First marathon: the role of a coach

First marathon: the role of a coach

“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” – Emile Zatopec

Deciding to take on the marathon – like getting a tattoo – has to be a personal decision. It shouldn’t be something one does on a dare or feels compelled to do because of others’ expectations. It has to be about you, your goals, and who you want to be. That said, when asked, “Do you think I can do this,” my answer is yes 99% of the time.

Two years ago, my boyfriend asked me that question. Up until that point he was a runner who felt he could be satisfied being a half marathon finisher. Then he joined a running crew with a lot of marathoners. Plus, he saw me doing it. Perhaps that took away some of the mystique, made the whole concept a little less out there.

While I try not to influence runners to take on the marathon per se, I will always outline the life-changing aspects of doing one (and I will always encourage non-runners to become runners). Running a marathon is so much more than simply doing it. Running a marathon is life changing (read more about that here).

So, two years ago my boyfriend decided to run Chicago 2018, his hometown marathon, and asked me to be his coach. We faired well in this new aspect of our relationship because he was being smart. I love smart runners! Too often people have unrealistic expectations and set goals beyond their immediate abilities. It’s so important to be patient and take the time to build toward realistic goals (read more about establishing SMART goals here). He was giving himself a full TWO YEARS to prepare for the distance.

This past Sunday, October 7, he became a marathon finisher! While there are certainly lessons learned for both coach and client, the goal was achieved – and he did remarkably well! I knew he would. He’s a disciplined, focused, and experienced runner. And all of that helped him in his training and on race day. He gave me lots of credit as his coach – most of which I didn’t feel I deserved since he did all the real work himself.

What did I do? The same things I would do for any client:

Provided the structure to follow. I customized a training plan, creating something he could follow for an entire year including build-up and post-race recovery. His training focused on building up endurance and minimizing injury risk. I recommend most first timers focus on covering the distance, not achieving speed. So other than a weekly 10k tempo run, we stayed away from speedwork, which I felt held too much a risk of injury. From there I answered questions and tweaked the plan based on the questions and feedback week-to-week.

Provided emotional support. Often the most important part of coaching is helping the athlete stay focused, grounded and calm throughout the ups and downs of the training cycles. A coach helps the athlete overcome the more challenging long runs and creates an environment where they believe in themselves and their ability.

My boyfriend and 44,000+ other runners moving through my Chicago neighborhood. Lakeview East. Chicago, Illinois. October 2018.

Honestly, he was such an experienced runner (having run races for 20 years including 22 Half marathons prior to the big race day), that I felt there was very little metaphorical “hand-holding” (actual hand-holding is something else entirely; there was a lot if that <3). Coaching your significant other could present some challenges. Luckily for us it did not. He listened to his coach when he needed to, and I respected his experience as a runner.

There may have been a couple times when I was too much supportive girlfriend and less coach than I should have been, like when we both ran the Chicago Half two weeks before the marathon. We were supposed to be running at “marathon pace” and wound up running 15 seconds per mile faster than that for the first 11 miles and then I could tell he was itching to give it his all the last 2 miles and I let him go do it. As his girlfriend, I knew how good that would make him feel. As a coach, I should have advised against running a half marathon on the concrete of Lake Shore Drive entirely.

When I asked what difference I made as a coach, he said, “I would not have attempted this without you and could not have completed the training or the race without you.” That’s where this line between coach and girlfriend is blurred a little, although I do like to think that’s something I potentially offer to all clients.

On race day however, I think I was more girlfriend. I managed to get out to six spots on the course, with a big sign that would help him find me. I offered encouraging words and a kiss when he took a second to stop (not all coaches do that and let me be clear, this is the only client receiving this level of support from me lol). I navigated through crowds to meet up with him at the reunion area near the finish and I drove his weary body home.

The one thing that is the same regardless of my perspective, is how his finish made me feel. There is a lot of self-satisfaction that comes from seeing someone accomplish such a big goal and knowing the influence you had. And as I said, completing a marathon is so much more. Yes, it gives you membership in an elite club that only half of one percent of the population can claim, but what it does for you emotionally gives you such a boost to achieve other things you once thought were impossible. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Me in position at mile one.




The truth about the move

The truth about the move

As I write this I am sitting at DMV. West Randolph Street. Chicago, Illinois. So far doesn’t appear to be all that different than New Jersey. They are telling me I need to take the written exam even though it’s technically not a requirement (“agents do reserve the right to choose whether or not you take one”). So much for 36 years of driving experience. They took my picture already, so I guess they’re assuming I’ll pass. I’ve been here for a half hour.

Atrium at the Thompson Center. Home to Chicago Central Illinois Secretary of State Facility (aka DMV). September, 2018.

