The Story of the Cause Coach (or what I do, Part 2)

The Story of the Cause Coach (or what I do, Part 2)

The assignment for my Co-Active Coaching Synergy Class last week was to write my (coaching) story. It needed to include relevant pieces of the past, the present journey and the future. It shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes to tell.

So here it is from the future…it’s 2040. I’m 75 and presenting at the NYC Marathon Expo, this how I begin…

This the story of the Cause Coach.

I’m Mary Connolly. And yeah, I’m the Cause Coach.

I reinvented myself twice in my adult life. The first time was in the mid 90s when I transitioned from a career as a mediocre sales professional to a successful fundraiser. What was significant about that was it was then that I started running. I trained for my first race in 1996 and completed my first full marathon in 1997. And from there my career took off! It was not only through the focus and discipline that I developed in the marathon training, but the enormous empowerment I felt as a marathon finisher that made every project seem effortless, every idea doable. That’s where I got the inspiration for my first book which at the time was going to be 26.2 Miles to a Better Career.

But life got in the way. And things got stressful. Almost 20 years vanished. With 2013 came a sense of wanting to be something – or someone – new…again. I had just gotten through what I had thought was the most stressful time of my life: seven difficult years that saw tremendous hardship personally and professionally bookended by the loss of both my parents. By 2013 I wanted to live. I had a renewed focus on the book project when I met a literary agent interested in the project; but I struggled with exactly what I was going to say, and why I was the person to say it. What made me, out of the 10s of 1000s of marathon finishers a credible author?

Going into 2014 toxic stress still loomed large. Family stress. Job stress and just as I was thinking things couldn’t get any worse I was diagnosed with an invasive breast cancer. Successful lumpectomy. Caught early. Nothing spread. Four weeks of radiation and I’ve been cancer free ever since. A month after my surgery I lost my job. Six weeks after I completed radiation my husband hanged himself in our garage.

The book was beginning to write itself. Though the most unlikely and tragic circumstances I was the credible author. 2014 was the worse year of my life. But I ran. And running kept me sane. Running made me strong. Running saved my life.

People told me I was inspirational. The 15 months after my husband’s death was a time of mourning and self-discovery. My consulting business was the cause connection. I was working with emerging and transitioning non-profits, but I quickly understood that I didn’t want to do the hands on work, that I was more excited when I would guide my clients to do the work themselves. In an effort to transition from consultant to coach, I started my blog…and The Cause Coach was born. “Cause” then meaning a non-profit, charity – a worthy cause.

In early 2016, looking to establish more credibility as a coach, I found CTI (Coaches Training Institute) and began training as a Co-Active Coach. During the core training I expanded on my self-discovery and developed clarity around my life purpose. I also got some really good coaching from my classmates.

One challenged me to reconnect with the literary agent I had been working with on and off for 3 years. I did. We discussed a reframe of the book which led to a reframe of the blog. I redefined “cause” from a charity I was trying to help to being who I was…”the cause coach: giving rise to action.” That helped me see who I wanted to be as a coach…I finally answered the question: how can I use my passion for running, my RRCA coaching credential and CPCC (Certified Professional Co-active Coach) to provide a unique type of coaching that would empower people to be their personal best?

In 2017, I became certified as a co-active coach. And in 2018, I finished the book, yes, my best seller that you all know so well, “26.2 Miles to an Extraordinary Life.” At the age of 52, I had fully reinvented myself again.

Since then, I have coached 1000s of clients to do what I did; through their own self discovery they learned that they can survive and endure the most difficult of times and also find clarity in their life purpose – and many were coached to that first self-affirming powerful marathon finish.

And that’s why I’m here talking to you this morning at the NYC Marathon expo…


Riding the waves

Riding the waves

What to do when you’re feeling down, depressed or anxious. And this has nothing to do with why it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post. Had a busy week. Will write about that in a few days.

A friend posed a question on her FaceBook a couple weeks ago. She asked if anyone else had feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc. and if so, what was their best advice for coping with it? I really admire her for putting that out there. Many, many people (myself included, as you learned in a previous blog post) have these feelings. While some people deal with episodes their whole lives, for many these feelings are temporary, brought on by simple things like stress or hormonal imbalances, or trauma. Even trauma that doesn’t directly affect you can cause mental health issues as we saw after 9/11. I’m no real expert, but I learned a lot from my own experiences and through the Mental Health First Aid Certification class I took back in February. I know that she’s not the only one who might need help. So let’s talk about this. What do you do?

