Category Archives: Coaching

Venus Run Cheer Squad 2014: JOIN ME!

In March of last year, I ran my first 5K race in Singapore: Venus Run 2013.  This women’s-only race had all of the hallmarks of a standard 5K: It was fast, flat (until a pretty serious climb into the Finish Line), and painful.  One thing noticeably absent, though, was any sort of cheering.  Even as I ran through the finishing chute, right among the Top 10 Finishers (I think I was 11th), no one seemed to be paying any attention, except the announcer.

I realized by then that this was quite normal for races in Singapore.  The volunteers provided directions and water, but not much enthusiasm/cheering/motivation.  [Note: Most race volunteers in Singapore are teenagers completing mandatory or extra-credit volunteer service.  They are plentiful, but most aren’t runners and don’t know how/what/when to encourage runners.  This isn’t their fault, it’s just a fact.]  The spectators were few and far between.  And even other runners kept to themselves after finishing the race.  All of this was a far-cry from the amazing running community that I left behind in Rochester, NY (*waves furiously* HI GUYS!!!!).

So right then and there, after catching my breath, stabilizing my legs, and downing some water, I decided it was time for a change.  I knew that I couldn’t just stand at the top quietly, watching so many people struggling up the slope to the finish.  The field size (~2,000 participants – small, for Singapore) and the location (wide, steep slope to the finish) were perfect for what I had in mind.  So I walked about halfway down the slope and started cheering, clapping, whooping, and just making a general ruckus – the way I learned in Rochester.

And it mattered – I could see a little push, an extra spring, a small smile coming from these ladies in the final meters of a race.  None of these women were “my” athletes – but these are the moments that a coach lives for.  This is why I coach. Why I teach. Why I learn ferociously about the body, how it works, and how to help it work better.  I live for that fire, that glint, and the pride and confidence that burst out when someone tackles a challenge – and crosses the finish line: SUCCESS!

But let’s not get too poetic.  The bottom line is, I stopped caring that “No one in Singapore really cheers,”* and started getting myself out there to cheer.  A crazy white girl yelling non-stop encouragement on a deserted section of a half-marathon course at 6 AM (or 11 PM) certainly garners her fair share of strange looks (and apparently, a bit of gossip as well) – but I don’t care.  I love watching people run, I love sharing their endorphins, and if I can make just one person’s race a little better – fantastic!

I’ve made half-hearted attempts to get other folks out to join me in the past, but nothing really stuck.  But I think the time is right. I think there are other folks – mostly runners – who want to share this experience, and be a part of helping improve someone else’s race experience.  So that (finally) brings me to the details:

Venus Run Cheer Squad 2014!

When: Saturday, March 8 (tomorrow) @ 4:45 PM
Where: Marina Barrage Building, at the bottom of the downslope closest to Gardens by the Bay [It’s a little annoying to get there – directions are here, or if you’re up for a 1.5-2K walk, you can walk from Bayfront MRT.  Look for the tall white woman in the Run With Holly shirt!]
Who: Anyone & everyone.  Family, friends, adults, kids, runners, non-runners…

What To Bring: Enthusiasm, Hydration (for yourself), Noisemakers (cowbell, clappers, etc.)

No experience necessary! We’ll rally up, and I’ll have some signs and a few pointers/suggestions for cheering newbies.  Depending on how many people we have, we’ll divide up and spread out along the latter half of the course.  The route is slightly different this year, but there are still some great cheer spots.  The race is 5K, so everyone should be finished in about an hour (of course, you can leave whenever necessary!).

I hope to see some of you there! =)

[And if you’re racing, feel free to come join us after you cross the Finish Line!]

Ever gone out to cheer for a race before?  Any notable cheering experiences?

Have you ever witnessed really spectacular cheering (either in general at a race, or by a group/individual in particular)?  Tell me about it!

 

*Yellow Ribbon Run and Standard Charter Marathon are two notable exceptions.  I have cheered at neither, but seen – and seen evidence of – plenty of folks cheering at these two events.

A Message To Anyone Worried About “Unglam” Race Photos

So there is a blog post floating around the Singapore running blogosphere that’s making me twitchy.  Basically, the post provides four tips to help folks (ladies, specifically) avoid “unglam” race photos.  The author suggests:

1. Wear some make-up.
2. Tie your hair back.
3. Wear sunglasses (to hide slit, shut, or sunken eyes).
4. Smile.

Now, the author is a race photographer, and I have no doubt that he hears a lots of complaints from runners who are dissatisfied with their race photos.  For better or for worse, I think this gentleman is trying to help – he is responding to the way so many of us see ourselves, and our race photos.  Thus, although the post raises my feminist hackles, it is a manifestation, not the root, of the problem.  So rather than give the author a hard time, I would like to address all you ladies (and gentlemen) out there who are dissing your own race photos:

Think about why you run.  Do you run to have FUN?  To feel STRONG? EMPOWERED? HEALTHY?  AWESOME?  

