My 2018 Year in Review

It really was an amazing year in “my world”.  When I took the time to sit back and reflect, I realized a lot of really big things happened.  I am truly blessed and I am a lucky guy.  So let’s dive right in….

*I turned 40 this past year – let’s not even get into the fact that I am now 41

*I placed an emphasis on fitness and health; and through a combination of focusing on my diet and improving my training, I was able to lose 10 pounds in 2018

*My daughter celebrated her 4th birthday – oh man, is she growing up fast!  She also started her second year of school and is such a joy in our lives.

*Kelley and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary – she is a caring and compassionate person and is my best friend.  She puts up with a lot, and sacrifices a lot, and she is an amazing mother.  I look forward to 50 more with her!

*We helped with four larger service projects this year – including my 13th year of Relay for Life (American Cancer Society) and my 8th year assisting with the Downtown Open House.  Kelley introduced me to Project Linus, which is a very nice organization with a strong mission.  I also was fortunate to help (ongoing) with two local libraries.

*We traveled a lot – recruiting and family trips took us to 8 states.  Madison visited 6 of those states.

*Our cross country program hosted its 8th annual Distance Running Forum this past July.  We welcomed a large group to campus and the content was very good.  Our Champions Round Table was memorable, and brought seven champions to campus to discuss their journey towards greatness.  It was a great event!

*The coaching staff, athletes, their families, alumni and “friends of the program” participated in Waynesburg’s annual “Day of Giving” – and I am proud to announce that we tripled our donors in a 12 month time period.  I am still in shock at the kindness and generosity that was displayed.  GO JACKETS!

*Those that know me, know that I run a little bit.  I don’t run to compete in race (I don’t do that very often anymore) or to win races (that NEVER happens), but just to stay healthy and to feel good.  Well, I won a race in 2018.  Yep, you read that right.  That may never happen again….

*The distance athletes ran to three more championships this year.  They are currently in the middle of winning eight straight on the women’s side.  The indoor title came down to the final two events (relays) and they crushed it.  The outdoor title was epic.  The distance girls scored over 100 points and won 6 events.  In cross country, the team won the narrowest championship in history (3 points!).  The young team saw 6 All-PAC performers (5 of them return in the fall of 2019).  That race also saw the men’s team take a huge step forward – I wonder if 2019 might be an HISTORIC year for that group (stay tuned).

*In recent memory, I cannot remember weather playing as much of a role in my life as it did this year.  In the cross country season we were involved in a tornado warning, a few days of extreme heat, flash flooding and remnants of a hurricane.  The country saw extreme levels of heat and flash flooding throughout the summer.  Winter was also brutal for some.  I don’t mention it as a political discussion on climate change, but I mention it because it played a big role in my life.  We hosted the PAC Cross Country Championships this fall and it was a soggy, muddy and miserable two months of prep work.  I am glad that is over for a few years.

*I never really got away from fishing, but it took a back seat for a few years.  I was lucky to catch the biggest bass of my life at a small lake in Delaware.  I also caught a local bass that was right up there with the biggest of my career.  Needless to say, I had a great year of bass fishing and cannot wait for the summer of 2019 to get here so I can catch more.

I love the New Year holiday because it gives us a chance to evaluate the year and game plan for the upcoming year.  I am excited to start new this year and focus on some new goals.  But 2018 was a big year and I won’t forget it.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

A Strategy for Difficult Conversations

The younger me didn’t worry much about “messaging”.  If something needed conveyed to another person, I would sit down with them and tell them what was on my mind.  My style in most of those situations was never to be rude, harsh, confrontational or brash – but I certainly didn’t think through every word before it came out of my mouth.

As the twenty year old boy turned into a gray beard at the age of forty, he learned some things in his older age.  Working with twenty year old students and athletes for the last fifteen years has transformed my thinking on “messaging”.  Working in government and having daily interaction with governmental officials and their constituents has also transformed my approach.

While preparing for this blog, I opened the local newspaper a few weeks ago and pulled out a notebook.  I scratched out on that notebook if the headline for each article was positive, negative or neutral.  Why did I do that?  To me, those are the three messages that I think we send pretty quickly in a conversation with others.

Through the thirteen articles, six were “positive”, five were “negative” and two were “neutral”.  This small experience didn’t tell me much.  A 50/50 split in a newspaper is probably pretty common on a daily basis.  But it got me thinking a bit….what is the right split between positive and negative messaging in the workplace, on an athletic team or in a relationship??

