I cannot believe it was three years ago that I composed a blog about well behaviors, which in a nutshell is a mindset shift on New Year’s resolutions. Most New Year’s resolutions fade before January has passed. As stated in the blog way back when, well behaviors are activities people engage in to maintain and improve good health and avoid illness (Sarafino & Smith, 2011). More like an action plan for your life so you can maintain a decent quality of life with good health. Most folks think of lifestyle changes as exercising more and adopting a low-fat diet.
Can you believe it is 2021 and the number one cause of death is still heart disease? In many folks this can be prevented through lifestyle. As a running coach, it is my job to learn my runners and I have many runners taking blood pressure medication. Most of them turned to running to help combat their high blood pressure they can thank their heredity for. We know exercise is medicine. Do you know how many hours a week a dedicated half or full marathon runner commits to “exercise” per week? Let us just say it makes the “30-minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, 5-days per week or 150 minutes per week” by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) look like child’s play. Yet runners with medically controlled blood pressure do not see any changes in their blood pressure from exercise alone.
Over the last couple years, I have conducted nutrition experiments and challenges with my running cohort. We have seen objective changes, like inches lost from the hips and waist, pounds lost, and clearer skin. We have had subjective changes like better sleep, more energy, and less bloating feeling. Mid 2020, I invited my runners to take part in a dietary intervention using tools I gained in my Precision Nutrition certification course.
The standard American Diet consists of 50-60% of daily calories coming from carbohydrate sources. Traditionally, runners have high carbohydrate diets because they think they need to carbohydrate load to support their running. Long before the Precision Nutrition program, I had already learned in my graduate studies this just is not true. But some things have just been pounded into us, it is hard to see the shades of grey and accept the paradigm shift. Yes, we need carbohydrates as fuel, but not nearly as much as what we believe we need. Anything under 40% carbohydrates is considered low carbohydrate. My runners that accepted the dietary intervention went to 35% carbohydrates in their diet.
Guess what happened??? Double digit fat loss occurred in folks that had no problem exercising at LEAST 300 minutes per week, double the physical activity recommendation of ACSM. Yet, the fat loss did not happen until they had the nutrition intervention. Equally impressive, the cohort were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, the time in life people find it most difficult to lose weight. Guess what else?? Some of the participants reported their blood pressure going down when it previously remained constant on their medication.
In a recent meta-analysis by Dong et al. (2020), research demonstrated lower carbohydrate diets decreased triglycerides in blood, as well as systolic and diastolic blood pressure after 6-month interventions. This is what we observed in my running cohort. As a running coach, it is exciting to see my runners set, meet, and even exceed their running goals. As a healthcare provider, knowing that my runners are becoming healthier is more rewarding. Speaking of healthcare provider, I just happened to be participating in a continuing education class today when I was presented with this quote, “From an evolutionary point of view, the refined carbohydrates, both on account of the magnitude and the recentness of the alterations, are always the foods most likely to be at fault (for the diseases of civilization), and not the fats.” – Cleave, 1975. Forty-six years later, why don’t we still get it? No more carbohydrate loading all year long runners! I always tell my runners: more miles are not better than the right amount of miles at the right time in training; more intensity is not better than the right amount of intensity, at the right time in training. Clearly, I need to add, more carbohydrates are not better, than the right amount, at the right time in training.
Dong T, et al. (2020) The effects of low-carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors: A meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2020;15(1):e0225348. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225348
Sarafino, E. P., & Smith, T. W. (2011). Health psychology: Biopsychosocial interactions (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Yesterday, the marathon running community learned the postponed 2020 Boston Marathon was cancelled. Another race fatality due to COVID-19!
I suppose this news was not shocking, yet many folks in the distance running community have found themselves lost when there is not a race on the calendar. Within my cohort of runners, I have seen everything from the forever committed to self to those paralyzed with depression or anxiety. Although many know that exercise and especially running are natural antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, in the current atmosphere, there are those that have chosen the couch, the path of least resistance over pounding the pavement or trails for some good old exercise and sunshine. I know typically active folks that are now fighting the battle of the COVID-19 bulge from inactivity and the comfort snack attack.
Suddenly I am thinking about Forrest Gump and the often-quoted line, “Momma said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get”. So many started out 2020 with high hopes and goals, but that damn box of assorted chocolates did not contain any of our favorites. First no Tokyo Marathon and then marathon after marathon fell to the pandemic restrictions. No, not the Boston Marathon, let us just reschedule it for later in the year. Now that one is gone!
