A Lesson in Purpose: From a Georgia Teacher of the Year

This story was originally written for The Georgia Vision Project— highlighting the teachers, students, technology, and creativity of the Georgia public school system. This is one of my favorites.

Primary School Class Room.

Amanda Milner loves to learn; anyone who attended elementary, middle, and high school with her knew that. An active and involved student, she was an academic, even an overachiever. Another thing everyone knew about Amanda—she was going to do something really big with her life. She carried that knowledge around with her like a lead weight, doing what so many do when outside feedback drowns out their internal discourse— she ignored her purpose until it finally struck her in the face.

The daughter of a military mother and stepfather, Amanda was fortunate to be a military kid who spent most of her middle and high school years in a single place: Georgia. Curious and ambitious, she soaked in every minute of her schooling in Houston County. Active in academics, athletics, and clubs, she was well liked, successful, and ready to break barriers. She’d be the first in her family to graduate from college.

Amanda entered Valdosta State as a psychology major with the thought she’d later become an attorney; all of this while competing in pageants at the highest levels. “I stayed busy,” laughed Amanda. Her time at Valdosta State would indeed decide her future, but not the way she anticipated, and not without a load of self-doubt.

“I didn’t want to be a teacher.”

In high school Amanda took one of those aptitude tests that so many students take— the one that focuses on your strengths and suggests a career direction. “It all said PEOPLE,” recalled Amanda. “I just knew that I wanted to make a difference; have an impact. Teaching was the farthest thing from my mind.”

While attending college, Amanda got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. The child she mentored was a third grader. The teacher of that class would prove to be one of the most important people in her life— Julie Hiers. She blew Amanda away: “I was just as excited about seeing Mrs. Hiers; her teaching style was completely infectious.” It was the first time she connected with how special teaching could be. Then came a call. Julie wanted to know if Amanda could reschedule her mentor day because the student was insisting on skipping a school field trip so she wouldn’t miss her regular day with Amanda. It was a pivotal moment. She was making a difference with this student.

In an instant, Amanda knew exactly what to do. She switched her major. “It was like being brought to life,” explained Amanda. Everything she did was meaningful, purposeful, and engaging. And yet, she found herself hesitant to share the news with people. “Something told me that it wouldn’t be enough,” Amanda tried to explain. “People had all these grand ideas for what I might do with my life. Was teaching enough?”

To her delight, Amanda’s student teaching placement was with her muse, Julie Hiers. It was a time she cherished. It served to cancel out her doubt, and to excite her about getting into her own classroom. But that would have to wait.

Waiting and Doubting

Amanda was crowned Miss Georgia, an honor that required she not work, focusing her efforts instead on traveling as a representative of Georgia, speaking out on her platform as a Miss Georgia, and competing in Miss America. All around the country, she was asked the same question: “What are you going to do next?” At first, her response was earnest and pride-filled; she was going to be a third grade teacher. To her surprise, people often seemed let down. “So many people steered me away from teaching,” reflected Amanda. “It was a confidence shaker; a big one.”

By the time her Miss Georgia obligation was complete, she had wavered enough that she didn’t go into teaching. Instead, she tried acting, even appearing once in a Subway commercial, and traveling to Africa to work with a non-profit before landing at the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) as a membership recruiter. Never too far away from teaching, it would seem. The more time she spent at GAE, with work that occasionally dropped her into a classroom, the more she craved teaching.

Again, she shifted her path, placing her resume to teach into Houston County where she grew up. For her, it was only natural to teach in her hometown, and to do so in the public school system where she was brought up. She was hired as a PreK teacher, and bounced from grade to grade while earning her stripes, from PreK to 4th and then to 5th grade. For Amanda, all of it was amazing, each day a chance to make a difference.

“She belongs in teaching,” expressed her mentor, Julie Hiers. She describes Amanda as a natural in the classroom, with the magic ingredient that makes some people innately good at the profession. “She absolutely lights up a room, and has a gift for connecting with students.”

Doing something big with her life

A few years ago, Amanda taught a student that acted out in class, bullied fellow students, and struggled academically. It’s impossible to know a child’s circumstances, but something told Amanda that, like all of her students, it was worth the work. It was clear the young lady was both intelligent and capable, but very troubled. Frustratingly, Amanda could never seem to reach her parents for a conference. Then one afternoon, the student’s grandfather came to the school to see the student. She stole him away and carefully explained the situation. A few days later, the girl went to live with her grandparents and things began to improve dramatically. Amanda encouraged her to journal daily, and it soon became clear that writing was not just an outlet for her but something for which she had an exceptional talent. She went on to earn honor roll and win an award for her writing of the Vietnam War.

