My Special Kind of Crazy Needed Some Coaching. Does yours?

I hired a coach who knows I do the work and who honestly believes in me.  Image credit:

I hired a coach who knows I do the work and who honestly believes in me. Image credit:

Back in February I was perusing the interwebs looking for info on ultra running and trail running in San Antonio when I found UltraRunning Mom, Liza Howard’s blog.  I’d heard of Liza and knew she was a freaking incredible ultra runner.  After reading a few posts, giggling several times, checking out her pretty remarkable results on Ultrasignup and thinking that she seemed to be a really cool, speedy gal, I noticed her “Coaching” tab.  I clicked on it.  I was just getting going with my training for Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 (MMT) and had been considering hiring a coach.   I needed guidance in my training.  My declaration of “embracing my inner crazy” and all the fear and excitement that followed got me through my first hundred but I knew MMT was different. It is possibly the most technical 100 miler on the East coast–basically the polar-opposite of Ghost Train Rail Trails Race that was my first 100 back in October of 2012.  That one was flat (it is a race run on rail trails after all).  MMT, however, is a race that begins with gnarly, single track going up, and up, and up.  As the race progresses, that theme continues.  Even when the trail isn’t steadily climbing, one has to deal with rocks and creeks and treacherous downhills. I needed guidance cause even though I’ve given my “inner crazy” a big ‘ol bear hug and am not planning to let go, I didn’t know if that would be enough to get me to the finish line.

So, back to Liza.  I clicked the tab and read about her coaching and decided to reach out.  At the very least I’d get to talk with Liza Howard and if everything went well maybe I’d hire her.  So, I sent her a message and wham-bam, within just a few hours I was on the phone with her.  I have to admit I was starstruck on the phone.  All I could think was – This chic WON Leadville, came in second at Western States and has won lots of other races!  Soon though, I calmed down a bit and once I was off the phone, I knew I wanted her to be my coach. That was the first week of February and I haven’t for a second regretted my decision to hire her as my coach.

Here’s a breakdown of why I hired a coach and why I decided that Liza was the right fit for the job:

*EXPERIENCE. Liza has multiple 100 milers under her belt and has done well in nearly all of them.  So she knows how to train, how to attack different obstacles that come up along the way, and because she has been running long for awhile, she has a lot of resources on top of her knowledge base.

*ACCOUNTABILITY. I needed an accountability partner on my training and Liza is that.  She makes sure that I’m doing my workouts by checking our shared Google doc and asks questions that get to the point of how my training is going when we talk on the phone 1-2 times a week.

*TRACK RECORD.She has a proven coaching track record.  On her coaching page there are testimonials of past clients.  They had gotten the results they had hoped for and more.  Everywhere I looked, I only read positive things about her.

*LIKABILITY. Maybe not important for everyone, but I wanted a coach who I liked, respected and enjoyed talking with.  I look forward to calling Liza and talking to her about my training and our lives because she is upbeat, fun and funny.

*PUSH ME HARDER. REGIN ME IN. I needed someone to push me harder.  Maybe give me that speed workout that I wouldn’t normally do because I don’t like them.  At the same time, I needed someone who would say, “Whoa, now.” if I wasn’t feeling well or if I was achey and still wanted to give it my 110%.  Someone to say, sometimes the best thing to do is rest.  I definitely needed this as I developed IT band trouble the first week of March.  Liza was smart and encouraging, and after a week and a half of only a bit of training, I was back and slowly ramping up mileage again.  Without her, I may not have been so smart.

*BELIEF. She believes in me.  Not because I pay her too, but because she sees that I’m doing the work and she is a positive person.  She has helped me set reasonable goals for Massanutten and we both believe I can accomplish them.

*LOCATION. This may or may not be important to you.  For me, it’s a bonus.  I am getting to know Liza over the phone and email, and then, when I relocate to San Antonio next month, I get to meet her!  I’ll also get to meet all of her running buddies and get started discovering my favorite trails there.

I know my craziness and my desire to run “crazy” distances will help substantially come race day, but knowing that I had the expert guidance of Liza will help more, I’m sure!

I would love to know if you have ever hired a coach or trainer for an athletic/fitness/health endeavor and if so, how the experience was for you?  Would you do it again?  Why did you decide to hire a coach?



