Athlete Spotlight

Reflecting on My Time Running with Austin Fit

Hunt Cooley
by Hunt Cooley

I started running with Austin Fit in 2007. It’s been an amazing journey.

I moved to Austin in the 1970s and began running to train for the Capitol 10,000 race in its second year (now referred to as the Cap 10K). I ran another 10K race that year and then took a very long break from running.

In 2007, I started running again because I wanted to run in the 30th anniversary of the Cap 10k, and so I joined Austin Fit to begin my training. I was a smoker at the time and had not been exercising much. It was tough to get going again, but once out on the trail, I felt like I had been awakened after a long sleep.

When I completed that 10K race, I decided to set my sights on a bigger goal. I ended up running a full marathon - the 2008 Austin Marathon - in less than a year after I started training with Austin FIT.

Over time I've learned my favorite race distance is the half marathon. While I have run two full marathons, I've completed about 20 half marathons (I am starting to lose count) along with numerous 10K and 5K races. I have enjoyed running half marathons in cities and places such as New Orleans, San Antonio, Shiner (TX) -- and I have run two long-distance races in Big Bend.

I have benefited from great coaches at Austin FIT, starting with Coach Monica Beard (my first marathon coach), and have been an assistant coach a few times, which was challenging but very rewarding. I have tried to push myself a little bit the last few years by doing things outside of my comfort zone, such as running more than a half marathon in the desert, running my second full marathon, and completing the Austin Distance Challenge.

While running with Austin FIT, I have met a lot of people, and I've made some really good friends. When you run long distances with others, you have the opportunity to really get to know them, and we see each other at our best and worst. Other than the great exercise, the friendships that have been made along the way have been the best part of Austin FIT.

I have also enjoyed getting to know Austin in a more intimate way, learning more about the streets and trails and the different parts of town. I have loved experiencing nature and the outdoors in all kinds of weather, from heat and humidity, to pouring rain, to freezing cold.

I have discovered that I am a much better runner in the cold than the heat, but summer training keeps me going until the cooler temperatures arrive. I have discovered that that the most memorable runs tend to be the most difficult, including the ones with extreme weather or hills (even though I am not a big fan of hills). I have also learned that the most rewards come from the training -- the journey that you take with other people in Austin FIT. The races you run are fun, but those are really just the icing on the cake.

Other than running, my passions include my dog Karlee, movies and music -- especially live music. We live in the Live Music Capital of the World, so I try to take advantage of that. However, I am also trying to spend more time with my parents, as they are elderly. I know my time with them is precious.

I know this is a little long, but I had a lot to say. Thanks to Austin FIT for everything, and for all of the coaches and friends who have made it special.

"I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft. We have constructed pyramids in honor of our escaping." ~ The Doors


Stress and Cortisol

Feeling Extra Stressed in 2020? Harder Workouts May Not Be the Best Answer

by Coach Jessica, Jump Start Coordinator

We feel stressed. We have a pandemic, fires, civil rights issues, home schooling, and of course it's an election year. My husband also shared with me that since everyone left for telework in August, rattlesnakes infested buildings in an office park in upstate NY.

Seriously, RATTLESNAKES? This is all so heavy. The rattlesnakes are supposed to bring levity😊, but it also gives us an opportunity to discuss our best response to stress.

Typically, we might think these extra stressful times require harder, longer bouts of exercise. But, as with so many things in life, too much of a good thing can be damaging. So if you find yourself weeks into your AustinFit program, and are wondering why those COVID pounds won’t go away or you’re not sleeping, keep reading. 

You see, when our bodies experience stress -- whether from life experiences or from exercise, in response, our body creates a hormone called Cortisol.