Just because life gives you lemons does not mean you cannot squeeze them for some refreshing lemonade. I, as well as some of my runners have used this opportunity to work towards the best version of ourselves. Meet Kathy in this blog photo. Kathy is a 61-year old experienced recreational marathon runner. As a matter of fact, she ran the Boston Marathon last year along with two other marathons. She came to me in January for training and three weeks into training she had to take a bit of time off for unforeseen circumstances. I was pleasantly surprised when she returned 2-months later and when she came back, she came back ready to go all in! A few weeks after her return we learned the marathon she was training for, Mountains2Beaches was cancelled! I offered her training credit for a future race, but she wanted to keep training, but I insisted that the mileage remain only moderate and easy intensity initially.
Kathy has been compliant with her training and we are seeing her training paces getting faster. Even she has been shocked with some of the paces she hit once we added a bit of intensity. In one month of being on the Run with Gina nutrition challenge, she lost nine pounds! Now she is seeing those benefits translate into her running. She has now signed up for a new resistance training program I designed. I am excited to see how this will impact her weight loss journey, as well as her continued improvement in running, which is the same pace or faster at LESS effort. I believe in the least load and intensity to produce the most optimal results. This is an intentional process to avoid overreaching, over training, and injury withing my running demographic. It is the Rwg way!
Thank you, Kathy, for what you bring to the Run with Gina family and running community collectively. We are all enjoying your lemonade stand! How about the Run with Gina 2020 Boston Marathon runners? So far it looks like most of them are in for the virtual 26.2 and they will make it as awesome as possible!
One time a runner said to me, “Everything you tell me contradicts what other coaches have told me”. Another runner in an unrelated conversation said, “It isn’t that we haven’t been told before, it hasn’t been presented the way you convey it”. Either perspective, the listener will do what they want for logical or emotional reasons. Typically, emotions trump logic in most areas of life. Remember that crappy relationship you once had or your junk food binge or maybe your ego sabotaged your long-term goal?
One of the training components I try to stress to the runners that work with me is the benefit of running “easy”. Many runners run too fast, too often or too fast, too soon in training and it leads to overtraining, overreaching, burnout, and injury.
This past weekend on Instagram, Aliphine Tuliamuk, the winner of the Women’s US Olympic Marathon Trials shared her 20-mile long run from her Garmin Connect. One of my runners shared it on social media, pointing out her pace of 6:51 min/mi at a 123-heart rate (HR). This brought me joy because my runners notice heart rate! My runners know I do not heart rate train but am heart rate aware because it is a measure of fitness, aerobic status, and overtraining. The latter, shattering your potential.
Looking at the shared social media post, I knew I had to make this into a teaching moment for those that do want to become the best they can be. Tuliamuk’s 123-HR is estimated to be 66% of her maximal HR, given her age of 31. According to legendary coach, researcher, and professor, Dr. Jack Daniels, all easy runs should be run at 65-78% maximal HR. I have yet to see any of my runners run 65% and many run all easy runs above 78%.
It is true that heart rate can vary depending on multiple factors including stress, sleep, hydration status, and medications to name a few. I chose to mention all these factors because it is what I deal with in my demographic. The over stressed, under slept, poorly hydrated, and medicated. The latter sounds bad, but know the average age of my demographic is 55, not to mention I have several folks that can thank their heredity for high blood pressure.
For those of you that say that you go by perceived effort (subjective) and you feel fine, even though objective data (HR) says you are running at over 80%, let’s return to Tuliamuk’s 20-mile long run at 6:51 min/mi pace this weekend and compare it to her Olympic marathon trials win, where she ran 2:27:23. This my friends, is a 5:39 min/mi pace, 1:12 min/mi FASTER than her long run training pace. By the way, that 5:39 min/mi is not even her marathon PR pace.
How slow do you run your easy runs? Are all your runs at or faster than race pace? The entire point of running easy in the aerobic zone is to accumulate more mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell), increase capillaries that allow for more delivery of oxygen to the working muscles and mitochondria. More mitochondria also mean more enzymes to aid in chemical reactions that break down carbohydrates and fat for fuel. Not to mention, easy intensity running switches the fuel of choice to endogenous fat and spares glycogen (carbohydrates). These are the benefits to easy aerobic running that should be the heart (no pun intended) and soul of any endurance running program. Running slow sometimes means leaving your ego at home when you leave to pound the pavement.
Was that last paragraph too much science? Here is the translation = slow down to run faster on race day! I had been wondering how I would finish this blog post until I was halfway done and received this text, “Coach! Check out my heart rate today!!!!! This is what 8-hours sleep does for me, I guess”. Yes, yes, yes, they do eventually “get it”. A couple years ago I had to tell this runner, “I want you to do a critical appraisal of your lifestyle and if it promotes your goals”. Quickly I got the “What is that supposed to mean”? My reply, “I do not want to wake up in the morning and see that you had been commenting on social media at midnight”. This runner ran today at 76% her maximal HR for the first time ever! I used to hound her for always running near or sub race pace and her HR being too high for years! Glad to see she is seeing all the benefits of my nagging or coaching, depending on your perspective.
