Coaching Confessions

As my second year of coaching comes to an end I’m struggling to be as appreciative as I was when I wrote My First Season Coaching the Wildcats.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the season, but I’ve certainly reached the point of burnout.  I attribute it to several things:

1 – The season was 23 weeks long.  Last year I wasn’t hired until the end of February, so I missed nearly all the of the off-season practices.  The official preseason for track is only 2 weeks long, so we began off-season training 3 days a week the first week of December.  I enjoyed the off-season as the team was small, the weather was bearable and I was able to join in on many of the workouts.  Once the regular season started, however, transitioning to 2.5 hour practices 5 days a week was tough.  There is actually another week remaining in the season, but unless my one hurdler runs an insane race tomorrow at the district meet and qualifies for the state meet, I will be officially finished for the spring.

2 – Mother Nature was cruel.  A perk of having a small off-season team was that if the temperatures dropped drastically low or the wind chill was brutal, we just worked out inside the high school.  That wasn’t feasible during the regular season with 100+ athletes.  Those of us familiar with the sport of track know that March can be cold and April can be rainy.  None of us were prepared though for just how long winter would stick around this year or how rearranged the meet schedule would become due to cancellations.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I wore two layers of pants, a long sleeved t, hoodie and a 2 layer winter coat for over half of the regular season.  Due to rescheduling we had 8 competitions scheduled within a 3 week time frame.

3 – Meal planning was stressful.  I know to not meal plan during the season would’ve made me feel 10x more stressed.  However, there were only so many crock pot recipes and quick meal ideas I could muster after a few weeks.  The last 2 weeks of April and first week of May I had a sporting event nearly every night.  While this was partially my fault because in addition to coaching track I chose to line judge volleyball games, it brought me to near mental burnout just thinking of what to cook.  If it wouldn’t have been for Jason needing leftovers to take to work for dinner I likely would’ve sustained myself with PBJ and breakfast foods.  I did still eat a fair amount of PBJ during the track meets though; I kept the commitment I made to myself when I was hired last year to not rely on concession stands for dinners.

4 – I set unrealistic workout expectations for myself.  Last year I was content to stick to my “no more than 2 days off in a row” goal during the season.  Even if I just worked out 10 or 15 mins it was good enough for me to count.  This year I came into the spring season much more in shape.  All the consistent running I did over the winter for the York Winter Series had me motivated to keep up as many workouts a week as possible.  I wasn’t satisfied with just quick workouts; if I couldn’t maintain my running base I at least expected myself to do the 30 min DailyBurn daily workout.  I came close to a breaking point before I finally realized I needed to reset myself, physically and mentally.

5 – You can’t coach an athlete to care.  I think this is the one that is making me struggle the most.  While I had quite a few dedicated athletes, I also had some who preferred to exert as little effort as possible.  I also had two upperclassmen set horrible examples by short-cutting workouts and making dumb decisions.  I had athletes who couldn’t seem to understand why their times weren’t improving as the season progressed, but who never chose to push themselves any harder in the workouts.  The boys’ team had the opportunity to be division champions for a third year in a row.  The most crucial meet of the season one of our athletes was out with an injury, courtesy of not warming up properly for an earlier meet.  Another decided to “scissor kick” his high jumps instead of properly jumping.  This forced the meet to come down to the final event, the 4x400m relay, to determine the meet winner and division champion.  My boys (I coached that relay team) put everything they had into that race, but were defeated by tenths of a second.  The other team cared more than our team did, not in the relay, but during the entire meet.  You could see that they wanted the win and fought for it.  They deserved it; our boys did not.  All of us coaches agreed that our team didn’t care enough, and our head coach reminded us that “we shouldn’t care more than the athletes do”.

I wrote this in hopes of purging some of the negativity that I’ve been carrying around for the past week regarding the season.  I’m trying to remind myself of all the positives such as the boys’ 4x400m relay team tying for 7th in the county meet, one of my hurdlers dropping a full 6 seconds off his 300m hurdle time from the start of the season to the end, and all the laughs and good convos I had with many of my athletes.