According to WEB MD, Cortisol is best known for helping fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis. Cortisol also plays an important role in a number of other things the body does. For example, it: 

  • Manages how the body uses carbohydrates, fats and proteins
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Increases blood sugar (glucose)
  • Controls the sleep/wake cycle
  • Boosts energy to handle stress and restores balance afterward

Running and walking are excellent stress relievers because these exercises produce endorphins.  Endorphins bring good feelings and energy. Running and exercise also produces the aforementioned cortisol. Now some cortisol is good, but too much can bring unintended reactions. According to WebMD, when cortisol levels are too high, the following can occur:

Distance runners and walkers often find themselves producing too much Cortisol. This is why your coaches are always recommending healthy eating and getting plenty of sleep. It's also why our training program reduces, or tapers, the amount of miles in our workouts as our target race day approaches.

When training for a marathon and the weekly mileage peaks, runners often talk about how tired they are, how hungry they are, and how they may feel sleep deprived. Tapering the miles a few weeks before the race helps combat these feelings as cortisol levels normalize before race day.

The same is true for those of us who have no specific race in mind and are exercising just to maintain a healthier lifestyle. One should not stop working out, because as mentioned earlier, exercise is ideal for stress; however, backing off the intensity and some of the mileage might better serve you.

Your weekly plan should be mostly easy pace. If your life stress level is especially high, skip the hard track workout and just do 6-8 quick strides during one or two of your weekday runs. If you want to know what a stride is, please feel free to reach out to me at one of our Saturday meetings. I’m happy to discuss and demonstrate. Tips to help relieve stress so your running does not suffer:

  • Meditation (even just 10 minutes a day)
  • Light yoga with deep breathing
  • Healthy whole foods- Lots greens, fruit (especially berries), healthy fat like avocados and walnuts, lean proteins – pretty much what we should be eating anyway
  • Sleep – or at least rest. If you can’t sleep try mind teasers, a happy book – but stay away from things that could add stress in the middle of the night (no news and stay away from social media)
  • Talk to someone – This can be a friend, but also don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist. Mental health is very important.
  • Massage or acupuncture
  • Professionals you might want to consider:
    • Licensed counselor or Sports Psychologist
    • Sports and/or Family doctor
    • Nutritionist
    • Pastor or priest
    •  Massage therapist and acupuncturist 

Austin is full resources and most insurance companies will help navigate you to a professional. Your coach also can lend ear and listen, but we are not medical professionals. We can help determine if you need to back off your running or recommend a modification.  Be mindful of your body! Resources and links for more information on this topic:

AustinFit Blog Running Tips USA Fit

Sponsor Spotlight

Fall Season is Here, but the Heat Isn't Leaving

by Dr. Dan Powers

Ah, fall is soon upon us. But that doesn’t mean the temperatures are falling anytime soon.

Training in the Texas heat can be a real challenge. Your times just seem to get slower as the heat continues, and sometimes, it takes a supreme effort to get through a workout. 

I remember seeing someone running in the 100-degree heat when I first moved to Austin 20 years ago. 

“What kind of a ding-bat would run in this heat?” I asked myself. 

Well, here I am, one of the ding-bats. I don’t particularly like working out in this heat, but if you want to be ready for race season, you have to do it anyway. The good news is there are definite benefits to working out in the heat. It makes you stronger, it makes you tougher, and it will make your pace quicken over the course of a season. 

When working out in the heat, your body has to shunt nutrients and water to the skin to get rid of the heat generated by your own body. This, in turn robs your body of oxygen, electrolytes and water. As a result, your heart is forced to pump harder and faster. The more dehydrated you become, the more this process accelerates. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

The most obvious solution to this dilemma is to give your body more water to work with but how you do this is either going to hurt you or benefit you. 

Start out by drinking a couple cups of water at least an hour before your workout and a small cup of cold sports drink just prior. Limit alcohol the night before and limit coffee in the morning of a workout as this will tend to dehydrate you. Avoid aspirin, ibuprofen, etc., as this affects your kidneys ability to process fluids. During your work out drink water and electrolytes but remember, your body can only absorb 5-7 ounces of liquid every 15 minutes. Drinking too much, too quickly will upset your stomach.