Coach Gina (The nag)
Yesterday I started reading, Change Maker by John Berardi, PhD. I received it as a bonus gift for purchasing his nutrition coaching program, Precision Nutrition. When it first arrived, I thought the chances I would read it would be slim. Not only was I wrong, I was reminded of the old saying, all things happen for a reason. I am 100% supposed to read this book. Ironically, as I read the pages, I was constantly reminded of topics I wrote about in graduate school about individualized training, trust, whole body healthcare, and ethics.
You see, I am a registered dental hygienist that spent 3-yrs in a kinesiology graduate program where all my classmates were strength and conditioning coaches in professional and college sports, athletic trainers, physical therapists, personal trainers, and physical education teachers. There I was a nobody, that did not have the “experience” of training athletes or anyone for that matter. But I was one of the rare healthcare providers in the program. Someone that had spent years, sticking sharp, stainless steel instruments below my patient’s gums, sometimes anesthetizing them, as well as some of my dentists’ patient’s when they were unsuccessful in getting them numb. Those that work with me in the dental office know I am the anesthesia closer. Working in this business requires the skill of building trust. I spend my days going over medical histories in a country that had an obesity rate of 30.5% when I first started as a dental hygienist in 1998 to the current 42.4% according to 2020 published statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I have listened to my patients worries about their diagnosis of Type II diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cancer, depression, and weight gain. Frankly, that is not an exhaustive list. Again, I sit is a position of trust, the active listener, and tear wiper.
The foreword in Berardi’s book was written by Jonathan Goodman, founder of the Personal Trainers Development Center (PTDC) https://www.theptdc.com/ and Online Trainers Academy (OTA). He makes an important statement that many consumers do not know, “Unlike many other fields, the health and fitness industry seems to throw people into the profession headfirst. It’s a certification or training course and then…sink or swim”. All I know is trainers, sports, nutrition, and health coaches need to swim and start swimming fast before we hit 50% obesity rate in the United States. Thank you, Canadian friends, (Berardi and Goodman) for opening this American’s eyes. However, those folks need to reach for help, correct? But as my favorite line (so far) in Berardi’s book goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”.
So why is the marathon coach writing about this subject? Because this running coach is athlete centered. The running coach is also a healthcare provider, who frequently sees her two worlds intersect. Berardi’s point with weight loss through physical activity and nutrition coaching is that in general, the field of fitness is in its infancy and there is not a progressive plan for all coaches to follow and a “Progressive plan is what’s been missing in health coaching, exercise coaching, even-to some degree-nutrition coaching”. Run coaching has been around much longer, following many training principles such as interval and fartlek training, both thought up in the 1930s, 30 + years after the marathon at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. Running clubs/groups in the U.S. have been around since the 1950s and training programs have popped up here, there, and everywhere in recent years, all following progressive plans based on training principles of the 1930s. Progressive programs developed for young athletes that had significantly different lifestyles than today, including diet, sleep, and stress and certainly not overweight, obese, or living in a culture with 42% obesity rate.
Staying consistent with my athlete centered approach, some of my runners will never even see intervals or fartlek’s in their training. Most will never run over 18-miles in a long run. Most will have less than a 3-week taper. In 2019 I coached three runners to their first time Boston Marathon qualifying time. One of them never ran intervals in training. One of them had a 10-day taper before the marathon…yes, 18-mile long run, 10-days out from the marathon. The third, sat out the long run three weeks out from the race. Not only did all meet their Boston qualifying time, they ran personal bests in the marathon by 11, 25, and 47-minutes! Three runners, three unique needs, three incredible results. This my friends (students), is what is possible with a relationship with an athlete centered coach.
In the end here, we have a paradox. The problem with fitness coaching for weight loss is that a progressive plan does not exist and the problem with some marathon programs is that they coach using a standard progressive plan. What is the solution for both? Client centered. Coach the client from head to toe, based on their needs, physiology, mindset, and motivation. Your coach needs the skills to foster the last two through self-efficacy. Do not have that in your current program? Have no fear, this teacher is waiting for you.
My favorite part of being an endurance coach is learning about different mindsets. Most people think that distance runners are crazy or “addicted”. Admittedly, there may be a few, but not as many as people in the non-running community think. People run for so many reasons other than being addicted to it, such as for health, social reasons, race swag, or today, the selfies and social media posts.
