Friday, July 28, 2023

Call me "Coach"

I am now a certified running coach! I received my certification from McMillan Running in June by taking a course online and passing the exam.

I always thought I would eventually want to coach other runners, once I was less focused on my own running career. I saw it as my retirement job-- when I was retired from running and from my full-time job as a marketing executive. Coaching definitely wouldn't fit into my busy schedule of marathon training, producing my Instagram content, and working full-time. And if I was going to coach someone, I would want to be attentive to their needs without being pulled in a million different directions. 

But I got the certification anyway. There were a few reasons why:

I wanted to gain the knowledge to apply to my own running.
I've been with McMillan running for nearly 10 years now. I've read countless articles by Greg McMillan and his perspective has always resonated with me. I wanted to learn more about the science of running and how he uses that to pull together his training plans.

I wanted to engage on Instagram with some level of authority.
I've always been very careful to not give blanket advice in my Instagram posts. Since I was not a coach, I didn't view myself as someone who was "qualified" to be guiding others. Instead, I mostly shared how I trained, my opinions, and what worked for me. I always included the caveat "this is what works for me" so that followers wouldn't blindly apply my approach to their running. But I often get questions via DM or in in the comments section, so I figured it would be good to have some level of certification to respond authoritatively. In other words, I didn't want to be some random Instagram runner spewing advice when I had no basis upon which to do so.

I knew I would eventually want to coach others.
As I said above, this would be something that would come in handy once I no longer had a full-time job and/or wasn't so dedicated to my own running. 

I wanted to self-coach.
I generally think self-coaching is not a good idea, now matter how experienced you are. I think runners always need an objective eye over their training-- someone to advise when things need to be tweaked. I also think accountability is important. Someone you have to go back to and explain why you didn't do that final rep. When you are your own coach, it's too easy to say, mid-workout: "Well, I scheduled you for 8 intervals, but I can just push that back to 6."

In the long term, I likely will not be my own coach. But I wanted to give it a try for at least one cycle (Marine Corps Marathon) to see how it went. I figured it would give me the flexibility to move workouts around in the summer heat and run more or less based on how I felt. Of course I could have done this with any coach I have ever worked with, but my perfectionist self didn't like going off plan. As my own coach, I can switch days around and run a little longer or shorter than what's written based on how I feel. It requires being VERY honest with myself about how I am feeling. 

I've coached my husband for all of his marathons. He started out with a 4:08 and made his way down to 3:18. I enjoyed creating plans for him and watching him get faster. So in that respect, I have some experience under my belt. 

Call me "Coach!"
Once I completed the certification, I felt differently. I wanted to coach right away! I didn't want to wait. But I had to balance that urge with the reality of everything else I have going on in my life. 

So I figured I could ease into coaching by starting small. Instead of offering a full-blown coaching service where I was available via email and text 24/7 to analyze the workouts of multiple athletes, I would simply write custom plans. I think there is a large number of runners who don't want to pay for a coach but they want something that's more tailored than what they would find on the Internet or in a book.

From a time management perspective, I have enough time to look at an athlete's history, experiences, preferences, strengths, weakness, and write a custom plan that also advises on areas to work on (like fueling, injury prevention, mental strategies, pacing, etc.).  And then send them off with the plan, giving them the option to check in with me on a monthly basis to potentially tweak the plan.

With this model, the athlete doesn't have to pay the cost of full-time coaching, but they are still getting guidance. And I am not over-extending myself in terms of my commitments. 

Introducing All Stripes Coaching
I am pleased to announce the formation of All Stripes Coaching! I created an LLC and I'm ready to start working with athletes. All the details are at

I chose the name "All Stripes" to represent that my plans take into account all aspects of running and are more than just numbers on a calendar. Athletes complete a comprehensive intake questionnaire that allows me tailor a plan specifically to their needs and preferences. Plus, the name "All Stripes" fits in nicely with the name of my blog, Racing Stripes.

Because I am just starting out, availability will be limited at first and I am not going to announce this on Instagram quite yet. In marketing we call this a "soft launch." If any of my blog readers are interested in a custom training plan, head on over to for more details and complete the interest form.

I look forward to coaching runners and helping them achieve their goals. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Firecracker 5K: More Fashion Than Fit

Fashion was the goal in yesterday's Firecracker 5K! I've run this race almost every year since it started in 2010.  The only years I have missed were 2012 (illness), 2013 (injury), and 2016 (illness). In 2020 I ran the "Virtual" race which was a much flatter course and had an earlier start time!

If it weren't for tradition, I would not have signed up for this event. I hadn't been doing much speed work and my mileage had been low. Even though I wasn't fit, I could still have two other F's: Fashion and Fun. And for the "Firecracker FiveK" the F's made a lot of sense. This is just how I see the world- one big poem and play on words. Plus, I knew I'd probably be uttering the real "F" word a few times up that last hill!