I’m going to muster up the energy to focus on a good district meet tomorrow.  I know I’ll be reminded of the better parts of the season during the team banquet next week.  I think once I’m back to my “no track” routine that includes more regular running, writing and reading I’ll be able to reflect more positively on the season.  I’ll also have months to recharge my batteries before diving back into coaching next season.  Here’s to getting myself back “on track”!

 

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Biking the York Rail Trail

This past Friday Jason and I had a scheduled vacation day.  We took advantage of the nice weather (it seriously felt for most of April that spring would never truly arrive) to bike the York Rail Trail.  Last year we biked across the Pennsylvania-Maryland line to continue onto the Torrey C Brown Rail Trail which resulted in a 50 mile round trip ride.  Fortunately Jason did not see a need to torture me quite that much on Friday and repeat that ride again.

Normally I enjoy sleeping in on my days off, but we were both awake a little before 7am, the time I usually get out of bed for work.  We took advantage of being awake early to get to the trail and get started before the temperatures started to rise.  We always depart from Brillhart Station as it has a large parking lot and a port-a-potty.

Heading south the breeze created from biking actually had me slightly chilled, but I knew it would pass with time.  While I am a 100% runner I do find that biking provides Jason and I a chance to chat a bit more.  Quite often I can’t keep up with his running pace and lose him within the first half mile.  When we bike though we’re able to ride side by side for the majority of the trail and talk.

The portion of the trail that runs through Seven Valleys is my favorite as it is the most scenic to me.  I love the farmland areas as well as the small town.  Jason and I recently put up a new bird feeder and have been having fun identifying new birds, so we put our newly acquired skill to the test spotting birds during the ride.  We took breaks at the benches along the way a few times to enjoy some packed snacks as well as stretch our legs.

The toughest part of the trail is just past the town of Glen Rock.  Most people think of rail trails as being flat and for the most part the York Rail Trail is, but that particular portion has a decent uphill climb.  Having biked it several times I was more mentally prepared for it last Friday.  I made it to the top at a faster speed than I ever have in the past.  Unfortunately, I forgot that while visually the trail appears to flatten out, it actually continues with a slow, gradual uphill grade.  Jason easily pulled ahead of me at that point as his legs seem to never feel pain while bike riding.  I was excited when I saw the sign for New Freedom’s town center less than a mile away as I knew we would soon be at the turn around.

The Rail Trail Cafe is one my favorite spots along the trail.  Last year the original owner put it up for sale and I was grateful when I read that someone else bought it.  We stopped there to enjoy a “Knuckle Sandwich” (bagel with egg, cheese and choice of meat – we went with sausage) and smoothies.  Their food is the perfect way to refuel during a long bike ride.  After stretching a bit more and using the restrooms we headed back north on the trail.

By that point my quads were quite taxed.  It seems that no matter how good of shape I’m in (or think I’m in) going for a long bike ride never fails to tear up my quads.  Fortunately the uphill climb from Glen Rock to New Freedom turns into a downhill coast on the way north.  Jason had his bike up to 20 mph at one point.  Slightly scarred by two bike accidents as a kid, I never enjoy going more than 12 mph as I fear losing control.  I know we should buy helmets to wear, but the infrequency with which we bike, and the fact that we don’t bike on the roads, has led us to not do it.

We saw more people on the trail as it was approaching midday.  I have determined that runners are much friendlier people than bikers.  Anytime I run on the trail I’m greeted with smiles and waves, or at minimum a head nod from other runners.  I would say 90-95% of runners do this, even the super fast ones who you can tell are training for something important.  Bikers on the other hand tend to ignore us.  Those who do say hi are often like Jason and I and just out for a leisurely ride.  The ones who ignore us always seem to be in fancy bike clothes and look like they’re biking in a race.  I don’t know why this is, but I’m glad I’m a regular runner and not a biker.

