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.

Advertisements

Why do I need a running coach?

My coaching days started back with Team in Training.  What a great group to work with!

My coaching days started back with Team in Training. What a great group to work with!

I won’t forget the first “race” I did.  It was in Anchorage, AK and it was with my friend and her sister.  I don’t even remember how far it was… I think it was 5 miles.  Anyway, I just thought I could go out and run that far so that is what I did.  Yep, I made it.  Barely.  I think the only reason I made it across the finish line was because I was young and participated in some sport-like activities.  I might have even gone to the gym a few times a year.  But I definitely paid for it the next day when I could barely walk.

The next time I ran a race (many years later) I was obviously older and wiser.  I knew I actually needed to go out and run a few times before the race.  I remember that.  I ran a few times on the flat roads and then I entered a race that required running uphill on a trail.  I guess I still couldn’t get it right.

Finally I decided to read a book (or maybe just glance through it).  I figured that I needed to know a little more if I planned to run a half marathon.  That seemed like a really far distance and I could probably hurt myself if I didn’t prepare correctly.  Lucky for me, I had a running buddy to drag along and we somehow managed to haphazardly follow a plan I had read somewhere.  That worked out pretty well.  I finished the half marathon.  Slowly, but victoriously!

At one point I felt that the marathon was within reach and maybe I was finally crazy enough to get it done.  Yet, I had no clue how I would get it done.  I figured it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for me to just wing it or even follow a free plan I had downloaded off the internet.  That is when Team in Training entered my radar.  Well, actually they had already been well within my radar because I did a Grand Canyon hiking event with the Team back in the day before I became serious about running.  I knew that they trained people for marathons too.  I wasn’t nervous about raising the money because I had done that before, so I thought it might be a great way for me to get the help I needed.

I met them at the very first meeting.  The coaches.  They were so full of life and excited about helping me to get to where I wanted to go while helping out a great cause in the process.  I left the meeting energized and ready to get started on accomplishing my goal of running my first marathon.

The Team in Training coaches wrote plans, organized runs, provided advice and handled the logistics.  Most of all, they offered support, encouragement and motivation.  If I was feeling down or weak, they would lift my spirits and point out my strengths.  If I was feeling unsure, they would encourage me to push through and reap the rewards of new challenges.  I always felt like I could do more than I ever thought possible.  Sometimes I took it too far and my coaches had to help me pull in the reigns.  Coaches are all about the checks and balances.

I was so inspired by my experience with the coaches that I decided to become a Team in Training coach too.  It was truly a reward to watch my group cross the finish line.  I held on to that feeling for a while until I decided to make a serious change in my life that involved the start of my own business: Inspired Miles Coaching, LLC (www.inspiredmiles.com).

On occasion, I have been asked “why would someone need a running coach?”  That is a good question and I think I have an answer.

Never ran before?  Or has it been awhile since the last time you went for a run?  A coach can help you get back on track by helping you develop realistic goals and providing guidance on how to reach those goals.  Maybe you have been previously injured and need help improving your running form or finding exercises and running drills that will make you stronger.

What about that half-marathon or full marathon goal?  Do you know which path has the least resistance or will you run blind and risk encounters with injuries, over-training, time constraints, disappointments and other setbacks?  It is hard to know what to do if you don’t have the necessary experience.  I was there once.  It took me awhile to navigate the sport of running and my Team in Training coaches helped me to feel more confident.

Knowledge is valuable, but it is just as important to have someone there to keep pushing you in the right direction.  Tim Noakes (author of the Lore of Running) points out: “A running coach is needed not necessarily for the physical preparation of the athlete, but for inspiration and support, and to provide an objective analysis of when the athlete is doing too much.”  It is well-known that runners are a determined, hard-working, dedicated and often stubborn group of people.  Sometimes they need to be told when to push hard and when to take it easy.  It’s all about the checks and balances.

I like how Franz Stampfl, a world-renowned athletics coach of the 20th century, puts it: “the coach’s job is 20% technical and 80% inspirational.”  So, who needs a little inspiration?

Training Day #1

What an exciting new adventure that awaits us!  I am working with an awesome team of walkers and runners… some of whom have never completed a half or full marathon!  I sure know what that journey is like and now I am excited to help others accomplish this amazing feat!

Last night our team walked or ran 1.5 miles.  It was the furthest distance for a few (but that will very soon change).  I have to admit that I was a little nervous about running the show (no pun intended).  I had my little route mapped out and it should have been simple enough… given that it was an easy loop.  In making myself feel better, I had hoped to drive the route prior to arriving at our meeting location, but that didn’t happen because a last-minute trip to the store was necessary.  If you know me, then you know I get a little freaked out when I am late for something (I think I get that from my dad who is never late for anything and who would ground me if I was ever even a second late for a curfew… seriously).  Nothing ever seems to go smoothly when you arrive late (especially when it is your duty to get things going).   When I was teaching, I would always arrive at least an hour before the students arrived.  I just can’t stand the feeling of being unprepared and unorganized.

So the next thing I knew I was there, in front of the group telling them that it was an easy loop and that I hoped no one would get lost.  If that happened, then the coaches would know who to look out for on the longer and more complicated routes.   It was then time to head out and I took the lead with the group of faster runners.

Yeah, I was originally concerned about the participants getting lost.  Needless to say, I was the one who ended up making two wrong turns.  Sure, it didn’t hurt for the faster, more experienced runners to get some extra mileage, but it didn’t really make me look good.  I said I was great at navigating, but obviously I didn’t prove to be all that great… and it was just an easy loop!  I knew I was a perfectionist for a reason, so missing that vital step of checking out the route really threw me for a loop (once again, no pun intended).  So, all I can do now is to try my best not to let it happen again.  Otherwise, it makes for a fabulous story.  At least I can be humble and say that nobody is perfect… not even the coach.  And we all did make it back (some of us just put in a little extra work).

And you know what was even more humorous about the whole situation?  I was concerned about the other participants taking the wrong turn as well, so I went back to check on them and found out that one of the runners behind us actually made it back before us (yes, he knew where he was going).  No one else seemed to have any doubt about which way to go.

Regardless, I know I am going to enjoy this coaching experience.  I get to meet amazing people who are dedicating themselves to pursue a fitness goal while helping to raise money for cancer research.  I know how much the experience changed my own life and made me a healthier, happier person.  I want to help others succeed in making a difference not just in the lives of others, but in their own life.