The Best Run Of My 20s

On the night before I turned 30, I ran the best run of my 20’s. It wasn’t a personal best, it wasn’t a race, it wasn’t a comeback run, and it wasn’t even really my run. At 29 years, 364 days, and approximately 20 hours old I experienced something that I don’t think I’ve experienced since crossing my first marathon finish line or Boston Marathon start line over 12 years ago. Joy, pride, and pure exhilaration! I started running when I was 14, and while I wasn’t great when I started, I spent the next 6 years hitting all kinds of running milestones. Between my first and second 10miler (and half marathon) is a 30 minute difference. I qualified for Boston on my first try, and would take another 30 minutes off that time before I turned 20. I ran cross country in high school and college, so I had a constant source of people telling me how big my accomplishments were. It is hard to keep up with that level, and so by my early 20’s I was fighting for every second off my times I could get. It also wasn’t a big deal anymore. I’d experience many running lows. There were multiple serious injuries, life threatening illnesses, and a few “we’re not sure you are ever going to be able to run again” moments. Don’t get me wrong, I had many great moments too; I ran Boston 4 more times, I ran a couple more personal records, won a couple more races, and I ran hundreds of races. But nothing ever felt like it did when I was younger. I tried to repeat it, but it didn’t happen. It was sort of depressing to think about running in my 30’s wondering if I’d ever get that feeling of being “good” again.


I’ve had lots of memorable moments in my twenties. Here are just a few.

That night, I just finished up coaching two groups and sent them to the track to walk a cool down. I came face to face with someone from my past who made me feel very … unsettled. One of those people who I use to try incredibly hard to impress, to fit in with, to get approval from, and it always back fired. One of the people who are so insecure in themselves they will put you down and hold you down. Very little was said, but it was enough to upset me. While I know there was nothing I could do to show my strength, my success, my happiness, or my health since we’ve last seen each other, there was an urge to find a way. While this person walked the track and all of my athletes were cooling down, I was still a little bothered by our two sentence conversation, and I wasn’t ready to walk away just yet.

I looked across the track, and there was one of my long-time runners. She had already done her own workout and then helped my advanced group. She was getting ready to leave, and I’m not sure why, but I asked her if she could give me one more half mile. She looked at me a little hesitant at first, but then shrugged her shoulder and took her backpack and jacket off. “I need you to run this pretty hard. And I need you to run past that walker over there really strong.” She didn’t argue and she didn’t question it. Later she told me that I don’t ask her to do something like that very often, so she figured there had to be a good reason behind it.

We started the run. I went out about half a step in front of her in the lane outside of her and she grabbed onto my stride. At 200 meters in, I knew this was a lot faster than we’d normally run this. We passed the person at about 240meters. Right after that she mumbled something about slowing down, but I told her to hold on. She did. At 300 meters, I started to get a little worried if I had taken her out too fast and if she’d be able to hold it. I didn’t want her to feel like she had disappointed me, and I knew she would be upset with herself if she had to stop. At 400 meters, I realized we were running a pace she hasn’t run in my 18 months of training her. It was right around there that my mindset changed. I was no longer focusing my energy on trying to show some random person from my past that I was good enough or strong enough.  I wasn’t worried about what some random person thought about me. I focused my energy on who mattered. I wanted my runner to feel good about herself, and I was going to get her to hold this pace until the finish. I realized how connected we were, and that if I gave myself and my energy to the right people, they would give it all right back to me. I needed to believe in her and trust her, so that she trusted me and believed in me enough to keep going around that track at that pace.  It was a dance around the track. Our strides were matched, and every piece of effort, energy, and will she gave to me, I gave right back to her. We were completely in sync. I had to forget about everything and everyone else at the moment; we were all that mattered.

And a few of my other favorite running moments this past decade.  A great walk down memory lane.

And a few of my other favorite running moments this past decade. A great walk down memory lane.

We ran that half mile an entire minute faster than she has ever run a half mile. As we walked the cool down and as she started to catch her breath she managed to get out, “Happy Birthday,” and I managed to give her this awkward side hug. We both thanked each other. Her eyes were watering because her lungs were burning from not working that hard before and my eyes were watering because I was seriously moved.

It might sound silly, but those 5 minutes it took run a half mile and catch our breath is one of the most defining moments of my life. It may have started with a wish and desire to prove to someone else that I’m good enough. To prove that I’m strong enough, happy enough, healthy enough, and successful enough, but in the end I got to take part in someone else’s triumph, health, and happiness. I got to help show someone else her own strength and power, and that’s what uncovered mine. When I saw it in her, I could see it in me. Could she have done that on her own or with another coach? Maybe. Probably. She’s a pretty determined and strong individual. However, I also know that no one else asked her to do that that day. I discovered my value in those couple laps. In pushing others to push themselves to a place they have never been, I push myself to a place I have never been. In always giving my best, they will always give me their best.

It may have taken a decade to have that run, but it was worth it! Unlike my first marathon, winning a race, my first Boston Marathon, my elite marathon start, or a regional cross-country meet this is a joy I can do any day I want. All I have to do is give a little of myself to the right people and be receptive when they give it back. We both ran through pretty thick walls that night, and it was worth it! We walked off the track, both of us standing a little taller.