Whatever your reason, I’m gonna wager that it isn’t to get a gorgeous race photo.  Because honestly, if you want “pretty” photos, then get cleaned up, hire a photographer or grab a friend with a camera, and have at it.  Easy peasy.

I am in the business of fitness.  Run With Holly is all about helping folks grow stronger, powerful, fitter, and more confident.  These things are truly beautiful.  The misguided thought that we must conform to the narrow societal expectations of beauty in the midst of activities that make us stronger, more powerful, and fitter…is rubbish.  [These societal expectations are rubbish to begin with, but I can only fight one battle a day, OK?]

So for starters, let’s dissect these four recommendations:

1. Wear some make-up.

No, please don’t wear make-up, if only for the sake of your pores.  This is Singapore, and I’m quite sure that NO make-up exists that’s waterproof enough to stay on your face during a sweaty run.

2. Tie your hair back.

OK, I’m on board with this one, albeit for practical, not aesthetic, reasons.

3. Wear sunglasses (to hide slit, shut, or sunken eyes).

You can’t control whether your eyes look shut, slit, or sunken – wear sunglasses if you want, but only for protection from the sun/wind/rain.  Feel free not to. You don’t have to apologize for your eyes, or the position of your eyelids at the precise millisecond the photo is taken.

4. Smile.

If you’re working hard, gritting it out, and feeling the burn – don’t feel obligated to smile.  Did any of you tune in for the NYC Marathon yesterday? Did you see those huge grins on the faces of the elites?  Hmm…yeah, me neither.  Sure, if you notice the photog and want to flash a smile, go for it. But if you are focused on your race – then by all means, focus on your race. Personally, I LOVE pictures of athletes looking intense and focused – I think THAT is beautiful! 

What I’m trying to say is that the race is YOURS to run, in your way and on your terms.  And I truly, truly hope that those “terms” include running for yourselves, for your health, to enjoy time with friends…  So have fun.  Work hard.  Be free.  But do not, under any circumstances, let someone else tell you what you “should” do for the camera while you’re running and racing.

This isn’t always easy, I know.  We are often our own worst enemies.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall into the trap sometimes, too.

But when you have doubts, you show those “unglam” race photos to an athlete friend/trainer/coach – or heck, send ’em to me.  I bet we’ll see determination, strength, and athletic beauty – in the wrinkles in your forehead, the grit of your teeth, the bunching of your top, the sweat pouring everywhere.

To keep myself honest here, I’m going to grab a few of my recent race photos, all courtesy of Running Shots.  I haven’t carefully chosen these – they are all the freely available race photos of me, in which I’m large enough to be seen properly.  Do note that, in all photos, I am NOT wearing make-up or sunglasses, and I’m only smiling in one.

This one is easy to post; it's my fave!

This one is easy to post; it’s my fave!

At the top of a stair climb.  All I wanted to do was breathe.

At the top of a stair climb. All I wanted to do was breathe, and not puke.

In a painful place...

In a painful place… But look at those leg muscles!

I'll admit there's a part of me that doesn't want to post this one.  But this was actually a pretty good race for me, and I actually have a positive memory of the race, in which I felt fast and strong.  I let the photo remind me of those feelings, rather than of how unflattering I think my shorts look.

I’ll admit there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to post this one. But this was actually a pretty good race for me, and I ran feeling fast and strong. So I let the photo remind me of those feelings, rather than of how unflattering I think my shorts (shirt?) look.

And that’s my collection of recent race photos.  I may not love them all, but I definitely love what they represent: A fit, healthy, strong body that can do amazing things.

So the next time you open your mouth (or brain) to criticize your race photos, think twice.  Redirect that energy into the following gratitude:

Dear Body:

Thank you for being awesome.

Love,
Me

If you want to read more, I suggest checking out Fit & Feminist’s thoughtful and insightful recollection of her journey toward accepting her race photos, which she writes about in Learning to love – or at least like – my race photos.

[Edited to add: GCA has a few choice words of her own over at Why I’m Proud of My Unglam Running Photos.]

Let’s be very general today: Any thoughts on this topic?  What would you like to add?  What have I forgotten/gotten wrong?

