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 


When to stop strength training before a marathon...and a Liebster Q&A

BodyPump strength training It was treadmill again for me this week as RVA got about 7" of snow on Wednesday night.   Thankfully most of it melted pretty quickly and despite frigid temps again this morning I was able to get outside today do my 18-miler.  But since I'm over the snow and the cold, let's talk about something else:  Strength Training!  My strength training of choice is Les Mills BodyPump.   A while back I received my BodyPump (group weightlifting) certification.  This month I've been doing some more teaching at the YMCA as I fill in for an instructor that is out.  It's been an interesting experience for sure.  I'm not used to being an instructor in front of a big group and I've been very nervous to teach the classes.  Thankfully I've used my time stuck on the treadmill to listen to the tracks and memorize the choreography so that I feel more comfortable presenting it in class.  Of course I've had a few mistakes and my classes have been treated to my face turning bright red, but on the whole I think it has gone okay and I'm working to improve each time I teach.

I've been either teaching or taking the class 2-3 times a week for quite a while but as I enter the taper, I began to wonder what I needed to do in terms of scaling back/stopping the weight training before my race.

When Should You Stop Strength Training Before a Goal Race? 

If you've been consistently (1-3 times a week) strength training during your marathon buildup, you'll want to consider stopping right around the time you start your 2-week taper.  Studies have shown that when you stop strength training, a couple of important things happen:

Week 1:  Recovery:  During the first week off, your body begins responding to the training load you've been subjecting it to by repairing your muscles and replacing your energy stores.  You may feel a bit weaker this week as your body uses its energy to heal itself and repair all the small muscle fiber tears.

Week 2: Supercompensation:  This is the exciting part.  After about a week off from strength training, your body switches from recovery mode to supercompensation mode.  What does this mean?  Strength training suppresses fast-twitch muscle fibers to some degree, but when you stop training, they overcompensate to a higher-than-initial level.  This means that during this week your body's muscle fibers hit an optimal state - allowing you to generate more power.  Sounds like a great time to race!!

Long story short?  8-14 days before your race is the best time to discontinue strength training to let your body rebound and strengthen before the big day.

I plan to take a break from teaching (and taking) BodyPump after next week since the race is rapidly approaching.  I'm planning on Friday, March 6th to be my last day. (9 days before my race) I'm hoping that it'll help me on race day and I'll feel the benefits of the extra power in my muscles!

In other news, the super-speedy Marci has nominated me for a Liebster award (bloggers nominate each other and give out questions to answer) and she has given me a few questions.  So without further ado, let's get to it!


What is your "go to" running route?   I've got a few standard loops around my house but my favorite is probably a 5-mile out-and-back that goes out to what I fondly refer to as the "Road to Nowhere" - nicknamed as such because right now there's nothing being built off that road.  It's quite peaceful and while it's got some hills to get there and back, the actual stretch of road on the Road to Nowhere is probably the flattest area around my house.  So I head out there for speed work and anytime I want to run a route that a bit easier on the legs.

What is your favorite blog to follow? Oof.  This is a tough one.  I have so many running blogs I like! (RunnerMarci, KrisLawrence, ArkansasRunnerMom, Camille Heron, MilesToTheTrials, RunnerUnderPressure, SaltyRunning)  Since I feel like I can't single out one particular running blog, I'll give you my favorite non-running blog:  WaitButWhy    If you haven't had a chance to check this out - GO NOW AND CHECK IT OUT.  But (fair warning) it may keep you busy for hours as you read through all of the posts.  It's fascinating stuff and it's perfect fodder for those super long runs with friends (trust me - bringing up something discussed on WaitButWhy (like artificial intelligence, or what makes you YOU) will make the miles fly by).

What is the best advice you have ever received? My parents have always given me the advice that "the harder you work, the luckier you get".  Thus far in my life, I've found that to be true.

Who is/are your favorite training partner(s)? In life or in running?

LB and I post-Shamrock Marathon in 2013 - new PRs for us both!

In life, my favorite partners are my husband, kids and best friends.  I'm lucky to have one of my favorite people in the world (my friend LB) as a running partner as well!  She lives in NY so I don't get to see her often, but we've done several races together over the years and when we do get to meet up we always make sure to schedule at least one long run together.  On a more local basis, I love my training partners on my MegaRunners team.

What is your dream job? As weird as it sounds, I'd love to be a running coach and training-partner-for-hire.   One of my favorite things to do is to help others with running - with their plans, their goals, and their workouts!  I really enjoy pacing people in races, running workouts with friends as their pacer/motivator, or just keeping someone company on a long run if they need a little extra boost.  It's so much fun to run other people's workouts with them and be an encouraging voice. If I could turn that into a job I would do it in a heartbeat.

What is your favorite local race/event? why? While I have to give a shout-out to our amazing Richmond Marathon, my favorite local race I love to hate is the Patrick Henry Half Marathon.  It's a tough course and it's held in August - and (as luck has it) usually in terrible weather.  We've run in extreme heat, pouring rain, and even a hurricane over the years and somehow I still keep running the darn thing.  I've got a streak going now though, so I'm planning to run it again each year for as long as I can.  Since it's local, my parents often run it too which makes for a really fun race day no matter how miserable the conditions are.