A big part of my job if the runner allows it, is I get to know them and what makes them tick. Some runners are overly confident and give too much in training and don’t have enough left on race day. More runners have no clue what may be possible for them. Typically, because they fear what they believe to be “failure”. If you aim low and achieve it, you get to feel like a winner and celebrate in the beer garden taking selfies with your friends. If you aim high (or really within your unknown potential), but miss it, you hang your head and feel like a failure. Sometimes the fear of putting it all out there on race day truly holds a runner back from their true potential.
What is your true potential? It is coded in your genetic makeup for starters and just because you want to be the best marathon runner in the world, your chances are slim to none and that is likely being generous with the slim in there. However, you achieving your personal best, your inherent ability is a process and training your mindset is a huge part of that process.
The coach plays a big part of training the mindset. It goes beyond you practicing positive self-talk or imagery. The role of the coach is to show you what is possible for you. Test you occasionally in training so that you can experience the power of positive experiences, fuel your self-efficacy, and build confidence. You know what else is important in fostering a positive mindset? Surrounding yourself with like-minded people. People that want to see you succeed and will be by your side to celebrate your success and pick you up from the fall if necessary and persuade you to keep marching forward towards your goals.
You may think this is just a rambling blog, but it isn’t. This blog is about celebrating all the above. Marching forward toward your goals when you don’t achieve them. Adopting a winning mindset because those around you (coach and comrades) see in you what you can’t see in yourself.
Last week one of my runners relocated to Texas to start Officer Candidate School. She has left us to fulfill her dream of becoming a Physicians Assistant and thanks to her hard work, persistence, and the U.S. Army, that dream will come true. This was not her first try at getting into the PA program, but she marched forward and kept trying after she already heard “no”. I really wanted to have a send off for her to celebrate her perseverance, but with the COVID-19 restrictions in place, I will just honor her by using her as an example and provide hope to many other runners I know just like her.
I first met Cecilia while running in a training group in 2012. Her training distance was similar to a group training for the Boston Marathon, but her pace was much slower than the Boston group. She ran her 2012 marathon and finished in the mid 4-hrs. She ran a couple more marathons faster, but still over 4-hrs between 2012-2016. She trained with Run With Gina for the 2017 NYC Marathon.
Today, while cleaning out my email inbox, I found conversations between us, leading up to the 2017 NYC Marathon. She told me she would be happy with a 4-hr marathon. I told her she was out of her mind and could execute a 3:38 marathon at NYC. She ended up running the race in 3:56:14. She was happy because she ran a sub 4-hr marathon. I was happy that she was happy, but at the same time, I knew she didn’t come near her potential.
2018 comes around and we start training for the California International Marathon. She trained with a few people and those folks would constantly say to her, your PR is only 3:56? Not “only” because it is chump change. Only because she always executed everything in training with a much lower heart rate than anyone else and if someone picked up the pace, there she was. If someone needed extra miles, there she was to run extra miles. She showed up all the time with ease.
Race day was approaching, and she tells me she will be happy to run a 3:50 for a personal best. I tell her she is out of her mind and can run much faster, but I have already learned not to throw out outcome goals at her. Way too much pressure for her. So instead, I tell her to run stride for stride with another runner. Show up like she always does and be Army strong, without looking at her watch. With the support of the other runner, Ara and all her other training buddies, she did what she is best at and showed up. She ran a 25-minute personal best that day for a 3:31 marathon and her Boston Marathon qualifying time.
I have written her story on my social media before, but I wanted to send her off with her own inspirational story as she marches forward towards everything she wanted to be. Also, I wanted to give my runners that have similar stories of doubt and fear about their potential something to strive for and really, something to smile about.
I have been fortunate to form special relationships with several of my runners, who share not just their goals, but their fears and struggles. Not just with running, but in other areas of their lives. Currently, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing and many living in panic and fear, I have heard from a few of my runners, their fears and frankly, lack of motivation as a domino effect.
With my 22-years of experience as a full time registered dental hygienist, understanding of the biomedical model vs biopsychosocial model of health and motivational factors, I feel like I am viewing things through a different set of lenses.
The running community has had race after race cancelled, as well as their beloved running group sessions cancelled and rightfully so for the love of humanity. As the cases of COVID-19 increase in our communities and more restrictions are placed on us, more fear has spiked. As time ticks on and the weeks away from our running friends turns into months, depression is growing, and the lack of motivation sets in. Some are losing their identity, because their identity was so deeply rooted in that Saturday morning running group. Now, research has been conducted suggesting running 6-ft away from others may not be enough because expelled droplets from the mouth spread out and suspend in the air. With this “new” information, I have seen more fear with many of my runners.
