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Coach Denise Sauriol with her running clients in Chicago

Author’s Note: I first discovered RaceRaves on my flight to Durban, South Africa in 2018 to run my first and only (or so I thought) Comrades Marathon, which is like the “Boston Marathon of Ultras.” Meanwhile, Mike was heading to Durban to earn his “Back to Back” Medal after running his first Comrades the previous year.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my in-flight conversation with Katie and Mike was exactly why they started RaceRaves! Though I was rightfully SCITED (SCared + excITED) about the hilly 90km race, I got a real-time race review from someone who had been in my shoes, albeit a different brand and size—the do’s, don’ts, likes and dislikes were coming from a fellow runner just like me!

From that weekend forward, I have been not just a Raving Lunatic but a huge promoter of RaceRaves with runners I meet looking for race insights.

Before I can get to why I believe MY BEST is ENOUGH and why YOUR BEST is ENOUGH, I think it’s important to share where I was as a runner before I came to this truism.

My Background: Denise 1.0

I have been running since the 4th grade, and it is still my best friend. Running has never let me down and is always there whenever I need it. In high school, I ran on the cross country and track teams. My finish times were not fast enough to go toward team points, but I was part of a team and even got a jacket to prove it!

Growing up, I never felt “x” enough. You name the “x”, and I wasn’t enough of it. I had zero self-confidence and was so shy that I wouldn’t even talk to myself. Fast forward to October 1994, and I ran my first marathon in my hometown of Chicago. That finish line gave me the dose of confidence I had been searching for, and it turned the “I Can’t!” into “What Else Can I Do?!”

Like most first-time marathoners, I hit mile 20 and told myself, “Never Again!” in uppercase bold font! Of course, once the pain went away and the sense of self-awe dispersed throughout my being, I knew I had to do 26.2 again. This time around, though, I didn’t just want to finish; I wanted to run faster.

I ran a few more marathons on my own and then called in the big guns: a running coach and running group. I met Coach Greg Domantay in the summer of 1998. I was nervous to run his workouts because it brought me back to being on my high school teams and not being fast enough. Coach Greg, however, believed in us until we believed it.

My first season with Greg, I qualified for THE Boston Marathon! The girl who never thought she could even run a marathon caught the unicorn!

Each season with Greg, I kept getting faster. It’s like he found this untapped talent in me that had been waiting to come out. I even won a couple of local races and in 2008, I was the fastest Illinois Masters Female at the Chicago Marathon. I won prize money! 🤑

Finally, I’d found my “x”. At that time, I felt like training and racing were the only things that I could control in my life. If I put in the training, I would see the results. This formula worked for a while, but even Usain Bolt doesn’t PR every time, right?!

In looking back at that period of my running career, if I got a PR (personal record) in my race, I would be proud of myself, but that feeling of pride would prove fleeting and I would then chase the next PR. On the opposite end, if I didn’t get a PR I would beat myself up. Denise 1.0 was using running and racing to value her worth in and out of the sport!

August 16, 2009: Denise 2.0

Gratefully, on August 16, 2009, Denise 2.0 was born. That morning, I was running to Central Park to race the New York City Half Marathon. I was of course chasing a PR, having run 70-mile weeks the month leading up to the race. However, that day I didn’t even make it to the start line. Instead, I ended up racing in an ambulance to New York Presbyterian Hospital.

On my warmup run to Central Park, I ended up getting hit by a car. Upon impact, my body flew onto the hood and shattered the windshield. I then flew off the hood and landed in the street in front of the car that hit me. I ended up breaking 5 vertebrae. Fortunately, they broke where the muscles attach and not near the spinal column, so I didn’t have to have surgery; I just had to wear a back brace for 2 months. There were so many “Thank God” moments that day.

Once I got home from NYC, my friends and family would ask me if I was upset that I couldn’t run. Running didn’t matter to me at that point; instead, I was and still am grateful that I can walk, talk, and breathe on my own.

