Caroline Yasuda – Running Coach
If you knew me when I was a teenager, you’d never expect me to be voted “most likely to complete a triple marathon!” Although my running buddies kid me about it now, my first real “sport” was actually tap dancing! Dancing definitely takes a great deal of coordination, strength, flexibility, and endurance (oh, yes it does!), but I didn’t come running until relatively late in life (my mid 30s). Before then, I “power” walked only for my cardio workouts. But when a friend invited me to support her sister by running a 5K for MS, I knew I couldn’t say no. Her niece was to be at the race as the sponsor child. That special, happy 5K changed my life because I realized for the first time that there’s more to running than just going out running three, four or more miles a week. I experienced how running could bring people together to make a difference for others and for themselves. From that day on I decided to use my running to help others find the same sense of joy, empowerment, belonging, and hope that I found in running.
Needless to say, after that 5K, I notched up my training. Since then, I have completed over 25 marathons and half marathons, 8 ultra marathons, and many shorter races. Some of my most memorable races are
? Tahoe Triple Marathon (3 marathons, 3 days in a row)
? Paris Marathon (what jet lag? C’est tres jolie!)
? Honolulu Marathon (start time at 5am!)
? San Francisco Marathon (surprise-it’s much hillier than Naperville!)
? Chicago Marathon (while carrying a 10:30 pace sign and keeping a smile for my “happy group”)
? Chicago Lakefront 50/50
? Madison to Chicago 200 mile – Relay (round-the-clock running relay for 2 days)
Although I ran when I lived in Seattle, I really started using my running to reach out to the community once I moved here to Naperville nine years ago. My husband, Jeff, son Joshua, and daughter, Madeline have all been very influential and supportive. Looking back, I realize how my daughter’s experience as an athlete affected my approach to running. Madeline had been a nationally ranked swimmer when she was ten but was so injured from overtraining that she could no longer swim competitively in high school. I saw how too much of a good thing could go wrong and how essential it was to include active injury prevention in training. I encouraged Madeline to stay active and join the cross country team. She was never a star runner, but she always ran, always went to practice and, like me, loved to cheer at meets. She still comes home from college to cheer and make the pancakes for my pace group when we do our last 20 miler!
I continued my training and became an employee in fitness at my local YMCA. My job was to develop relationships with the members, answer any fitness questions, and work with anyone who needed help getting started at a gym. After a few years at the Y, I acted on a hunch that there were a lot more runners at the Y than I sometimes saw on those treadmills. I invited the people I saw on treadmills to run outside with me. Soon, I was given a chance to start a Running Club at the 95 Street Y. I wanted to build a running club that focused more on running healthy and happy, with a little less emphasis on winning your age group. I wanted to develop a group that fostered relationships that went beyond running, a community for all levels of runners to feel welcome.
Along with training I received at the Y, I became a certified running coach with Road Runners Club of America and began coaching a range of runners from beginners who want to move from walking into running all the way to those seeking to improve their time in an ultra marathon (32.4 miles). As a coach I develop training plans to meet the runner’s individual goals but I emphasize injury prevention and nutrition. I always include a recovery plan so my clients can continue looking happily ahead to the next goal.
I have always practiced what I preach but no amount of injury-prevention can prevent every fluke accident! I really got a chance to try my own advice when I rolled my ankle over a hula hoop and suffered as bad of an ankle sprain as one could have without actually breaking a bone. What a heart-breaker! I had just finished taking a group of rookie runners through marathon training and had successfully completed the 2009 Chicago marathon with my group only to end up sidelined for the Hot Cocoa 15K which my running group friends were all giddily preparing to run. I put on a brave face and a warm jacket and cheered from the sidelines, hoping that a few days of rest and ice would do the trick. But the doctors diagnosed a serious injury and I was given “THE BOOT!” This injury took me away from running until late spring of 2010 but the experience made me a stronger runner and coach. I had to be disciplined in doing what the doctors said. Practice perseverance, patience got me through a long winter of physical therapy.
I came back in 2010 to once again be a pacer with Naperville Running Company for the Nike Run Club Chicago Marathon Training Program. During the 20 week training schedule I ran with the 10:30+ mile pace group which I renamed “The Happy Group.” I love training others because each runner brings a different story to the start and I have the privilege to listen and share as we chat our way to the starting line and through the 26.2 miles to a joyful finish. For most of the happy group, this is their first marathon and watching each of them finish is truly a wonder to see.
As the years go by, my friends and I keep running. My aim is not to “win” any particular race, but just to continue to run happy. This approach has taken me pretty far. I reflect fondly on all my accomplishments and the amazing opportunities I have been given to coach in so many different ways. I never lose sight that each runner I meet has a story. I thank God for the ability to encourage and motivate others. I am blessed in sharing the joy of each athlete I encounter who reaches a goal. Running, to me, is not just about the pace or the distance; it’s about the unlimited positive potential of every person. What I bring to others and what running has brought to me are joy, encouragement and hope!