The Power of Endorphins

The Power of Endorphins

Back in late November I was feeling really down. I just chalked it up to the time of year. It was just starting to get cold, the days were getting progressively shorter, and I was gearing up for another holiday season without a number of the people who had been around my table for so many holiday feasts of the past. So it was understandable. I was having trouble focusing at work, was neglecting my house, and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. Depression. And I felt stuck.

Yup. I’m a coach. I help clients get un-stuck all the time and was having trouble helping myself. I’m about as good at being my own coach as I am at French braiding my own hair. Thankfully I too have a coach. The first thing we talked about is how I felt over-whelmed by everything. That’s never a good place to be because collectively everything is more than you can handle. It needs to be broken down into manageable pieces. My coach asked me, what’s one thing that you want to take aim at?

She asked me about my running. I said I was running sporadically and that wasn’t it because trying to fit more runs into my schedule right then would just cause me more stress. I didn’t have the time I told her. So we agreed I’d aim at getting something accomplished at work. That would make me feel better, right? Well yeah, it did. Sort of. But a funny thing happened. The Monday  after Thanksgiving, I signed up for a 6am Pilates class. I went to bed a little earlier the night before and resisted the urge to go back to bed when the alarm went off and made it to the class. The next day it wasn’t as hard to get up and I went to the gym to run on the treadmill. Getting up to run in the cold and dark was asking too much, but the treadmill was an okay compromise. Just a slow 3 miles. I ran 4 days that week and took two Pilates classes! By the the next week the endorphins were starting to kick in. Getting up wasn’t as much of a struggle and my mood was starting to elevate!

Never underestimate the power of endorphins! Suddenly I was looking at everything more positively. I was thinking clearer about everything. Just that simple mood boost helped change my perspective; made everything else feel more manageable. It wasn’t really the time of year, it was my lack of exercise! When I looked back at my training log and saw how long it had been since I was running consistently, it was no wonder I had been feeling the way I had. So if you need to take aim at something, start with exercise. Even just the American Heart Association’s recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Commit to walking a mile every morning before work. And that’s where you need to start if you want to run, whether you’re new to the sport or have been on the sidelines for a long time.

Starting an exercise plan is always hard at first. I’ve been getting up 6 days a week for over a month now to either run or do some sort of strength training or swimming (my go to cross training). It’s still hard. And as I work muscles that have been goofing off for months, I’m sore. If you’re feeling it, don’t give up! Focus on the good. Do you feel stronger? Are the endorphins helping to make you more awake and alive? Do you feel more focused? It takes a lot of discipline and drive at first, but then it starts to feel natural. It’s just getting over that hump.

I’m feeling pretty up! I’m ready for the new year ahead. I noticed that it’s not completely dark out when I leave work now, and this week in New Jersey the thermometer hit 65! This weekend’s schedule includes my first double digit long run since October. Thank god for endorphins! Are you feeling ’em?

img_3073Saddle River County Park, Glen Rock, New Jersey. January 2016.

Reset for a New Year

Reset for a New Year

When I published my first blog a year ago, I said, “as much as my blog is going to be about fundraising and non-profit management, it’s going to be about how I bring who I am as a runner into every day, and every project; how I approach work and life pretty much the same way I approach a run.” That’s who I was then. Professionally I’m still a fundraiser, but by the end of July, I had redefined “cause” in “cause coach” from a charity I was trying to help to being who I was…”the cause coach: giving rise to action.” Running remains the constant.

The blog this year is going to be true to my personal mission of giving rise to action; helping you achieve your goals whether that is running a big race, transitioning to a new chapter in your life, or simply surviving each new – often unpredictable – day. We’ll look at how we can best honor our values, explore different perspectives, and on some days we’ll just appreciate being. Together we will strive for wellness; better health physically and mentally.