After your workout, cool off your body with cold wet rags and replace lost fluids by slowly rehydrating. Every pound you lose from your workout requires 16 ounces to replenish. If your urine is dark, you’re dehydrated. 

Lastly, avoid hyponatremia which is a critical loss of sodium in the blood. This can lead to brain swelling and seizures and can be lethal. This occurs from drinking excess amounts of fluids without electrolytes. If your pre-workout fluids include electrolytes you’ll never have to worry about hyponatremia. 

The good news about working out in the heat is that your body is adaptable and will change its physiology over time. As time goes on your body’s efficiency to cool off will improve and so will your body’s ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Stay the course throughout the hottest parts of the year, and it will make you a better athlete. Then, when the weather starts to cool off, you will be amazed at how relatively effortless and more efficient your work outs will seem. 

AustinFit Blog Summer Season 2020

Lightning Forces Summer Week 11 and Fall Week 1 Cancellation

We Train in the Rain, but not in Lightning

Training was cancelled this week due to inclement weather. Heavy rain and lightning was overhead at the time training was due to begin from downtown Austin.

We don't run beneath stormy skies for good reason. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that lightning strikes killed an average 30 people per year from 2006-2018, and all outdoor activities should be suspended for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder is heard.

Days not suited for running can still be productive if you choose to crosstrain. Supplemental activities like weight training can help improve running form and increase leg strength. Other exercises suited for the indoors, like yoga, increase range of motion and combat tight muscles that often result from running.

AustinFit Blog Summer Season 2020

Get Moving with AustinFit

A Mile Walked is a Mile Conquered

by Coach Greg Perliski

A walk through Austin is no walk in the park.

This city, on the rim of the Texas Hill Country just to the west, has its share of hills. A early morning walk headed north on Guadalupe St. from Lady Bird Lake bears this out.

It’s here on a recent Saturday that Austinfit’s Coach Michelle Cooper has her fitness walkers on the move in a valley of office towers and condominiums reflecting the dawning sunlight spreading above the dome of the Texas State Capitol.

“Come on, let’s help each other,” she urges her team forward as they walk a brisk pace. “We are all leaders here.”

Michelle is one of a group of fitness coaches out each week helping AustinFit participants maintain their cardio-health in the age of COVID. Outdoor workouts at safe distances from others seem one of the last refuges of normalcy for those fighting the spread of COVID-19.

Like other AustinFit coaches, COVID safety and precaution is top of mind for Michelle, who wears a mask during her workouts. Other precautions include preworkout temperature checks, social distancing, and ample use of hand sanitizers.

Beyond the necessary precautions, the goal of the AustinFit program remains as it has for the past decade — to give members the opportunity to be fit and healthy. It doesn’t happen overnight and requires lifestyle changes that ideally come with time. This is why the typical training season for Austinfit plays out over 26 weeks. It allows for an incremental transformation that protects against physical injury and mental burnout.

AustinFit and its seasonal approach to training provides the environment for a gradual, yet substantive, run or walk program that address the needs of beginners as well as the more experienced member.

For those Michelle leads, there’s walking and the specific pace and movement that go with it. However, AustinFit also has the coaching staff to accommodate all levels, including the seasoned marathoner who might clock a pace under a 9-minute-mile. Overall, participants are divided into four or five groups according to goals and expectations.

The different groups allow for AustinFit members to gauge progress and scale back effort to recover from injury if needed. Michelle understands from personal experience that the groups’ flexibility enables long-term commitment to an exercise program.

After training with AustinFit three years ago, she ran a half marathon in New Zealand. Like with many who participate in timed events, the thrill of the finish gave way to a longer-than-expected layoff in the following months. A rush to regain her form in the spring of 2018 resulted in a knee injury.

Frustrated but not daunted, Michelle returned to AustinFit in 2019 as a member of the walking group that she now leads.

