The Ripple Effect

My girls pushing their grandma on the tire swing.

My girls pushing their grandma on the tire swing.

As I sat in an interview the other day, I was asked why I had decided to switch careers and focus on teaching fitness classes rather than cute little first graders.  It was the day after my stepmother had just passed away so the answer came right to me.  It was such an easy question to answer, but my emotions almost took over.

As a child I was raised pretty much in the same way most kids around me were raised: eating meat and potatoes for dinner and Captain Crunch for breakfast.  Even now, my dad sees nothing wrong with this type of diet.  Well, my husband doesn’t really either, but he is a bit more willing to follow suit.  When it comes to my own kids, I know that I will not apply my childhood eating habits.  Often I am given grief (even by my own family members) for the food journeys we currently partake in.  My husband will feed the kids bacon when I am gone, but then adheres to the meatless version upon my return.  My friends just find it rather fascinating and occasionally ask what is so great and healthy about eating cardboard.  Then there are the “no candy” policies I have to enforce with teachers.  Eating healthy is basically a daily battle so I can see why most people might just throw their hands up and roll through a McDonald’s drive-thru.  I know I am not perfect either, but I keep coming back to fight.

However, after the toll that heart disease and cancer has taken on my own family, I can’t stop fighting the battle.  If you can avoid a heart attack or cancer, why not at least try?  It’s not going to hurt anybody if you decide to add a few extra veggies to your plate or try a few meatless dishes each week.  Sure, you might still have a heart attack or get cancer, but maybe it will be just a little easier to fight back.  I tried very hard when I spent a spring break with my stepmother (already sick with cancer at the time). I fed her vegan meals all week in hopes that it would make her better.  Of course there are forces of nature beyond our control, but we can at least try, right?

Yes, I know it is hard to chew on that piece of tofu when you would rather be chewing on a piece of meaty steak.  Maybe you have never been a morning person and can’t seem to roll out of bed in time to get to the gym before work.  Those are your choices to make and sometimes you choose not to.  It is especially challenging when you think you are alone and feel like you have no power to make positive changes in your life.

This is where I step in.  This is where I can be there to hold someone accountable with making the change.  I can encourage someone to come back to the boot camp class after finding the courage to try it out one day.  I can encourage someone to join me for a personal training session and find out that it really can be a simple process that fits nicely into your busy schedule.  I can encourage someone to find the strength within and train for and finish a half marathon.  That’s what I can do.  Or at least I can try to do just that.  I know I will not always succeed, but as with teaching small children, if I can at least make the difference in one person’s life, then I have done something meaningful and it will truly be worth the time and effort.

Running has always been an important part of my life and I have my mother to thank for introducing me to the sport as a child (even though I never liked running as a child).   I grew to love running and I strongly believe that it has made me a better person in so many ways.  A few years ago I decided that I would move beyond my personal love of running and learn to share my love of the sport with others.  And that has been an extraordinary experience thus far.  It would take me too long to write about all of the amazing adventures and stories I have experienced through my clients.

Here I am now, a few years after starting Inspired Miles Coaching LLC, and I have decided to take it even further.  It’s not about me becoming a better runner or more fit.  It’s not even about making money (however, an extra income would be helpful in raising 3 girls).  It’s about guiding others down this path to a healthier and stronger life.  I do realize it is not an easy task.  It takes motivation, dedication and a whole lot of patience.  A WHOLE LOT OF PATIENCE.  Lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight.  They might not even happen in a year.  It just takes small steps and a lot of faith in the process.

To me, being fit and healthy is not about looking good in a swimsuit (however, that is a nice bonus) and it is not about fitting in with the latest trends (crossfit, paleo, etc.).  It is just about being a better version of yourself…. from the inside out.  In the process, you might have some extra energy to keep up with your kids or add a few years to your life so you can watch your grandchildren grow.

Yes, the answer to that interview question was easy.  I am here because I am inspired to make a difference and help others see that they can make a change.  Their inspirational stories may then ripple out and touch the lives of others.  This is so big and important that someone out there may save another person’s life through this ripple effect.  My stepmother’s life could not be saved, but she fought so hard until the end.  Her fight lives on through me and I will continue the fight in her memory, my mother’s memory, my grandmother’s memory and my grandfather’s memory.  They all loved me so much and that will give me the strength to continue on this journey.

Time for a change

As a military spouse, I am constantly making changes and maintaining a certain degree of flexibility.  It’s impossible to stay at a job for longer than 3 years and my career intentions fluctuate with the ebb and flow of the tides.  However, as I reflect back on the past decade, there is a common theme in my pursuits: helping others achieve something great.  Whether it be helping a 6-year old learn to read or getting a client to the finish line of a marathon.  I know that my natural skill is teaching.  I am good at it and have become even better over the years.