How To Start Running

The first couch to 5k class I ever coached has been running for 5 years today! It’s easy for me to remember their anniversary date because it’s 2 days before my birthday. Turning 25 wasn’t easy for me. I was still pretty new to Annapolis, I had no friends, and I was on the verge of having a quarter life crisis. I started coaching them on a Monday night. While I had coached before it had always been for people who were already running, so there was a lot of concern about how I’d be able to coach a bunch of beginners. There I was on the first day of practice with them, depressed because I hadn’t accomplished 80% of the things I set out to accomplish before I turned 25, incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin, and had no clue what I wanted to do with my future. I ran with all of them; I ran back and forth between them, and I talked to everyone that day. I got to know them. As we talked about their fears and goals, I realized I wasn’t the only one a little skeptical and hesitant in life at that moment. I realized that I belonged with them, and that I could help them get over their fears and accomplish their goals. At the end of practice, I invited them all to come out for drinks with me at the next practice because it was my birthday. Not only, did many of them come out, but they bought a cake and a card and little gifts from our conversations (one woman bought me my favorite shampoo).  Five years later, I’m ready to turn 30, and my feelings are way different!  I have now coached hundreds of people to run their first 5k. I’ve coached further distances, and plenty of people to run insane personal records. I never thought coaching, especially beginners, would become such a big part of my life! Last night, I celebrated my birthday with a few folks who have been in my programs throughout the years (some from that first 5k class), and I realized just how much I have accomplished. I know this is what I was meant to do.


My first 5k class at their graduation 5k.


I get a lot of emails and messages (and random questions) from people who want to train for a 5k.   People always ask how to start. My 5k class participants often get asked for their schedules that I send out or they have friends who want to know what we’re doing, so I thought I’d address it. If you want to start running, here are my suggestions:



Join a Couch to 5k Class

As a coach, I think this is best. My community has no shortage of couch to 5k programs. If you live in affluent running community, do your research. Who is coaching the program? What are their qualifications, credentials, and experience?   Are there assistants, helpers, or mentors? Do you have to have a special membership or meet any requirements?   What is the retention rate? What happens if you get injured? What size is the class and can the program be customized?   Is there a cost associated with the program? What does that cover?  What happens if you want to run faster or further – is there a plan for that?

A lot of people need a class and the accountability. They need a place and time to report. I know that when I coach my couch to 5k classes, I can get all of them to the finish line. My belief in them, and their trust in me gets them to keep coming.  Classes also offer (sometimes) more information and can cover topics like injury prevention, nutrition, running for weight loss, kids running, stretching, cross-training, goal setting, etc. Again, it all depends on the class and coach.

My winter 2014 graduation class.

My winter 2014 graduation class.

If you live in Annapolis, I offer 3-4 couch to 5k training programs a year. My next session starts Monday, 27 April at 6:30pm. Email me for details or register online through the City of Annapolis:

If you don’t live near me, that’s okay. Check with your local running club or store. Many of them host Couch to 5k classes or know of them.

Grab A Friend

Whether you join a class or not, try to start with a friend or family member. I’ve found that the accountability of a running partner works wonders! Actually, you don’t even need to wait for an official class to start, just grab your friend (and 4 legged friends work too), and start today. Go for a walk. Discuss your goals and put a plan together. If your workouts are scheduled meetings and someone is planning on meeting you there, you are more likely to show up and do it.   Don’t know what to do yet, that’s okay – there are a couple options.

Get a plan or schedule

If you aren’t in a class, find a schedule or plan! There are no shortages of books, articles, online programs or apps for this. Your program should be at least 8 weeks long, but I’d aim for one that is 10-12 weeks long. It is okay if it is longer.  Look for a program that has you increasing your time running very slowly and calls for 2-3 days of running a week. (I’ve always liked 3, but can get you through with 2). Most will combine running and walking, and that’s also how I coach my beginning programs. Your first week or two should be doable, and if it seems like it is too much, look for another schedule or guide.

Remember, most of these schedules are just guides. It’s a great starting point and will work for most people. However, they aren’t perfect, and they weren’t written specifically with you in mind. If you need to modify the program, go ahead and do it. Repeating a week or going back a week are both okay. If you notice pains or an injury, it may have been too much too fast for you, so take it a little slower.  If you need help, send me an email or message, and I’ll get you going in the right direction.

Find A Community

If you are in a class, this doesn’t apply to you as much right now. However, if you are following a program and running on your own, find a group. Whether this is a local group, an online forum, or a Facebook group. Find people who have gone through it before or are going through it at the same time. It can be online. Heck, some of my best accountability partners I found online. There are lots of support groups out there.

I’ve decided that I will run an online Couch to 5k group/class during my live class this time around. The program will start the week of the 27th of April. It will be 12 weeks and I encourage you to run a local 5k at the end. I’ll have more information shortly, but for now, just send me an email if you are interested: (


I always say, “Just start!” Don’t overthink it.   The tools are out there, and I’m always here if you get stuck. But you have to start, just put one foot in front of the other and go for it! Plan a date, put in on the calendar, and work it into your personal schedule. Day 1 go for a walk, and run for a 30 seconds in the middle. On Day 2, run 30 seconds twice.  You don’t have to do be amazing or have an elaborate plan – put one foot in front of the other and go for it. Start small, but start! Increase slowly, and you will get there.

