Friday FITspiration: Running Coach Lives His Mission
Here at runladylike.com, Fridays are all about sharing the inspiring stories of fit people who motivate all of us to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. My Friday FITspiration series profiles runners, triathletes and casual exercisers who are making choices every day to be as healthy as they can be – in both huge ways and through simple, small victories. Their stories are about the journey of transforming from ordinary to extraordinary each and every day.
“If I can inspire others in any way, I hope that it would be to look inside themselves to find their own inner strength and inspiration. It will always be there for you.” ~Brian Darrow
Today, I’d like you to meet Brian Darrow from Digital Running. Brian is the founder and head coach of the Digital Running Club, whose mission is to promote running and healthy living with fun, educational content and events focused on its online community. Brian lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with his wife, 2 daughters and dog Kaboodles, where he also coaches high school cross country and track. Check out my interview with this super speedy and inspiring coach.
How long have you been running, and what inspired you to start?
I’ve been running for 7 years. I really didn’t like running long distances (more than 100 meters) when I was younger. I was a competitive volleyball player in high school and college, but once my daughters were born and I started graduate school, it was difficult to bend my schedule around team practices and out of town tournaments. I suffered through about 8 years without a competitive outlet before I finally gave running a try. It allowed me to train and compete on my own schedule. I was addicted after my first 5K.
Finish this sentence: I run because _______________________.
… the sport keeps me fit and allows me to continuously challenge myself. I’m mostly racing against myself and my own personal records, but it’s inspiring to be able to compete in the same races as the sport’s greatest champions. What other sport allows the average recreational participant to do that?
What is your favorite race distance? Why? If you’re comfortable, brag about your race PRs.
My favorite distance is the half marathon. It’s not so short and fast that I feel like puking at the end, and it requires less time commitment in training than a full marathon. My half marathon PR is 1:29:11, and I’ve never run one slower than 1:39:00. I’ve had great races at other distances, but I’ve also completely bombed. I’ve never really screwed up a half marathon.
What running/racing accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my 1:29:11 half marathon PR at the 2010 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. It was the only time I’ve ever seen snow in the 15 years I’ve lived in Florida. I had a plan to start with the 1:30 pace group and see if I could hold on the whole way. I found myself in the starting corral about 50 meters ahead of the pace group leader, so I decided to kind of just jog out of the start, wait for them to pass me and then tuck into the group. I passed the 1-mile mark 20 seconds slow and looked back. I couldn’t see the pace group. The first 5 miles were a slog through a serious headwind. I remember sucking in little ice balls as I was running. At the 5-mile mark, I looked back and still couldn’t see the pace group. I wondered if I had somehow missed them passing me. At that point, I decided to run my own race. We ran through the Magic Kingdom and I started to really have fun. I was down almost 2 minutes on my goal time but I pulled back a little in the Magic Kingdom. Then, I ran mile 7 in 6:20 and turning back toward Epcot the first 5 miles’ headwind was now at my back. When I came through the finishing chute, I knew I was going to break 1:30 easily, so I gave high fives to all the Disney characters on my way in. The pace group came through the finish 35 seconds later.
What goal do you most want to accomplish in 2013?
I haven’t run anything shorter than a half marathon in 3 years, so I’m going to focus a little bit on shorter races this year. The one goal I’ve put down on paper is to run a 10K in less than 40 minutes.
What is the hardest challenge you have had to overcome? How did you do it?
My hardest challenge was finishing my first marathon. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I trained for that race and I started with a knee injury. I also ended up with some serious gastrointestinal issues from my ill-conceived method of “carbo loading” in the week preceding. Needless to say, I was in some serious pain by the time I reached mile 12. I knew my family would be cheering for me at around the 13-mile mark, and I debated long and hard about dropping out of the race there. When the moment came to make the decision, I told them to take their time getting to the finish and I kept going. Why? I thought that if I dropped out, I’d feel the need to someday run another marathon, and that was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment. As my knee pain spread down to my shin and my foot, I changed my gait in such a way that my other knee began to hurt. As all that pain continuously increased, I pushed through by telling myself that once I crossed the finish line, I’d never ever have to do it again. It took me almost 5 ½ hours to finish. I couldn’t walk for 3 days afterward. After 2 years, I finally convinced myself to do it again. It was a far more pleasant experience, and I PRed by 2 hours!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start running or who thinks they can’t do it?
I believe that everyone can do it. We’re human and we’re born to run. I’ve been passed in races by people who don’t even have legs, so it’d be hard to come up with any excuse for not being able to run. I think the key for beginners is not getting discouraged. You’re not going to hop off the couch today and win your age group at the local 5K tomorrow. Accept that. You might not even be able to run to the end of your street. It doesn’t matter. Run for 20 yards and walk for 5 minutes, then try it again. Keep plugging away. Do it consistently. Your body will adapt. You will get better. You might get injured. Don’t let that discourage you either. Rest. Then, get back out there and try again. You’ll have some bad days. Don’t let them get you down. The Olympians have bad days too. Work running into your schedule gradually. Remember that you don’t gain fitness from hard workouts. You gain fitness resting after hard workouts. The secret is consistency. You may not be better from one day to the next, but if you run at least 3 to 4 days per week and keep a log of your runs, you’ll probably be floored by how much you’ve improved over the course of 4 to 6 months.