I required more stretch breaks on the way back, but felt fine by the time we were finished.  Jason had biked ahead of me the last few miles to get back to the car and setup the bike rack to go home.  We had biked a little over 31 miles in roughly 5 hours.  We finished before the hottest part of the day which was good given my arms were turning slightly pink by the time I got in the car.  I always enjoy these bike rides despite the quad pain as I get to see more of the trail than I do when running.  I consider it good cross training as well as special time spent connecting with Jason and with nature.

 

Do you have rail trails in your area?  Do you notice a difference in friendliness between runners and bikers?

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Hitting Reset

When my younger sister and I were kids and played video games, she had a horrible habit that drove me crazy.  Whenever we would play any sort of racing game be it ATVs, snowboarding, etc. if she didn’t get a good start she would hit the reset button.  Not only did it annoy me because I just wanted to play, but I felt it took away some of the challenge of trying to come from behind to win.

While restarting a video game race may feel like cheating to me, hitting reset mentally is something I think is often needed.  I think that’s one of the reasons most people set New Year’s Resolutions; they view it as a chance to reset life and start anew.  If I have a bad day I try to remember that I will get to go to bed and wake up with a fresh start.  Even the change of seasons seems to be the Earth’s way of resetting itself.

Recently I lost track of how necessary it is to reset oneself mentally and physically when it comes to workouts.  In August of 2016 I made a commitment to myself to never take off more than two days in a row from working out.  Up until January of this year when I got sick and took off three days, I kept that goal.  In fact I had actually gotten to the point where I would never take off two days in a row.  I had gotten to the point where I was only taking one day off a week.  I might have a recovery day of yoga or mobility, but it became important to me to keep working out almost nonstop.

Some of the drive to work out so frequently has come from my decrease in running.  As I get farther along in the track season I’m coaching the kids in work outs on the track as opposed to going for long runs.  I haven’t wanted to lose the strength I’ve gained from running all winter, so I’ve felt compelled to work out regularly.  This time last year I would work out, but I was often utilizing my two days off in a row rule or else doing 10-15 min workouts.  Lately though I’ve been doing the 30 min DailyBurn work outs almost every day.

This week it finally hit me, primarily physically, that I need to reset both physically and mentally.  A kickboxing workout that left my inner thighs aching for two days and a slight pain in my left foot despite buying new running shoes were part of my wake up call.  They coupled with incessant thoughts in my head about fitting in my work outs after track practice to the point where I was replaying my daily and weekly schedule over and over in my mind even more than I usually do in the spring.

I accepted that both my body and my mind were indirectly telling me they needed a break.  While I haven’t felt overtly stressed recently, I know stress can manifest itself in various ways.  I had a scheduled day off for yesterday primarily because I had no time to work out due to line judging a volleyball game in the evening.  I knew I needed to take today off as well though, so I did.

The weather actually turned out to be amazing for practice today, and it was hard to resist to the urge to come home and run.  After so many miserable weather days a perfect running day seemed to be a rarity.  I was committed to taking two days off though, so I did.  Already I’m feeling better for it.

Once I decided to take two days in a row off my mind relaxed and stopped so many of the schedule related thoughts.  My thighs are feeling a lot better.  I know as much as Mother Nature seems to hate this area right now there will be other great running weather days.  I’ll work out again tomorrow knowing I haven’t lost any strength.  And I’ll remember that sometimes it is okay to hit reset.

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December Magic in March

I wanted to hate the winter storm that came through on Tuesday.  Snow on the first day of spring isn’t unheard of in my area, but it’s certainly not what most people expect.

I wanted to be annoyed that schools dismissed early thus canceling track practice and ruining the hill workout I had planned for my kids.

I wanted to sigh at the continued cold temps knowing that the heating bills wouldn’t be decreasing anytime soon.

I wanted to groan at the idea of having to using the snow shovel that had been sitting on the porch untouched for most of the winter.

Instead, without intentionally trying it, I enjoyed the snowstorm.

Maybe it was the fact that my area had no truly significant snowfalls this winter.  Maybe it was secretly wanting an evening off from track practice to catch up on cleaning.  Maybe it was the comfortable feeling of extra blankets to keep me warm.  Maybe it was the sense of accomplishment after shoveling the sidewalk and spaces for the cars.