What music/songs are on your workout playlist? Since I often use my treadmill time to listen to and memorize by BodyPump tracks, I've got quite a few songs from that on my playlist.  But here's a couple of others I've been listening to lately:

- Get Over It (OK Go) - Fast paced and fun! - Bad News (Bastille) - This one has a great beat for practicing your running cadence. - Kiss You (One Direction) - Yes, I know, I know.  It's a cheesy boy band song.  BUT the up-tempo beat and fun sound never fails to make me pick up the pace. - The Phoenix (Fall Out Boy) - This one is also a BodyPump song but it's so fun. - Shut Up and Dance (Walk The Moon) - This is on my "tempo run" playlist.  A great fast paced, catchy song. - Suddenly I See (KT Tunstall) -  Lynn Jennings used this song in the background of a montage of her running career that she showed to us at running camp in Craftsbury, VT.  It gave me goosebumps to see footage of all of the amazing races she'd run in and I'll forever associate this song with her, and her hard work and dedication.

What food/drink/habit/item/etc. could you never give up? It would be a sad, sad day if I had to give up coffee.  Or wine.

What inspires you most to keep running and training? I'm constantly inspired by other speedy runners who have worked hard and made big improvements in their times.  I'm also in awe of the masters runners out there who continue to run well into their 70s and 80s.  I really, really hope that I'm them one day.   I love running, but I sometimes question why I train - why I push myself and log all these miles when really, I'm nowhere near as fast the elites.   But at the end of the day, it comes down to this:  I believe God gave me a talent to run, and I want to do whatever I can to make the very most of this talent while I'm here on this Earth.   For me, that means training hard, helping others become better runners and enjoying the journey along the way.

Thanks so much, Marci, for the questions!!  I especially love the last one and want to put it out there to anyone reading:

What inspires you most to keep running and training?

The BodyPump Training Experience & a bit more running

Lunges with the bar in BodyPump! This blog post could alternatively have been titled: How Jen Plans To Ensure She Continues Strength Training. But let’s back up. Ever since my last marathon in March, I’ve been trying to commit to strength training more often. For the most part, time spent on other supplemental training (core work, cross-training, and strength training) doesn’t provide the same “bang for your buck” in terms of running fitness as RUNNING does. So in other words, if you have free time to go to the gym and lift weights, that time would be better spent running more miles. BUT (and this is a big BUT), that “supplemental” stuff has the potential to make you a better runner in a way that piling on more miles fails to do.   The core work and strength training help strengthen all of your supporting muscles – making you less prone to injury. And the cross-training can help you add “miles” to your schedule when your body can’t physically handle any more of the pounding miles on the road that week.

I also have a family history of bone density issues. While I have no reason to believe my own bone density is poor (a factor I examined in my stress fracture root cause analysis), I know that strength training helps to enhance bone density and decrease the probability of osteoporosis.   So given that as well as the injury-prevention benefits to my running, I wanted to make sure I made strength training more of a priority moving forward.

Enter….Les Mills Body Pump!   If you aren’t familiar with BodyPump, it’s a choreographed weight training class that our local YMCA offers. It’s actually a world-wide program and instructors are certified by a company called Les Mills. (You can see what BodyPump is all about HERE) I started taking the class back in March and really grew to love it. I try to go three times a week and over the course of the past 9 months I’ve been able to slowly increase the amount of weight I’m lifting.   The instructors were recently giving me a hard time because I love the songs and know the choreography so well – “you should teach it!” they said. I laughed it off initially, but the more I thought about it, the more it started to sound like something I wanted to do.

I passed!  Woohoo!

Since having left the corporate world when my first daughter was 9 months old, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to try and help others while doing something I was passionate about. I’m definitely passionate about running and physical fitness and the idea of helping others to improve their fitness sounded like it would be right up my alley.   I mentioned back in this post that I was working on getting my group exercise certification in addition to my Body Pump certification, and I’m happy to report that after many weeks of studying, I took and passed my ACE Group Exercise Instructor Certification!

So since I’d gotten that part taken care of, it was on to Body Pump Training!! I headed up to Harrisonburg to stay with my sister and take the training that was being offered near her. It’s a two day event – 8am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. If I did well at the training and received a passing score, I would head back to Richmond and have 60 days to tape a video of myself teaching the full BodyPump class.   I was nervous, but excited as well!   I’ll stop here since this is getting long, but Part 2 will be coming soon!

As for running (which will always be my first love!), I’m slowly, slowly getting back at it. The leg is feeling pretty good, which is encouraging after a rough week or two of various “twinges” that made me super nervous. This past week I was finally back up to enough mileage where I felt like I could give a quick recap. Still no speed or real intensity yet – just super easy (and slow) mileage.

Monday: 5 miles

Tuesday:   OFF

Wednesday: 7 miles

Thursday: 6 miles

Friday: 6.5 miles in the a.m. with friends, 5 miles later with my Dad

Saturday: OFF (BodyPump training day 1)

Sunday: 3.5 miles (early before BodyPump day 2)

Total: 33 miles

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