What is your running mantra(s)?
My mantras change. I usually like something with 4 syllables, because that fits my breathing pattern rather well. If I’m having a particularly tough day, then “I will not die” works quite well. A few years ago, I was working on a my 3-3 breathing pattern and “Arianna Huffington” was my mantra. I don’t know why. I must have slurred two of the syllables together because that’s 7 syllables, not 6. As my running has evolved, I’ve moved from repeating a specific mantra to daydreaming about myself winning races that I have no chance of winning – complete with the sports announcer. My favorite fantasy is entering the Olympic stadium in second place near the finish of the marathon, then out kicking the leader on the track for the win in front of thousands of crazy fans. When I get absorbed in something like that during a run, it’s amazing how quickly and easily the miles fly by.
What running gear do you never run without?
I don’t run with a lot of gear. It’s just me and my Saucony Kinvaras. I usually wear a Garmin GPS watch when I’m training for something, but when that goal race is over, I’ll often leave that at home and just run the distance and pace that feels right.
What keeps you hydrated and fueled the best (us runners are always looking for the best tips and secrets on nutrition!)?
Water keeps my hydrated the best. It can be pretty hot here in Florida during the summer. I don’t like carrying water when I run, so I plan all my routes with water fountains every 2 miles. On longer runs, I get my electrolytes and extra calories from Clif Shots. Otherwise, I’m fueled primarily by mac n’ cheese. Honestly, nutrition is the weakest part of my training regimen. I’m a very picky eater and it’s hard for me to take in enough calories without eating comfort food like mac n’ cheese or Pizza Rolls. I’m getting better, though. I frequently make smoothies with peanut butter, spinach, bananas, chocolate and milk. I’ll also make my own granola with whole oats, almonds and agave syrup. Those are small steps, though. Nobody should follow my nutrition plan.
What’s on your iPod right now?
I don’t run with music unless I’m on a treadmill. In that case, it’s a bit eclectic. There’s a lot of Flogging Molly, some Linkin Park, more Lady Gaga than I usually care to admit, Aerosmith, Boston, Zac Brown Band, Jimmy Buffet, the Beatles, Foster the People, P!nk and the Charlie Daniels Band. Now that would be some concert!
Are you a morning or an evening runner? If you’re a morning person, what’s your secret to not hitting snooze?
I generally like to run in the morning before life gets in the way. Fortunately, I have an extremely flexible schedule and I don’t often have to set an alarm. I just get up and run when I feel like it. In the summer, I often run before sunrise. The thought of melting 1 mile into the run keeps me from hitting the snooze button on those days. I have found that it’s extremely helpful to have a running buddy. It’s a lot harder for me to disappoint someone else than it is for me to disappoint myself; so knowing that another person is counting on me gets me out of bed and on the roads. Once I’m out there, I’m always glad I made the effort.
What are you most passionate about? What inspires you the most in life?
I’m passionate about my family, running and traveling. I’m doing my best to center my life around those 3 things. There are so many inspiring things and people in the world, but I think I’m most inspired by myself. When I look back at how far I’ve come (with running and with life in general), it makes me realize that I’m capable of accomplishing a lot. I’m excited to see what I can do in the future. If I can inspire others in any way, I hope that it would be to look inside themselves to find their own inner strength and inspiration. It will always be there for you.
What is one thing most people would be surprised to know about you?
When I started running at age 29, I couldn’t run a mile without stopping.
What are your 3 favorite running blogs or Web sites?
I read Megan’s blog at runningtowardtheprize.com. I’ve been a long time reader of Lindsay’s blog at chasingthekenyans.com and I’ll confess that I skim a lot of other blogs by following their Facebook pages. My Google Reader is crammed full of blog posts that unfortunately get pushed to the bottom of my priority list. With all the work I’ve been doing developing the next phase of Digitalrunning.com, I haven’t updated my own personal blog in almost a year. I need to get a tablet and a chauffeur so I can stay up to date on everyone’s blogs!
What else should we know about you?
I’m working hard on developing several running challenges that will provide participants with real rewards for completion. The first one (launching this month) will be the Digital Running Interstate Challenge. Participants will receive a special medal for completing a half marathon or marathon in 2 different states during 2013. I’ve also got some great interactive tools in store for the Web site in 2014.
How can people connect with you?
- www.arunnersblog.com (seldom updated since I spend all my time working on digitalrunning.com)
- Twitter: @RunCoachBrian
- Pinterest: RunCoachBrian
- Facebook: facebook.com/DigitalRunning
- Daily Mile: dailymile.com/people/briandarrow
Thank you Brian for sharing your story with us! Your perspective as a runner and a coach brings us all some extra motivation and inspiration. Good luck chasing that sub-40-minute 10K this year!
Brian is a running coach who helps others find their extraordinary. Do you have a running coach? How has he/she helped you improve your training? What is the best tip you have learned from your coach?