I have dabbled in many different areas of education.  In college,  I started off as an intern for the Bureau of Land Management working at a science center teaching environmental science to elementary students in Alaska’s natural habitat.  I quickly moved into a paid position.  I somehow convinced my academic advisor, Rusty Myers (an avid runner who recently passed away), to grant me a senior project that involved designing and implementing a shark curriculum for 6th graders even though I had no knowledge of curriculum design or any classroom teaching experience.  However, the classroom teacher was extremely helpful in this whole process.  I have continued to use an updated version of the curriculum and it is one of my favorite subjects to teach.

Next I was off to actually learn more about sharks in the Bahamas and upon my return to Alaska I dipped into the social-emotional issues of teenagers.  The following year I packed up a car load of belongings and headed down to San Diego.  I immediately signed up to volunteer as a docent at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and found joy in sharing my knowledge of the tidepool creatures found in the touch tank.  I did need to get paid so I searched the area for an opportunity that would fit me like a glove.  I drove out to Fiesta Island and walked right into a facility with a sign that read “SEACAMP.”  I remember walking back to the shark touch tank with the owner and telling him I had recently worked with sharks in the Bahamas in hopes of getting his attention.  Not sure if it was that or my natural ability to navigate through an interview, but he hired me and the next thing I know I was teaching marine biology to middle school students.  Not only was I teaching marine biology, but I was snorkeling, seine netting, boogie boarding, making visits to the aquarium and Sea World and setting up massive bonfires to roast marshmallows and tell spooky stories (okay, I really wasn’t good at telling spooky stories).

My love for the ocean somehow translated to seeking out the Coast Guard.  Not sure what happened there, but it was quite the adventure with many ups and downs (and rolling from side to side because that tends to happen a lot on a ship in the Bering Sea).  I learned a lot about what not to do as a leader and had to put together pieces I collected along the way in order to determine the qualities of a great leader.  I’m still collecting those pieces to fill in the puzzle, but I have a much better idea of what it is supposed to look like.

There was a time during my Coast Guard training when someone said to me that I acted more like an elementary school teacher than a platoon leader (I took it as an insult back then, but a few years later I finally agreed).  As soon as my military obligation ended I stepped foot into a Kindergarten classroom for the first time.  It was immediately scary and overwhelming (and there was lots of snot and drooling), but I managed to get hooked up with the most remarkable mentor teacher ever… and her name was also Heidi.  And wouldn’t it be my lucky year that as soon as I finished student teaching in her classroom she decided to retire and hand over the keys.  The first year in the classroom was rough, but the support from my colleagues was unprecedented and I made it through unscathed and ready for more.

Eventually, I gave birth to child number 2 and decided to wing it at home for a bit while supporting my former colleagues as their go-to substitute.  I couldn’t just stay home and take care of 2 children, though.  I had to stay busy so I worked on my Master’s Degree in Science Education.  Since my husband was still in the military, it was only a matter of time before we moved to Florida.  That is where my confidence in my teaching abilities was put to the test.  I miserably taught a rough 4th grade class for a few months. The discipline issues were too much and the scripted curriculum only added to the struggle.  There was no freedom outside of teaching to the test.  I backed down and returned my focus to finishing my Master’s degree even though I felt less confident about whether or not I would ever use it.  I still spent time in the classroom at my daughter’s elementary school and continued to search for the right path.

Well, the path took me down a road less traveled.  It sure was bumpy and I often felt unsure about which turns to take.  All it took was my Master’s degree in Science Education written on my resume.  They really didn’t ask many questions.  I should’ve been asking the questions.  I also should have had a degree in Special Education.  Let’s just say that teaching science (with limited resources) to middle and high school students who can not function in the public school system due to behavioral, social and emotional reasons was the most challenging job I ever took on.    On top of that, I never had any breaks during the day (we had to eat in the lunch room with all of the students) and I had to design my own curriculum for six different classes.  I often reflect back on that time because I don’t know where I had the energy to work full-time in the classroom, spend extra time working at home, train for the Goofy Challenge and raise 3 kids (with my husband deployed).  This time I was actually saved by a military move.