“I joined Austin Fit's walk group to try to regain my stamina and endurance to run again and did just that,” Michelle said. “I was able to participate in the 3M Half Marathon and ended up running at least half of the race. Needless to say, I was proud of myself, but also recognized that if I had only listened to the doctor and my running buddies and came back as a walker sooner, I would have been able to run sooner.”

It’s with that mind set — walking is training — that she guides her team through a program that lengthens its workouts each week. By week 10 of the current season, her team is walking 7 miles. For some, distance alone is the challenge; however, like Michelle, some walkers discover that they can incorporate some running into their workouts.

“I try to maintain a good pace for everyone, and if I notice someone is being left behind, I try to slow down for them,” she says. “However, if there is someone in the group who is obviously leaving us all in the dust, I usually inform them that it is okay to move between the groups if the walkers are completing the routes slower than they would like.”

The first step involves some form of interval training. This is where a group adds a preset number of minutes for running. The group then dials back the intensity for a minute or two by walking. It becomes a run-walk interval.

As fitness continues to increase, AustinFit members can choose to run with groups that use longer run intervals and walk for shorter time. Eventually, they might choose an AustinFit group that runs for the entire workout.

Finally, as fitness levels increase, AustinFit members might choose to train for a specific timed event — the Austin American-Statesman Capitol 10K might be good choice for a beginner. Some choose more advanced targets such as a half-marathon or even a full marathon in Austin or San Antonio.

Whatever the goal, completing a timed event or working out simply for the health benefits, AustinFit coaches like Michelle are there each week for the team, encouraging correct form, proper eating and sufficient hydration needed to support 26 weeks of training.

AustinFit Blog Summer Season 2020

Sponsor Spotlight

Discover the Shoe for You at Austin's Ready to Run

Running gear and shoes will be on your mind as the miles stack up this summer and fall season. It's for good reason. Having the properly fitted shoe is one of the best things you can do to prevent injury and make your workout more enjoyable. And bringing the right gear, such as hydration bottles, utility belts and reflective vests, can boost the safety of your workout no matter the weather.

With shoes, as you learn more, you'll read about different ways your foot can strike the trail or pavement. Pronation, arch can be confusing how these terms specifically apply to you. But Rory Tunningley and the staff at Ready to Run on Far West Blvd. can make sense of it all.

Better still, Rory offers a 15% discount to all AustinFit members. Check out the video to learn more and stay tuned for details about an October hill run hosted from Ready to Run. Let's support our sponsor!

AustinFit Running Tips Summer Season 2020

Sponsor Spotlight

Weekly Workouts Offer Time to Improve How You Move

by Dr. Dan Powers, Powers Family Wellness Center

Proper form when running or walking is essential to ease stresses on your body, improve performance and prevent injuries. I’ll go over a few basics that will do just that and maybe make your training just that much more fun.

Most of these points are just common sense and you experienced walkers and runners may read these and say, “well, duh!” But bear with me -- even experienced athletes need reminders once in a while. We can so easily slip into sloppy habits. 

First, consider what we call leg turnover. Basically, this is how many steps you take per minute. Obviously, you don’t want to be taking tiny little baby steps, but you don’t want to be over-striding either. Both of these will put the brakes on and slow you down. If you think about it, the only time you actually propel yourself is when you have contact with the ground; so the more you’re propelling yourself, the faster and more efficient you will be. Increasing leg turnover without over-striding also will enable you to land on the center of your foot, as opposed to your heel or toes. Doing either of the latter can lead to heel and foot injuries, calf injuries, or knee and hip injuries. 

Another thing to consider is proper arm swing. It’s a simple thing that can have big consequences. Running is not just a matter of propelling yourself with the power of sheer muscle contraction. Our bodies also use kinetic energy. We load kinetic energy in our muscles, tendons and ligaments and then release it much like a wire spring snaps open when unwound.

