Over the last few months I have turned my focus back on running except this time a whole new sphere of it. While I took a short break from running as a sport to heal an injury I started working two jobs related to it but not in marketing as I was doing in the past. This time I began working at the retail level in one of the oldest running specialty stores in the USA. I paired it with a job as a Track and Field coach for the season. Then on top of that I decided to take a class to become a certified running coach.
With all of these changes I thought I should do an update and let everyone know how doing all of these running focused things has been. Also I recently started running again, 1 mile at a time, to build a base for some fall races; closed out my first season as a Track and Field coach; and passed my final exam for the coaching certification!
Having not been certain about where I wanted to take my career I instead decided to focus on some of my passions. As many know, one of my passions is sports; specifically running, so I thought why not start there. In March I applied for several part time jobs and got interviews for all of them. Mask guidelines were easing everywhere as people basically considered the pandemic done, many jobs were available and people were looking for employees especially as customers were returning in larger numbers. It felt like a good time to get out there again after several years not working and the perfect way for me to ease into the working world again. I got several job offers and selected two I had the most interest doing.
I started working at a running specialty store in the Seattle area. It is one I´ve gone to since I was little and has always been a highly recommended store for all things running. It also happens to be one of the oldest running stores in the nation! Founded in 1975 by a local woman named Laurel who raised 5 kids as a single mom. She was inspired to open the store when a university kid (Pat Tyson, now head running coach at Gonzaga University) she was hosting at her house had a runner friend of his die. This friend was Steve Prefontaine, one of the fastest runners in the US at the time! For those who follow along you know this is also Nike´s first sponsored athlete who ran with incredible fierceness and speed but died at the young age of 24 in a car crash. Today, you will find his photos all over the store.
Now the oldest store I could find of this sort still running as a business today was opened in 1973, called Dave´s Running in Ohio. Followed by some others in 1974 and 1975 (Marathon Sports in Boston for example). Other running specialty stores did exist before these; for example, Nike´s original store was called Blue Ribbon Sports and it opened in 1967 (California) and then there were a few others before this that sold shoes to runners from the trunk of their vehicle or garage. As a female founded running store though I am pretty sure where I work has the oldest title. The store I am at is now run by one of the son´s who studied biomechanics before it became a career focus and you will still find him on the store floor finding you the best pair of running or walking shoes. He might talk to you non stop but it is sure to be a fun time and you will most definitely learn a lot, especially about our bodies and it´s quirks. Laurel, who I´ve met a few times now, also visits with her friends every now and then. The store is called Super Jock and Jill (SJJ) and it now has two locations, the newest (opened in 2014) is in Redmond, WA but the original is located in Greenlake which is most definitely one of the best areas for sports in Seattle, especially running and walking. It is a well known store and you find customers from all over the nation and world who end up here looking for sometimes hard to find shoes.
While working at Nike I learned a lot about shoes, technology, trends, runners, community and more but that was just one brand. Now I know about a wide range of brands such as: Hoka (not to be confused with hooka which you smoke), Saucony, Brooks, Asics, Mizuno, New Balance, Altra and ON in addition to Nike. The job brings up plenty of memories from my time and experience at Nike but taps into a different side of things and provides many connections to who I am and thus has been easy to learn and quite enjoyable. So far my favorite thing is speaking with the variety of customers. Sometimes I spend over an hour with a customer finding them just the right shoe and sometimes it is a quick replacement but either way there is always a story behind it. Each customer has some reason behind why they need a shoe (even the shoes have a history to tell) and a solution to be provided. Interestingly enough about 70% of shoes sold are for walking, maybe 29% are running and 1% other (currently pickle ball and cross training seem most common). I always thought the hardcore runners would be here more (they are around too) but there are far more walkers and novice runners than anything else.
