Sunday, May 31, 2009

Marathon Training Season

Today marks week one of an 18-week marathon (and half-marathon) training program managed and coached by A Running Conversation and sponsored by Peak Performance Multisport in Portland, Maine. Forty people have registered! Isn't that awesome? There is definitely no recession in participation in running and triathlon. I actually think it's growing.

Of the 40, 26 runners showed up today for the kick-off Sunday group run. The group will meet every Sunday for the progressively longer run. We'll vary the meeting places and courses, and some weekends will include races. During the week, runners follow their personal schedules. A handful of the runners are coming out of various walk/jog programs, many are looking to "get back into" running, most are running either distance for the first time. To say the least, this is a refreshing group! I am looking forward to the weeks ahead.

On the other side of the same running coin, I had an experience today that left me feeling, well, honored, I guess. I'm not entirely sure of the feeling, maybe it's just lucky, and when I told my husband about it I prefaced it with, "I know this is dorky, but..."

He and I were out running after the group run, when we came across two local running friends. We joined them for about three and a half miles, chatted and caught up on things. One of these women is, in my opinion, a near world-class runner. Sheri Piers ran in the 2008 Olympic Team Trials last year, in a personal record 2:38:45; this year in Boston she bested that in 2:37:04, finishing in the 11th spot overall. Yesterday, she ran a personal record 5K at Freihofer's in New York, beating Maine's other legendary runner. She is a rockin' runner!

Fully-rooted in Maine, out for an easy run in the 'hood, and as nice and approachable as anyone I've ever met (I really like her) I it star-struck? I don't know. I am fascinated but I fully understand what it takes to get where she is. She works damn hard and is fully committed to it. I feel total respect for that. I guess it is just lucky...and dorky.

Here's to the marathon training season, and appreciating all the amazing runners - whether new or veteran - that we get to witness, in pursuit of their goals.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Strength Training

Erica Napuli is a personal trainer in Portland, Maine. Her business is called Evolution Fitness and she works out of the Health Coaches studio on Free Street. Last night, Erica spoke to a group of runners at Peak Performance Multisport about the benefit of strength training and stretching for endurance athletes.

I think we all know by now about the value of core strength to any kind of physical activity. It's been published and promoted everywhere and exercise physiologists continue to study the various approaches to optimal training: dynamic stretching versus static stretching before workouts; proper uses of the foam roller, fit ball, rubber bands, medicine ball, balance board, etc. But Erica made a point last evening that I thought was unique: If you are currently training for an event like an upcoming 5K or sprint triathlon, and you've been following a specific training program, this might not be the ideal time to begin a strengthening program.

In spite of what we might say, or what we might know to be true, runners often think more is better. So I found it refreshing to hear that strength training is not only complementary to running, it is its own complete workout. If not taken on or applied carefully, a new regime could compromise an immediate speed goal, for example. She also noted that if you already do strength workouts, you'd be wise to do them on your "off" day from your specific sport.

The good news is that when the time is right to adopt a strength program, you can gain benefits with a half hour workout twice a week. Having trained with Erica, I know that a half hour with her is no easy walk in the park. She has a really calm, deliberate, and effective approach to her work, and you don't get that overworked, out of breath feeling. It's sneaky that way. Erica is very experienced in assessment, and will tailor a program for an athlete's specific activities and goals.

Keep your eye on the prize and consider those cross-training activities that will complement your sport. Good luck!

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or need more information.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Road Races

There has been so much going on and so little opportunity to write! I hope you're still out there dear reader.

Last weekend saw the ninth running of the Portland Sea Dogs Mother's Day 5k race and kids fun run. About 2200 people registered for the 5K and probably a few hundred kids. I believe it is now the largest 5K in Maine. It feels pretty cool to be part of such a successful event. I worked with the race committee on the front end, getting tee-shirts and race numbers made, managing a packet pick-up and small expo at Peak Performance, and eventually running the race myself. Peak Performance has made such a significant contribution to the running community in Maine.

I run with a team called Nor'Easter Run. It's coached by Ziggy Gillespie and is part of Peak Performance's Nor'easter club. Many of us on the team had good results in the race, several setting PRs (personal records.) It's great to be affiliated with such a positive and inspired group of athletes.

There are races every weekend now through the rest of the summer. It's hard to decide sometimes where to run. My family and I are going up to Sugarloaf tomorrow where there is a marathon and 15K race on Sunday. I'm not sure if I'll run the 15K or not, but no matter what, I will enjoy being up there and watching all the others. (I also look forward to watching the Preakness on Saturday evening.)

Next weekend is the Pineland Challenge in New Gloucester, Maine and the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, the Snowy Egret 5K in Scarborough. The last weekend in May has the Pond Cove Challenge in Cape Elizabeth, the Y-Tri Sprint in Bath, Maine, I said, so much going on!

Today is a beautiful day in Southern Maine. Spring is finally settling in. I hope you are enjoying your running or walking, biking, or swimming, or whatever physical pursuit keeps you inspired. If you have a race coming up, best wishes for your success. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fun and Games

I don't know why this Spring has me feeling busier than ever, and with no end in sight. Where's that feeling of new energy? Hope and optimism on account of the longer days? A sense of purpose, growth and new beginnings? I mostly feel like I can't get everything done like I want to.