Putting Pain on the Back Burner

if you change the way you look at things the things you look at change

I’m a member of the Ultra Listserv, an email community of ultra runners and those interested in ultra running who come from all over the world, all levels, stripes, weights, speeds, etc.  Since joining the list back in 2007, I’ve learned a lot from the posts and plan to continue learning as time goes on.  The conversations on the UltraList run the gamut (pun intended 🙂 covering everything from nutrition, to particular race courses, studies on endurance sports, training plans, and more.  Recently, there was a conversation on pain tolerance which I found very interesting.  One UltraLister, Gary Cantrell (AKA Lazarus Lake), who happens to be the race director of the infamous Barkley Marathons, had the following to say:

nobody really “tolerates” pain.

“pain” is nothing more than brain data,
and you have to learn to treat it as such.

think of discomfort as something like your car’s “check engine soon” light.
is it thirst? drink.
if it is hunger; eat.
if it is blisters, consider the situation.
if you are near the end, just run on them to shut them up.
if there is a lot of time left, do some foot repair and get the situation under control.
if it is foot pain; maybe try a change of shoes,
or for joint and muscle issues; try to correct your form and reduce the stress.

whatever the discomfort; do what you can,
then put it away in a compartment and don’t think about it.

you wouldn’t stare at your “check engine soon” light for 8 or 10 hours straight.
well, you don’t need to focus on discomfort continuously either.

relegate it to background noise, and go on.

no one is a bigger sissy about pain than me,
but even i was able to learn how to deal with discomfort during ultras.
don’t listen to someone’s overblown depictions of agony,
they amount to little more than adolescent boasting.
i have had the good fortune (bad fortune at the time)
to experience genuine pain a time or two.
trust me, no one would “tolerate” that.

and the key is not to tolerate it,
but to put it on the back burner.
if you can’t remedy it, ignore it.

This really made sense to me.  In all endurance sports there is a level of pain that comes along with it.  All runners know the feeling of burning quads or glutes during and after a long or intense workout.  People handle all the aches and pains that come along with running ultras in different ways, but from personal experience, and reading, I agree with Laz that in most instances, you have to ignore it.

Of course there are exceptions to this “if you can’t remedy it, ignore it” rule.  You have to know your body and know if the pain you’re experiencing is from injury or internal issues that require medical attention.  While those instances of needing medical attention or approaching serious injury do happen, it is most often the case that the body hurts because we’re pushing our limits.   So, if you know you are going to experience pain, how do you prep for it? Can you?

I believe you can.

I think I experienced the highest level of pain I ever have during the Ghost Train Rail Trail (GTRT) 100 last October, but I’m not sure.  How can that be?  I put myself in a place where I did not have room for pain. GTRT was my first 100 attempt, and I was hell-bent on finishing and giving it my all.  I really wanted to finish in under 24 hours.  And, in order to do so, there were many things I had to focus on – nutrition – was I eating and drinking enough; pace – was I going too fast or too slow; maintaining a positive attitude;  not losing my footing in the dark and with tired legs; taking care of my feet – did I need to change socks/shoes/apply more bodyglide to feet; did I want to change into long sleeves/shortsleeves; making sure I knew what I needed when I hit the aid stations.  I had a mental checklist.  When I completed the checklist, I started it all over again.

The checklist allowed me to realize discomforts and make a plan for attending to them.  I couldn’t do anything about it at that moment,  I put it on the back burner focusing on what was in my control.  I did my best to keep it there until I could do something to remedy it. 

My awesome Ghost Train Rail Trail crew and pacers!  Love them and wouldn't have been able to do it without them.

My awesome Ghost Train Rail Trail crew and pacers! Love them and wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.

Near the end, of GTRT I knew I was in pain because my breathing was loud.  I was “breathing through the pain”, as they say.  Still, I wasn’t focused on it.  Instead, at this point in the race I always had an amazing pacer with me who would talk and keep my mind focused.  If at anytime I began to really feel the pain despite their efforts, I just recited my simple, yet effective mantra which I have with me and ready to whip out during tough points in any race.

This is my race and I am strong. 

That’s it.  As long as I didn’t keep looking at the proverbial “check engine” light and focused on the important things that would get me to the finish line safely and as quickly as possible, the pain wasn’t a big part of the experience.  I finished in 23:03:00 which was good enough for a 4th overall and 1st place female finish.  So, my method worked for me.

I guess that’s why, as soon as it was over, I was scouting out another hundred.  I don’t know how many hundreds I’ll attempt.  I figure, I’ll keep running long and focusing on the important things during the race as long as it’s fun.  I have a feeling that will be for quite some time to come.

How do you conquer pain in tough workouts, training runs, or endurance events?  Do you “compartmentalize” it? Do you use a mantra?  Please share in the comments below.

till we meet on the trails,


PS – Two books that touch on this subject are  Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Matt Fitzgerald’s Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel. I highly recommend both.