The better our form, the better we make use of this kinetic energy to reduce how much our muscles have to work. For instance, swinging your arms front to back is a much more efficient way to produce kinetic energy than swinging your arms across your hips or not swinging your arms at all. Every time you bring your arm upward, your opposing knee should be drawn upward with it. This visualization has really helped me in the latter miles of marathons and half marathons. 

The last, and possibly most important aspect of running form I'll cover here, is proper posture and core alignment. There’s less stress and more efficiency of movement when you are straighter and more in alignment. Walking and running for any distance is stressful enough on our bodies, and adding more stress with improper posture will inevitably lead to injuries down the road.

The most balanced posture with the least amount of stress on our bodies is ear over shoulder, shoulder over hip, and hip over knees. Bringing your chest slightly forward while attempting to do this. Cross train and keep your core muscles strong so that after a couple of hours on the road you won’t tire out and start schlumping forward or sideways. 

Improving your form won’t happen overnight. It’s something you’ll have to keep working on, but If you pay attention and stick with it, you will reap the benefits over time with better finishing times and less injuries. 

If you would like to learn more about the Powers Family Wellness Center, please visit us here.

AustinFit Running Tips Summer Season 2020

Don’t Forget, Stay Hydrated

by Coach Jeff Barnett

At the Week 7 seminar we discussed the importance of hydration and how to do it properly for long-distance workouts. Remember to focus this week and in future weeks on getting between 80 oz to 100 oz of water per day - that’s 8-10 glasses of water or about 3 liters. It sounds like a lot, but if you constantly keep a bottle with you and on your desk while at work, it’s easy to do. 

On days when we run, make sure to come to the run hydrated and drink plenty during the run - at least 5 oz to 8 oz every 15-20 minutes. Weigh yourself before the run (at home) and then weigh yourself after the run. If you’ve lost weight, you’re not drinking enough. 

If you’re running less than an hour, water is enough. If you’re running more than an hour, you also need to be taking in electrolytes. You can drink Gatorade, one of our brand sponsors, or you could take salt tablets, use nutrition on the run that contains electrolytes, or drink other beverages containing electrolytes. Enjoy your week and make sure to get in your weekday workouts! See you next Saturday!!

Coach Jeff

Blog Running Tips Summer Season 2020

Keep Moving, Keep Winning

Thoughts on Gear for the Trail

By Coach Jeff Preston

I wanted to talk a bit about gear as we move into longer distances in our walks/runs. I’ve included links where possible for anyone that’s interested in learning more. Please note, that I have no affiliation with any of these companies. I just like their products.

Running Belts

The first item I wanted to mention was a running belt. I am currently running with the URPOWER-Upgraded Running Belt. Like all belts, it’s adjustable in length. It comes with two 6-oz water bottles and a large pocket that easily holds my gels, Chap Stick and even a cell phone.

It also has an opening for earphones for runners who aren’t using Bluetooth “Air Pod” technology. I like this product because it’s not bulky, it holds up well, and meets all of my needs. Finding a belt that meets your needs is really important. I’ve noticed many people don’t run with them until they start into longer runs. I encourage people to wear them every time they run. Adding any gear to your routine deeper into the training program just means more time late in the game for your body to acclimate to something new.


The days of the Bruce Jenner terry cloth headbands and wrist bands are long gone, but the need is still there. I can’t stand sweating into my eyes while working out. A few years ago, I came across an amazing product by Sweatgutr. The product is a thin translucent headband and does a great job of keeping sweat from rolling into my eyes. The technology is such that it has a “gutter” that collects the moisture and directs it to the rear and down your back, aiding in cooling while keeping your eyes clear.

Nipple Protection

This is for the men. When you’re out there running and sweating, you’re releasing lots of salt. Salt can be abrasive, especially with the movement of your shirt while running. Most guys don’t notice it during the short runs, but as distance increases, the repeated abrasion often causes your nipples to bleed. It has already happened to me once this season as I’d forgotten to protect my nipples by covering them up with some type of band-aid.

