LAURA DELUCIA / US Track and Field/Road Runners Clubs of America / VDOT O2 certified running coach / IG @newyorkruns
Laura currently coaches several running programs for New York Road Runners: the Team For Kids marathon training program for the New York City marathon, a Group Training program focused on speed and she is also an e-coach for NYRR’s Virtual Trainer program.
First and foremost I always like to take the time out and express my gratitude. We all have busy schedules but the fact that you took the time out to come in and let me share what I love doing with you...so grateful. I appreciate you also sharing with me. Okay, here goes question time:
So, this is a loaded question. And I guess I am kinda cheating by wrapping multiple questions into one question but...its all related. Brace yourself...what was the path that lead you to running? Do you recall LOVING it from the get go? I’ve also heard/read so many people say that running has helped them find themselves, cope during hard times, gain more confidence...the list goes on. At any point was running that for you? and lastly how did you transition from solely being a runner to becoming a running coach? Okay deep breath and...answer!!!
Great question(s)! People often assume that because I’m “a runner,” I’ve always loved running and that it came naturally. False! Running isn’t always easy. It takes WORK!
You can be ‘in shape’ in other ways, I know many fit folks who can squat an absurd amount of weight, but are not fast at running. That’s because in order to excel at running, you have to practice running in order for your body to develop specific muscles and improve the energy systems used specifically for running. One of my favorite quotes is “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit” (Aristotle).
Once you put in that work and your body adapts over time and you experience that “runner’s high” for the first time, it becomes a wonderful form of stress relief, a personal challenge, a chance to experience the outdoors and explore and an amazing way to meet new people from social circles with which you might otherwise never normally interact.
The first time I tried running, I was a somewhat overweight, athletically challenged 17 years old kid, attempting to join my high school ski team, as I had never been on a sports team and wanted to kind of check that off my bucket list. When on the first day of practice, the coach said “Go!” and the group of kids started running up this big hill, not only was I dead last, I thought I was having an actual heart attack. I was gasping for air so loudly that when the boys lapped me, they stopped to ask if I needed medical attention. Before I got to the top of the hill, I decided I was not cut out for this, I did not have the body of an athlete, I was clearly not a runner and I should stick to art and music.
But I’ll never forget my coach, Ms. Sheehan, who as I approached the top of that hill, ready to quit and go home and assuming the coach would tell me I didn’t have what it took to be on the team, just said “Nice work, KEEP GOING!” I couldn’t believe she thought I could do it, so I kept going. I practiced running up a hill by my house every single day and a year later, I was on the Division I crew team in college, known as “a runner” and 3 years later, I walked on to my Division I college cross country and track team and have run 12 marathons and won a few small races since. Had Ms. Sheehan not said anything at the top of that hill, I have no doubt in my mind my life today would be dramatically different than it is today.
And that is why I became interested in coaching! I see my runners doubting whether they can get through the workout or get up that hill or run a half marathon and I KNOW without a shadow of a doubt that they can, if they’re willing to put in the time and the work and never give up on themselves and I want to help them accomplish those goals, whether it be to run one full lap around the park without stopping or finish their first marathon. And I know that 2 simple words, KEEP GOING, and knowing that SOMEONE believes in you are powerful enough to push you to achieve more than you ever thought possible.
I coach because I love helping people, magical transformation that a person goes through as they become a runner, or a better runner. So many of life’s most valuable lessons can be learned through running - how to not quit when you’re in pain and you don’t think you can continue on, how to fail gracefully, how to develop the discipline and dedication needed to succeed, how to weather storms, literal and figurative, and the list goes on.
To answer your question about transitioning from a runner into a running coach, I started coaching my first program as an assistant coach for a DC Road Runners 10 mile training program for the Army 10 miler in 2006. I simply volunteered to get involved and was welcomed with open arms. I was new to coaching running, though I had taught skiing, swimming and rowing for years. So, I did a ton of reading and research and started a website for the runners with lots of tips and tricks.
Coaching is a constant evolution of knowledge and ideas - you have to be willing and open to considering new science and accept that there are many different ways of achieving success. Every athlete is unique and you have to really understand their goals, motivations, tailoring your workouts to what works and doesn’t work for them and what success means to them.
I think the real key to success in running, and possibly everything else, is to find a way to LOVE it. Find a way to make getting to your goals enjoyable, whether that be by joining a running group of fun, supportive people, or finding a line of fun workout clothes that you love or simply knowing that at the end of your run you will feel healthy, and you will succeed. Have you ever seen Annie Thorisdottir, the CrossFit “Fittest Woman on Earth”? She is smiling ear to ear in nearly every one of her pictures and videos. Genuinely thrilled with the joy of being able to compete. I’m convinced she is so successful because to her working out is not a chore - it’s a joy and a privilege.
Sorry, long answer! I could talk about running all day long :)
I think - well I know that running can be pretty intimidating. Do you also find that true with new people who join your running groups? If so how do you get that person to lose that mind set?