Before the Race
I bought a new tank for this race to up my level of looking like an American flag. (Ooooh: Flag. Fashion. Fun. Firecracker. FiveK.) I matched it with flag shorts and flag socks. About two hours before the race I had a small handful of almond butter filled pretzels and some water mixed with Uppermost Hydration. This is my new favorite hydration mix because it also contains B vitamins and zinc. It has no sugar but yet tastes really good.

We arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start. I already had my bib so I didn't have to worry about picking that up. Greg left his camera at home because I wanted him on video duty with my phone. I have so many race photos and I knew that Cheryl would be there taking them. I wanted to document the experience with videos. Greg is unfortunately still dealing with his groin injury and unable to run.

I brought my new ice vest with me in the hopes of lowering my core body temperature before the race. This had been recommended to me by my coach years ago and Oro Sports sent me this vest last winter to try out. It sat in my closet until yesterday. If I had been truly committed, I would have worn the ice vest in the car on the way there and made sure I had it on for at least 30 minutes for maximum impact. But instead I used it during the warm up only. It was cooling but also heavy so not something I would run with on a regular basis. But the pre-cooling is what's supposed to bring your core temperature down for 45 minutes. Verdict: I will definitely be using it for pre-cooling for 30 minutes before hot races and long runs if I get up early enough.

I took a Maurten caffeinated gel 15 minutes before the race and a few chugs of water. I warmed up for 1.7 miles and felt ready to go. Because I wasn't going to race hard, I decided not to line up towards the front. I lined up about 20 rows back figuring that would be about right.

I made sure to double knot my shoes and tuck in the loops. This worked and my shoelaces did not come untied during the race like they had during my previous two races. 

Race Weather
The temperature was 75 degrees and it was mostly sunny. It was also quite humid although I don't remember the exact dew point. There were a few shaded portions of the course but otherwise the sun was probably the biggest culprit. On my race weather scale I give it a 3 out of 10, and that somewhat takes the time of year into consideration. If this had been an early fall race I would have downgraded it to a 2 out of 10. As I said earlier, I have run this race many times in the past and yesterday's weather was typical. We lucked out in 2021 and 2022 with lower humidity- those were probably the two coolest years. 

Goals and Mindset
The main goal here was to keep up with the Fourth of July tradition. I had nothing else going on yesterday, so why not go out there and have some fun? I could have chosen to race at 100% effort to get a "baseline" level of my current fitness, but it wasn't worth it in the heat. Instead, I decided to run it as a "tempo" run around half marathon pace effort. I didn't have any target pace or time in mind and I decided not to look at my watch. (Of course whenever I decide not to look at my watch, I hear people around me yelling out their paces to the people they are running with. "Okay Katie, we are running a 7:15 pace, right on target!")

Mile 1:
I know this course very well and I was prepared for this uphill mile. I had underestimated where I should have lined up because I found myself passing people left and right. I did not want to go out too fast, but if I didn't pass other runners, I would have been stuck at my easy run pace. 

Mile 2:
This was the beautiful downhill mile! And finally I was where I wanted to be in the pack and there was no more crowding. Part of this mile was shaded and it felt drastically different from the first mile which was mostly sunny. I stayed relaxed and reminded myself to maintain tempo effort. I did feel like I could have tapped into a higher gear, but with an up-hill final mile I did not want to crash and burn.

Mile 3:
This mile was killer! I told myself to maintain my pace and rhythm, which meant I would have to increase my effort on the long hill. But that last hill is fun. I love passing people on it. So many runners lose loads of time during the last half mile of that race, but I had started conservatively so I had lots to give.

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 23:15. I was not surprised by this and didn't care at all that it was 2nd my slowest time ever on this course! I had zero ego going into this race and I had accomplished my goals of staying strong, having fun, and being fashionable. 

My splits were 7:23, 7:11, 7:24, and 7:24 pace for the final 0.17.  Nice and consistent!

After the Race
I cooled down for just over 5 minutes which was shorter than intended. But it was so hot! I then checked the results and learned that I placed second in my age group. That was quite a shocker because this is a competitive race and I didn't expect to place at all. We stayed for the awards and I won $20 to Potomac River Running store. Then we chatted with our friend Kathy for awhile. That's the best part about local races - the social aspect and getting to see friends.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
My main takeaway is that I love being able to check my ego at the door and race "for fun". This does not mean that I am going to stop training and stop trying to race at my full potential. It just means that I will embrace all the seasons of my running and not shy away from experiences just because I'm not in race shape. This race was all about maintaining a tradition, doing something fun on the fourth and seeing my friends. 

I also learned something that I plan to experiment with in the future. Usually when it's above 55 in a race I wear a sports bra only (no tank). The thinking was that the less material, the better. But I couldn't resist this flag singlet so I wore it anyway. Before the race I had gotten the tank top went by shoving ice into my bra. So the tank top was wet around my core area. While running, it felt nice to have the cool wet material against my skin. This could mean that running in just a sports bra is not as "cooling" as running in a wet tank top. I will have to play around with this in training to see if I want to do it more in races. I'll also experiment more with the ice vest beforehand.

I'm happy I did this race and I am proud of my effort and my mindset.