Coaches know all about how to get runners ready for big races.
But what if there are no big races?
That’s the challenge facing running experts such as coach/personal trainer Natalie Johnston.
Just about every major competition in 2020 has been swept away by the health crisis.
Runners, fast and not so fast, have had to settle for training sessions without incentives like competition.
In times like these, the objective is to maintain a somewhat high level of fitness, even though a date for racing’s return is about as certain as next week’s weather.
Johnston, a Long Island native who operates the RUNF.I.T program out of her Doylestown office, says being a personal trainer in the current state of the world offers a unique challenge.
Her adult runners are definitely on hold but some of her younger striders continue to believe there’s a chance they will be competing in the fall.
“We’re still holding out some hope on the high school side that a season can be had,’’ she said. “But I’ve been telling them that we have to focus on staying consistent with your training as a whole because running doesn’t necessarily stop.
“You lose more fitness if you don’t stay consistent. It’s keeping your body healthy. You don’t have to go and do peak workouts while there are no races to peak for.’’
Another thing Johnston will do to keep her runners motivated is setting up a possible personalized 5K in September, a 10K in October and maybe a 10-miler in November.
“Either executing time trial-based stuff on their own or if I can personally get a small group together and socially distanced, then I’m going to try to do that,’’ she said.
“That said, it’s so hard to do it. It’s just maintaining some normalcy and consistency without feeling flat. You just don’t have to train as hard to get to your peak fitness.’’
Among her coaching activities is working with runners at the Bucks County Roadrunners Club’s track training sessions on a weekly basis.
Things have picked up since the lockdown in the spring.
“I’m back up to 30 sessions a week (with individual runners),’’ she said.
Johnston is also a licensed massage therapist, so if a runner is feeling less than a hundred percent, he or she doesn’t have to go far to be diagnosed and treated.
Her background as a runner makes it easy to relate to her clients. She ran for NCAA Division I Manhattan College and also for Division II C.W. Post with distances ranging from 400 meters to 10K.
Many runners are looking for expert instruction.
“It’s amazing that I’m able to do what I love for a living,’’ she said. “It’s not exactly a 9 to 5 job. Sometimes it can be 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“I always thought I could do the personal training aspect. But once I got my first (runner) client, things changed. I never thought this was something you could make a living off.’’
At 36, Johnston still posts good running times and that can help her with young runners who can somewhat identify with her.
“Getting into coaching kids was also eye-opening,’’ she said. “I didn’t realize there was such a market for coaching kids.
“That’s probably my favorite, being able to coach teenaged girls beyond the athletics. For them, it’s such formative years. In high school, I didn’t have someone to look up to or lean on a little bit. I like the fact that I can be that person.’’
One of her notable clients is Council Rock High School South girls cross country coach Michael Gross, who is quite active in organizing youth competition around the area.
“He’s a fantastic runner,’’ Johnston said. “He’s had some injuries, so I’m glad he has the confidence in me to kind of guide him through this.
“There’s something about having a coach that brings an objective view into the mix. Because at the end of the day, we’re all athletes. So when you look at something from an athletic point of view, you don’t see the same thing sometimes.’’
That’s what makes having a personal trainer/coach so special.
“For the competitive people I train, I need to reel people in sometime,’’ she said. “Rather than for the people who need the motivation, then that’s me trying to push them out the door.’’
The current COVID-19 situation is so unique, there’s really no manual how to operate. So maybe the key is to keep it simple.
“I’ve told my clients that running is a life-long thing,’’ Johnston said. “For me, I never want to not run. As sad as this is, especially the Boston (Marathon) people, who have taken years to qualify.
“So it’s like looking at life in a different way. I just tell everybody you have to feel blessed for what you have, your health and even though it is upsetting you can’t do these races, things will start to turn around. Just stay positive.’’
To contact Johnston, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 917-584-9281. Instagram: runf.i.t.
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