Even as an adult, Kathleen Allen of Evergreen, Colorado, has struggled with self-confidence, but as she teaches young athletes how strong and capable they are, she’s reminded of those qualities in herself. The Team USA athlete, who competes as an amateur athlete and represents the United States at ITU World Championship events, is also a mother, certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. She's a coach for Girls on the Run of the Rockies and Sole Mates, a Girls on the Run adult program that supports adults who want to train for and compete in events while raising money for GOTR. In this interview, Allen shares her triathlon and coaching journey, what she’s learned along the way and how she finds balance in her life.
USA Triathlon: How did you get your start in triathlon?
Kathleen Allen: My journey to triathlon took a few twists and turns. I like to say it started with “Honey, can you watch the baby while I take a walk?” to “Hey honey, there’s this race called IRONMAN, can you please watch all four kids while I go train for five hours?” Seriously, I found myself home with a newborn, my husband worked long hours, and we had recently moved. I needed some time for me but I also needed to “justify” my time away. Training for events had much more validity than fitting back into my pre-pregnancy clothes. Motherhood changed so much for me. I had struggled with body image issues for many years and pregnancy helped me learn to trust and truly appreciate the strength, power and beauty of my body. Training for races was an extension of that new self-confidence in what my body was capable of. I also wanted to be strong and healthy for my kids. Triathlon fulfilled all those needs for me.
USAT: What led you to becoming a Girls on the Run coach?
KA: I struggled with self-confidence, and still do, so I was also drawn to the curriculum that emphasizes self-esteem building and empowerment. In the fall of 2006, my then 10-year-old, daughter participated in GOTR. The more I learned about the program through her participation, the more I respected it and wanted to become involved.
USAT: How does your triathlon experience overlap with your Girls on the Run coaching experience?
KA: I believe that to be the best coach I can, I must practice what I preach. That means being a good role model and using my knowledge of training, racing, nutrition and mental focus whenever it is applicable in practice. Many of the girls are new to running as a sport and have little background knowledge. They come to practice with many questions and perhaps are not properly prepared with acceptable running footwear or an appropriate snack. I can model proper behavior, as well as correct running form and be empathetic on days that can be mentally challenging because I have had the opportunity to experience similar feelings.
USAT: What is the most important part of coaching to you?
KA: I think the most important part of coaching to me is being able to encourage the girls to find power, strength and perseverance from within. When they cross their first finish line they say things like “Coach K, you said I could do anything I put my mind to. I did it! I finished my first 5k! I guess you were right!” Thinking that I could be a small part of their belief that they can do anything is incredibly rewarding. I also think that helping the girls learn ways to deal with difficult people and situations really develops that self-confidence.
USAT: What have you learned from Girls on the Run that helps you with triathlon?
KA: Girls on the Run is structured as a non-competitive program and that reminds me why I fell in love with the sport! When I started competing, it was always just to do my best, smile and enjoy the journey. Somewhere along the way, finishing times, rankings, All-American status can cause me to lose some of the feelings of when it was all new and fun. Sharing the girls’ enthusiasm, watching their excitement as race day approaches and witnessing their pride as they cross the finish line help remind me why I began the sport and how I, too, always want to feel. Every season I coach, I think that I am the teacher and I need to help the girls learn about running. But every season, the girls teach me so much more about courage, friendship, teamwork, determination and attitude than I could ever teach them! It is humbling and inspiring to bear witness to their growth!
USAT: How do you share your experience with triathlon and Team USA with your Girls on the Run participants?
KA: Girls on the Run is structured around lessons and discussions, creating a great time to add my personal knowledge from triathlon, Team USA and life! The girls really ask a lot of questions and open up, especially while we are running. We run and talk. The beauty of this is that the girls also talk to each other and help each other problem solve as they run. They are learning important skills that will carry them far because having a group of friends to run and confide in is so therapeutic. There is also a lesson in which the girls practice “silent running,” a kind of moving meditation. In this lesson, they cannot talk to each other and they can explore figuring out problems and sorting ideas in their own heads — another invaluable skill!
USAT: How do you balance your life as a mother, coach, athlete and teacher?
KA: I don’t know that true balance can be a reality! I try my best to keep things in perspective and prioritize. I have been doing this sport long enough to know that any one workout does not matter in the grand scheme of things. There are times when the kids have an event or are sick and workouts get missed because my family comes first. Every day, we have a finite number of hours. How we spend that time is up to us. Yes, I often wake up early to fit in a workout before faced with demands from work and family. I find that if I spend some time on me early in the morning, I can focus on everyone else the rest of the day. My family and I have scheduling conversations, where we discuss everything that everyone has going on and then we work together to make a plan and meet everyone’s needs. I guess that is one of the biggest GOTR lessons: talking, discussing, compromising and considering the needs of the group. A busy household of six can be a lot like a team. We need to help and support each other.
Learn about Girls on the Run at girlsontherun.org.
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