News flash, this “new” information is not new! For those of you that run with groups or have run in races, have you ever accidentally run through someone’s snot rocket? Have you ever been running next to or behind a hyper sweater and their sweat lands on you? Have you ever been running through an aid station and a runner in front of you cannot drink and run at the same time and cough up their fluid, just steps in front of you? Were you grossed out? Did it occur to you that you may have been exposed to a virus or some other pathogen?
Who remembers at the 2011 Las Vegas Rock and Roll marathon, 1,000 runners became ill, with half of them violently ill from what they thought was contaminated water at the aid stations? Officials claimed the water that was taken from fire hydrants to fill trash bag lined trash cans to serve the runners, was not contaminated. The Southern Nevada Health District released a report a couple weeks after the 2011 race with this statement, “While our initial testing has been unable to identify the pathogen, our initial analysis of the survey data indicates that the outbreak is most likely infectious in nature”. What does that mean? It means they don’t know if it was a bacteria, a virus, or what microorganism for that matter, but it was clear that whatever it was, it was something infectious, which means it passes through people or the environment (droplets). Did this occurrence stop the race from happening the subsequent 8-years or any of the Rock and Roll races throughout the world or really any race for that matter? Considering that races all over the world sell out, this seemed to have very little impact on the running community.
A race for the COVID-19 vaccine is on. This my friends, is the biomedical model of health. Let’s all take a medication and we will be fine. I know vaccinations don’t work that way, but I am delivering a very simple example of what the biomedical model of health means. In my years as a dental hygienist I have had 100s of patients tell me, “I’m healthy” as I look at their medical history and they have checked yes for; diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and they are taking five medications to treat their non-communicable diseases.
The biopsychosocial model of health takes into consideration the influence of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of a person’s life on their overall health, behaviors, expectations, and experiences. You better believe the social interaction of running impacts your overall health and the lack of it brings on detrimental consequences. You better believe lack of running/exercise will compound your quarantine blues and pack on the pounds, again impacting overall health. You better believe you need to find ways to get your butt moving. Now is not the time to be depressed and unmotivated to move your body out of fear or depression.
My biggest fear for my runners, the people I have a great deal of love for, is that this COVID-19 pandemic will scare them into NOT living their lives in the future. We already know once we (humanity) beat this thing, life as we knew it will not be the same. But please don’t fear running with friends, running in groups, or running in races in the future because you may be exposed to some pathogen. The potential for exposure to pathogens has ALWAYS been there. We cheat death every day when you don’t even think about it. Not to mention, we are all just here on borrowed time anyway. Once we all make it out of quarantine, let’s live life cautiously and purposefully as we move into a new normal, but for crying out loud, live it! Sign up for that race you always wanted to run and train with Run With Gina (Rwg).
Earlier this week I was chatting on the phone with one of my runners, a 66-year old female. I will call her Jane Doe. She loves running and has placed within her age group in local races. In general, she is shy, quiet, and very compliant. She has the attitude of “tell me what to do and I will do it” and quite frankly, it is because she is afraid to make mistakes. This fear is rooted in the fact that she came to me stuck in the injury cycle.
In working together over the last 8-months, we have been able to get her out of injury city and to a personal best in the half marathon. Over the last 3-months we were building up for a marathon and, like many races planned in the first half of 2020, COVID-19 has shut it down to help prevent further spread. Prior to the race cancellation, I was certain if we stayed the path we were on, we would continue to stave off injury and onto a marathon PR for her.
With the cancellations of races here, there, and everywhere, along with many corners of the globe going to stay at home orders for many of the working population, I wanted to give my runners something to focus on that would challenge them and boost their health and fitness with their now reduced mileage since their marathons were cancelled. I offered them a one-month resistance training program that they could do at home, delivered to them on an app on their cell phones.
While explaining the resistance program to Jane Doe, she told me that she has never worked out in a gym, nor lifted weights for that matter, so she was both nervous and excited. What she doesn’t know is that she is getting an incredible gift. Have you ever heard of age-related loss of muscle mass? Do not be shocked when I tell you that age related loss of muscle mass begins gradually at the age of 30 and accelerates after the age of 60. Age of 30? What? How many of my readers surpassed age 30 a decade or two or three ago? Remember the old saying “use it or lose it”? Same story with muscle folks, starting very early in life.