I will be continuing on my journey and will share what I’m learning from you…as a life coach, running coach, and fellow human. The first lesson is patience. I was pleased when a coaching client decided last fall after 15 plus years of running that they would finally commit to tackling a marathon – in 2018!  I have also seen friends in my running club post about marathon aspirations two or more years out. It was a good reminder for me on the importance of planning and preparation; the need to get our bodies, minds and spirits ready to go the distance (and I’m not just talking about running here, but life).

If you’ve been following along you know I have missed a Boston Marathon qualifying time in my last three attempts. Since my last marathon in May, I have also become a bit of a slug (at least by my own standards). I had thought maybe I’d try again this spring, but decided I had other priorities. Fall wasn’t entirely out of the question, although in the end, when I sketched out my race calendar for this year, the marathon didn’t make the cut.  Inspired by smart runners, I intellegently decided to wait until spring 2018. In the 16 months between then and now, I am going to be strategic in how I approach my training and I’m going to share…so think about it. You in? Want to train with me?

The blog and the training plan are now reset for the New Year. For the next 69 weeks – as I count down to my daughter’s 18th birthday and high school graduation and I build my business – I’m going to use a running goal to keep my sanity. So tell me, you in? Its okay if you just want to walk.

img_3164Darlington County Park, Mahwah, New Jersey. January 2016.

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Merry Christmas to you! From Ireland. For the first time since my second Christmas…1966…50 years ago…I am spending Christmas in Ireland! This trip was hatched back in July, although it’s probably been in the making all my life. Since finding my biological family over 20 years ago, I had considered the idea as “some year we should…” but other things – and people – kept me in North America and at home in New Jersey most years.

The first year without her father, my daughter and I fled to Cancun for Christmas week with  his mom. There were some redeeming attributes to that trip, for me at least, but my girl said she’d never travel with Grandma again. I honestly should have learned from the 11-day Caribbean Cruise we had taken together for Christmas 10 years earlier. The Mexico trip two years ago, while providing some escape from a holiday table with an empty chair, reminded me too much of the cruise which at times made me sadder. If anything Chris and I were always united against his mother. So a few times when she said something odd, I found myself turning to roll my eyes at someone who was no longer there.

So we were in agreement, no more trips with Grandma. And my daughter said she liked Christmas at home better anyway. Last year we made dinner reservations at The Rock Center Cafe. Essentially home. A quintessential New York City Christmas! Except that it was 70 degrees. And a city packed with people still felt a little empty.

The pros and cons of escaping for Christmas came up in a conversation in July. She admitted that “Christmas at home” didn’t necessarily mean our home, but someone’s home. Christmas was a family holiday. And that’s when she said it, “why can’t we spend Christmas in Ireland.” I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, and a great deal on airfare solidified the plans.

So here we are.

I have had some guilt about not including Grandma in our holidays. Then someone posted this article on FaceBook Surviving the Holidays: 12 Tips for the Grieving. Author Michelle Steinke-Baumgard advises, “be honest with those in your life. Tell them if family time hurts, if you feel lonely in a room full of people who love you. You are allowed those emotions. They are powerful, and they are real.”

So I have accepted the idea that I need to deal with the holidays in a way that is most appropriate for me and my daughter. That’s my biggest responsibility. My former mother-in-law probably feels the same about spending the holidays with me. She declined my dinner invitation Thanksgiving weekend. Change is hard. Especially when it’s about people that are gone. So, so many people that have been part of my Christmases are no longer here. Even the nun that cared for me in Ireland in 1966 has been gone for years now.

It’s better though to live in the present. To feel the bagpipes outside the Church of the Sacred Heart last night when we arrived for Christmas Eve mass. To open presents with my sister’s family. I don’t feel lonely in a room full of people who love me (or a barn full of 43 cows and 5 little calves). This is 2016. We have a big family here in Ireland. And it’s nice to be home.

Shehill Holstein, Couraguneen, County Tipperary, Ireland. Christmas Day, 2016.


Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

There are bad habits and there are good habits. Our lives are filled with them. Our days are made up of them. And to figure out what we’re doing wrong, it’s always worth looking at our habits. New Year’s resolutions are about getting rid of bad habits or developing good ones. So let’s explore how habits work.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains, “habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”*

Habitual routines are very helpful in getting us through our day, keeping us on schedule, basically without thinking about what we’re doing. Have you ever driven a familiar route almost on autopilot that you don’t even remember doing it? Most of the time we do not have to think about turning off lights and locking doors, or even the route we need to drive to work, because it has become a habit. But what do we do when some of our routine is filled with unhealthy or unproductive habits? Do you hit the snooze so many times that you miss a morning workout? Do you get engrossed in FaceBook in the middle of the work day that you’re not getting your work done? Has candy become your afternoon snack every day? Are you picking up takeout on your way home instead of cooking?

The “Habit Loop” that Duhigg discusses starts with a cue that triggers a craving. He writes, “Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not really aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence. But as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning. One researcher at Cornell, for instance, found how powerfully food and scent cravings can affect behavior when he noticed how Cinnabon stores were positioned inside shopping malls. Most food sellers locate their kiosks in food courts, but Cinnabon tries to locate their stores away from other food stalls. Why? Because Cinnabon executives want the smell of cinnamon rolls to waft down hallways and around corners uninterrupted, so that shoppers will start subconsciously craving a roll. By the time a consumer turns a corner and sees the Cinnabon store, that craving is a roaring monster inside his head and he’ll reach, unthinkingly, for his wallet. The habit loop is spinning because a sense of craving has emerged.”*

The craving leads to a routine (eating a cinnamon roll) which results in a reward (satisfying hunger with something very tasty). So when taking aim at a habit for your New Years resolution, keep this in mind. What’s the trigger and what’s the reward? Can the routine in the middle be replaced by something healthier or more positive? How do you go from hitting the “snooze 10 times” to getting up and going to the gym or getting out for a run? Focus on the reward. And understand that is takes a few weeks for a habit to emerge.

Duhigg  explains, “to understand the power of cravings in creating habits, consider how exercise habits emerge. In 2002 researchers at New Mexico State University wanted to understand why people habitually exercise. They studied 266 individuals, most of whom worked out at least three times a week. What they found was that many of them had started running or lifting weights almost on a whim, or because they suddenly had free time or wanted to deal with unexpected stresses in their lives. However, the reason they continued—why it became a habit—was because of a specific reward they started to crave. In one group, 92 percent of people said they habitually exercised because it made them ‘feel good’—they grew to expect and crave the endorphins and other neurochemicals a workout provided. In another group, 67 percent of people said that working out gave them a sense of ‘accomplishment’—they had come to crave a regular sense of triumph from tracking their performances, and that self-reward was enough to make the physical activity into a habit.”*

In the later half of this year, I fell out of my running habit. When I was consulting, I was able to fit my workouts easily into a very flexible schedule, but going back to work full-time in April, left me with only the morning before work. And I had also developed a habit while consulting of going to bed later and sleeping later. It took me months to finally get back to a better – consistent –  routine. And consistency is important. After 3 weeks of consciously forcing myself to bed earlier and out of bed in the morning as soon as the alarm goes off, I am almost able to do it without thinking. Almost.

What habits do you want to ignore, change or replace? What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

*Excerpts from: Duhigg, Charles. “The Power of Habit.” Random House, 2014-01-07. iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright. Check out this book on the iBooks Store:

img_5420Mattawa, Illinois. December, 2016.

Snow Day!

Snow Day!

I had something different planned for the blog this week, but after this weekend’s blizzard, I had other thoughts. So we’ll talk about volunteerism next week.

Let’s talk about snow. Snow. Certainly the topic of conversation this weekend here in the northeast. I hope you all managed okay and made the best of it. For most, I guess it wasn’t really a snow day since it fell on a weekend. My daughter was enormously disappointed.