It’s important to know what to do for a loved one dealing with such feelings, so let’s start there. The mnemonic, or memory device, for the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan is ALGEE: Assess for risk of suicide or harm, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help, Encourage self-help and other support strategies. First and foremost, make sure they are not at risk of harming themselves; do not be afraid to simply ask them point blank. You will not be putting thoughts in their head if you ask if they are suicidal and they are not. And do not ignore someone who says they are having suicidal thoughts. This is the one exception to any “confidentiality” agreement established. You need to get them immediate professional help. Once any critical crisis has been ruled out, listening – without judgment – is one of the most important things anyone can do. People need to be heard and their feelings acknowledged. Reassurance includes empathizing, voicing hope, and offering practical help with tasks that may seem overwhelming to the person. Encouraging professional help and self-help (see below) is also very important.

Now, what do you do when you are experiencing these feelings yourself? To begin with, let those you love know how you feel so they can be supportive or at the very least avoid giving you any more bad feelings. In doing that however, know that not everyone in your life is capable of being supportive. That doesn’t make them a bad person. Just find people that know how to handle you, that are not judgmental, don’t try to solve your problem with inappropriate advice, and are good at saying the right thing or know when it’s best not to say anything at all. Spend your time with them and while the episode continues avoid people that make things worse.

If you haven’t experienced anything like it before, analyze what might be causing it. Have you started taking a new medication? Consult with your primary care physician or any doctor whose care you are presently under. Let them know what you’re feeling. Was there some sort of trauma that you experienced or witnessed, even from a far? Don’t be shy about seeking out a therapist or counselor or a coach. Talking through the issue can be powerful. They are paid to listen to their clients, and they ask the right questions to lead to introspection. Unlike talking through feelings with friends, they are not judgmental, don’t offer unsolicited (often inappropriate) advice, and you don’t have to feel guilty about making the conversation all about you. Additional professional support may include government services or non-profit programs that help with vocational and educational goals, and income or housing assistance, depending what your challenges are.

Take good care of yourself. Go to bed early, drink a lot of water, eat well, take some “me time” – again why its important to tell the people you are closest to. Maybe they can take the kids, or take care of other obligations. Exercise! I find that exercise (and it’s also a proven fact) helps elevate mood. Of course I run – but there are times, like when I had my back issues (result of stress) or after my surgery, when I couldn’t, I have found just getting out for a brisk walk was helpful. I also swim. And I hike. Sometimes I need to do something different in order to see things differently.

Journaling is also productive. I keep an e-journal (see Day One in the App Store), which allows me to add pictures, note the time, place, weather, and tag entries to search later. I try to take a picture everyday of something – even a small thing – that makes me smile and include it. Some days I just vent when I journal and that’s good too. I have found getting my thoughts down allows me to look at an issue from a different perspective.

As I feel myself emerging from a down mood, I plan a “me day” – maybe an updated haircut, manicure/pedicure, or massage, and perhaps a new outfit to wear to work to start a new week so I feel like I’m starting fresh. I will also add that a few months after my husband died (and this, as you know, came in a 8 year period where I also saw the loss of both parents, a close aunt and uncle, my dog and 4 jobs), I realized I was in over my head emotionally, so in addition to the therapist I was seeing, I started practicing Transcendental Meditation. This was a real game changer and has allowed me to manage things a lot better. I still get sad, have job stress, and I am the single parent of a teenager, but I feel like I manage the emotions much better. To a certain extend, I learned to ride it out. If you have experienced these feelings before, they pass, right? So it’s a matter of finding the strongest coping mechanisms and the best alliances that make it possible to ride the waves.

IMG_2308Sandy Hook, NJ October 2015

Make it a Running Holiday

Make it a Running Holiday

Last week I told you about how Independence Day is my favorite holiday. Now I have to wait 358 more days for that to come again. But in the meantime I will still find something to appreciate with every celebration because thankfully there is a race for every occasion whether you are here in Northern New Jersey and want to stay local or want to escape for the weekend. Here are a few I’ve done, are on my race calendar for the next year, or are on my racing bucket list (re-check web sites, some dates have not been fully confirmed by race directors):

Labor Day

Local: Verona Labor Day Classic (5k), Monday, September 5, Verona, NJ organized by Essex Running Club

Columbus Day Weekend

Destination: Newport Marathon & Half, Sunday October 9, Newport, RI Why? Well, this year because I’ll be there! Their website boasts that it’s “the only marathon and half-marathon in Newport, the course is simply astounding: winding ocean-side roads, miles of waterfront views and sweeping vistas of the grand mansions along Bellevue Avenue.” So yeah, that’s why I’m doing it…but only the Half.