I think though that the most likely reason of all was the connection I felt to nature Tuesday night.

Around 9pm I went out to shovel once more, wanting to ensure the space I dug out for Jason’s car was large enough for him to park in when he returned home from work.  By that time the snow was still falling, but it was lighter and finer.  As I walked back the sidewalk to the house I stopped and listened.  All I could hear was the snow hitting my jacket hood.  It sounded as if I was hearing each individual flake.

I looked out across the end of the street and the cemetery to the development beyond and the clouded sky.  A sense of pure calmness embraced me.  There was no struggle to calm my mind as I’ve often experienced when trying to meditate, but rather the thoughts dissipated on their own.  I felt at peace with the world if only for the fifteen minutes or so I stood quietly outside.

Snow in December has always felt magical to me.  It’s probably because of the holiday season.  Snow the rest of the year usually just feels like a reminder of the seemingly endless winter.  For some reason though this sudden spring snow felt more like a December snow to me.  I thought to myself “This is the type of night that poets write about” and I began crafting various lines in my mind.  Everything sounded so cliche though, and I knew any attempt at poetry (which I rarely write anymore compared to how often I did in my younger years) would be an utter failure at describing what I felt.

My love for the cold, snowy night eventually ended.  Another full day of snowfall yesterday resulting in multiple trips outside to shovel saw to that.  I was grateful to see the sun melting some of it today and can only hope the high school tracks melt in time for my team’s two meets next week.  Despite my return to reality, my “time out” from life and the chance to connect to the beauty of nature was a reminder of what it means to truly enjoy the little moments in life.

 

 

 

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Winter Woes & Sunshine Smiles

Every year I am guilty of thinking that spring weather is supposed to arrive the first week of March when track season begins.  This never happens, so I’m not sure why I always continue to hold out hope that it will.  Maybe it’s my absolute hatred of cold weather.  Maybe it’s my struggle with some seasonal depression.  Maybe I just have no more patience after several months of winter.

The first two weeks of track season have been utterly miserable weather-wise.  I know for a fact that I was not coaching in two layers of pants, two shirts, a hoodie and heavy winter coat at the beginning of last season.  On Friday I resorted to wearing snow gloves because my fingers felt like icicles through my regular gloves.  One of the other coaches made a good point in that normally there is cold weather to start the season, but not so many days in a row of low temps and freezing wind chills.  Normally there’s at least an average temperature day or two in the mix to break up the bad weather.

I will give props to my group of middle distance runners in that their complaining has been very limited.  I’m not sure if they just tolerate the weather better than I do or else know that complaining will do no good, but their comments have been limited to a few at the start of practice.  They’ve been dressing appropriately, and I’ve been having them run an extra warm-up before doing any speed workouts on the track.  Thus far it’s proven to keep them injury free and out of the trainers’ office.

Truth be told the extra warm-up has given me an opportunity to get some running in as well.  While I loved coaching just hurdlers last year, coaching the middle distance group means I can go running with them on recovery days.  Granted they don’t run more than about 2.5 miles as their training doesn’t require more than that, but it’s still more running through the week than I was able to manage last season.  I ran about 7 miles total last week.  It’s not nearly enough to be training for anything, but it’s enough to keep me moving.  I’ve supplemented the lack of running with DailyBurn workouts.  I’ve also had my group complete core moves almost every practice.  They actually seem to enjoy it and often give suggestions for other moves to complete.  The good nature of my athletes has helped keep me from going too stir crazy while waiting for winter to end.

The sunny, near 50 degree, limited wind weather today also helped to boost my spirits.  I went for a 5 mile run on the rail trail and soaked up the sun.  I debated pushing 6 miles, but I decided against it.  My hips felt a bit achy at times despite foam rolling on Friday and taking yesterday off.  My right calf also felt a bit tender near the end.  I’m attributing it to not completing any longer runs in about a month.  I also still need to replace my running sneakers.