Don’t you worry though, you can attenuate this loss with resistance training, as it is well-documented in scientific literature, including a 2019 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research I am currently using as my reference. Let me just list for you the benefits associated with resistance training as we age and in parentheses, I will follow it up with what it means to you most. 1 - Slows down age related intra-muscular adipose infiltration (slows down that “after 40-50-yr old weight gain” many people complain about). 2 - Improves physical performance (helps you stand up from sitting on the ground faster without assistance). 3 - Improves muscle quality (a bit of definition). 4 - Improves bone density (more resistant to osteoporosis). 5 - Improve insulin sensitivity (body uses glucose more effectively, decreasing blood sugar). 6 -Improves psychological well-being (works the crazy out of you. Just kidding, but a lot of research shows exercise has antidepressant and anti-anxiety side effects). 7 - Management of chronic health conditions (obesity, remember that intra-muscular adipose infiltration or the improvement of insulin sensitivity, type II diabetes prevention). 8 - Let’s get real, the benefits go on and on.
In an aging, yet healthy person absent of disease, comes biological changes that decrease muscle mass, strength, and function. All the previously mentioned factors compromise physiological resilience. In today’s atmosphere of angst, fear, and uncertainty of the pandemic fueled by COVID-19, physiologic resilience is a must. Let us not forget that movement is medicine and your health is your wealth. What about running? I am supplementing my runners’ run training with the resistance training. Research supports that concurrent training, a combination of strength, power, and endurance training in older adults seems to be the most effective strategy to counteract declines in muscle mass, strength, cardiorespiratory fitness and functional capacity.
If you didn’t know, along with being a running coach, I am a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, with a master’s degree in kinesiology (the study of movement), as well as a certified online trainer. I can deliver custom made resistance training programs designed with the equipment you have at home, as well as budget friendly programs. Check out the services section of my website!www.runwithgina.comwww.runwithgina.com
In September I hosted what I called an Attitude of Gratitude taco party for my runners that are local to me in San Diego. I said a few words and thanked them for trusting me with their bodies and training. I asked them who makes a runner a better runner, the runner or the coach? They answered the coach and I answered the runner. Who is right? Is there even a right answer?
When I posed the question, I had a couple of things in mind. First, the fact that 80% of the runners that come to me, I must ask them to suspend their beliefs about how training is supposed to be. Each runner must have an open mind, or I already know my system will not work for them. They must have a mindset shift. In my niche of runners, we talk about the mindset shift a lot. Only the runner can make that change. Second, I had a famous coach in mind, Alberto Salazar. Remember, this conversation was happening in September. Many people in the past would have called Salazar the best running coach because he produces the best American distance runners, many going onto the Olympics. The truth is, the best distance runners went to train with him at the Nike Oregon Project. Talent came to Salazar, not that he developed the talent. There is a difference. In his day, he was a talented runner, but talent doesn’t mean you know how to develop a runner over time. It doesn’t mean you understand how the body works. A running “coach” is not just a title. It isn’t because you have been there done that. It isn’t a weekend or online certification. It is an understanding of systems. Systems in the body; metabolic, physiologic, biomechanical, and even psychological.
In October, Salazar received a four-year ban from coaching athletics for doping charges for playing with the hormone levels of some of his runners. Dirty, dirty. You have the most talented young Americans and their everything is compromised. In the spirit of good old debate, not because I agree with what he did, how else would you develop talent in a runner that has already achieved their inherent ceiling of ability? When the best in the country come to you, how do you make them better? I say regress. Take one step backwards to take two steps forward. Yes, I published that statement. At least I am consistently consistent going against popular opinion.
What about the picture attached to this blog? The picture of Mary Cain that went viral on November 7th in an Opinion piece in The New York Times. Most people didn’t know who she was, but found the story appalling, because it was. She told her story, in her words that she was the fastest girl in America until she went to train with Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project. This story is easily Googled, so I will spare you all the details, but bottom line she claims she was starved, emotionally abused, and publicly ridiculed for her race times that got worse instead of better while training with Salazar. She later found the courage to leave Salazar and the program.
I started composing a blog about Salazar on October 6th. I revisited it on my computer before composing the current blog. The timing would have been incredible with the Mary Cain story coming out one month later. I felt compelled to compose this blog now because so many of my runners tagged me on social media on the Mary Cain story, shared it in my private Facebook page for my runners, and even texted me the story. I feel bad for Mary Cain, but for me the story is larger than just her story. It is about the role of the coach, mostly who is “qualified” to coach. Lastly, it is about the relationship between the coach and the runner and I believe that is why so many of my runners felt like I needed to know about the story.
So, what do you think…who makes a runner a better runner, the runner or the coach? On another note, thanks for reading and when you are ready to find out what a relationship can be like with a coach, check me out!
