of you do. Perhaps with your child’s school or recreational activity; perhaps you give time to a cause whose mission touches your soul. If you have been employed by a non-profit like I have, you probably have given a significant amount of time to your employer. Regardless of how you invest your time in your community, I’m sure we can all agree that when we do, we get an enormous return on that investment.

The origins of my volunteer service date back to when I was a Brownie Girl Scout. Plus I went to Catholic School where “service” was part of the curriculum. My parents were also involved politically and I volunteered for more campaigns by the time I was 12 than most people do in a lifetime. Aside from learning about the virtues of giving of oneself to help others, I was also, without knowing it, planning for my career. I learned through many of these early experiences how to conduct a fundraising campaign and, most useful, how to run a successful event. I still volunteer and I still see my volunteer work as a way to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

Beyond being helpful to a meaningful cause, volunteerism can, and should, be done strategically. As special events director for Bergen County’s United Way in 1998, I was tasked with co-organizing a golf-outing; something with which I had absolutely no experience beyond occasionally watching the PGA on television. I had a friend who was organizing two golf outings, so I signed up to help him out as a volunteer. And of course it helped the organization holding the event as I filled a much-needed staffing void without adding an expense. Special event directors should always be looking for other events at which to give their time. What a great opportunity to learn some thing new…or maybe just a better way of doing something you already do.

Corporations have known for a long time that employee volunteerism helps build teams, creates camaraderie, and generally makes employees feel better about their employer. The same holds true for schools and clubs. My running club volunteered for the New York City Marathon last November. Aside from the amazing experience of being involved in such a huge, spectacular event, the collective volunteer time brought us closer together. If you’re a runner, you should be volunteering at races occasionally, too. It’s of course important to support the running community in this way, but it is also a way to learn about parts of the race you don’t see when you’re running the course. You begin to understand the experiences of race participants that run at a different pace than you.

My advice to anyone looking for a job, looking to switch gears in their career, or just looking to tackle a new project, is to volunteer. When you’re out of work, fill the time by doing something meaningful that helps broaden your skills. I interviewed a candidate for a job once and asked what he had been doing with his time in the six months since losing his last job. He response? “Catching up on Netflix.” Wrong answer and not what you should be doing.

Some places to start your search for volunteer opportunities:

IMG_2461New York City Marathon. Sun setting on Mile 21 Water Stop. November 2015.