What did you do this weekend that made you feel strong/empowered/freaking awesome?

The More You Know (the more confused you are)

This week, I am back in the classroom.  Or, at least, sitting on the floor of a dance studio with my notebook and pen, watching Powerpoint presentations (and LOTS of live physical demonstrations).  It’s a weird feeling – in a good way.

You see, I’m taking four days of classes with Personal Trainer/Yoga Trainer/Pilates Trainer Claire Norgate, from Australia.  [When I lived in the US, I had no idea how much fitness “stuff” came out of Australia.  Turns out, a lot!]  This particular workshop set is focused on Postural Analysis/Movement Analysis/Trigger Point and Remedial/Rehabilitation Pilates (and some other, non-Pilates exercises).  I am not a trained Pilates instructor and, to be honest, I went in fairly skeptical of Pilates, based on the smattering of group classes I’ve taken.  And although my thoughts on it are changing somewhat thanks to this course, some of the finer, Pilates-centric points of the workshop have been lost on me.

Still, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything I’ve learned (or hopefully learned!) over the last few days.  This is a good kind of overwhelmed, though – and I am very excited to start incorporating some of these techniques and approaches into my coaching programs and into my one-on-one work with clients on posture/stride/gait.  I also plan to share more details about certain topics on the blog, once I’ve had time to process, integrate, and test some of them.  But for now, I have to leave for class pretty soon – so I will leave you with a list.  [I love lists. Also, I’m considering this to be Monday’s “Coach’s Corner” post, kind of – especially since I started it at the beginning of the week.]

10 Tidbits of Learnin’
(from two Claire Norgate workshops)

1. Spending the day with other folks who are just as interested in fitness/movement as I am is pretty darn cool.  I’m a bit of an anomaly – I’m trained as a running coach, but am far less formally trained in other areas of fitness (yoga, Pilates, personal training) than many of the other participants.  There is so much that I can learn in that room – and only some of it comes from Claire.

2. Nothing beats wearing your workout gear to class.  Bonus?  I need only change my shoes to be dressed for my run when I get home!  [It’s like going to class in your PJs when you were in college – only cuter, more efficient, and socially acceptable.]

3. There is contradictory evidence about pretty much everything.  You thought that the barefoot running controversy was bad?  That is merely the TIP of the iceberg.  Should you “roll” your spine up and down (as in “From standing, drop your chin to your chest and ROLL down, one vertebrae at a time.”)?  Is it safe to squat with knees extending past toes?  What sorts of exercises are “safe” for folks with knee injuries? back injuries?  Also, this year’s recommendation may change next year.  Or in five years.  Then, it’ll probably change back.  It’s enough to make you crazy.  Instead, I use it as a reminder of the importance of respecting the differences in individuals, and encouraging everyone to listen to his/her own body.

4. I need a pack mule, or a car.  Carrying course materials, food, workout apparel, and shoes for the day (sometimes 7 AM – 7 PM) makes me not the favorite person on crowded morning buses.

Squeeeezing my yoga mat into my Timbuk2 bag, because my hands are full with my lunchbag and shoe bag...

Squeeeezing my yoga mat into my Timbuk2 bag, because my hands are full with my lunchbag and shoe bag…

5. Teaching group exercise classes well is really, really hard.  This goes hand-in-hand with observations I’m making during the Team Teaching for RPM.  In every class, there are folks of all levels and body types, with unique strengths/weaknesses.  Teaching in a way that properly directs each of them is extraordinarily challenging, and I didn’t appreciate this until very recently.

6. Other people have dorky “favorite things”, too!  I have a favorite science word (pseudopod) and a favorite piece of laboratory equipment (one of the BioRad PCR machines in the Bi lab).  Apparently, exercise/physiology folks have favorite bones (I decided yesterday that mine is the xyphoid process), and favorite muscles to look at (gastrocnemeus/soleus?).

7. We ALL have some postural and movement patterns that fall within “normal” range – and we all have some that fall outside what is considered “normal”.  The goal for those of us in the fitness industry – and the folks I/we work with – is to start moving people toward normal, to allow for safer, more pain-free, and more effective movement and exercise.

8. As the only Caucasian in a room full of Asians, I was the one who asked, “Well, who decided what “NORMAL” is, anyway?”

9. “Lamb Cupcakery” is a very strange name.  But their chocolate peanut butter cupcake is a pretty amazing way to end a day of learnin’.

If it looks like the only thing left is the wrapper....that's correct.  I forgot to take a "before" photo....