The storm didn’t affect my plans all that much. Although I spend a lot of time maneuvering the snow thrower around my oversized driveway that I could have done without. I worked on some projects in my home office as planned and I went for my scheduled runs.

IMG_3113Ramsey, NJ. Saturday, January 23, 2016

Yes. I ran. Both Saturday and Sunday. I’m training for the NJ Marathon on May 1st and these runs were for “mental fortitude.” That being said, safety comes first. Appropriate dress, distance, and pace are all taken into consideration, especially when running outside. On Saturday’s schedule was a 5-mile run at “recovery pace” (meaning it’s done in a certain heart rate zone, which for me typically translates to about a 9:30/mile pace). The snow slowed me down of course, but I was working harder. So as I averaged a 14:39 pace, my heart rate was exactly in the zone I needed it to be (the beauty of effort based training). I also cut my 5 miles down to 4 since I was out there longer than planned. It was a great work out. On Sunday, I ran my scheduled 14-miles thanks to the work of the Bergen County Parks Department who had most of the Saddle River County Park paths cleared.

IMG_7302Saddle River County Park, Ridgewood, NJ. Sunday, January 24, 2016

Why did I run? Sunday’s decision was the easy one; just can’t miss a long run during marathon training, even if it meant taking it indoors for the monotony of the treadmill. But it was a beautiful sunny afternoon, the roads were passable and the park was open. But Saturday? Anyone would understand if I blew off Saturday’s run under the circumstances, so why didn’t I? A few reasons… I’m the president of De Novo Harriers running club. On Saturday morning the club’s secretary posted a “selfie” in our FaceBook group proving she was heading out. Then the treasurer followed. So how could I not? I also hated to miss an opportunity to run in the snow. It’s different, quiet, meditative. Really just me and the plows. But the real reason I ran, and why most of the runners I know got out there too, is because that’s the way we are. We’re training to reach a goal. And to achieve success, the work has to be done. We know there are no excuses, no short cuts. So we run when it snows. And when it rains and when it’s hot or cold or just right.

And this is why runners usually make good employees. Runners do the work. Runners make sacrifices. They don’t make excuses. Runners have determination, focus, and discipline. And for the runners I know, that carries over to our professional lives as well.

I read this in a blog a while ago and saved it:

Whether you’re training for a marathon, a century or the Ironman triathlon, one thing you quickly find out is that there’s no room for bullshit out there on the pavement. You either do the work or you’re screwed. Politics won’t get you to the finish line. It doesn’t matter who you know or how well you can work the system. When you’re out there, every weakness bubbles up to the surface and stares you in the eye. Lack of preparation, lack of motivation, lack of dedication will all come back to bite you in the ass. There’s nowhere to hide. They will all find you and jump up on your back to stop you dead in your tracks. The choice becomes this: Do you let them stop you, or do you accept them and keep going?

You learn a lot about yourself, training for that type of event.

You learn a lot about how to break thresholds and get past your own little ego, training for events like these. When you’re tired and sore and hungry but you still have four miles to go, guess what? You still have four miles to go. How you get through these last four miles is entirely up to you. Nobody cares whether you walk those last four miles or run, or hail a cab. Nobody made you set 26.2 miles as a goal. Or 100 miles. Or 144+.

Once you’ve broken past your lack of will and learned to keep going, you are transformed. A similar thing happens to Marines during training. At some point, who you used to be before you went beyond what you thought your limitations were, before you kissed excuses goodbye, before you left all of the bullshit that stood in your mind’s way ceases to exist. You become someone else.

That someone else, the marathoner, the long distance cyclist, the triathlete, the Ironman, he or she walks into your place of work with you every morning.

We all work with two types of people: Partisans of the least amount of effort, and dedicated professionals.

The latter aren’t all marathoners or triathletes, but I have yet to meet an Ironman or marathoner who didn’t take his or her intensity and dedication to their job.

(Olivier Blanchard,, February 21, 2009)


Totally agree.