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Interview with Marathon Coach Dan Fitzgerald

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Anyone can run a marathon. Everyone can be a runner. There is no magic - just a will and a good plan

Dan Fitzgerald is an exceptionally accomplished athlete who founded both the South End Athletic Company in 2009 and the Heartbreak Hill Running Company in 2012. Dan has worked with Team Red Cross 4 years in a row and the Red Cross is continuously grateful for all that he does for our organization. Below is an interview with Dan outlining his experiences with Team Red Cross, his athletic history, and some valuable marathon advice.

1. This is your fourth year coach Team Red Cross. How does it feel to work with a non-profit organization?
It is rewarding to know that the work I do with the runners is contributing to the mission of the Red Cross. There is a strong tie between the Red Cross and the Boston Marathon all along the course on race day. Beyond that, through special events and volunteer opportunities, the runners get to connect and experience what the Red Cross really does in our communities every single day and how critical the organization’s mission is.

2. Has the snow been a disadvantage to coaching?
This weather was a disadvantage to all runners. It made training slippery, dangerous, and definitely more challenging. We always have to be resilient. They won’t cancel the Marathon, so we get out there anyway. It was hard to focus on pace in the winter weather so instead, we focused on the time spent on our feet. Runners need to adjust to training without a pace expectation all the time. Also, wearing the right clothing became more critical.

3. How is the progress with Team Red Cross coming along?
Team Red Cross is doing great. This Saturday is their longest run. They have survived a long winter which has made for an extra layer of difficulty this year.

4. What is the most common fear or problem with runners?
The biggest fear runners have is thinking they can’t do it. Marathon runners ask a lot of themselves and they get wrapped up in the hype. Once they actually commit to signing up they get really scared, but there is no magic solution. Every race just requires preparation. They have 20 weeks to get themselves ready. Many find out by the end of those 20 weeks that they can do it and that they are prepared.

5. Explain the most rewarding part of being a running coach?
The most rewarding part of coaching for me is seeing people achieve their goal. When they realize they can do it or better yet, after they did it; seeing the confidence and the sense of pride and achievement in the athletes is incredibly rewarding.

6. What does running mean to you?
It is a way to test my personal limits. Previously, I was a competitive runner, but now running has evolved into an avenue through which I can help people find their limits athletically and in most cases discover new possibilities and a renewed sense of confidence.

7. Describe your past/background as a runner.
I competed in high school and set my school record in the 800 meters. From there, I went on to run at the Division 1 level for Boston College and was chosen captain my senior year. After graduation, I coached the middle distance group at BC while working at a running store. I entered into the surf industry for 7 years after that but eventually came back to open the South End Athletic Company in 2009 and then Heartbreak Hill Running Company in 2012. My experience as a coach and athlete was instrumental in shaping the programming I offer at the two stores.

8. What are popular training exercises to prepare for a marathon?
I want to build runners into the best athletes they can be, not just lead a jog.  Marathon training involves long runs, speed training, maintenance runs, core training, and strength training. Running injuries are often related to tight hips and weak gluts so body weight drills are important to prevent runners from those issues. We do a mix of all of these things every week for 20 weeks.

9. What are some tips for people that are running the marathon for the day before and/or day after?
Day before: Stay off your legs. Do whatever it is that makes you feel great the next day. For me, that is a short jog and some stretching to feel loose then, I stay off my legs. That night, I’ll eat a balanced meal that leans a little more carbohydrate heavy than usual. The morning of the race, I’ll eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich for breakfast. That’s my go-to power snack.
Day after: The race is over! Bask in the accomplishment! Have a beer! In all seriousness, people will likely be very stiff so just moving the body a little is a good thing. Go for a walk. Go about your life. Maybe take the week off or go for a light jog to facilitate a good stretch on Thursday or Friday.

10. Do you have any unique techniques that you use to coach and train runners?
As much as I’d love to say that what I do is incredibly unique, I don’t think it is. Coaching is about supporting the athletes, helping them make good choices, talking them off the ledge, knowing when to push, knowing when to pull back, and most importantly, helping each athlete get the most out of themselves when it matters.

11. What do you have to say to encourage people who don’t believe they can run a marathon?
My dad always said “never say, ‘I cant’”. That saying informs my coaching to some degree. It doesn’t take a special person to run a marathon; it just takes a desire to run a marathon.  Anyone can run a marathon. Everyone can be a runner. There is no magic - just a will and a good plan.