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.




2018 Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

2018 Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

The Chicago Half Marathon/5k was this past weekend. Like all of the other city races I’ve run here, it was a great course and a well-organized race.  It was a Lifetime Fitness event that served as a Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) Circuit Race and the USA Track & Field Illinois (USATF-IL) Half Marathon Championship. The event also boosted fundraising efforts for charity partner Chicago Run, which promotes “the health and wellness of Chicago children through innovative, engaging, and sustainable youth running programs.”

The start and finish were at Jackson Park on the southside. Once exiting the park, it was essentially an out-and-back course along Lakeshore Drive with views of the lake and city skyline. Entertainment, refreshments (pizza and beer tickets included on all runner bibs), vendors, running groups, and charity teams had a presence in the big post-race celebration at Jackson Park. And the one thing organizers had no control over – the weather – was absolutely perfect. The cool temps and relatively flat course made it a PR (personal record) race for many!

The only thing that could have made this event challenging was the location and early start time. Corrals closed at 6:45 in anticipation of the 7:00am start. There was limited parking at the Museum of Science and Industry ($22) and much less in the local neighborhood.  Public Transportation (which would be a long trip with a few transfers between train and bus anyway) doesn’t operate at that hour on a Sunday morning.


Race organizers provided shuttle buses from Millennium Park and from the Belmont “L” station. And this is my only complaint. I registered for the race, what, six? Maybe nine, months ago? – when I was still living in New Jersey. I don’t recall needing to choose a shuttle bus option. Not knowing where I was going to be living, I probably would have chosen the one from Millennium Park, but according to my bib, I hadn’t chosen any. So, I chose Belmont “L” at the expo which is walking distance from my apartment.  I was required to pay an additional $20 (shuttle bus was included at the time of registration) and of course no one was checking passes when we were boarding the buses. I hope the charity got my $20.

This event is strategically held two weeks prior to the Chicago Marathon on the first weekend of tapering for anyone training for that – a weekend that usually has a 12-mile long run on the schedule. If one can be disciplined about not racing too hard, this half provides a great dress-rehearsal for the main event on a course supported with volunteers and fluid stations. And that’s why we were there. My boyfriend will be running the Chicago Marathon – his first! – on October 7th.

My goal in training over the last 10 weeks or so was to be ready to help pace him so he didn’t go out too fast, have confidence in the training he did up to that point, and make the most of the dress-rehearsal. Given my performance at the Chicago Spring Half in May (read my review here) and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicago Half in July (reviewed that one too, read it here), I was also wanted to be sure I didn’t drag him down. When we run together, we tend to stick together. Mission accomplished, although after hitting the 11-mile mark and having maintained a conservative 10-minute-per-mile pace, I encouraged him to go on and run his own race and finish strong. This gave him the confidence boost he needed. I finished less than 2 minutes later, so I felt like I redeemed myself from my Half Marathon performances earlier this year.

Finally, I can’t say enough about “the bling!” The medal earned for the Half was 4.25 x 6 inches and weighed over a pound! No exaggeration (yes, I weighed it)! Additionally, this event was part of the “Chicagoland Half Marathon Series” that included the Chicago Spring Half, and therefore came with an additional medal for those that completed both. The third medal serves as a holder for the two other medals that together depict the Chicago skyline. Anyone motivated by hardware got their money’s worth at this event. For those of us who suffered through that cold and windy Chicago Spring Half, this event was a pleasant finale for a well-earned keepsake.

Six tips for running alone

Six tips for running alone

I did something this morning that I’ve done a lot over the past 22+ years. I ran – alone.

When I first started running, it never occurred to me to run with others. I didn’t belong to a running club of any kind and I had no concept of pacing. I was of course aware of safety, and to achieve that I didn’t run late at night or any place that I deemed to be too desolate or a “sketchy” neighborhood.