Oh, absolutely! Even I get intimidated about showing up to new running groups. You question whether you can keep up, whether you can finish the distance. I often hear new runners confess that they didn’t sign up for a group or a run because they were afraid they would come in dead last.
I totally understand the fear, I’ve been there, but I tell them that runners are some of the NICEST and non-elitest people you’ve ever met. Every running group I’ve encountered in NYC welcomes embracing new folks to their group and takes care to make sure they feel welcome. Every runner you meet was once new to running. Everyone has to start somewhere! As long as you are MOVING, you are succeeding.
Three pieces of advice!
1. Let people know that this is your first run with the group. They will go out of their way to welcome you to the group and keep an eye on you to make sure you have fun and complete the route!
2. Face your fear of being ‘too slow’ or finishing last and make a pact with yourself to accept that as long as you are giving YOUR best and working to the best of YOUR ability, then you have succeeded. Why should you give a single F*& about what anyone else thinks? This is YOUR journey.
3. SOMEONE has to come in last! And do you know what that means, to come in last? It means that you did the damn thing! You FINISHED. Finishing is a great achievement and you will do better each and every time you practice. Until YOU are the one hugging that last person across the finish line. That person is still beating every single person on the couch.
During our session we spoke a lil about injuries. I know that because I am extremely active in the past when I’ve injured myself its like its the end of the world. I tore my meniscus a few summers ago and I had a moment with myself where I had to calm down and realize that if I wanted to heal properly I needed to slow my roll, find alternative activities to do and also be okay with not doing anything sometimes. It was hard. How do you cope after an injury? And how do you help the people that you coach cope and realize how important rest and rebuilding are?
Injuries so frustrating! HOWEVER, I’ve found that they are also incredible tools for exploring new activities, focusing on different areas of strength and giving you an unsolicited period of mental rest and recovery.
Unless you break both arms and both legs or have a traumatic injury, surgery or accident, there are likely still countless ways you can not only remain fit, but even continue to improve your fitness. After last year’s marathon, I developed tendonosis in my Achilles, meaning that it hurt to walk, never-mind run. So, I was banned from running for several months.
Instead of going to the gym every day, I would walk for 20-30 minutes to a nearby park or to the steps of the Brooklyn Museum, even in the dead of winter. I need a little adventure in the morning. For strength, I devised an exercise routine that eliminated my Achilles and focused on my upper body and core strength, doing pushups, planks, Russian twists, inch worms and every ab exercise under the sun. Since jumping and running were out of the picture at first, I worked on more static leg exercises like holding lunges that worked my quads. The other important element was to work on my aerobic endurance, so that when I did start to get back into running, I wouldn’t be sucking major wind. I mimicked whatever track workout would have been prescribed and did it on the stationary bike. If I was scheduled to do 6 x 400M intervals on the track to train for a 5k, I would mimic that on the bike to keep my heart strong and work towards my same fitness goals. Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t do.
One of my current heroes is Amelia Boone, an elite Spartan Racer and ultra-marathoner. She recently fractured her leg and has been on crutches, devastated over it. It’s been interesting to watch her go from being devastated to now hobbling around Spartan courses on her crutches, determined not to give up being present for the sports that she loves. I have no doubt she will come back even better and stronger and point to this seemingly crushing injury as a formative moment in her athletic career.
There WILL be another race and you WILL come back in time. Seize this injury as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. As Winston Churchill said “Never let a crisis go to waste, it is an opportunity do great things.”
Please, please, please tell me more about Team for Kids. Sounds like an amazing program.
Yes! Team for Kids is the official charity program of the New York City Marathon, run by New York Road Runners. We have several thousand adult runners signed up to run the NYC marathon with Team for Kids. The runners commit to raising $2,620 that goes towards funding youth running programs in NYC public schools and across the country, for kids who otherwise may not get much needed exercise and resources like running shoes. Participants get a guaranteed entry to the NYC Marathon, a marathon training program, coached group workouts 3 times a week, race day perks/transportation and tons of advice and support from seasoned running coaches and mentors.
The best part of the program is the support system from the mentors and the other runners in the program. I’ve watched people who were brand new to running and incredibly intimidated transform into confident, strong, speedy runners in the course of the training and form lifelong bonds with teammates.
If you’re thinking about running the NYC marathon or another NYRR race next year, check out Team for Kids! http://www.nyrr.org/charities-clubs-and-community/team-for-kids and follow @teamforkids on IG.
When you aren’t running how else do you stay active?
Boxing is one of my favorite workouts when I’m not running. I trained for and competed in an amateur boxing tournament at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn a few years ago, and while I wouldn’t say I’m good at it, I love how different it is from running. Running sometimes allows you to turn off your brain and get in ‘the zone’, while in boxing you have to be 100% on at all times or you will get knocked out flat!
Many people think it’s barbaric and all about brute force, but that’s not true at all. Mike Tyson said “Everyone thinks boxing is a tough man’s sport. This is not a tough man’s sport, this is a thinking man’s sport. A tough man’s going to get hurt real bad in this sport.”
