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. 


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. 


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 


Strength Is The Product
Of Struggle

A good day - 4th place female at the Colonial Half Marathon

A good day - 4th place female at the Colonial Half Marathon

Hello?  Hello? It's been quiet on this blog lately, but not on purpose.  Some training seasons seem to move along so fluidly - a building crescendo of workouts capped by an amazing race.  And other seasons are full of stops and starts, sputtering along as you try to cobble together the workouts needed to move you forward.  I'll let you guess as to which season I'm experiencing. :)

I hadn't planned on taking such a long absence from writing here but I found that every time I sat down at the keyboard to type, I had negative post after negative post swirling around in my head.  And I felt...very unlike myself.  I consider myself a fairly positive person, but I have struggled these past few months and I didn't want to commit all those negative thoughts to blogging history.  It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride over here.  I'd have a great week of workouts where I'd finally feel like I was seeing progress (tempo miles in the 6:30s!) - followed immediately by a disaster of a week where I'd bomb both quality workouts I attempted.   I tackled a tough, hilly beast of a race that I used as a great workout (Colonial Half Marathon - 4th female overall), followed by a minor calf strain that cropped up on the first workout after the race.  :-(

Stop. Start. Stop. Start.  Days of cross-training followed by a few runs back, followed by a few more days of cross training.  It's been tough to make plans for any spring races with the ups and downs that this particular season of life has dished out.  But in the spirit of Lent and Easter, I've been putting more effort into two things:  1) Being grateful and 2) letting go.

On Letting Go:

I have always been pretty type-A.  I like having control, I like checking off each workout on my schedule as I complete it, and I HATE when anything (weather, sickness, injury, etc.) derails my well-laid plans.  I STRUGGLE with "letting go" and giving up my illusion of control.  But what I'm learning is just that:  that it's an ILLUSION of control.    I'll never be as in control as I'd like to be - especially in running.  There are too many variables, and the body is such an amazing, complex miracle that we can never predict exactly how things will go.  All we can do is work to treat our bodies like the gifts they are, and honor them when they need extra care.  I must admit I've felt a bit betrayed by my body this season - I lowered my mileage significantly in order to add (just a little!!) extra quality, but I have still had to work through more than a few setbacks.   But I've also learned a few things about myself - both as a person, and as a runner.  And that's the strength that comes from the struggle.  I've spent some time with sports psychologist Mike Cerrato (ATalentedMind.com) working on my mental fitness, and he's made me be more proactive about catching negative thought spirals early and replacing them with positive thoughts (i.e. replacing "My calf hurts again - I'm NEVER going to get back to running marathon pace successfully" with "I'm going to use this cross-training time to work on things I CAN improve - my upper body strength and my nutrition - and I will come back a better athlete for it.") can go a long way towards helping me keep my spirits high.

On Being Grateful: 

Grateful for these two little ladybugs!

Grateful for these two little ladybugs!

I've mentioned it before, but it's a provenfact that grateful people are happier people.  As I've been working through all of the ups and downs this season, I've started to include at least one line in my training log about what I'm grateful for that day.  If I've gotten to run, or complete a workout, it's easy:  I'm so grateful for that!!!  But even if I'm on the elliptical again and missing my Saturday running group, I can always find something to be grateful for - my friends, my family, the ability to take (and teach) my BodyPump weightlifting class, the smiles on the faces of my daughters as they see that the Leprechaun left them Lucky Charms for breakfast on St. Patrick's Day.  You get the idea.   The practice has been helpful to remind me that while I may not be where I'd like to be in terms of running fitness, I've got so many other good things happening in my life.  I'm hoping to be one of those little old ladies still running around when I'm 85 (I'm going to clean up on age group awards!!! :-)), so this particular season of stops and starts will hopefully be just one of many, many more seasons of running to come.

In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to enjoy running when I can run, and being grateful for the other awesome stuff in my life when I'm wildly flinging my arms and legs about on the elliptical.

Once I've figured out if my calf strain is officially on the mend, I'll be back to write about some upcoming spring and summer races and my next adventures!