Halloween Themed

Local: Halloween 5k to Scare Hunger Away, Sunday, October 30, Garret Mountain, Woodland Park, NJ

Destination: Chase the Devil 6.66 miler, Saturday, October 29, Salem, MA Why?  It’s been named one of the top costume races in the world, and really, there aren’t too many better places to celebrate Halloween than the place of the Salem Witch Trials. Plus at 6.66 miles it will be an instant personal record!

Thanksgiving Day

Local: Ashenfelter 8k Classic, Thursday, November 26, Glen Ridge, NJ

Destination: Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race (10k), Cincinnati, OH. Why? This year marks the 107th Annual running of this event making it the oldest race in the midwest. It crosses the Ohio River twice and supports great causes like Ronald McDonald House and Girls on the Run.

Christmas Season

Local: The AMBS Reindeer Run (5k), Saturday, December 3, Franklin Lakes, NJ

Destination: A Christmas Carol Classic (5k & 10K), Saturday, December 17, Denver, CO

New Year’s Eve or Day

Local: First Day 5k, Sunday, January 1, Fair Lawn, NJ

Destination: Harmony Silvester 5k,  Saturday, December 31, Harmony, PA. Historic Harmony honors its German heritage by celebrating Silvester (New Year’s Eve) on
German time 6:00 PM (midnight in Germany). They count-down to a ball-drop in German, followed by fireworks and singing of Auld Lang Syne.

Super Bowl Sunday

Local: Pre-Game 4 Miler, Sunday, February 5, Morristown, NJ

Destination: Surf City Marathon and Half, Sunday, February 5, Huntington Beach, CA. Why? Because its California. And because it’s February. I’m already signed up for 2017 and it will be my 3rd time going back to do the Half at this beautiful beach town.

Valentine’s Day Themed

Local: Cupid’s Chase (5k), Saturday, February 11, Glen Rock, NJ

Destination: Cupid’s Chase (5k), Saturday, February 11, 34 locations in 10 states. Why? Raises money for Community Options, Inc. improving the lives of people with disabilities.

St. Patrick’s Day Themed

Local: St. Paddy’s Day 5k, Saturday, March 11, Morristown, NJ

Destination: Shamrock Marathon Weekend (Marathon, Half, 8k), Saturday & Sunday, March 18 & 19, Virginia Beach, VA. Why? Scenic course passes one of the oldest lighthouses in the country; 2-day finish line celebration on the beach with live music, beer, and Murphy’s Irish stew.


Destination: Crescent City Classic (10k), Sunday, April 15, New Orleans, LA. Why? A New Orleans tradition along with Marti Gras and Jazz Fest. Touted as “America’s Fastest 10k.”

Memorial Day Weekend

Local: The Fred d’Elia Ridgewood Run (5k & 10k), Monday, Ridgewood, NJ organized by North Jersey Masters Track & Field Club

Destination: Spring Lake 5-mile Run, Saturday, Spring Lake, NJ Why? Because “summer at the shore begins with the Spring Lake 5.” Not far enough away? Not Long enough? How about The Soldier Field 10-Mile, Saturday, Chicago, IL Why? Great course that finishes inside Soldier Field, with really cool finishers medals, and a fabulous post-race celebration.

GFather’s Day Weekend

Local: Westwood Dad’s Dash (5k), Westwood, NJ

Destination: Shelter Island Run (10k & 5k), Shelter Island, NY Why? Incredibly beautiful race course (I wrote about it here), great race weekend activities, celebrities, wonderful place to spend a weekend, and ferry ride to and from the island is an added bonus.

Fourth of July

Local: Glen Rock Tribute Run, (5k) Glen Rock,NJ

Destination: Peachtree Road Race (10k), Atlanta, Ga Why? With 60,000 participants it’s the world’s largest 10k road race.

IMG_3254Huntington Beach, CA February 2016 (site of the Surf City Marathon & Half)

Happy Holiday

Happy Holiday

Fourth of July – Independence Day – is my favorite holiday. The main reason is it’s a low pressure holiday. No gifts to buy. No cards to send. No obligation to spend time with crazy relatives. You don’t even need a date to celebrate properly. It’s also a truly American holiday, something we all celebrate regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, social standing, wealth, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. I guess you could argue that Thanksgiving is kind of like that, but there is that obligation to the crazy relatives or perhaps worse, not having any family at all. But Fourth of July, even at it’s worst, is about warm weather, and spontaneity. For me, this year was no different.

Of course the best way to start any holiday is with a run or better yet, a race. This morning I went to the Glen Rock Tribute Run and met up with my Harriers teammates to cheer on the few that were running. I’m still working on recovery and not racing until later this month. We had a bigger group cheering than running this year. That was my only plan for the day, but spontaneity took over when I accepted an invitation to spend the afternoon with some those runner friends at one of their homes.