As a running specialty store we tend to carry shoes that are hard to find, including wide, extra-wide and narrow shoes in addition to spikes for track and field events or cross country, a multitude of trail running shoes and even kids shoes! There are free Physical Therapy nights on Tuesday´s and Thursdays and a run group that meets on Monday. Favorite brands seem to currently be Hoka, followed by Brooks and Asics with the most popular model being a Bondi or Arahi by Hoka, Adrenaline or Ghost by Brooks and GT-2000 by Asics. The cost of shoes today (before any inflation changes prices) is on average $140, ranging from $110 to $170, with the carbon plated race shoes at or above $200. I have tested out Nike´s with customer´s and they are still a great brand, in fact we ran out of their top model the Pegasus recently. Everyone has different feet and this is why each brand has it´s moment to be selected by different customers. Some like a tighter fit, other´s want lots of cushion (this seems to be the trend for customer´s desires and shoe companies up and coming shoe lines), a wider toe box, other´s a firmer ride, needs a specific shoe or are looking for a more fashionable one, while other´s think many shoes feel the same. When you hear someone put on a shoe and say, ¨wow¨ or ¨that feel´s like heaven¨ you know they have probably found their pair.
Technically the SJJ job is a sales job but in reality it is amazing how many people come in and leave with a purchase…so this is not sales at all but pure customer service. It is literally a destination. Work is not based on commission because there is no need; no pushing anyone to get a sale. Customers usually come looking for shoes and they really desire your expert advice to help them figure out which shoes are best for them. From my marketing background I have thrown in sales tactics once or twice just to see if it works and well, it does but I´ve only tested it when there is truth behind my words. Very few (maybe 5%) leave without purchasing (generally shoes) and that is either because it isn´t what they want right now, they just want to try some on, they are just browsing or they really don´t need new shoes yet and we can just be honest and tell them (I know I have). They will all be back because customer service like this hardly exists anymore…now some older customers would disagree and remind me that Nordstrom (a local department store originally known for selling shoes in the USA) used to place the shoe on their foot. That we don´t do but we will replace your shoe inserts when you try on new shoes and retie your laces. I did recently have one customer that needed help putting socks on, so never say never. I have had a retail job before (Guess, Inc., 2003) but it was years ago and it isn´t something I thought I would never do again but I must say I have been enjoying it.
What is the customer service like? Well when you come in you are greeted, then seated and have a conversation about your needs, any problems or injuries, potential shoe usage and even about life. Then based on conversations we find shoes to have you try on. We watch and correct gait and let you try shoes outside (if you wish) until you have found the best pair for you. Sometimes it is a short and sweet replacement of the favorite pair, other times we go through a bunch of shoes to find the perfect one. Narrowing it down can take time, sometimes it means trying the same pair on multiple times, running in them, trying two different shoes together, looking in the mirror, finding different colors, calling the other store for inventory transfers or special ordering online. Then there are times when one tiny thing isn´t right so we work to fix that too, sometimes it is a squeaky shoe, a spot where the toe always creates a hole in the fabric of the shoe (upper), sock liner or shoe insert needs and plenty of other fixes. SJJ employees will always keep trying to solve the issue and find the best shoe for each customer. SJJ values that a customer is happy with the shoe they purchase so much that they keep the return policy quite flexible in case it doesn´t work out. SJJ also takes your old shoes and donates them to great causes. This is what I call top service.
Now I didn´t stop at one job, I got two…which had me running around from one to the other a few days a week. This second job is also related to running but this time I decided, after years of watching and having my own…to be a coach. I have hired coaches for work and for myself many times but I have not once been one myself. Obviously, sticking with the theme here I became a coach for Track and Field. Starting out small (maybe) I began coaching the 2022 season for a local middle school. Everyone knows I run a lot and far but the reality is I started running in middle school and in high school my focus was on jumping events. Surprisingly distance running was never a thing for me until after college. This often surprises me how no coach ever had me try running any distance events. My focus had been on pole vault actually with plenty of experience in triple and long jump. For team points though I tried plenty more, I did high jump a few times, hurdles a few times, relays, javelin and shot put. Interesting how, now as an adult, I found myself teaching all of these events to athletes between the ages of 11-14 years old and attending track meets again. Being back on the track in this capacity felt amazing.
Over the short season of 2 months we were able to teach all of the events and more! We were two coaches with 30 girls who have lots of talent and all were new to the sport of Track and Field! The school is a private, all girls, Montessori type school that has been around for 20 years. It is a really cool school with a very complete curriculum you won´t find available at many other schools.
Coaching by no means was an easy feat and it took a lot of time and plenty of learning. We only had access to a local park for practice so field events were sometimes difficult to teach. Planning for each practice was very time consuming given this was new to the other coach too. We did eventually get a good flow going but we also experimented a lot and it all took time. Halfway through the season, we named team captains which helped us organize practices better. One captain was very good at throwing events because their mom competed previously and we let our captain take on the leadership to teach those interested. She was fantastic! From one Track Meet to the next it was clear she had taught everyone well. A lucky save for us coaches. A stellar athlete herself, she ended up throwing 50 feet as a 5th grader (11 y/o)!