Trials of the Track-less: How to run track workouts without a track

The 2 mile warmup was uneventful.  I was a little nervous about the workout but excited to get my legs back on the track and see what I could do.  At 5:30am my running buddy and I reached the school, ran up the sidewalk and came to an abrupt halt as our headlamps illuminated the sign on the fence: IMG_8278

Well, time for Plan B.  With no desire to run back home to drive 20 minutes to another track, and my type-A runner personality demanding that I find a way to complete the workout, it was time to improvise.  So we did.  We figured the empty high school parking lot was big enough (and relatively flat enough) to make do.  A quick math-on-the-run calculation and we had our new marching orders:

Original workout: 2 mile warm-up, 2k (6:45/mile), 1600m (6:30/mile), 1k (6:25/mile), 800m (1:35/400m), 400m (FAO = HARD) ea w/ 400m easy to recover, 2 mile cool-down

Actual workout:  2 mile warm-up, 1.25 mi (6:41), 1 mi (6:27), 0.7mi (6:17), 0.52 mi (6:03), 0.28mi (5:39*) *downhill on this part

Around and around that parking lot we went - sneaking glances at our watches as we wove in between the deserted rows of spaces.  We left the parking lot with a strange sense of satisfaction from having not only completed the workout, but having refused to let the closed track defeat us.  I don't know how long the track will remained closed.  Weeks?  Months?  Indefinitely? But I do know that I can get in my workouts without it.  It may not be as pretty, but they'll get done.  So for those of you who are in the same boat, take heart:

How to run track workouts without a track

  1. Find the flat:  Flat road, that is!  You'll want to find a section of road that's relatively flat for you to do your intervals.  If you are forced to run somewhere with changes in elevation, try to ensure that you can complete a circuit of the road to incorporate both the uphill and downhill areas. If you can't find a flat place to run don't stress, but do realize that you'll have more variation in the paces you'll see on your watch.
  2. Convert the intervals:  The standard track distances don't line up exactly with the distances in miles, but it's pretty close.  For ease of use I've made a chart (slightly rounding up/down as needed to make things simpler) that can help you make the conversion: Slide1
  3. Utilize the "Custom Workout" feature on your watch: I LOVE this tool on my Garmin.  You can set up each interval and rest time in between and then just run.  Each interval is different you say?  No problem - Garmin has you covered.  Your watch will beep when you start/end each interval, removing the need for you to keep glancing at your watch to check distance.
  4. Swap shorter intervals:  Once you get down to around the 400m range or shorter, watches are notoriously fickle.  It's such a short distance that it's difficult to get accurate pace and distance on the road.  Your best bet here may be to swap out the 400m repeats with a set time duration (i.e. run 90 sec HARD) or swap 200m repeats for strides (30 sec HARD, 30 sec recovery).
  5. Run longer intervals:  Since shorter intervals are so fickle on the watch, it's a great opportunity to have your workout include some longer intervals.  For marathoners, these are likely more useful anyway in encouraging the desired adaptations in the body.  Half mile or mile repeats are great ways to get that "interval" feel on the road.
  6. Understand the limitations: When running intervals on the roads, unless you are on a measured course you are relying on your watch (and its communication with satellites...which are ridiculously far away) trying to pinpoint your location and calculate distance and pace accordingly.  I know that my watch is always "faster" than what I actually run.  When I use my watch on the track I'll hit the "Lap" button for each interval so that I'm getting an accurate time since my Garmin always measures that I've run longer than the actual distance I've run on the track.   So I need to take that into account when running intervals.   I'll often go a little longer on the roads (0.53mi vs. 0.5mi) to try and account for the margin of error.
  7. Train your brain:  Your brain is tricky and will regulate the intensity of exercise so that you never fully exhaust yourself.  This is why even if you feel miserable and slow dramatically in the last mile of a race, once that finish line is in sight your body is able to summon an extra kick and speed over the line - your brain has realized the end is in sight and removes the body's limitations on recruiting more muscle fibers.  On a track, the end is always "in sight" - and you can push harder on intervals since your brain knows exactly when you can stop.  (How many of you do what I do and manage to "make up" time on that last 200m on the track?  Yes? :)) On the roads, without such visual cues you are forced to overcome the brain's governing abilities and continue to push even when your brain is telling you to stop.  This skill pays dividends in races as you push through those middle miles.

And finally, don't despair.  While the track is a wonderful way to practice pacing, and provides an even, softer surface, the reality is that most races we are training for are run on the uneven, unpredictable roads.  So when you are running your 40th loop around the stupid parking lot, tell yourself this is awesome practice for your next race.