When I was a kid we always went to the Glen Rock Parade (I guess funny now that I go to a run there) because my parents’ first house was in Glen Rock and their closest friends still lived there. That was followed by a pool party and barbecue. Eventually in later years the pool party moved to our house and we stopped going to the parade. Then my parents bought a summer home and started leaving me home alone for the weeks surrounding fourth of July and the pool party continued, just with my friends, and no parents. I also have great memories of Ridgewood Fireworks, weekends on Long Beach Island, a Jimmy Cliff Concert in Sag Harbor. My first apartment after I was married was a mid-rise in Hackensack and from our 7th floor patio we had an amazing view of every northern Bergen County town’s fireworks. Then there were the matching Old Navy flag Ts when my daughter was small. Since 2008, I have spend Fourth of July weekend here in Ramsey. As luck would have it, I’m right across the street from the park where they hold the Fireworks. Yeah, Fourth of July is my holiday and seems to follow me wherever I go.

I hope you had a happy Independence Day weekend.

IMG_1597Shelter Island, NY June 2016


Races to Run – Summer 2016

Races to Run – Summer 2016

Last weekend I worked a 5k run for Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund of Hackensack University Medical Center. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a paid employee hired by the race director, not a volunteer. But it is ultimately the expertise of paid staff that allows non profits to best utilize volunteers and create a professional event that participants come back to year after year. There are of course a lot of events that do not have paid staff, but in my opinion as a participant, the better organized events have some paid staff, at the very least a professional race director. Paid staff do a lot of these events. We know how to set-up and manage the flow of everything from registration to the finish line and awards ceremony. We train and lead volunteers so the event can run efficiently. When I organized my first charity 5k back in 1998 I had already participated in a number of road races, but really knew nothing about what happened behind the scenes. I hired a race director. And that event is still going strong. The 19th Annual Teterboro 5k is taking place in just two weeks. I will be there – as a participant. Below is the second installment of my quarterly list of road races for charity. This time I have included the cause on the list, so you don’t have to click through to find a charity you wish to support. Since its summer I included some races at the shore, too. This is by no means a compressive list. For moe information on races in your area go to USA Track and Field’s events calendar.

July 2016
7/03 Harbor Hustle, 5k Stone Harbor, for the benefit of Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Childhood Cancer
7/04 Glen Rock Tribute Run, 5k Glen Rock, for the benefit of GRACE (Glen Rock Assistance Council & Endowment
7/10 Stone Harbor Fitness Challenge, 5k Stone Harbor, for the benefit of Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Childhood Cancer
7/16 Teterboro Airport 5k, Moonachie, for the benefit of Bergen County’s United Way
7/16 Boomer’s Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breath, 4 miles Central Park, for the benefit of the Boomer Espason Foundation
7/27 Downtown Westfield 5k, Westfield, benefitting Downtown Westfield Corporation
7/31 Al Mackler Cancer Foundation Race, 5k Atlantic City Boardwalk, for the benefit of the Mackler Cancer Foundation
August 2016
8/04 Toys for Tots 5k Run, Colonia, for the benefit of Central Jersey Toys for Tots
8/07 Flat Rock Brook 5k Run in the Wild, Englewood, for the benefit of Flat Rock Brook Nature Center
8/14 Stone Harbor Surf and Turf 5-miler, Stone Harbor, for the benefit of Alex’s Lemonade Stand for Childhood Cancer
8/20 Chickie’s and Pete’s Boardwalk Run, Atlantic City Boardwalk, for the benefit of Archway Schools
8/20 CASA Superhero 4 Miler, Garret Mountain Reservation, Woodland Park, for the benefit of Court Appointed Special Advocates
8/21 Midland Avenue Road Mile, Montclair, for the benefit of the Montclair Public Library
September 2016
9/03 5k Run/Walk for Warmth, Bloomfield, for the benefit of Spread the Purple
9/10 The 4 Miler at Garret Mountain, Woodland Park for the benefit of St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital
9/24 Haworth 5k Run/Walk, Haworth for the benefit of Haworth Road Runners Association donations to local non-profits
9/25 Steeple Chase Distance Run, 5k & 10k Hillsborough for the benefit of Steeple Chase Cancer Center of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Looking ahead to October, AliveAndKickn (who I introduced you to in March) is officially gearing up for the Get Your Rear in Gear 5k race in NYC on Sunday, October 23rd.  For more information or to run for and/or donate to Team AliveAndKickn, please go here.

Paid event staff are the first to arrive and watch the sun rise on the event.

IMG_4270Overpack County Park, Ridgefield Park, NJ June 2016