I certainly don’t think we should shy away from difficult conversations.  Especially those conversations that need to happen.  A conversation that will help the other person in their life growth is appropriate and can be powerful.  Getting things off your chest can also be therapeutic, so I think that’s a good time to visit negative topics too.

So don’t get me wrong, negative is good in some cases.  But POSITIVITY wins the day.

As I noted earlier, the one important things I had to learn over the last twenty is years is about the approach of the message.  The topic might be a tough one to dive into, but I think there are some tactics that can help “lighten the mood” and turn the message from negative to positive.  I have one approach that I use on a daily basis and that I share with others if they are worried about diving into a tough conversation.  I am sure there is a technical term for this approach, but I call it the COOKIE method.

Picture a sandwich cookie (OREO) in your head – and its three vital parts.  The thin chocolate cookie on the top, a thicker layer of sweet cream/icing in the middle, and a cookie on the bottom that holds it all up.  Are you hungry yet?  Well, stay focused….we have a tough conversation to dive into first.

The thin chocolate cookie on the top and bottom represents a short intro and conclusion of positivity.  The cream is the difficult and challenging conversation.  You might get where I am going, but just in case I have confused you (happens a lot) let me give you a quick example.

Let’s set the stage:  A employee is not completing projects in a timely manner.

Sure you could just dive in and say, “hey, YOU MISSED ANOTHER DEADLINE.” But that might lead to some tension in the office and your relationship with that employee is going to suffer.  You might want to try another method.  Try sitting the employee down one on one.  Start by telling them you appreciate their attention to detail and respect how precise the projects have been.  This is the first step (think chocolate cookie).  After they have absorbed the compliment, talk about the issue at hand – that even though the projects are precise and exactly what you are looking for, they are still tardy.  Walk through why hitting the deadline is important and how it affects the company/organization in the long run.  Explain that this will be something that you will be keeping an eye on in the next few months. You just completed the second and most difficult step (think white icing in the middle).  Lastly, throw out a final compliment or motivational statement and end the meeting right.  Something like, “I know you can do this and I am here to help” or “you are doing an amazing job, and I am glad you are with the company”.  That’s the final step (think chocolate cookie).

In the example above, a few very important things have been accomplished; you have kept their respect, their spirits are still high and you can expect the project will be on time when the next deadline approaches.

A tough conversation that ends up being a WIN-WIN is what you were seeking, and this approach helps you get there.  Try it out the next time you run into a conversation that is going to be tough.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

 

Fighting Through a Plateau

We had a good conversation with our team recently.  During some one on one meetings, a few athletes expressed to me that they thought they were going to peak too early and were worried about burning out.  They felt like they were working extremely hard and that they weren’t progressing as fast as they would have liked at this point in the season.

I figured I would take advantage of this opportunity and teach the team about three important terms in our sport: peak, plateau and burnout.  Although our conversation that week certainly focused on athletic training, I think it’s a good discussion to have because it covers many areas of our life.  Don’t we run into plateaus all the time in our spiritual life?  Don’t we run into burnout at work?  And when we talk about a peak, that is something we want in many aspects of our life.

For the team meeting, I defined each of those words (and I will do so below) and talked about how they can become a big part of our training (and our lives).

Peak – to reach the highest point

Burnout – physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress

Plateau – a state of little or no change following a period of progress

As a coach, I explained, we want each of our athletes to peak at the right time.  That’s the goal.  It’s the positive outcome of training at a high level for 15-20 weeks.  The negative outcome of training, and one that we are trying to stay away from, is the burnout.  There is a fine line between the two though, and it’s easy to move from peak to burnout in a matter of a few days (or a week).

Why does an athlete, or a human being, move so quickly from peak to burnout?  I am sure there is a scientific answer, but I am not well-versed in that aspect of this part of human progress.  But I have been coaching and mentoring athletes/people a long time.  And to me it’s quite simple.  When you focus on a goal with a high level of intensity and personal drive, you can only sustain that type of stress for a certain period of time.  The training and focus lead you towards PROGRESS, but it also takes a lot of energy, and you can fizzle out pretty quickly.

If you think the fine line between a peak and burnout is tough, let’s look at a plateau.

What’s particularly tough about a plateau is that it can be deceiving.  You have become consistent in your training and you feel like you are working at a level you have never been able to sustain in the past.  You have grown as an athlete, or as a person, and you are now pretty comfortable with those tough workouts.  It’s deceiving because you think you have accomplished the goal of reaching a high point in your training.

During a plateau, you work hard, but you aren’t seeing any new progress.  Sure, you are consistent, but you want to see progress.  This can be mentally draining and very frustrating.