Five miles was enough though to clear my mind and help me reset for the week ahead.  I’m hoping the potential nor’easter coming mid week stays south to avoid interfering with our season.  The first scrimmage is Thursday against my alma mater.  Here’s hoping Mother Nature soon recognizes that track is a spring sport and does away with this cold winter weather!

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York Winter Series Summary

I am proud to say for the first time in my life I completed the York Winter Series.  If it hadn’t been for the encouragement from my dad, Jason, Todd and Armand I wouldn’t have signed up nor would I have likely completed as many of the races as I did.  Here is a quick recap of each race and my summarized thoughts:

Dover 10 Miler – Grateful that the longest race was the first one given I was still in shape from my half marathon training.  The course was awesome, but I certainly wouldn’t attempt it without being in shape for it.

Spring Valley 4 Miler – Hardest 2nd half of a course I think I’ve ever ran.  Hill training is a must to survive this race without walking.

Dallastown Wildcat 10k – Probably my favorite if for no other reason but that it’s in my hometown so I train on its roads a lot and felt really prepared.  Also because I could sleep in as late as possible prior to it.

John Rudy 5 Miler – Cancelled due to bad weather which is a shame given it’s on the northern part of the York Rail Trail which I love and 5 milers tend to be my favorite distance to race.  Hopefully next year!

Indian Rock 10k – Skipped due to miserable weather (cold, rainy and windy), I was partially sick and everyone else in my group was skipping it.  Kind of a shame since it likely would be a fast course given its location on the York Rail Trail, but there’s always next year!

Jacobus 5 Miler – Skipped due to going to an indoor track invitational with Dtown’s track team.  Can’t say I was sad to miss it after hearing about the long uphill climb to the finish line.

Springettsbury 10k – Fortunate that the actual race went better than the pre-run.  Tough start with lots of hills but very scenic in the countryside.

Northeastern 5k – Short, fast way to end the series.  Wish the finish was on the track like the Northeastern Dollars for Scholars 5k was that I did there years ago, but still a nice course.

Now here is a list of some of the things I learned throughout my full winter of running to keep in shape for the series:

Clothing – Dressing for cold weather running had to be the most aggravating thing I experienced, particularly for the races since I knew I would be running harder at those.  I have discovered Under Armour’s coldgear is not just expensive for its name, but that it legit works.  Also, fitted fleece running jackets are warmer than hoodies (this was the first year I wore them).  Cold weather running socks are one of the best inventions, but need broken in prior to running a 10 mile race in them.

Wind Chill –  This is what made figuring out what to wear all winter so difficult.  In the summer it’s hot and even throwing in humidity that makes it feel hotter, it’s just always hot.  A tank top and shorts are always going to be the standard apparel to wear.  In the winter though wind chill can make a “seasonable” 40 degrees feel like death.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, a sunny, wind-free 30 degree day can make an overdressed runner overheat.

Rain/Snow – I’ve determined that I can handle rain and snow.  I can handle wind.  I can handle cold.  I cannot (or rather, will not) handle all three combined.  It is just utter misery and no amount of positive thoughts will curb it.

DailyBurn  – If it wasn’t for all the DailyBurn workouts I completed throughout the winter I don’t think I would’ve raced nearly as well as I did.  My mileage decreased.  Some weeks I was only running once a week.  My hill training also lagged as the winter progressed.  I faithfully completed the daily workouts though which often contained a fair amount of squats, lunges and other lower body moves.  I also got a lot of core work which helped maintain a strong total body.

Running Buddies – They make all the difference when it comes to making yourself leave the house to run on a miserable winter day.  I ran nearly all my long training runs for my half marathon by myself, but it took knowing others were waiting for me on Wed. evenings this winter to even entertain running 5-6 miles.

So despite the cold, the wind, the hills, the clothing crazed thoughts and never placing higher than 5th despite running what I considered decent races, I genuinely enjoyed the winter series.  I can’t say I would’ve ran near as much this winter as I did had I not had so many races.  I now know what to expect for next year and yes, I do intend to have a next year.  My goal will be to run all the races (weather and indoor track schedule may limit that) and hopefully run them faster than I did this year.  Here’s to having survived a full winter of cold weather running!

