Where's Coach Jen?

Clearly I’m overdue for an update.  2017 brought a ton of changes for my family, and just as many changes in my running.  My 13-year old stepdaughter came to live with us full-time, so we had the addition of a teenager into the house – which was a big adjustment for us all.   We started the process of building a new home in the Fall, and had to list, stage, and sell our old one.  Our family of 5 moved into an apartment for just over a month, and then last month we finally moved into our new home. 

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It’s no secret that I like feeling in control of my life – through schedules, discipline, hard work, and the comforting routine of running day in, day out.  I tend to cling to what I can control – trusting that if I put in the work, I’ll reap the rewards.  But sometimes life requires you to let go of that death grip on the reins.  When things got busy and my family life was changing, I tried desperately to hold on to my competitive running.  I got up earlier, worked harder, dug deeper – but the universe seems to know when we are trying to avoid the path we are meant to be on, and so she put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Stop. I have something else planned for you.”   So I let go. 

 

The next year was filled with lots of soul searching, which sounds super cheesy, but that's probably the best way to describe it.  If I wasn’t Jen, the competitive runner, who was I?  I still ran, but my life wouldn’t allow me to run in the same way I had – so I did something different.  I started coaching more runners, and I started CrossFit. 

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In pursuing both, I gained a happiness that I thought I’d lost – the ability to just RUN, and truly enjoy it.  No matter the pace, no matter the distance.  Without beating myself up about what I “should” be running, or being frustrated that I couldn’t hit the paces I used to run with ease.   I was just grateful to be out there running. 
 

Stepping back has been a huge shift, but it’s been what I’ve needed at this time and place in my life.  I’ve had the privilege of working with more athletes and being able to give them more of my time and energy to help them achieve their goals.  And their successes have made me happier than I’d ever expected. 
 

Though my own fitness journey has shifted more to the strength training side, I’m still running.  I jumped into a local 7.4K on the 4th of July and was pleasantly surprised to take 3rd female.  And though the time was far from my personal best, I ran to remind myself what it felt like to push hard in a race – to suffer, but to ultimately defeat those voices in your head that tell you to stop, that this is too hard, or that you are too slow, too old, not good enough.   I ran to help me be a better coach to my athletes, to re-learn some of those racing lessons (run the tangents, pass with authority, take things a mile at a time).  And I ran just because I could.  I’ve been injured enough to know that running is a gift, and I’m more grateful for that now than ever. 

 With my parents and aunt at the Brandermill 7.4K - 4th of July    

With my parents and aunt at the Brandermill 7.4K - 4th of July 

 

I plan to continue to run as I feel, coach others, and enjoy developing my strength.  I’m currently studying to receive my nutrition certification and if all goes well, I’ll soon be joining the team at Fit Factory Nutrition to help support my athletes and others in aligning their nutrition with their fitness and body composition goals.  

 

I hope this post finds all of you happy and healthy, and enjoying your own running.  We’re all at different places in our life with careers, families, and our own running journey.  I’d love to help you reach your goals with a consult, custom schedule, or 1:1 personal coaching.  If I can help, don’t hesitate to reach out – shoot me an email at coachjen@runlikeafox.net and we’ll chat. 

 

Enjoy the summer weather and know that the work you are doing now in the sweltering heat and humidity is laying the groundwork for a fantastic fall racing season!

 

Run happy –

Coach Jen 

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Clawing your way back

 The talented Amanda Sandlin (http://www.amandasandlin.com) made this #atwildwoman portrait for me - I love it.  

The talented Amanda Sandlin (http://www.amandasandlin.com) made this #atwildwoman portrait for me - I love it.  

Clawing your way back

After athletes suffer a significant injury there’s usually a period where we mourn – for races we won’t get to run and lost entry fees, for runs with friends that are often the highlight of our weekend.  We watch our hard earned fitness slowly slip away while clothes begin feeling tighter than we would like.  But at some point along our slide into the abyss, our feet hit solid ground.  And it is time to cautiously stand and take stock:  given my injury, what can I do NOW with my current limitations, to improve my fitness?  To begin again?  

As we climb and fight our way back up the mountain there will be footholds.  The first time our injury is healed enough to pool run.  The first time we get to take off our aircast or ankle brace.  That amazingly awesome first “run” back where we get to take fledgling running steps amidst lots of walking.  We may occasionally take a wrong step, push too hard and find ourselves sliding back down the side of the mountain – or holding on to a rock for dear life.  But even with the setbacks we focus our gaze on the peak and keep pressing forward. 

There’s strength to be found in the journey.  We know that we will emerge from the process as a stronger, wiser athlete than before.  And so we begin to fan the flames of that tiny spark of athletic fire still burning inside of us, and we embrace the long, arduous process of clawing our way back to the top. 

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I wrote the above about 4 months ago.  In April I was playing with my kids at a local park when I leapt off a platform to catch my youngest child who was about to fall.  I landed badly and immediately crumpled to the ground.  (Youngest child had not a scratch though!!) After driving myself to urgent care, I learned that I had fractured (completely) my 4th metatarsal.   I spent several weeks on crutches, and three months in a boot before finally graduating to a running shoe with titanium inserts to prevent my foot from flexing while walking around.   Surgery was discussed, fretted about, cried about, and ultimately dismissed in favor of a “wait and see” approach to determine if the slightly displaced fracture would heal enough on its own.  Another two months of no running and I was finally given the green light to begin the long, slow process of rebuilding my running base.  But oh - those first few steps of freedom were glorious. 