This is the point in your training where a coach needs to step in and help explain that you DO have another level.  You have more locked inside you and you can break through the plateau.  But it’s not easy.  As I stated above, you are comfortable; but you need to learn to be uncomfortable.  That’s the key to breaking through a plateau in life – finding the uncomfortable and being able to embrace that feeling.

As you read this right now, I bet you are thinking about a plateau in your own personal life.  Let me assure you that you can get through it.  EMBRACE the UNCOMFORTABLE and be willing to give your all for that GROWTH moment.  I BELIEVE IN YOU!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

700 Miles and an Orange Moon

It was about this time last year that I wrote a blog detailing a recruiting trip that I took in the fall of 2017.  Unfortunately, that trip was not successful, as that talented athlete chose to attend another institution.  But, I enjoyed writing it and I heard back that it was a fun read – so I thought I would write about a trip I took this fall.

I planned a trip of 700+ miles to see one of our top recruits recently.  I did it all in one day, and it was pretty exhausting.  But I get pumped up for the adventure and would like to share some of the trip with you.  A timeline for that trip follows:

6:30am- Woke to a warm morning.  Got a quick lift in, checked some email and re-checked my bags and small cooler for the trip (as my dad taught me, you pack the night before so you are ready for the adventure).

7:15am – My daughter awoke and we spent the next two hours putting puzzles together, riding bikes and shooting hoops on our basketball court in the driveway.  I knew I wouldn’t see her until the next morning, so I planned to spend some additional time with her before I left.  I value that one on one time with my beautiful little girl.  I love her more than anything and want to be present in her life as much as I can.

9am – Depart for the cross-country meet.  I have about 6 hours in the car, and I am ready for the adventure to begin.  At 10am, I ate a small bag of pretzels and started rehydrating for a hot afternoon run (if I can get there early enough).

10:35am -I cross from Pennsylvania into a second state.  Shortly thereafter I pass into a third state.  Around 11am, I run into boredom and hunger again and eat one of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I have over 20 ounces of water in me so far!!

11:50am- My first rest stop.  It’s beautiful outside, so I decide to fill up my water bottle and write some recruiting letters on a picnic table at the rest stop.  It’s going to be a long trip, so I decide to break it down into a few parts.  I thought I would spend 30 minutes or so doing something other than driving the car.  I enjoyed the sun (it was 87 degrees already), wrote a few letters and checked in with my wife.  After that, I was on the road again….

12:13pm – Ate my second peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank a ton more water.  I didn’t plan that out very well, as I had to use the bathroom pretty quickly.  I planned a stop at the next fast food restaurant, and around 1:30pm I pull into a McDonald’s to use the restroom and grab a cheeseburger (I just had to buy something).  The clerk was very nice and told me that she likes punk rock and that the music in the restaurant is pretty “lame”.  I almost have 50 ounces of water in at this point.

2:33pm – I cross into my third state.  I stop around 3pm for another restroom break.  Prior to that, I spent 20 minutes on a speaker phone with my assistant coach who was preparing for practice that afternoon.

3:45pm – I stop for gasoline and a snack (more food).  After I pull out of the gas station, I realize a police officer also pulled out of another gas station and he/she trails me for the next ten minutes.  I was nervous, but I obeyed all the laws and kept within the speed limit.  Whew….

4:30pm – I arrive at the race site, but there is nothing going on.  No race, no runners, no sign of life…..I pulled up a few other local schools on my phone and think I have the right spot.  Thirty minutes later I pull into a middle school and see some runners preparing for a race.  I think I found it.  I finished my water bottle and realized I had almost 80 ounces of water in me and I prepare for a mid-afternoon run on the course.

**I didn’t take notes on the rest of the trip, but here are some highlights:  completed a 4-mile run, met the meet official and the head coach of the host school, talked with few parents and watched a great high school race.  After the race I got to talk with a few high school runners about their future and met a few more parents.  The trip was successful in my eyes and I head to the car ready for the 6-hour trip home.

On the trip home, a few things stood out to me.  One, a large orange moon appeared on the horizon as I was about half way home.  It was one of the coolest things I have seen in a while.  Secondly, I stopped a few times for breaks and food and had an ice cream cone around 9pm.  It was a reward for the long trip in the car and it was delicious. Third, one of my athletes from the college was sick and I got an update from a coach.  It’s tough being a few hours from home and feeling like you aren’t able to help them in a time of need.