Obviously, a favorite of mine was teaching long jump, it just came naturally. Second was oddly hurdles. I think I just really recall learning the technique. Teaching hurdles came with an added bonus for us since this was the first year the school had ever participated in the hurdles. To even start teaching it the Athletic Director made us some PVC pipe hurdles to practice with and quickly, only after 2 practices with our hurdles, several athletes gave it a try. By the end of the season a few were really going over them well and by the end of the season 7 athletes mustered up the courage to participate in the 100m hurdle event (with 10 hurdles at 30-33 inches) at track meets! Discus was the toughest to teach because neither of us had experience with it and besides the throw it seemed very hard to explain the jump and twist technique that comes with it. Having access to an actual discus and shotput to practice with toward the end of the season was important to success. At the first meet of the season I clearly remember having most athletes gather around me while I showed them the basics of how to throw shotput and discus, then having them practice the movement with me and finally sending them off to try it out with the actual 6-8 pound ball or 1kg discus for the first time ever. HA You should know that much of the coaching for events was supplemented by online YouTube videos to make sure we remembered drills and taught technique correctly. We were a competitive team but there was plenty of games incorporated during the first few practices. In fact, I used a Spanish one I learned in Colombia called ¨Hueco, Ramo¨ on the first day of practice (when you say, hueco you jump, ramo you squat). More serious moments were after the first track meet when we had an open discussion with everyone to understand interest and issues in order to tailor practices more to their desires, have the kids have a moment to speak up and improve overall.
I must say it wasn´t easy and I definitely messed up a few times as a coach but you can only improve if you learn from those mistakes, right?! Middle Schoolers are quite fun and receptive but not the easiest to manage. Lol It was plenty hard to get their attention, quite the task to memorize all their names which we wanted to do quickly so we could actually call out the talkative ones, to cover all things with our short practice time (we always went over), endless questions that when given the chance to ask would be forgotten and very difficult to keep everyone together when running in groups, among other things. Track Meets though fun in the end were pure chaos, neither the athletes nor the coaches had a clue where they needed to be, everyone was always asking what event they had/heat/lane, athletes on one side of track doing a field event actually needed to be in a running event like right now and plenty of other things including events getting cancelled because we ran over time. Obviously as the season progressed meets became less chaotic, athletes understood the inner workings and mainly showed up for their races and events before they closed which in turn allowed us coaches to actually help athletes all around the field push themselves to improve even if a few seconds or an inch. There were times of encouragement where athletes decided to step up and run or jump and they excelled at it surprising themselves. A real confidence booster for them and a really proud coach moment for us.
While doing these two jobs I decided I would also certify myself as a distance running coach. I had tossed around the idea for quite a few years and decided in the end it would be worth the effort. I did this for personal reasons but also to gain confidence to potentially coach athletes too. This was not necessarily related to the coaching job but it did give some great ideas and relevance to the running aspect of coaching as well. In the USA the two main places to certify through are with USATF (USA Track and Field) and RRCA (Road Runners Club of America).
I did my certification with the RRCA and the course took place online over two days with over 30 participants. It was one very long weekend of being online (a hem, while the sun was out) but it was manageable with the short breaks every hour or two in addition to a few breakout sessions. I had originally wanted to take the class in person to meet runners but due to the pandemic and the now ease of reaching more potential coaches around the world it is mainly only offered online. In addition to the two day course I needed to take a CPR and First Aid course and pass an exam (open book).
I have taken the CPR course before but never renewed the certification which lasts for two years. Mine was completely obsolete having not done it since high school, so that was well over 20 years ago. I still remember most of it, I even still have the card! Not too much has changed, it is still compressions and 2 breaths but now there is the AED machine to help resuscitate. Chest compressions are 30:2 breaths but as I look at my old card I guess they used to say 15 compressions was enough. This course was again online but did have an in person review included in order to certify. I must say it was nice to refresh skills on CPR. First Aid on the other hand was completely new to me and while learning about it I found it interesting to remember instances where knowing what to do would have been useful (luckily someone else around did). For instance, I remember someone having a seizure at work when I was in college, or a guy braking his leg in the soccer match, or someone having an allergic reaction to food while out hiking. I had no clue how to deal with these situations or the speed in which they needed to be addressed until now. Having this knowledge and understanding of what and why to do things in real life when someone is hurt or unconscious can be very useful as it literally can happen at any time to anyone. It fit really well with the coaching job I was doing since any of those things could happen to the kids while we were out there practicing or competing. On our team we did have one athlete with Type-1 Diabetes and potentially one with asthma so having this basic knowledge was highly useful!