Two weeks ago, I saw one of our coaches finishing a run wearing our new bright-yellow shirts, and he was bleeding as well. Now any band-aid type bandage will work, but the larger bandages cover more area than what is required. If you have any chest hair, you know the pain pulling those large bandages off while ripping out hairs. So, after a couple of years of battling with finding the right coverings, I found HEB’s Clear Spot bandages. They’re round band-aids a little larger than a penny, and they get the job done. Most of the pharmacies have their own version of the product, and they all work equally well.

Body Abrasion

So now that the miles are starting to pick up, we will all battle the rub. Everyone has their own unique body style, and we all rub in different places. Some people under the arm, some between their thighs, and others... well let’s just say I fell into the "other" category a few times. I was quickly introduced to Body Glide. It’s an amazing product. It’s not messy, or smelly, and is a NO BRAINER. If you’re someone that has dealt with chafing in the past, then this is your reminder to start applying now. 

If you are having abrasion in the “dairy-air zone,” then diaper-rash-type protection is a must. There are many over-the-counter zinc ointments meant for this region, and they work very well.

Sun Block and Sun Glasses

If you’re like me, the idea of applying sunblock literally makes your hair stand on end. I can’t stand to be slathered up in greasy slime. I know some of you could care less, but for me it’s just nasty. Regardless of my personal feelings, there are lots of athletic-type sun blocks available. Find one that works for you, and use it.

If the slimy, greasy thing gags you as well, then I encourage you to check out Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer body mist. It doesn’t gag me, and I’m not miserable with it.

Sunglasses aren’t just for style and design; they also protect your eyes. So be sure to shop for something comfortable that’s protecting you from the harmful effects of the sun.

I’m currently wearing a pair of Scattante glasses that are a multi-lens cycling pair of sunglasses. They have interchangeable lens that you can change out fairly easy. The multi-lenses feature is really nice for changing out your lenses based on sunny or cloudy days. I enjoy these a lot. They’re lightweight and provide plenty of eye coverage.

Lenses for cloudy days actually provide a lighter view of your surroundings. These may be more than most people need, but I hit a sale and nabbed a pair a couple of years ago.

AustinFit Blog Summer Season 2020 USA Fit

Water Stop Update

Keep Social Distancing in Mind to Prevent Spread of Covid-19

By Coach Greg

As AustinFit now enters its sixth week of summer training, the full marathon group will complete its first Saturday route in excess of five miles. With that, we will be having our first water stop.

Because of the ongoing challenges presented by the community spread of the virus that causes Covid-19, let’s take a moment to review how we will incorporate social distancing into our water stops.

This season water stops are “hands free” for coaches and team members. Water stops have an attendant who will wear a face covering and gloves to distribute water. No cups will be provided; so it’s critical that all participants needing water on the course have their own hydration bottle to carry water. We offer no exceptions to this policy. Please be mindful that mornings in Austin despite the early hour are still warm and humid. Use of personal hydration is strongly recommended.

Generally speaking, you should sip small amounts of water throughout the course and not wait until you feel a strong sense of thirst. Once thirsty, you are running a fluid deficit that is hard to recover while exercising. For more information about hydration, speak to your coach.

While it goes without saying to not share a sports bottle with your training partners, do not share other items like towels, salt tablets, gels, maps, etc. If consulting with someone on the route, speak to them from a safe distance. For example, do not look over their shoulder at their mobile phone. Better to let your coach know if you are having trouble tracking upcoming turns and changes in direction rather than speaking up close to multiple training partners.

Also, because face coverings are optional for runners and walkers, it’s vital that we follow the recommended 6 feet between each participant not only as we exercise, but especially as lines form at the water stop. Six feet is about two arms lengths.

Spreading out over a larger distance will require water stops to be in areas where sidewalks are available. As training distances increase this season, we will strive to keep water stops at consistent 5-mile intervals as best as possible.

Hand sanitizer will be offered at each water stop.