We arrived in Colorado and I said “that’s it, I’m done with this teaching stuff.”  I gave away most of my teaching supplies and resources and turned my attention to health and fitness.  In one weekend, my soon-to-be new boss interviewed a few dozen candidates.  I got the job.  Not only did I get the job, but I got paid what I was worth.  Not only did I get paid what I was worth, but it was part-time and I basically had the flexibility to choose my hours so we never paid for daycare.  At the fitness center, I did everything except teach the classes, but I watched, listened and participated.  With less time to spend working, I spent more time on my family and myself.  I trained hard and achieved many athletic feats during our time in Colorado.   It was the perfect balance of work, family and self.  I even received my run coach certification and started my own coaching business.  Then it was time to move and I left the state kicking and screaming.

Then we entered Virginia and for some reason I took a look at teaching employment opportunities.  One job description spoke to me right away and I said “the heck with it, I will just apply to this one and see what happens.”  The job was mine.  The past two years have been a mix of joy and terror.  Yet, I saw something I hadn’t seen before: my potential.  I became confident in my teaching and was able to navigate successfully through the terror and absorb the joyful moments.  However, maintaining the balance was a struggle.  It worked well for the first year and then I began to lose sight of my own needs.  My running motivation hit a wall and I found myself trapped on the treadmill.   I became tired and my health started to deteriorate.  At one point, I had a cold that lasted for two months.  The worst was when I lost partial hearing in my right ear and that compensated with a constant static noise.  I doubt I will ever see (or hear) any improvement.  My confidence in leadership waned once again and I began to feel like I was on a staircase with no railing.  On days I went home to complain, my husband repeated his mantra: “you just need to work for yourself.”

As the end of the school year approached I made my decision to move on.  I turned my attention back to fitness and decided I would put my personal trainer certification to good use.  I also decided to bring back my coaching business and I am currently working on putting all of the pieces back together.  As people ask me if I am going to teach somewhere else, I reply “Yes, I am going to teach, but it will be a different kind of teaching.”  I suppose I was always meant to guide others.  Even though the military moves have caused me to go back and forth in my endeavors, I am fortunate to have so many unique experiences.

Run Club

At my recent school I organized and coached a run club. These students finished a 5K! I found great joy in doing this.

Now it’s time for the next challenge!  It’s new and scary, but that’s pretty much all I’ve ever known.  On Sunday, for the first time in a very long time, I finally let my alarm go off at 6:00 AM so I could hop in the car and drive to the beach.  I ran outside.  It was tough and hot, sticky and buggy, but it was also exhilarating.  I ran past the swamp, up the tiny hills, over the roots, through the mud and greeted all of my fellow runners who were doing the same thing I was.

Running slump

I am not sure if it the heat, overtraining or my lack of mental toughness, but I have been in a running slump for the past two weeks or so.  Maybe I am a in a vacation mindset since I officially started my summer break last week.  You would think a slump would occur when the going gets tough and your schedule is hectic, but my current schedule could be compared to  how people function at a Bahamian resort.

The 100 degree temps (feels like 110 due to extreme humidity) could be part of the problem, but I tried powering through a few of those runs.  By powering through, I mean I spent one Saturday morning trying to get 20 miles in the bank.  I started the run at 7:15 am and I think it officially ended at around 11:30 because I had to stop on many occasions and then I ended up inside on the treadmill.  Who spends their entire Saturday morning trying to run 20 miles?  On top of all that, I am supposed to be training to run my fastest marathon ever.  How can I run if I am training at a snail’s pace?  It has been quite frustrating to say the least.

As a result of the frustration, my mental toughness has gone downhill.  I go out for a 5-mile run and am now counting down every mile.  A 5-mile run used to be easy.  Now it feels like that 5-mile run is actually a 20-mile run.  I can’t bear to think of completing one more mile.  Honestly, I just can’t wait for my runs to be over.  They suck.  Bad.

What the hell is wrong with me?  I think about trying a new sport, like kayaking or paddle boarding.  Yeah, I think I might change my sport.  Maybe something that is more conducive to this intense heat and humidity.  At least I could just jump in the water to cool off.  Maybe my legs just need a break.  I need to work on my arms.  Or flatten my tummy.

I’m on vacation.  That means more time for running.  Yet, I don’t want to get out and actually do it.  I have the time, but lack the motivation.  Maybe I need to be busy in order to get it done.  That makes no sense at all!  When I am in vacation mode I get lazy.  But I also just want to drink beer and eat cupcakes.  That will only make me run slower.  Then the vicious cycle just repeats itself!

Do I need a break from running?  Or should I attempt this BQ in August?  I was fast enough a month ago, but now I am not so sure.  I am also not so sure if I can make it 26.2 miles.

A time to beat

I earned this with a little extra help from strangers.  The running community is so amazing.