I arrived home around 1:45am and was pretty tired.  But it was worth it.  Recruiting can be stressful, time-consuming and daunting.  Other times it is exciting, and is the reason I do what I do.  I become re-energized from talking with young men and women about their plans for the future.  I take mentoring really seriously, and I know that this trip could bring another gifted young man or woman to campus.  They could be the next superstar runner or the next person to “change the world”.  That is so cool.

I head to bed, ready to do it all again the next day.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Take a Deep Breath

This is the busiest time of the year for me, and I would assume, for many of the fall coaches across the country.  At the collegiate level, we are trying to finalize camp schedules/logistics, setting up the next recruiting class and putting the final touches on preparation for the season that lies ahead.  Many of us also work second jobs, so we are trying to get all of this work done while we put in 40 hours a week in our other work capacity.  If you are a mother or a father, add those responsibilities into the mix too.

I should be good at it though, right? I mean, I am entering my ninth season as a head coach and fourteenth season within the program (and the University).  But it’s not really that simple.  I think I have learned a few things along the way, but the stress always mounts this time of the year and I can feel a lot of tension build within myself.

For those of you who are feeling that tension mount, I thought I would offer a few pointers to help you in the next few weeks.  At the end of the day, I know what you are feeling and I want to help you during the first part of the journey this season.

If you aren’t in sports, you might find this helpful during your peak time of the year.  Maybe it’s right before finals (as a student), right before a holiday season (retail) or before a big event in your child’s life (parents).  No matter where you are at in life, I think these might be helpful for you.

First of all, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  This was a tactic that was implemented in my life about 15 years ago.  A former colleague of mine urged me to step back, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.  She noted that it was the easiest way to let the stress escape from your body.  It sounds too good to be true, but try it.  While you are reading this, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale out.  I bet you feel better after a few reps.  Why does it work so well?  A few reasons, but to simplify it, you are giving your lungs the oxygen they need and they are getting rid of the carbon dioxide as you exhale.  This ultimately makes you feel better and tends to lower your heart rate.

NOTE:  If you want to take this a step further, I urge you to research deep abdominal breathing.

The second pointer I would share is to anticipate and prepare.  It might be a bit too late if your stress is already mounting, but I would suggest planning ahead for the peak time and getting as much work done as you can.  We all love a good vacation and a summer down period (as coaches).  I wouldn’t trade my beach vacation away for anything.  But when you return from your vacation, hit the ground running.  You can get so much done in that quiet and peaceful time in the summer.  For me, it’s as simple as creating a “to-do list” 3-4 months out from the season and getting as much done as I can in my down time.

Look at it this way – if I can schedule all of my hotels, buses/vans, departure times and recruiting visits during May or June, I will feel so much more organized and ready when we hit the busy time in August.  In my other professional role, I develop an 18-24 month calendar of events each year so that I am prepared for things well in advance.  My staff knows what is coming up and what they need to do to get ready.  I urge you to do the same.

Lastly, I think its important to prioritize.  During a recruiting trip a few years ago, I sat in a hotel room and prioritized things in my life.  It was a time in my life where I was struggling to balance things in my personal life, work life and coaching career.  That night really got me back on track.  It’s helpful to step back and evaluate what you have going on in your life and figuring out what is most important to you.  When those tough decisions come up, you already have your priorities in order and you can follow what your heart tells you is the right path.

I know this is easier said than done, but take a stab at it.  And to take this section a step further, make sure your coaching staff knows your priorities too.  Our coaching staff knows that family is always first – and we cover each other when we have important things to take care of at home.  And to be honest, the team knows where I stand on this too, so they know that I might miss a meeting or a practice to take care of my family.  They are, and always will be, my #1 priority.

To all of you balancing the stress this time of the year – I wish you good luck!  I believe in you, and I am confident you will endure and be successful.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Test Yourself

It’s the point in the summer that can make or break a fall athletic season.  Most athletes have worked extremely hard and stuck with the plan the first four to six weeks of summer training.  If they have seen some gains during their training, they are more apt to continue to work hard and have a good season.  But too many athletes feel a little drop in motivation this time of the year because they have not been able to see their growth.  This could set the athlete up for a poor season.

For me, I think its vital to test yourself at this period of the summer to see where you stand in your training.  It’s easy for a runner to “test out”, as they can simply do a standard distance like the mile, two-mile or the 5k.  If your sport is basketball or soccer, you might have to get creative.  But I know there are some things you can test as well.