If nothing else, the long layoff showed me that running is truly embedded somewhere deep in my soul.  When you are injured it’s natural to question your place in the sport.  I’d find myself wondering: WHY do I keep doing this to myself?  Is it worth another injury and layoff?  Why not just exercise a few times a week like most people and call it good?  But when you see runners in the pouring rain and feel an intense, burning jealousy that you can’t be out there suffering with them, or when you drive past the lonely stretch of road where you do speed work and lung-searing tempos and feel a physical yearning to be out there pushing your limits – that’s the universe speaking loud and clear that YOU AREN’T DONE YET.  Don’t give up, you are meant to be back out there.
 

It was all I needed to hear.    
 

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I ran my first race post-fracture this past Sunday.  The cold, blustery day couldn’t dampen my spirits as I celebrated the fact that I was standing at a starting line of a RACE.  About to run a 5K on a foot that (several months ago) had been in pieces.  The body is a miraculous thing.  Watchless (thanks to a busted Garmin), I had the simple goal of just to go out and give it a good effort.  When I crossed the line in 20:05 I couldn’t stop the smile that appeared on my face.  I’m not there yet, but I’m heading in the right direction.  I’m climbing back up the mountain – and I’ve got my eyes fixed on the top.    

Injured Runner =
Easy Target

 Must resist the siren call of new running gear.....

Must resist the siren call of new running gear.....

An hour on the elliptical this morning was a poor substitute for a run.  After yesterday's visit to the sports doc confirmed a small tear in the fascia where my gastroc meets my soleus, I was handed a sentence of two more weeks of cross training.  I'm trying to take my cross-training-and-rest medicine like a good little runner but I've noticed something interesting happening to me during the past few weeks when I've been unable to run:   I've been itching to buy stuff.  And not just any stuff:  running-related stuff.   A new Garmin, a new outfit, new shoes - you name it.  Little "buy this now" urges have been cropping up ever since my treadmill started collecting dust.   Not wanting to give in to these urges, I've been digging deeper into WHY I am feeling this way.  I have a theory:   My brain has been tricked into thinking that all that shiny new running STUFF will equal a happier runner and propel me to a new PR this fall.  But guess what?  That couldn't be further from the truth.

We are bombarded with countless advertisements each day.  Buy this!  Huge Sale!  Brand new version!  Countless messages that prey on our insecurities and know just how easy it is to get us to part with our hard-earned money.  As an injured runner I seemed to find myself even more susceptible to the advertisers' sneaky tricks.  Here's why:

Loss of control:   When we are injured, we are directly faced with a loss of control.  We have very, very limited control over how long it will take our bodies to heal, and we are forced to sit with that discomfort and that feeling of helplessness.  It's not pretty.   Our minds want to run from that discomfort and so they try desperately to find something to make us feel like we are in control - and that often ends up resulting in a purchase.  That little rush of satisfaction you get when you click "Buy Now"?  That's real, but it's fleeting at best and not an effective way to deal with your emotions.  We purchase new clothing or new shoes, or get the latest gadget - anything to help us feel less helpless and convince ourselves that we are actively taking steps back towards that runner we want to be: in control, back on the roads, running well and ready for a new PR.

Fear:  Let's face it: Deep down we all face running-related fears. We worry that we'll have to give up on our "A" race when we get sidelined with an injury.  Or worry that we'll never be the runner we aspire to be.   You may be worried that your comeback won't go well and you'll never get back to your previous level of fitness. Or you might be afraid of never being able to get your goal - no matter how hard you try.  These fears are so very real and personal to us.  And the marketing departments of companies know that - and prey on it.  They market to those fears - to convince you that once you have this new shirt/gadget/pair of shoes you'll be back on top and setting PRs.

Feelings of inadequacy:  "You aren't good enough".  The subliminal message marketers want to us to hear is "you aren't good enough without our product".  It's what drives us to purchase a cute technical t-shirt even though we have 25 free t-shirts from races already stuffed in our dresser.  It's what tempts us to upgrade our already more-than-adequate GPS watch to the latest version with all of the bells and whistles.  The unspoken rule being "you won't be a good runner until you have THIS".   We are all good enough.  WITHOUT those new, shiny things.  A new technical t-shirt won't make us suddenly run faster, and a new GPS watch won't magically propel us to a new PR.

All of these items that we feel we "need" to buy don't really give us control, or help us cope with our fears.  We hope they will, but ultimately they don't.  We will always have to deal with uncertainty and fears that we aren't good enough. It's been ugly these past few weeks as I've come face-to-face with the constant temptation to comfort myself and my restless brain by buying something running-related to make myself feel better.

So what’s the solution?  I certainly don't have all of the answers, but I can offer you a few ideas that have helped me:

  • Sit with the discomfort.  Recognize it, and acknowledge it, but don't give in to it.
  • Put the item you want on a 30-day buy list. If you still want it at the end of those 30 days, then buy it.  Chances are, the urge to purchase it and the fear that was driving you will have faded.
  • Do something else - go for walk, write, draw, read.  Meditate or pray for 10 minutes.
  • Be gentle with yourself.  Find comfort in talking to a friend or loved one.  A good friend sensed my anxiety over my injury through a text message last night and called me.  It was just the support I needed and made me so grateful for her friendship.   Before you try to solve your anxiety or sadness through shopping, call a friend instead.

A lot of us type-A runners really struggle with the loss of control when we are injured, but we can recognize that buying more running-related STUFF isn't the answer.  In the end, most of the time our bodies will heal and we will be able to get back to running and doing what we love.   But in the interim, in that difficult time that is filled with uncertainty and fear, we need to give ourselves love and grace - NOT piles of shiny new stuff.  Your future self (and bank account!) will thank you. :)