Now many coaches I know out there do get a degree in exercise science or physical education which takes a few years to complete but you can also do the certification like me. I feel like this certification was a basic form of understanding how to coach all levels overall but that it was way to quick and too much material covered to actually ingrain what you learned. If you take this course you should expect to have to self study afterwards to really get a grasp of how it all works and then obviously use it in real life to coach athletes over time to gain experience. If you have more interest than simply understanding the basics then getting a degree where you study this for years will most definitely give you a huge advantage over someone who just get´s certified, especially if you are newer to the sport. In fact you will be able to use the degree for all sports and a very in-depth understanding for how to coach. These degrees are needed for jobs coach at college level and on professional teams. Those taking the RRCA certification course had a huge range of experience, some were very new to running in general but had lots of interest in the topic while others were seasoned runners and some even coached people already. I fell into the higher end of knowledge on the subject as I´ve been coaching myself for years (marathon and triathlon) but I wanted to take this course to gain confidence in training other athletes. Having knowledge now behind the methodology really helps me see where I have gone wrong in the past when I´ve over trained myself. It also showed me the reasoning behind the training plans I´ve followed from other coaches in order to achieve my goals.
Now, this is not to say that I didn´t learn anything in the course, I did, much was a great review and confidence booster. The certification course definitely filled in the missing gaps but I had really hoped it would cover some other interesting ways to coach as I was curious to learn for instance about training based on heart rate based which they do cover but unfortunately (offered in second course of the certification). The most important thing I learned was about the business aspect of coaching which was great to know how it works in the US but again it left me feeling unable to have coaching ever be much for me. The US makes it hard on anyone trying to make a living with this: a coach needs permits, insurance, business licenses and more it seems. A big stop sign for me ever wanting to do much more with this certification besides coach my friends to reach their goals or as a track and field coach seasonally.
My debate regarding taking this course stemmed from knowing I could coach if I wanted to given all my experience but I decided to go for the certification almost out of societal pressure. There is this societal pressure, in the USA specifically, that one needs to obtain some certification or degree to be legitimate. I know this works for some but tons of people do learn from others through experience or learn on their own. Some of these people learning through other means even do a better job at the task than someone certified or with a degree. I have a hard time signing up for these courses knowing this. I find many Western countries tend to put barriers to entry where you feel forced to pay money in order to learn when in fact it isn´t always necessary for all and knowing in the past this has not always been the case. This societal pressure weights me down at times because I know I am capable but here in the USA I feel as though I am not because I lack some paper saying I am. It is a huge hinderance in my mind which I can´t seem to get past when living in the US and it often sadly holds me back from pursuing many things. When I was living abroad this need to be certified for something I know plenty about was never a thought, you just learned how to do it by finding who to seek the information from and kept looking for ways to improve your skills. People noticed the skills and passion and give you a chance. Interestingly enough, me coaching middle school track and field was the first time in a long time I felt like societal pressure didn´t exist…I simply had experience, passion and willingness which was soon to be backed by a certification that may or may not have mattered in hiring and matched well with the second coach and therefore given a chance.
Again, I mentioned that this was a personal gain for me so I am fine with this…besides, in my head the course was paid for by simply working 12 hours at my coaching job. One never knows where this will lead me so I am happy to now call myself a certified RRCA Running Coach. Should you have any goals in mind and want give me the opportunity to be your coach let me know as I´ll be providing some free tailored plans while I continue to apply what I learned!
Final update: Finally got the Covid after 2 years and 3 months. Surprised it took so long to find me while that whole time I´ve managed to travel to 8 countries, 19 different states (some twice), attended crowded sporting events (Chicago Marathon, Michigan 70.3 Ironman, Kentucky Derby and plenty others) and relied primarily on public transit. I have been vaccinated for a year (not boosted) and symptoms were mild.