In retrospect, what that accident did, is it brought me back to what the 4th grade girl found in running. The 4th grade Denise didn’t even own a Timex watch. I loved running for how it made me feel during and after. I loved running for the places it took me and the people that it brought into my world. Running was no longer about the clock. 

Once I felt mentally and physically stable, I felt like there was a reason that I survived the accident. I wanted to give back to running for what it had given me. That is when I realized I wanted to be a running coach, and Run for Change Coaching was born. I wanted to share my passion for running and racing with current and future runners!

Reprogramming Runners and Walkers Everywhere

When a client comes to me, my main goal is to help them hit their goal of course, but secondarily I want them to have fun and not be so hard on themselves if they miss that goal. I am proud of all my runners and grateful they chose me as a coach; the clients that stand out the most to me, though, are the ones that miss their goal and are still proud of their performance in training and on race day and who are not beating themselves up over the digits reflected on their GPS watch.

As a coach, I have to say that I try to work as much on my runner’s physical endurance as their mental endurance. The belief of YOUR BEST is ENOUGH is hard for me to instill in my friends and in my clients. Heck, it was hard for me to even believe about myself, but after a lot of uncomfortable yet necessary therapy sessions over the years, I know that MY BEST is ENOUGH in and out of sport. This took a lot of reprogramming, but now when I go into a workout and/or race, I am not anxious about my performance. This athlete is Denise 2.0.

It’s really hard not to be hard on yourself. After all we have been competing against each other and ourselves since we entered the schooling system. When you do get hard on yourself either in training or on race day, I want you to remember these five tips:

Denise’s 5 Tips for Reframing a Poor Performance

  1. Sometimes we have a skewed view of our performance, as we are comparing ourselves to the athletes we surround ourselves with and not the ginormous population that doesn’t run. For instance, for my fellow marathoners, that would be 99% of the population you are not comparing yourself to, and for ultramarathoners there would be an even larger population you are not comparing yourself to!
  2. Running parallels life in so many ways. We have good days and bad days, and we also have great races and crappy races. When you look back on your whole training block, was every run “write home to mom”–worthy?! Was every run a struggle bus? Hopefully you said no to both of these. What I recommend the next time you have a bad race or bad run is to just Taylor Swift it and “Shake it Off”!
  3. Be your own best friend! So many times, we are the first to build everyone else up but the last to build ourselves up. Next time you are disappointed in your performance, visualize a running mate beating themselves up. What would you tell your running mate? Now, I want you to rewind what you said and tell that to yourself!
  4. Think about how many people behind you are fighting to get to your pace. Your “slow” may be their fast!
  5. Running is a gift and can be taken away in a second. The spectator sign that reads, “There will come a day when you cannot run. Today is NOT that day” is my favorite of all the signs I have seen in my 28 years of marathoning!

In closing, no matter what the inanimate object reads on your wrist, remember that you gave your best and YOUR BEST is ENOUGH!

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About Coach Denise

Coach Denise Marathon Whisperer profile picture Coach Denise, aka The Marathon Whisperer, has been coaching runners of all abilities and ages since 2010. She started coaching after surviving a near-fatal car accident and it’s now her favorite job, so much so that she retired from her 26-year accounting career to coach full time at Run For Change Coaching. Coaching is her way to give back what running has given to her since she first laced up her running shoes in the 4th grade.

Denise has guided runners from their first 5K all the way to 100-mile ultramarathons. To help runners complete their first marathon, she recently published the highly acclaimed “Me, You & 26.2 – Coach Denise’s Guide to Get YOU to YOUR First Marathon” (4.7/5 stars, 146 reviews on Amazon). She has been featured on ABC, NBC, BBC, Runner’s World, and Women’s Running, to name a few.

Her own running career spans more than 300 races across seven continents including 131 marathons, two IRONMAN triathlons, and two 100-mile ultramarathons. She has also twice completed the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Her goal in working with her clients is to help them run their first, fastest, or funnest race.

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