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Northeastern 5k

The York Winter Series wrapped up this past Saturday with its final race, the Northeastern 5k.  I had actually pre-ran the course with Jason, my dad, Todd and Armand as part of a 6 mile run two Sundays prior.  We weren’t entirely certain that all the turns in the development were correct, but I had a general idea of what to expect.

Northeastern5k

Ready for the last race in the winter series

Mother Nature saw fit to remind me that I was indeed running a winter race by providing strong winds and a below freezing temperature to start the race.  As has happened many times this winter I stuck contemplating what exactly to wear.  Do I wear the warmer running jacket or the windbreaker?  Do I leave the windbreaker pants on over the leggings or take them off?  I plan to write a blog entry just focusing on all the things I learned by running the winter series which will definitely include a section on clothing!  I finally settled on the windbreaker jacket over two long sleeved running tops and just the leggings along with my usual headband and heavier gloves this time instead of the thinner running ones.

Chilblains

When chilblains strikes keeping the fingers warm is a must

I had no goal for the race as the wind would make it very challenging to run a decent time.  I also was continually 6th in my age group so there was no chance at placing in the series.  I was content to just run the race knowing I had ran more over the winter than any year since high school.

My dad decided to not run the race having other tasks to complete at home and not being thrilled about the strong winds.  Fortunately Todd and Armand came; it’s always nicer going to races when you have people to warm up with and debrief with after the race.  Armand and I agreed to stick together like we did in the Springettsbury 10k.

The first mile was relatively flat with a slight uphill grade at times.  It was a tad annoying though as we had to stick to the shoulder of the road which limited the ease of passing people.  I also had to keep dodging York Road Runners Club traffic cones.  The worst part, however, was the mouth breather.  Armand and I passed him, but he remained within hearing distance.  I will never understand how some people can breathe so heavily within the first half mile of a race.  I expected to lose him by the mile mark (an 8:15) but he persisted despite Armand and I picking up the pace.

The second mile went through a development and the wind was to our backs which made going uphill a lot easier.  My left arch twinged and reminded me that I really need to buy new running shoes.  It was the third run in which that has happened and normally when I start feeling unusual random pains like that it’s a sign that my shoes are wearing out.  My watched beeped an 8:05 for the second mile and we were heading into the last third of the race.

Turning a corner the wind suddenly became a headwind again, and I felt like the “one step forward two steps back” stereotype.  The air also chilled me as I had warmed up a great deal by that point, forgetting just how well Under Armour’s coldgear shirt works.  I told Armand when we had a half mile to go and he told me to go ahead, but I said I didn’t want to risk kicking too early.

With about a quarter mile to go I did pick up and enjoyed the downhill curve into the high school parking lot.  When I pre-ran the course I realized how deceptively long the final stretch was and determined what spot I would turn on my final sprint.  My watched beeped a sub 8 min mile at the 3 mile mark.  There was a girl ahead of me who I had beaten in the past and my desire to beat her again kicked into gear.  Needless to say my predetermined “go mark” went out the window when I decided I wanted to beat her.  I passed her and was running as hard as I could, hearing her footfalls fairly close behind me.  It was strange not hearing my dad’s usual “Come on Trac!” as I approached the finish.  Instead my brain was screaming at me “Why are you doing this to yourself?!?” as I fought to continue my kick the rest of the way to the line.  Stunned to see the clock just flipping past 25 minutes, I finished with a final time of 25:05.

I finished 6th in my age group once again with the 5th place girl running a full 2 minutes faster than me.  I was still extremely impressed with my time though given I didn’t really do speed training this winter and the winds were so strong.  Since I completed 5 of the 8 races (it would’ve been 7 had one not been cancelled due to weather and another I was both sick/the weather was miserable for running) I got a YRRC Winter Series headband as a participation award.  I also got a free mini Rita’s root beer ice.  It was a satisfying end to what was a challenging, eye opening experience in running the series for the first time.

 

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