I earned this with a little extra help from strangers. The running community is so amazing.

Seriously, it has been decades since I last posted a blog.  I could use the excuse that I have been overwhelmed with family and work, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.  A lack of inspiration is the main culprit of my hesitation to put words to paper.   Once in a while, I post a random photo of the sunrise to facebook after one of my morning runs, but that’s about all I got over here.  Yes, I am loathing in self-pity for my misfortune of being introduced to a place that doesn’t exceed my expectations for running greatness.  The real problem is my recent exposure to a running and triathlon mecca that filled my heart with inspiration and my mind with thoughts of “something beyond myself.”  Kind of like when you find yourself.  Then your life changes and you regress back into the darkness.

Until recently, when I was humbled.  And inspired.  Humbled by others, and inspired by my own self.  I didn’t need a place to inspire me.  I found it within.

I have silently been working hard over the past few months.  Okay, not as hard as I could have been working since I was lacking a bit of motivation.  That may sound odd coming from me, but it’s true.  I still did my thing.  Got up at the crack of dawn to do what I needed to do… most days.  Other days I just waited until after work so I wouldn’t have to get up early.  I got out there in the cold and did my duty… most days.  Other days I just settled for the treadmill and was perfectly content keeping warm inside.  I pushed myself through a tough workout when I needed to… most days.  Other days I just kind of accepted a mediocre pace and thought “I must just be having a bad day.”  Okay, I didn’t always give my running the full attention it needed.  I was being pulled in so many directions that I kind of let that line slack a little.

After my 50, I thought “that takes a lot of time and work, so maybe I should do something shorter.”  It took me months to figure out what to do.  In the meantime, I kind of just ran when I felt like running.  I knew that I had to set a goal soon or else my running (and my weight) would suffer.  Why not bring it down a notch and run a half-marathon?  However, I couldn’t just run another half, I had to beat my best time.  That’s all I wanted.  Until a few months into training when I looked at the results from last year and realized that I might even have a chance to place in my age group.  I never let that goal run past my lips though.  It is a secret goal I kept to myself.  Out loud I said that I wanted to break my personal record.  I’m not even sure who I said it out loud to… maybe just my husband.  I had stopped shouting out my plans to everyone within ear shot.  Probably because I never took the initiative to join the running community here.

The night before the race I considered joining the 1:45:00 pacing group.  I had never done a pacing group before.  I didn’t like groups during a race.  I usually just thrived on being alone.  On the morning of the race, I saw the pacer with his sign and I thought “okay, I will just kind of hang back and see what happens.”  By mile 3, I was chatting with the pacer and a few of the other runners in the group.  By mile 5, a 63-year old running veteran introduced himself and started chatting with me.  At mile 10, Jim was still with me and the pacer was about a minute behind us.  At mile 12, I was silent, but Jim was still there.  I wanted to slow down, but I wouldn’t.  I had to stay with Jim and I had to stay in front of the pacer.  For an entire mile, I quietly chanted “You are strong.  You worked hard.”  Even though the second part of the chant wasn’t entirely true, I never let a negative thought seep in.  I maintained the same pace even though I was never able to accomplish that during a training run.  I always slogged at the end.  Not this time.  I completely surprised myself.  I beat the 1:45:00 pacer by one minute.  And to think that I was only trying to beat my 1:49:00 time.  Not only that, but I placed 3rd in my age group!

I won’t forget Jim for his help.  He had done that half-marathon before in 1:36:00 so I know he could have finished in a faster time.  All I can say is that I hope to be still moving like him when I am in my 60’s.

I have been stuck in my own little world since I arrived here, unwilling to step out of my comfort zone.  I think my experience at this race has changed that.  I know that all I have to do is extend a hand and someone will be there to take it.  I can find what I found in Colorado.  I just have to move past my inhibitions.

Running from dogs

I would much rather be chased by a billy goat that wants to eat my clothes than by an aggressive dog that wants to rip apart my flesh.

I would much rather be chased by a billy goat that wants to eat my clothes than by an aggressive dog that wants to rip apart my flesh.

Most people don’t think about dogs when they run, unless they are running with a dog.  I am constantly on the lookout for dogs because they pose another threat that must be taken seriously.  Unfortunately, there are dog owners out there who don’t take proper care of their dogs or who teach them to be aggressive.  A couple of years ago, there was an article written in Runner’s World:  When Dogs Attack.   It’s scary to think about what might happen if you encounter an aggressive dog (or a pack of dogs!).