I'm sure it has to do with the running season getting underway; programs need to get executed, schedules developed, and coaching provided. Not to mention the retail work, parenting and homemaking. Oh, and yes, training and racing.

So, I thought it would be fun to play a little with running. Do something fun and silly. Last night was the first Scavenger Hunt from Peak Performance Multisport, with two more hunts (Mondays May 11 and 18) scheduled. It's a series of three outings, so the team with the best average score wins the grand prize.

It was a hoot. The winning team, Team OCD, took home the prize. Despite their name, these gals actually resorted to dumpster-digging to find all that they needed on the list! They came back within the allotted hour with eight out of ten correct items.

There are not many rules: No motorized or wheel-powered transportation, unless you want to push a baby stroller or jogger. You must be back within one hour or you get penalized, two times the time over 60 minutes. The scoring is not complicated either. We take your running time, minus one minute for every correct item, and plus two minutes for each missed or unqualified item. The low score wins. If you didn't make it last night, be sure to get in on the fun next Monday evening at 5:45. You can register here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

It's All About Coaching

Recently I attended a workshop put on by Hardy Girls Healthy Women. This is a Maine-based organization which has a vision that "All girls and women experience equality, independence and safety in their everyday lives." It's sad, and absolutely true, that these rights or qualities don't naturally occur for many.

During one exercise in the program, participants were asked to think about someone in their life who had been most influential in providing or helping one to gain these strengths - a sense of equality, independence and safety. Basically, we were asked to remember someone we considered a mentor or guide.

This was an easy exercise for me. It was during my first year of high school, which back then was tenth grade, that I met Coach Judy Schoonover. I tried out for the basketball team after a fall season of watching girls field hockey and boys soccer and football. (I never watched running, by the way, if there even was a cross-country team!) I made the varsity basketball team, which shocked me, and it was the beginning of a three-year relationship that I believe saved my life. 'Schoonie', as she was called, also coached the lacrosse program in the spring, where I found my true love.

I realize it sounds dramatic to say that a peripheral and part-time relationship can have so much impact, especially when it was likely one-sided. But what I received were things that were missing elsewhere in my life and, that I needed to thrive: I was noticed and validated. I was guided and assisted to be successful in areas I had become passionate about. I was allowed and encouraged to excel. I was recognized and awarded for my accomplishments. I felt like I was being taken care of, and in large part, the relationship and experiences served to form my identity as a capable, athletic, winning person. I will never forget how she intervened in my life in an extremely subtle way.

The relationship I had with my collegiate lacrosse coach, Pamela Hixon, was built on an equal level of respect as that I had for Schoonie, but did not feel as integral and life-altering. I suppose that's on account of it being during my late teens early twenties versus my formative years. I played Division I women's lacrosse on a nationally ranked team for a highly rated coach and it was an awesome experience. Again, I felt guided and supported, encouraged to succeed and proud of our accomplishments. That time of life stays with me like a feather in my cap.

Today, I continue to work with a coach in my chosen sport of running. I have actually been affiliated with Coach Ziggy Gillespie for nearly 18 years, ever since moving to Maine and deciding to focus on running and racing. Ziggy has been in the game for a long time. The team I joined was his highly successful "Run to Win Ladies Team." I remember when I was first on the running scene in Portland I saw women in race uniforms that were part of Ziggy's team. Joining a running team was never anything I thought about, and frankly, it was probably fairly unique in 1990. But I joined, and I'm still joined, only now it's called Nor'Easter Run.

He also coached Saint Joseph's College Men's XC coach from 1981-1987, winning four New England Championship teams and where he was named Coach of the Year three times. Ziggy presently coaches Waynflete School's Varsity XC, the Maine State Class C Girls XC Champions in 2007 and 2008. He was inducted to the Maine Running Hall of Fame in 1996.

Working with a coach and a team has enabled me to improve my running to that comparable competitive level as I experienced as part of the women's lacrosse team at the University of Massachusetts. I get to be part of a successful winning group that brings out the best in me. I have been able to achieve my running bests, and continue to improve in the face of age. I have been so inspired by running that I started a business founded around the benefits of running and have become a running coach myself.

Last weekend I competed in a neighborhood 5K as a precursor to the upcoming Portland Sea Dogs Mother's Day 5K. I felt nervous as usual, and slept poorly as usual the night before. Despite my own tentativeness, I raced well and finished strong. But I believe a deciding factor was the COACHING.

Ziggy was there at 7:30 a.m. for a 9:00 start. He previewed the course with us beforehand to get a lay of the land and to suggest strategic portions of the route. He led the race in his vehicle to provide the first mile time split to all who passed. He coached me and encouraged me when I went by and said he knew I could do it. He went by in his car during the third mile screaming my time, coaching me on my form. During the last stretch he informed me I could break 19 minutes and helped me to stay focused and determined. And he wasn't put off to hug me and slap my back in my sweaty post-race glory.

My good day at the race was about his coaching. Thanks, Ziggy.

I suppose all coaches hope to make a difference in at least one person's life. I know this is true for me. Coaching is a fairly new endeavor for me and I have a lot to learn. One thing for certain which I've learned from those most influential people in my life is that I can do just about anything I want if I put my mind to it, practice it, and persevere.