Mary-Katherine Flemning

MK taking on the New York City Marathon with her usual exuberance and enthusiasm.

I—Coach MK—have been running for 20 years. How I became a runner is one story (elements include not making the high school basketball team, being bullied on the bus, and not knowing that the college track was just for the college team to use) and how I developed my Heart Rate Based Training regimen is a separate story altogether.

Since we don’t have a 20-mile run to cover all the intricate details, here are the basics. (And if you ever want to meet me at Wash Park in Denver at 5:30 a.m. or so—my typical running time—for the flushed-out tale, just let me know.)

I started jogging with my dad as part of his rehab following a quintuple bypass in 1983. I ran my first marathon in college—again, a random story that involves not really knowing how long a marathon is—and never looked back. I moved overseas after graduation in 2000 to work in finance, moved back to the US to earn MBA and MA degrees, got married, and with a few notable exceptions, ran and raced regularly.

Then I got pregnant for the first time. I trained through my pregnancy and was back with the eight-minute pace group within 5 months. Sweet. Then I got pregnant again. Five months later we were relocated to Denver (located a mile above sea level), where climbing the five stairs to our front porch would wear me out completely. I knew I would need serious help getting my busted body in shape for the NYC marathon later that year. While managing a newborn and a 13-month old no less. Did I mention my husband travels for work and we didn’t have family or friends in Denver?

I had no idea where my new normal would be or how long it would take me to get there. I looked and looked and looked for information on Google, vetted coaches and other experts to hire, and hit walls at every turn. All I wanted were clear frameworks to help me make decisions and set reasonable expectations, but the advice I received was vague at best and anecdotal about a-friend-of-a-friend at worst.  I became obsessed with mommy runner and fitness blogs, trying to find someone, anyone, who could guide me through 26.2 miles without crushing my spirit.

A blogger I read regularly was doing the Maffetone Method of heart-rate training, so I dug out my old heart rate strap and decided to combine that method and my marathon plan. It took exactly three days of 18-minute miles in June afternoon heat —I still had mommy guilt and ran during naptime, so the babysitter could “watch” the kids then—to realize I needed a better approach.

My situation—elevation, Irish Twins, little support, a broken body—led me down the rabbit hole of cardio maximization, physiology, online courses, used textbooks, and #allthescience. I devoured everything I could read with regard to running—and I still do. I created a plan with sessions logged by time, not miles, and with firm heart rate caps, not dissimilar to the method my father used when he was recovering from his heart surgery.

I will be the first to tell you that I hated it. I cried through every run, mourning the past, hating the present, and fearing the future. I used to be a walking manifestation of the American dream—Tennessee country girl bootstraps her way to Wall Street—and now I was a fat housewife in Denver who could only introduce herself by talking about what she used to do.

My 18-minute miles had only whittled down to 14-minute miles by the time the New York City Marathon rolled around. I went into the race with no idea what to expect and shocked myself with a 4:24.

I shouldn’t have been truly shocked, though. I’d been running for about 15 years, and the bulk of my miles were slow and steady, not unlike heart rate training. They provided a solid cardiovascular base as wide as the island of Manhattan, so even though I had a rough training season, when it was time to race, my body had all most of the familiar tools it needed.

I became a coach in April of 2014.  RRCA was offering a coaching registration in my area and certification seemed to be a logical next step even though I had no clear idea what I would do with it.  The day after I passed the exam I saw a note on Facebook about an open Run Coach position for Life Time in Centennial, CO and replied immediately.  I am eternally grateful to Kristen Schuldt and Rebekah Mayer for taking a chance on an over-educated housewife with a non-traditional running background, especially because I got pregnant three months after my start date.

Unable to run for most of this pregnancy, I had a lot of spare time to perform the research that would lead to my foremost coaching principle: 140 firm cap on all easy-effort runs.

Even medals taste good after a marathon; Jane and MK chomp down after Jane set a 26.2-mile PR.

Sixteen months later, I gave birth to our third child and used these same methods to train for the ZOOMA Half Marathon in Colorado, where I met Dimity after running a 1:51. I ran a 4:16 in NYC three weeks after that, pacing a friend to her PR.

I’ve since completed the Arthur Lydiard Coaching Course, a BOSU Certification course, and also run for Team Beef, in case you needed more background on me.

I only put my times in here because I need you to know I’m not elite—never have been, never will be—but I do expect a lot from myself and my body. And I’ll never meet those expectations by running myself into the ground; my view on running extends way beyond a training cycle because, truth be told, I want to run two marathons a year for the rest of my life. I’ve learned how to train to make running truly fun and still clock PRs. I know my best running is yet to come—and so is yours.