Moving is almost as bad as losing your wallet…with over $10,000 in it! Every card company, every financial institution needs to be contacted. As well as insurance companies (still not sure when my medical coverage in Illinois goes into effect; still covered in New Jersey until it does, although that’s essentially useless now – my only complaint about the ACA). 

My move wasn’t completed until August 25 when I finally had the last vehicle and last person (my daughter) in Illinois. Last week I got her moved into her college dorm, did one last sweep of organization in the apartment, and sat down on my new sectional sofa and declared myself done. It took two months. A few trips back and forth. It was very expensive. And at times, very stressful. I held off writing about it until I could get my thoughts together, calm down, and come at it from the best perspective possible.

I’ve still only had my documents reviewed and picture taken. I’ve been here for an hour.

Moving sucks. I realized this in college when it seemed every few months I was packing to go one way or the other. As a married adult, I moved five times in less than 20 years. They were all local moves no further than maybe 10 or 15 miles at best and I finally had resources to hire help. I didn’t know what real moving stress was until I moved 800 miles as a single adult.

The moving company I hire to do my previous moves wasn’t available on the dates I wanted to move and neither where the companies friends recommended. Who knew June was such a popular month to vacate the land of high property taxes? I found another company with mixed reviews, but availability.

Okay, finally my number is called. Quickly moved to the testing area (only after paying for the license, so again, it appears they have confidence in my ability to pass).

My stuff was loaded up without incident on the 26thof June.  My stuff arrived in Chicago a week later. What happened in between I’ll never know. Some of the boxes coming off the truck looked like they had been thrown down the side of a mountain. Plastic bins marked “fragile” crushed. China, crystal, my mother’s tea sets. My running awards and the dining room table. I was devastated.

As I opened boxes I was surprised to see some fragile items actually made it (stuff I packed of course!). A few other things didn’t make it and the dining room table needed to be replaced. Some boxes in storage I haven’t had the courage to open. I have nine months to complete my claim.

The driver’s license process took a total of one hour and 45 minutes. I’ve seen worse in New Jersey. I passed the written exam, getting 28 of 28 questions correct.  On to registration and plates…

I will be happy when this is all done, although I do realize giving up my visual New Jersey identity is a big deal. I have been a New Jersey resident since I was two years old. It’s such a part of who I was. Beyond letting go, there is also fear of the unknown that lies ahead, finding the courage to take risks, networking and reestablishing myself professionally when I’m feeling overwhelmed and, at times, completely lost. It’s been a lot. I will admit that it’s been tough. But here we are.

And I am happy. I love my neighborhood and how homey my apartment finally feels. I’m making some nice connections among runners and Rotarians, Let Me Run colleagues, and I’m taking on a new volunteer project (more on that to come). And of course, I have the benefit of love and support close by now. So, there are lots of good things to balance the stressful times.

Journey from the Garden State to the Land of Lincoln is complete. September, 2018.

Getting all the right documentation for the car registration took a total of two hours and 45 minutes (which required three separate calls to Volkswagen Credit each of which included sitting on hold waiting for a live person for over 20 minutes). That was balanced by some very nice people behind the counter and on the phone trying to do their jobs within a challenging system – although at one point I was ready to drive the car into the lake and take the train home.

There are probably a bunch of lessons learned from the move – and my four and half hours at the DVM – that I could share. Yet it all boils down to this: be patient; with yourself and others. Do what you can do and try to find a good story in the rest of it.

Why Chicago?

Why Chicago?

Fifty-one years-ago this past May, aboard an Aer Lingus 707, I arrived at JFK to meet my adoptive parents for the first time. I spent the first night in my new Northern New Jersey home…and basically, I never left.

I couldn’t wait to leave for college, but after four-years in Philadelphia, I gravitated back to northern New Jersey. My first apartment with friends was only 5 miles from the home I grew up in and the home I just moved out of, where I raised my daughter, was only 6 and half miles away. Read more

Law of Attraction

Law of Attraction

June is an interesting month. No real surprise that I would be making this big transition in June. While the school calendar naturally makes this a transitional month for a lot of people, for me, it’s the month I was married (25 years ago), and it’s the month my mother died (6 years ago).

Eleven years ago this month, I walked into this house for the first time. At that time, we knew living here was a stretch for us financially, but I loved the childhood that I had in Northwest Bergen County (New Jersey). I wanted the same for my daughter. We struggled over the summer to figure out a way to make it happen. We figured it out and we were able to purchase the house in September. Read more

Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Last Memorial Day, I talked about 5 great Memorial Day weekend races, and said, “some creative time on your travel apps could get you on the starting line for one each day.” While I didn’t quite do that, I did fulfill my desire to do the Soldier Field 10 Mile again…and continue my Ridgewood Run tradition for one more year. Read more