If it looks like the only thing left is the wrapper….that’s correct. I forgot to take a “before” photo….

10. I need (want?) to learn more.  And more.  And more.  It’s really fantastic to be learning things that I will actually use!!!  Take that, formalized American education system!

OK, that’s it for today, folks.  As I said – I hope to be blogging about more specific information I learned – and how I’m applying it to my coaching – over time.  But for now, keep on eye out here – the Thursday “Stretch of the Day” will be debuting in less than 24 hours!!

If you work in the health/fitness industry: What is the most useful class/course/workshop you’ve ever taken?

EVERYONE: I’m in ‘learning mode’, so teach me some interesting morsel of information!!!

What do you get for spending the weekend at the gym?

I spent almost 24 hours in a Fitness First gym this weekend.  My results?

LOTS of sweaty clothes…

I think my bag of clothes weighed 3x more coming home than it did when I left the apartment in the morning.

I think my bag of clothes weighed 3x more coming home than it did when I left the apartment in the morning.

At least 50 repeats of Danny Byrd’s “Daydreamer”…

[And we’re all daydreaming now – dun, dun, dun – dun, dun, dun!]

More bottles refills than I care to count…

I mostly drank water, but there was some Nuun and, in a pinch, 100Plus consumed, as well.

I mostly drank water, but there was some Nuun and 100Plus consumed, as well.

[You know your sweat glands work in overdrive when the guy – who weighs 150% of what you do – on the bike next to you suggests that the two of you are in close competition over who has dripped more sweat on the floor during the ride.  I think he won – but only by a few drops…]

And in the end:

Passed

Passed! But is it wrong that I want to take a red pen to that lower part?
“Physical execution and choreography ARE mastered.”

There are still more steps between me and a final certification, but this was the first big one.  I’m excited to brush up my own spinning skills, learn some more choreography, and (eventually) be released in front of a live class!

This weekend’s training challenged me as an athlete, a student, and a coach.  It also provided a place for me to connect with a room full of people for whom fitness is a passion and/or career.  Although I was pretty exhausted yesterday, both mentally and physically (Nadia was right when she suggested that I’d be getting awesome sleep on Saturday & Sunday nights!), today I am feeling recharged, energized, and thankful that I can help people get fitter – and change their lives – every day.

Good thing, too – because I have lots to do after spending all weekend hiding out at the gym.  I hope your weekend has left you feeling similarly recharged and ready to tackle the week!

The RPM 59 release is now seared into my brain – what’s currently stuck on repeat in YOUR head??

Were you inspired by anything this weekend?  Tell me about it!

How Plantar Fasciitis Is Helping Me Become A Better Coach

I’ve nursed quite a few injuries/health issues in the 13 years that I’ve been a runner.  My personal list includes metatarsal stress fractures, a busted up ankle, peroneal tendonitis, IT-band issues, and anemia.  Although I should say, in running’s defense, only the ankle and IT band can be blamed on running – the others, not so much.  But I have never – never, ever, ever, ever, EVER encountered anything as fussy and frustrating as this current battle with my plantar fascia.  [I’ll be discussing the details of how I’ve been treating my PF in an upcoming post.]

If I were my own client, I would have the following conversation with myself:

Coach Me: How does it hurt (ache, stabbing pain, etc.)?
Client Me: Usually it aches.  But sometimes it feels like a pulling, or even a burning.
Coach Me: Is it binary, like, it hurts, or it doesn’t?
Client Me: No way.  There are a LOT of in-betweens.
Coach Me:
 So when does it hurt the most?
Client Me: Erm…Sometimes it’s sore in the morning (but sometimes it’s not)…and in the evening, too.  And sometimes (but not always) in the afternoon..
Coach Me (looking for a pattern): How about in relation to a specific activity?
Client Me:  Swimming doesn’t hurt.  Sitting doesn’t hurt.  Most of the time, walking in supportive shoes doesn’t hurt.
Coach Me: OK.  So it hurts at all OTHER times?  Like, when you’re standing on it and don’t have shoes on?
Client Me: Well, no, not exactly.  Sometimes I’m doing that, and it doesn’t bother me at all.  Yesterday I wore my Vibrams and walked all the way to the grocery store and back – no pain at all!
Coach Me (thinking this might mean some improvement): How about for the rest of the day?
Client Me: Well, after I’d been home for awhile and was puttering around, it hurt again.  Kind of a lot.  But then less again in the evening.
Coach Me (still looking for a pattern): So, talk me through your day, and tell me how much it hurts at different times.
Client Me: OK. Let’s take yesterday, for example: I get out of bed and it feels good for a few steps.  But while I’m making breakfast, it starts to hurt again.  After breakfast, it’s OK, but not great, while I get cleaned up and ready for my day.  I work at my desk for awhile, with breaks to get water or lunch, and use the restroom.  Sometimes it hurts when I stand, sometimes it doesn’t.  I get changed for the gym and put on my supportive sneakers.  When I’m wearing those, it doesn’t hurt.  I do my workout – Body Pump or Spin, and that’s fine.  When I’m done and take my shoes off, sometimes it hurts and sometimes it doesn’t.  But that was just yesterday.  On other days, it hurts more/less at different times.
Coach Me (interrupting): Does it hurt more after a certain kind of workout?
Client Me: No, not really. For awhile, I thought Spin was pretty good and maybe made it feel better, but last night I spun, and afterward it hurt.
Coach Me: Oooook….
Client Me: Yoga sometimes hurts, because I’m in bare feet.
Coach Me: Do certain poses hurt more than others?
Client Me: No?  Sometimes it hurts, and sometimes it doesn’t.  *shrug*
Coach Me: How about running?  You raced on Sunday.  How was that?
Client Me: Well, it didn’t hurt while I was running.  For the rest of the day on Sunday, it was OK – like it’s been.  Maybe it hurt a little more on Monday, but I’m not sure.  I may have been imagining that, and Tuesday was definitely average, like it was before the race.
Coach Me (going for a different approach): Overall, does it hurt more than it did two weeks ago?
Client Me: It’s about the same…I think.  I mean, when I’m standing, it still doesn’t hurt a little bit of the time, it sort of hurts/I can feel it most of the time, and it hurts a lot occasionally.
Coach Me (one final attempt): So, on a scale of 0 (none) to 10 (childbirth), how much does it hurt?
Client Me: That’s really hard to say.  Right now, I’m sitting down.  So, 0. [I can be a bit of a smart aleck sometimes.]
Coach Me: How about…on average.
Client Me: I can’t answer that question. Every step is different.

Three weeks ago, if I had this conversation with a client, I would hang up the phone and let out an exasperated, “ARGGGGHH!!!”  I’d also probably figure that she was being evasive: Perhaps she was running when she wasn’t supposed to, or not sticking to her icing/stretching/rolling regimen, or not paying close enough attention to her body to notice trends/patterns.  Because, really – most injuries have a pattern.  They hurt in certain ways, or at certain times, or in relation to certain activities – not this willy-nilly business that the client above describes.

But what’s humbling is that, in this case, I’m the client.  I know that I’m stretching, and icing.  I know the workouts I’m doing.  I know that I’m not changing my footfall (at least, I’m trying not to).  As people go, I’m pretty in tune with my body (at least, I have been for all my other injuries), and I trust my assessments of myself.  So this on-again/off-again, apparently pattern-less discomfort is driving me bananas.  My Mom innocently asked me if my plantar fasciitis was doing “better” the other day, and I almost threw a frustrated fit.  “I think it’s about the same.  I don’t think it’s worse.  But…*ouch that step just hurt* …I just don’t know.”

This is an important caution and reminder for me as a coach: Sometimes, an injury is fickle, and it’s not necessarily the athlete’s fault.  And while I certainly can coach people through injuries/chronice health issues that I’ve never had (thank goodness!), sometimes there really is nothing like experience.

I’m not even talking about knowing a cure or treatment – there are plenty of references for that.  I’m mostly talking about understanding a client’s experience.  For example, everything I read about plantar fasciitis says, “It usually hurts the most when the individual first wakes up, and after sitting for long periods.”  Before PF, I would expect a sufferer’s experience to approximately mimic this.  But in reality, I haven’t been able to reliably correlate my discomfort to these times/activities.  This doesn’t mean I don’t have PF, and it doesn’t mean I’m lying – it just means that PF and I, and our experience together, are a little weird.

So I am reminded that, when faced with an athlete going through something I’m struggling to understand, I need to use my support network.  It’s OK – even good – for me to ask for help.  And ultimately, being aware of my own limits makes me a better coach, not a worse one.

Running friends, fill in this blank:  I am an expert on (insert injury here).

Anyone recently sucked it up and sought advice, even when you thought you knew ‘the answer’?  Did it pay off?

P.S. If you ever need someone to talk to about anything mentioned in that first paragraph, go right ahead and let me know. I can’t promise a miracle cure, but I can promise to share what insight I do have, and provide some reassurance and a sympathetic ear…