I believe so much in testing, that I actually add a small test during each training cycle throughout the entire season.  In order to stay organized and on track, my coaching staff and I tend to break the season into four cycles or training periods.  Each cycle tends to have a theme and there are some goals for our athletes in each cycle.  Ultimately, the athlete can set themselves up for a great season if they focus on each cycle that they are in and don’t try to rush their training or their progression.  That’s why we add some test periods in each cycle, to keep them on track and help them stay motivated.

How does this apply to the non-athlete, former athlete or the professional that is sitting down at their desk looking to increase performance?  Well, it’s the same premise.  We can all get stale in our personal and professional lives.  The work environment can become cumbersome or boring, so its crucial to evaluate and assess your place in life too.

Below are some tips that the non-athlete and athlete can use to find a way to “test out” in life:

Set a test date well in advance:  Give yourself a test date and mark it on your calendar.  The coach in me likes to see the date on the calendar and works towards it.  It keeps me motivated and helps me work hard.  The professional in me likes to put the date on the calendar so that I can prioritize this event and help me plan out my day.

The test should be measurable:  My runners usually like to see what their mile time is and how they are progressing.  They have an exact number (in this case a time) that they can see and know they are progressing.  It can be the amount of push ups you can do, the amount of words you can type in a minute or the amount of customers you can efficiently serve without a slip up.  Test yourself with a number or time that you can write down and look at later.  It will help you evaluate again two months down the road.

Don’t forget that failure is a big ingredient to success:  While doing some research for this blog, I ran across a quote that has quickly become one of my favorites.  Vernon Law, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and Cy Young Award winner, once said “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.”  If your perception is that you failed the test, don’t get discouraged.  Chances are you are progressing and it didn’t show itself yet.  Let it motivate you to be better the next time.

Test out consistently and sporadically:  Make sure you give yourself some time to make gains.  A mistake can be to test yourself so often that you “water down” the test and don’t allow yourself the time to make gains that will show you that you are progressing.  This can become frustrating if you test yourself weekly and only see minor gains or no gains at all.

All of us are in different stages or cycles in our lives.  Some might be ready for their Super Bowl tomorrow, while others may be in week three of a 25-week training plan.  No matter where you are at, step back and test yourself and evaluate where you are in the process.  You will be a better athlete and a better person for doing so.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

Heat Acclimation

Summer is here!  We made it through the time of the year when snow cancellations scroll across the bottom of the screen.  We made it through the time of the year when we not only check the air temperature, but we have to figure in the wind chill.  We finally moved on from “Frosty 5Ks”, thick ski gloves and six layers – not a cake or lasagna – but layers of clothes.  As a runner, I am ready for the warmer weather.

This weekend it was warm; 80 degrees and sunshine each day for the last 3 days.  It was amazing to run in shorts and t-shirt.  I was smart too, as I hydrated throughout the morning, wore light clothing and chose some shaded routes.

BUT, it was still hot and my workouts suffered.

It reminded me of a discussion I would have every once in a while with our retired tennis coach.  He was a big believer in heat acclimation (or in some cases cold acclimation).  He had a theory that this was one of the factors you had to work into a strategy for a good training plan.  The younger “me” didn’t put much thought into it, but the older I get, the more I believe he was spot on.

The Korey Stringer Institute (ksi.uconn.edu) defines heat acclimation as “a complex series of changes or adaptations that occur in response to heat stress in a controlled environment over the course of 7 to 14 days”.  The Institute describes some of those changes as increased heart rate, increased sweat, the lack of blood distribution and lowering of overall performance.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it really seriously.

Consider my situation in southwestern PA:  I have been running 20-25 miles per week continuously for the last 25 weeks.  The average temperature in that period is 38 degrees (with an average low of 25 and an average high of 62 degrees).  Naturally, my body is not going to handle a big chance in temperature.  Heat acclimation is real, and we need to take it seriously.

There are a few things we can implement in our training that may help with heat acclimation this time of the year.  Here are a few things to consider in your own training:

  • Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing
  • Work out in the morning or when the sun is about to set
  • Cut the workout in half and do one half in the morning and one half in the evening
  • Add in some walk breaks
  • Find a shaded route to walk/run
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day and carry water on your training run/walk

Morale of the story for me today – take heat acclimation seriously.  We all want a long and rewarding running career, so take some steps today to prepare for the heat.  And don’t be afraid to back off if the weather gets a bit too hot or you aren’t feeling good that day.

One misconception out there is that performance will suffer from one day off or one workout skipped.  Trust me, that is not the case.  It take 10 days or longer for your fitness level to decrease.  Research and science are on my side.

Stay cool, stay safe and enjoy the summer!!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University. You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.