I have been chased by dogs before.  Mostly little yappers that I could easily kick if they started nibbling on my feet.  Those little guys are usually all bark and will only chase you until you yap back at them and cause them to run away with their tail between their legs.  Just recently a large pit bull started to come at me from its spot on the front porch of a house. I could not see a leash and it was definitely not happy.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if it ran up to me.  Fortunately it stopped at the border of the yard.  I assumed that it was stopped by an electric fence, but how effective can those be if a dog really wants to get out? I decided to avoid that street from then on.

While running the backcountry trails in Colorado, I learned that is was smart to carry a knife, mace and a phone.  My biggest fear was mountain lions, but a pack of coyotes would also get my hair to stand on end.  A lone coyote, or even a pair of coyotes, never concerned me very much since they never seemed too alarmed by my presence and they were more common than not.  A domesticated dog off its leash seems to be more of a threat.  I find that the domesticated breeds tend to be more unpredictable than what you might find in the wild.  Once again, it all comes down to how they are trained and treated by their owners.

Yesterday I was out for a run through a decent neighborhood near my parent’s house.  Since I don’t live in this area anymore, I am pretty unfamiliar with the territory but I found a comfortable area to run through.  I was only a few blocks from the car when I heard something coming up behind me.  I turned my head slightly and noticed a dark figure running up behind me.  As I slowed and turned my body for a better look, I realized it was a very large german shepherd that was bounding towards me.  I did not see a person anywhere near the dog and it was definitely not on a leash.

The dog quickly caught up to me, brushed against my legs and wrapped its jaw around my lower leg.  If that dog had any ounce of aggression in it, my leg would not have survived the assault.  Fortunately (very fortunately), the dog was only intending to play and barely left a small mark on my skin.  However, I yelled at it at the top of my lungs: “No!  No! Get away!” and  I pushed it away from me very aggressively.  FINALLY, I heard someone call for the dog.  I looked up and saw a man washing his truck in a driveway down the block a few houses down and across the road.  I was livid.  I yelled to the man “You need to keep your dog on a leash!”  The man then had the nerve to reply “Why?  He doesn’t bother me.”  Fortunately, the dog ran back to its owner and I kept running toward my car.  I was so freaked out that all I could think about was getting out of there.  As I got in the car and drove away, I thought about the lesson I had learned.  I would do it all differently if I were put back in that situation.  Here are my thoughts on doing that again:

1.  Always carry a phone and a small knife when you run.  There is no need to get all crazy with the weapons, but this just shows that even a nice, quiet neighborhood can turn deadly if you encounter an aggressive dog.  Mace is a good idea for when you are further out in the country or out on an isolated trail.  You can buy mace that is designed for runners to carry.  I know that people think this is a bit much and they sometimes laugh at me for carrying a knife, but I won’t be laughing when I have to use it to defend myself from an animal or a human.  It is always a good idea to carry a phone because you never know when you might need to call for help.

2.  Get your own dog to run with.  That does sound a whole lot better than carrying a knife.  I have been dreaming about a furry running partner for a while now, but our busy lives aren’t quite ready for that type of commitment.  One of these days I will have my own personal running buddy and protector.

3.  If you do encounter a dog that is off leash, then stand your ground.  Remain calm and firm to get the dog away.  Running from the dog will only cause it to chase you.  If it attacks, then defend yourself in any way possible.  I really hate to think about this, but if a dog started chomping on me I would have to hurt it.

4.  Once you get away from the dog and are in a safe place, call the police.  Even though the dog didn’t necessarily “attack” me, I should have held the owner accountable for HIS actions.  His attitude only shows that he doesn’t really give a crap if his dog attacks someone.  If he had the decency to apologize and make sure I was okay, then I would probably reconsider the police involvement and make sure he knew the importance of keeping his dog on a leash.  I was even more irritated when I noticed the mark on my leg after I had gotten home.  The other thing that bothers me is his lack of concern for the dog.  The dog could have easily been struck by a car while crossing the moderately busy street to chase after me.

5.  The last thing I learned is not to tell your dad when something like this happens since his blood pressure will most definitely skyrocket as he makes threats to kick someone’s rear (well, other words were used but I will keep this post family friendly).  I was seriously pissed off about the owner’s response  and I think that anger was very apparant to my family when I walked in the door after my run.  If your dog accidently gets off leash or runs up to someone, please have the courtesy to restrain your dog and apologize.   That is what irritates me most about the situation.  People like that shouldn’t be allowed to have dogs.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs.  I have friends and family with dogs that I totally adore and enjoy hanging out with.  However, I do not like being chased by dogs that I do not know.  I do not like worrying if a dog galloping towards me is out to play or attack.