I think it’s so important for everyone, especially women, especially in New York City, to feel able to defend themselves, whether it be through boxing or karate or self defense classes. I believe all little girls should get exposure to a type of that training when they’re kids, so they grow up knowing how to harness and use their own body if they ever need to. While I would absolutely use my running skills first if ever I got into a scary situation, I feel so much more confident walking down the street knowing that I know how to defend myself.
Title Boxing, Trooper Fitness, Rise Fitness and New York Sports Club all have intense non-contact boxing conditioning classes that are open to everyone! You won’t get hit in the face in a cardio boxing class, but I promise you’ll get an amazing workout.
Rapid fire questions
Best time of day to run (for you)?
Morning! I was never an early bird as a kid and it is STILL painful to get out of that comfortable bed, but knowing how alive I will feel during and after that run gets me up out of bed as early as 5:45AM on the weekends!
Best place in the city to run?
One of my favorite places to run is the Shore Parkway Greenway Trail near the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn. Beautiful views! NYC Runs hosts a Shore Road Summer Series of 5ks and 10ks that I highly recommend.
Dream race to enter?
Great Wall of China Marathon. It’s supposed to be one of the toughest marathons in the world because of the hills and uneven footing, but how cool would that be!
Favorite mantra you might have on repeat in your head during a tough run?
“Just get through THIS mile.” During every long run and marathon, I negotiate with myself to forget about the rest of the race, because it becomes too overwhelming, and just get to the next mile or water station. And then I can tackle the next bit from there. Biting off small pieces of the run makes it easier to handle.
Have you ever experienced the “runner’s high”?
Yes! I do think it takes work to achieve that feeling. I feel it when I’ve put in a ton of hard work and miles, and then I take it easy for a few days and if you’re lucky, that next run can feel like you’re flying effortlessly! You’ve got to earn that feeling, though, it’s not an every day thing. It makes you understand why running can be an addiction of sorts - a good one! That feeling is better than any alcohol or anything.
Top 5 running accessory purchases in the last year? (shoes, bottles, clothing etc.)
1. Running shoes - I love colorful running shoes, the brighter the better. I’m a big fan of Under Armour and Mizuno for running shoes.
2. Huma Gels - natural gels for your long runs or marathons. They have chia seeds for a slow energy release and are less sticky and viscous than Power Gels and such.
3. Tom Tom GPS running watch - I’m a naturalist when it comes to running, I don’t subscribe to a lot of the fancy, high tech gear as I believe it’s important to listen to your body, but having a working GPS watch is key for ensuring that you’re staying in the right pace zone, especially for marathon training. That being said, I advocate going on at least one run a week where you leave that watch at home and go by effort instead of pace!
4. Hand-held running water bottle - For coaching long runs in the blazing summer heat, it’s imperative that I have a water bottle to take along the way. I use a small one that fits around your hand and can store a few dollars, a Metrocard and a mix of Gatorade and water.
5. Dry shampoo - This is funny, but I live in Brooklyn and I don’t have time to go all the way back home to change after practice on the weekends, so I shower at a gym. And your hair will be a hot MESS, guaranteed, after 10-20 miles in the sun.
Top 3 songs that get you hyped during a run?
I actually don’t listen to music while I run, as I like to concentrate on my pace and think deep thoughts (some of my best ideas, I swear, have come on a run), but music is key for indoor workouts. I love either very hard rap or bubblegum Justin Bieber music for working out, there is no in between. Currently, I’d say: “Like a Champion” (Selena Gomez), “Muscle” (Low Pros feat. Juvenile) and I don’t know why, but “Poor Lil Rich” (50 Cent) brings out the champ in me.
Running alone or with a friend?
Hmmm, I really value my solo morning runs. I need that solitary time. But for my long, easy runs, I absolutely love running and catching up with my various running groups. Those runs aren’t really about the running, they’re about connecting with friends and meeting new people.
Go to meal after a great run?
EGGS. I need a chicken of my own, I eat so many eggs. My go-to breakfast is one scrambled egg with sautéed snap peas, onions, cherry tomatoes and maybe some chicken sausage if it was a really hard one. Simple, no frills, but the perfect mix of protein and good carbs.
Thoughts going thru your head during the last mile of a run?
It depends on the length of the race, for a 5k, the last mile is 1/3 of the race and seems like absolutely forever, so I break that up into quarter mile chunks and tell myself to turn the dial up one more notch every .25 I hit. For a marathon training run, I’m thinking about maintaining good form, which tends to break down towards the end of a tough run - head up so your airway is open, keep pulling those feet back up to your butt, keep those shoulders relaxed and swing those arms nice and straight. But also coffee, I’m probably thinking of how I earned that iced coffee!
Last and final question. I resolve to move by...
I resolve to move by challenging myself to try new fitness activities. If you want to change yourself, you’ve got to change something! You’ve got to take a leap and break out of your regular routine, safe though it may be, if you want to improve yourself as an athlete and as a person. I try to sign up for at least one new class or activity per month where I will learn something new or meet new people.