Long time no blog folks! For those of you that have followed the blog from the inception, thank you! For those of you that are new, welcome! If you didn’t know, Run With Gina was featured in Runner’s World Online last week. Wow, what an honor and a humbling experience! I know that my runners and I have a mutual respect, built from mutually beneficial relationships. I am always flattered when they say kind things to me or hear what they have told others. The Runner’s World story, a human-interest story, apparently resonated with lot of people and they ALL reached out.
I was shocked to receive messages from all over the world, praising me for the work I have done. Quite honestly, I lost track of the kind words from complete strangers. However, there was something even more shocking. I was completely blown away with the stories people wrote me in their emails, desperate for help and the number of runners that are 3-5 weeks away from their race and sidelined by injury. Yikes, panic button pushed!
Although these runners are not my clients, runners, or come on now, “customers”, I do feel obligated to help those that are in panic, because I was thrown a bone by being selected to be written about in an online publication with millions of readers all over the world. Those that reported being injured with 3-6 weeks to go until their marathon had a common denominator. What is that you ask? Too much too soon with both distance and intensity, too little miles during the week to support the long run, or too many miles per week. Training errors! The Run With Gina way is to deliver the least amount of intensity and load to achieve the desired result. Don’t get me wrong, not all my runners remain non-injured. The majority that have gotten injured, I know for fact that I have pushed for low miles and more rest days when not training for a race, but people want more. Runners want more. More is not better when training or when trying to maintain. I know I have also had to fight for what I believed was best for my runner when he or she resisted having lighter mile weeks. News flash, running breaks you down, rest and recovery practices build you up.
I think why some of the runners that wrote me are injured is because they think marathon training HAS to include long runs over 20 miles. Has to have speed work. Has to have tempo runs. Has to run six days a week. Has to do a weekend long run even when not training for a race. Has to cross train, so they think going to group fitness classes instead of running is just as good as running. Think stretching is the answer to “tight muscles”. Been told custom orthotics will solve all their problems. There is a lot of black and white thought patterns out there and no shades of grey.
The messages have left me with the realization that Run With Gina in some ways is a paradigm shift. Not all of my runners do speed work. Not all of my runners do tempo work. I would prefer nobody spends their entire Saturday morning running, because someone told them they had to run 22-miles to prepare for a marathon. I have fought hard for my paradigm shift with a lot of people, because their beliefs have been etched in their brain by some other program, book, magazine, or self-defined running guru/coach. Can anyone give me the definition of “coach”? The proof is in the pudding with those that have suspended their beliefs when they come to me. Call it Kool Aid, call it chance, call it whatever you want, but I know it to be science…the laws of biomechanics, exercise physiology, AND yes, exercise psychology.
Ladies and gentlemen welcome some shades of grey in your life! If you didn’t see the Runner’s World article, here is the link, https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a28622308/runner-turned-injury-into-coaching-business/
If you reached out to me and haven’t heard back, it is because I had to move those with immediate needs to the front of the line. If you heard back from me and now are waiting for another response from me, standby! I still need to prioritize all the men and women that have helped build Run With Gina from the beginning.
In addition to working as a virtual marathon coach, I also work as a dental hygienist. A few years back I worked with a dentist that was also a long-distance swimmer, cyclist and participated in sprint triathlons. One day while on a long bike ride with his brother, a medical doctor, the dentist didn’t feel well. He had a pain in his chest and numbness in his arm, so his brother took him to his office and hooked him up to an EKG. That same day he was admitted to the hospital next door and had heart surgery. Later in the hospital room, he said the cardiologist on call walked into his room and said, “You need to change to a vegan diet ASAP”. Looking the overweight cardiologist up and down, he was offended! When he told me the story, he was still offended. The cardiologist was an overweight vegan. What does that mean? The dentist was a lean, mean, working out machine and needed stents placed in his heart. What does that mean?
A few years back, I was training with a dietician for a marathon. Her fueling (eating) habits at the time were horrible. She just didn’t eat because she was too busy. She had a lot of stress in her life with her young family and work, and she ended up getting sick several times during the season. I remember saying to her, “You have all the right answers to your health, yet you ignore them”. I am pretty good at giving it to people straight up, whether they like it or not. I give it to myself too by the way and that is a big part of this blog.
I have been a little low on time lately. I suppose being busy is better than being bored, but sometimes being busy comes at a cost. At this time last year, I picked up whooping cough and I lost a lot of fitness. This year, my business went off with a bang. That is good news! But as I got busy, something happened to me. It became difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I am fortunate to say in all my adult years, I have never woken up and said, “I don’t want to go to work today”. That is the truth. Starting a couple of months ago, my alarm would go off and I just felt like I didn’t get enough sleep, even when I knew I had a decent amount of sleep. Okay, so I don’t get 8-hours, but I sleep hard and have functioned in the past on less sleep. This just didn’t feel right. I would go to work and I would drag for the first part of the morning. One time, I went to workout before work and cut it short so I could take a nap in the office. This is not good. What is wrong with me?
