Lots of you may be familiar with Bill Fitzgerald. Bill has been coming to Craftsbury since the early 90's, first as a camper and now as a coach. He's worked with lots of people and at an organizational level as well, helping to develop and co-direct the Chicago Area Runners Association LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon Training Program. Recognizing some of his accomplishments, Runners World magazine presented Bill with the Golden Shoe award in 2001.
CRC: How did you start running?
BF: Except for some on and off attempts during high school and college, I really didn't get back to running full time until I was in my mid 30's. From sedentary office work and lots of other bad habits, I found myself to be disgustingly out of shape. I started out slow and really have never stopped or looked back since. At age 56, I'm still at it.
CRC: What event is your favorite?
BF: Lacking the genetics for competitive speed, I would have to say that my maxed out abilities and age translate best into the longer distances. For many years I'd say my favorite distance was the marathon. I have run 61 marathons and probably have only truly raced about 10 of them. Of late, I find myself liking the half marathon distance more and more.
CRC: What result are you most proud of?
BF: My two Boston Marathon qualifying runs and my 10 hour 15 minute finish over in South Africa at the 1998 - 54 mile (the uphill year) Comrades Marathon. The finish line of this race back then closed exactly at 11 hours. I slept well that night.
CRC: How'd you find Craftsbury?
BF: It goes back years now, but back in the early 90's John Brodhead [ed. Note: ski director and Center mainstay] sent a free week stay out to CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) to be auctioned off at the annual winter awards/fund raiser banquet. A fellow runner started to bid on this free week. I nudged him saying, "What, are you nuts? The place is out in Vermont! That's millions of miles away. You'll never go out there!" Long story short, when he came back to the table with the brochure I was kind of sold myself. I ended up going out with him that year and have never stopped coming since. I think I have been there 15 summers now.
CRC: Can you tell us a bit more about CARA?
BF: The Chicago Area Runners Association is the umbrella running advocacy group for all runners in the Chicagoland region with a mission statement of:
CARA is dedicated to expanding, motivating, supporting and celebrating the running community of Chicagoland. We connect runners to the resources that enable them to run...further, faster, better, for life.
CARA was actually founded when a group of runners got together to boycott the late starting time of the Chicago Marathon. Ever since, CARA has been the watchdog making sure that races meet certain minimum standards.
After exercising an early retirement package offer presented to me two years ago from my employer of 29 years, I ended up as the Director of Training for CARA. On a volunteer basis, I had helped CARA for many years; from working with their Beginning Running Programs to helping start and build the current marathon training program consisting of 2,200 runners.
CARA is now celebrating its 29th year, and with over 9,000 members, it is the 3rd largest running club in the US.
CRC: What sparked your interest in coaching and how did you get into coaching?
BF: I guess it may be something in my personality. I always have to know how something works. As a young boy I would always be taking things apart. As a teenager, I always had my car(s) in some state of disassembly on the garage floor. So when it came to running and training, I always wanted to know why a certain workout helped and why another didn't. I wanted to know what fuels worked best and how fluids helped, etc. That curiosity drove me to study our sport, and although I don't have any initials after my name, I think I possess a layman's working knowledge of how a runner ticks.
CRC: What has been one of your best experiences as a coach?
BF: I put on 17 CARA Beginning 5K/10K running programs per year. I still find it to be rewarding to take out a group of runners at the start of an 8 week class with someone who can only run for 30 seconds before having to walk again for 5 minutes. We do this week after week and by the end of 8 weeks that runner is covering 5k without stopping. That is what I find to be most rewarding. To be a part of motivating someone to incorporate running into their lifestyle provides me with a great deal of satisfaction.
CRC: What is the best piece of advice you'd give to the novice runner?
BF: If you asked 100 people to tell you the purpose of a coach, the majority would say things like,"a coach is there to motivate" "a coach is there to encourage" etc. etc. In lots of cases, a coach is there to hold the athlete back. New runners come with lots of energy and desire. An important piece of advice that I give to novice runners is to educate them about the dangers and pitfalls of doing too much too fast. I hold them back and take them up at a safe and measured pace, ensuring that they have achieved the correct base before moving forward.
CRC: Why do runners need coaching? Isn't running something that comes natural?
BF: Most runners will go around a track or down the road carrying a certain running form or style. To a great degree, that runner has two people to thank for that style...their mom and their dad! One's bio-mechanics is pretty much set at an early age and to try to change someone's associated bio-mechanics is almost impossible. On the other hand, coaches are able to identify and correct many bad habits runners bring to their sport. That is why our video taping sessions here at Craftsbury are so popular and important. For many runners, it is the first time they get to see what they look like when they run. When corrections are suggested and made, progress follows.
CRC: What is your favorite cross-training activity?
BF: Swimming. Swimming provides a great aerobic workout without any load on the joints. It's the best, especially in Great Hosmer Pond!!!
CRC: Weights and the endurance athlete; wasted time or invaluable training aid?
BF: Weights for life! Never a waste. When you say Endurance athlete, I would have to know the goals before a proper weight program could be recommended. Caution must be exercised to ensure that one muscle group isn't being over developed that will conflict with an opposing muscle group. I like to recommend to runners that they concentrate on the upper body with relatively low weights and high repetitions. I stress the importance of a strong core and warn that caution must be used when working the leg muscle groups with weights.
CRC: Are you a gearhead? What is your favorite running gadget?
BF: I can clearly remember the day years ago, when a guy came into our office and announced that he was there to hook up the Fax machine. I thought to myself that we would never use the thing and that it wasn't needed. About two weeks later, I was wondering how we ever did business before its arrival. I'm now at a point in time, if I can't do it on-line; don't even talk to me about it. When it comes to running, I'm all about the GPS watches. I have two of them now: a Garmin 201 and the 305 with a heart monitor. They store every workout for up to two years, along with the best pace of the workout and the calories burned. And they even work up at Crafstbury!!!!!