Best of luck! Keep me posted, and I look forward to seeing you run your first 5k! Ashley Kelso


The Power Of A Coach

Some of my youngest runners getting ready to tackle the mile.

Some of my youngest runners getting ready to tackle the mile.

I have been struggling with this “first post” for a couple months now. I want to tell you who I am, why I’m doing this, and what the future holds for my blog, site, and business. However, that’s a lot to do in a few short paragraphs. Today, I decided, that will all come – I just need to jump right in. Here goes.

In 4th grade I started playing “Girls Club” Softball. Most of the girls had been doing it a lot longer, so I was behind them in terms of skill level. I was pretty awful at first, and I would get nervous anytime the ball came towards me in a game or I had to bat. My first season, this meant they benched me or put me in the outfield where I was less likely to be a problem. I don’t remember much from that season other than the panicked feeling when a ball was hit towards me. My second season, I was put on a different team with a different coach. She recognized my anxiety, and instead of ignoring it, made me play and practice every position. She made me feel like she wanted me on the team, and the girls did the same. She always reminded me when I would get nervous that she was putting me in a position because she felt like I could handle it. One game, she asked me to pitch. It was the first time I would throw up because I was anxious. I’d only practiced it a couple times – and not very successfully. She looked at me and said, “Ash, we have no one else who can do this right now. We only have you. Don’t worry about throwing a strike, just throw the ball over the plate.” I did what she said. A lot of girls hit off me, but at the end of the game, she told me – “They hit off of you because you did your job – you got it over the plate. We’ll work on strikes later.”

Over the next week and (and year), I drew a square on a wall behind my house. That was my strike zone. I measured the distance from there to a mound, and I marked it. For hours, I would go behind my house and practice pitching at this wall. Looking back, it’s probably my first bout of obsessive exercise. I never became an incredibly strong thrower, but I got accurate. Using the rubber ball meant I had to field the return, so I became quick responding and fielding. Turns out, short stop was a great position for me as well. All of a sudden, I had confidence. I had a coach that believed in me, a position on a team, and I felt like I was good at something.

We moved again in 7th grade, and I had to try out for the middle school team (7th and 8th grade). I didn’t know the other girls trying out, and I didn’t know the coach. She knew many of the girls from field hockey (I played boys soccer) or P.E. class. We had 2 days of tryouts. For fielding, we lined up. If we missed the ball, we were out. If we fielded it, we got back in line. I remember being the second from last person left in that exercise, and that’s all I remember from the try out. I was cut from the team, and didn’t pick up my softball glove ever again. A year later, I had her for PE and during the baseball/softball segment, she asked me how come I hadn’t tried out for the school team the year before and if I’d try out that year. By then, I had taught myself that sometimes it didn’t matter how hard I worked, I would never be good enough.

I joined cross-country in high school because a friend told me about a couple cute boys on the team. I didn’t really “get it” at first and was okay sticking it out with my friend at the back of the pack. I was great at slacking, complaining, and faking workouts. I wasn’t ready to push myself to hurt … or to put myself in a position to be hurt. I was content at the back of the pack with my friend – there, I didn’t have to push myself and no one had expectations (including myself).  If I didn’t try, I wouldn’t fail.  At the first meet, I don’t know what happened – but the gun went off – and I ran. I ran hard. The secret was out and there was no more hiding, but we found a place I might belong.

My high school coach trying to calm my anxieties before a meet.

My high school coach trying to calm my anxieties before a meet.

My coach joked at the end of that year at the County Awards Banquet about how lucky she was the cross-country team didn’t have cuts. Really, it’s that I’m that lucky one. I found myself on the cross-country course. My cross- country coach would help me learn that if I worked hard I could get better. She saw potential in me. I would get nervous at every meet, and she’d remind me to do my job. RUN! I’d get stuck in my head about everything I thought I couldn’t do, and she’d give me a reason to believe I could. I would have bad meets (heck, I would have bad seasons), and she reminded me that it didn’t mean I wasn’t good enough – we just needed to adjust our training a little.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous coaches and trainers – mostly as a runner. I try to mimic those who have pushed me to be great. Those who were willing to look at me as a person instead of following a written formula or guide. Those who had a way to make me feel at ease –and who taught me to trust them when they said I could do something. Those who made me feel like I was good enough but pushed me to give a little more anyway. Those who believed in me and gave me a chance.

... Races still get emotional though.

… Races still get emotional though.

I never want to be the reason someone walks off the track and never comes back or puts his/her running shoes down to never put them on again. Whether they are just beginning and aiming to run their first 5k or they are a nationally ranked athlete, my goal and my job is to help them see their potential and to push them to achieve it. To believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves, and to help them become the best versions of themselves. My job as a coach and trainer is to give my athletes the tools to achieve their goals, and that’s more than a training program.  – Ashley Kelso