When I did finally join a running club, I joined group workouts for the competition and comradery. Safety wasn’t really an issue. Sure, there were times when I went out in the early morning on weekdays alone in the predawn darkness that my senses were more alert to danger. I wore reflective clothing, blinking lights, and carried my keys in my hand (figuring they would be a good tool to gouge someone’s eyes out).

In Northwest Bergen County, New Jersey, I rarely felt threatened. Although, I was always aware that there were places (those peaceful, desolate places that are always seen in the Runner’s World “Rave Run” feature), that I wouldn’t venture alone – as a woman.

I’ve spent a lot of my time on the run over the last few weeks thinking about Mollie Tibbets. Mollie, you may recall reading in the news, was the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who disappeared while on an evening run not far from her home in July. Her body was found a month later.  A suspect confessed to kidnapping, killing, and dumping her body.

The running community responded with #MilesForMollie, dedicating their runs to Mollie’s memory. Female runners in particular made a statement in their posts of not letting fear keep them indoors. I have only been conscious of this kind of fear when assessing new running routes. I’ve had male runners suggest different trails or paths, that I know as a woman, I would not feel comfortable running alone. I think men take that for granted.

I continued running on the lakefront trail here in Chicago. A big part of running safety for me has always meant avoiding vehicular traffic whenever possible.  The lakefront trail gives Chicagoans an easy place to do that. On any day of the week during daylight hours the lakefront trail is a popular place and even when running alone, a runner rarely feels alone. So, all good, right?

Not so much. On the last Saturday in August, I ran part of my run alone until I met up with a couple from the group that had more miles on the agenda and started earlier. I met them at around 7 o’clock in the morning near the Lincoln Park Zoo. By Sunday afternoon, news broke that a female runner was attacked around 7:30 Sunday morning a little further north on the trail. A place where many of us have run – alone.

So how do we feel safe when the places we thought were safe aren’t any more? I think we can do the best we can. To do that, I’ve compiled some of my own safety tips:

  1. Run on trails and pathways that are well-lit, not desolate, and whenever possible, separated from vehicular traffic.
  2. Run at hours of the day when you are most likely to share the trail with others.
  3. Always be aware of your surroundings. Steer clear of anything suspicious or that makes you feel uncomfortable. Consider limiting headphone use to the treadmill.
  4. Find running buddies whenever possible. Join a local running club. There are many groups on social media that can help you plan meet-ups with runners in your area as well. If you have difficulty finding other humans to run with, run with your dog. Fido needs the exercise and most would-be attackers will think twice about approaching a dog.
  5. Try not to be a creature of habit. Don’t run the same route at the same time of day every day if you are running alone.
  6. And finally, make sure you have a way to scare off an attacker. Some runners I know run with small weapons, mace or pepper spray. I’m afraid those things will get used on me, so I carry a little personal ear-piercing alarm on my belt. I remember hearing a safety lecture by the NYPD a number of years ago where they said they best thing you can go is make sure you don’t leave “crime scene #1” because “crime scene #2” never has a good outcome.

So good luck running everyone. Stay safe out there. And if at all possible don’t run – alone.

Chicago’s Lakefront Trail offers spectacular views! Chicago, Illinois. August 2018.


Mental fortitude and training for a fall marathon

Mental fortitude and training for a fall marathon

When I set out to train for my first marathon over twenty-one years ago, I thought a fall race presented the best opportunity. Even after my second marathon – a spring race – I still believed it was easier to train through the summer than the winter. Of course, I was in my 30s and heat didn’t bother me as much as it does now.

As a coach, and with the experience of having completed eight marathons (four fall and four spring), I will, whenever possible, steer my clients to a spring race. Training through the harsh conditions of winter, I have learned, provides a better opportunity for building what my coach referred to as “mental fortitude.” This is so necessary for staying focused and pushing through in the final miles of the 26.2-mile trek. Read more

2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon on July 22. I had run the event’s 5k and 10k last year. I did the Inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon 5 years ago. This has been my only experience with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series races. I’d like to do more. From my experience, I can say they are well organized events with great amenities and some really awesome bling! Read more