It is true I workout far less than I used to before I basically had two full time jobs. I used to run five days a week and now I run three days a week or do a gym workout. My body composition has changed and when I look in the mirror, I see fat where I used to be firm. Yikes! That scale hasn’t changed though, so that is always deceiving. It must be my lack of consistent exercise. This is sad, I’m the coach. Is the saying true, “those that can, do and those that can’t coach”? Is this a do as I say, not as I do situation? To be honest, the fluff doesn’t bug me as much as how I felt when I woke up in the morning. I have always hit the floor running figuratively, if not literally. I don’t even know how to turn on snooze on an alarm. I felt like I was just so fatigued and had no reason for it. I felt so odd in my own skin that I even went to the doctor for blood work and have my follow up in a couple of weeks. I know, something is off.
This week I went to continuing education classes and took a couple on wellness and nutrition. The majority of the information was not new to me, as I have taken many of these classes at every level; continuing education, certifications, undergraduate and graduate school. However, unless you are submerged in something, sometimes you forget reality. My fluff and fatigue aren’t due to my reduced exercise. Let’s be honest, I still exercise more than most of America. At just under 5’5” and 125 lb., I am still within healthy limits and dare I say, “skinny” compared to most Americans. The answer to my fatigue and my fluff are in my nutrition. Yes, I said it, in my nutrition. My name is Coach Gina, and I give nutrition suggestions to my clients. Hello! Shame on me.
The athletic Gina, the one that used to work out sometimes twice a day and qualified for the Boston Marathon in every marathon she didn’t pace someone else, used to food prep. She used to measure all her food and log it in a journal, long before apps could expedite it for you. As a non-meat eater, I used to eat spinach salad daily that I made at home, packed with all kinds of phytochemicals. I was by far one of the healthiest people I knew. Not just because of the exercise, but because of the way I fed my body. This is where I have failed myself the most. I exercise less now, because I prioritize the sleep I do get. This doesn’t mean that I should feed myself substandard fuel. First, I just don’t eat enough in the day and when I do, it is lacking the nutrient dense phytochemicals. Where are phytochemicals found? In fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds. Yep, everything that was in my meal prep salads and less likely to be found in the quick take-out meal.
Here is the reality. I still exercise enough that my body composition fat/muscle ratio would have not changed much had I been eating the way I did for many years. But more important to me, is my general health and well-being. I am not a fan of staying in bed after the alarm goes off. I have places to go, things to do, and people to get to and that feeling of fatigue sucks. I’m happy to say that I haven’t experienced it in the last couple of weeks. Now that I have a grip on reality again, I hope to move forward with my old, healthier habits as my priority.
So, what does all this have to do with the first two stories in this blog? Everything! First off, there are a lot of things that are out of our control. Maybe the overweight cardiologist has an endocrine issue. Maybe the lean, working out machine dentist has a genetic predisposition to heart disease. What about the dietician and her poor diet? Despite her education, time just wasn’t on her side at that point in her life. But it came at a cost, she was sick a lot during that time. All three of the people and four if you include me all could use food as their medicine. This is how it was intended to be anyway. Come on, we all know this.
Have you ever heard anyone ask, what is more important, diet or exercise? Most people in healthcare have an ethical responsibility to say “both”. Have you ever heard you can’t out train or out run a bad diet? Whoop there it is! It isn’t just about weight loss or maintenance. It is about heath and well-being. It is about living life with vitality. That runners high will run out during the day at some point. You aren’t supposed to drag through the day. This comes down to the fuel you put in you. Both the quantity and quality.
In the nutrition and wellness class I took this past week, the lecturer said, “Nutrition is your shield and exercise, your sword”. If you want to keep illness away from you, to protect yourself, you need a shield. I couldn’t get this saying out of my head. I asked a group of runners this question, “If you were in battle and needed to protect yourself, what would you choose, a shield or sword”? They knew nothing more. I didn’t ask, what is more important to your health, diet or exercise. That would be a debate that may go on and on. But I wanted to see if the analogy of a shield or sword would make sense in terms of protecting oneself. What was the outcome of the blind survey? 61% of the runners chose a shied over a sword.
To all my runners or anyone that stumbles upon my blog, your health and wellness can be found on your plate. It will shield you from illness, both genetic and during stressful times. Food is your medicine and hey, it enhances athletic performance too!
Check out this link for more about phytochemicals. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090313p70.shtmlwww.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090313p70.shtml