To Amanda, students like this are a large part of why she teaches. She has the opportunity to reach children that can’t grasp their own potential. It’s a lesson she learned early in life— being encouraged is life altering. “My mother always told me that I mattered and that I can do it,” said Amanda. “I never doubted that I was important or in my ability to succeed.”

“It’s not just the four walls of your classroom,” explained Julie about creating those important connections with students. “You have to dig deep and go beyond to really see what makes students tick. Amanda understands that better than most.”

After teaching for just four years, Amanda was recognized as Teacher of the Year for Houston County.

“I was floored; you don’t go into teaching hoping for awards,” said Amanda. “It can’t be your motivation.” The County recognition put her in the running for 2015 Georgia Teacher of the Year, something she couldn’t fathom. But then she got the call that she was selected. Like Miss Georgia, the title would require her to leave her post for a year to travel, speak, and motivate teachers around the state of Georgia. She was even invited to the Capital, where she brought along the student whose writing she had nurtured. “I had only one student in mind when they extended the invitation,” Amanda said, her voice steady and sure.

While she enjoyed the process of Georgia Teacher of the Year immensely, Amanda was anxious to return to the classroom. So, unlike most recipients of Teacher of the Year who go on to new posts outside the classroom, Amanda went back to school. Today, she teaches third grade, the same as her mentor Julie. “I’m right where I belong,” said Amanda, this time confident of her purpose.

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Women, you are never alone. Never safe.

Originally published on Medium on October 15, 2014. As a result of the overwhelming feedback to this article, I also gave a radio interview to 640 WGST on October 30, 2014.

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Several years ago, I had a stalker. It took a while to reconcile what it was. In fact, I probably lived in denial for a year or so before I could really categorize it in such a way. You see, I knew him. Pretty well even. We went to the same coffee shop, a place a friend owned. As a consultant, I did a lot of work from there. He was a regular, the same way many other customers were. I became friendly with him, doing the stray crossword together, chit chatting about music. To me, the boundaries were always clear. I was dating somebody seriously and he knew it. Then it got strange.

He started to ask too-personal questions. If I were not at the shop when he expected me to be, he would question me when I arrived. He started bringing gifts. Then, leaving notes. He never knew where I lived and I took comfort in that. Until one day when I pulled into my driveway with my son. A few minutes later, he did too. He confronted me about why I wasn’t coming around as much to the shop. He told me he loved me. When I asked how he knew where I lived, he confessed he had followed me home once before. And since then, would sit at the gas station across the street in his car and watch me. To know somebody has been watching you, wanting you. It shakes your sense of privacy and safety.

I did what a responsible woman does — I sent my son inside and returned my focus to the stalker. I spoke to him coldly, explaining he was to leave me alone. I stopped going to the coffee shop. I consulted with a friend in law enforcement. And I routinely locked my doors and pulled the blinds closed with the fervor of a woman changed. At least, I thought I was.

Once, months later, distracted on a phone call in a local Home Depot, I walked to my car only to realize when I sat down that a man I’d halfway noticed in the store had followed me all the way to my door. I dropped the phone and locked the car doors. He stood there for a few moments giving an icy stare, saying nothing. Eventually, he walked away. And once again, I adjusted my behavior. No more phone calls in stores, coupled with a heightened awareness while walking to my car. A changed woman was changed a little more.

Years have now passed. I live in a quiet neighborhood with my fiancé and our children. Neighbors are friendly and conscientious, the kind of people you’d leave a house key with when you go out of town. We have a little dog, BBQ on the weekends. I garden.

That is why I was surprised when this week, one of my neighbors asked to speak with me. She was anxious but composed. Carefully she explained that she had some concerns about her husband’s fidelity and that it prompted her to look through his phone. This story didn’t sound uncommon, so far. Then she said softly but seriously that she had found pictures of me. I was gardening in my yard. He caught me in positions where I was bending over; as a result, they were more sexual.

The violation that I had felt years ago has flooded back. I am equal parts angry with him and angry with myself. I feel compromised. And I feel unguarded. I should have known that I am never alone. That I am never safe.

A Rally Cry for Men and Women Alike

This fear is unique to women. And it is hard to explain to men. In fact, telling this photograph story to my fiancé prompted more laughter than anger. And that is not because he doesn’t care for me deeply. It is simply hard for most men to identify with.

It is an issue so difficult that discussion is often heated on both sides. Women say men are ultimately pig-like creatures. Men say that the makeup of men that carry out these acts are not representative of the gender. In fact, a few years ago a hashtag emerged. #notallmen was meant to bolster the notion that not all men are perverts and predators. And while the point was valid, it did little more than fan the feminist fire, because it all but ignored the reality that some men are. For women in fear, that is enough.

To me, the reality is something a little more balanced. Not all men are pigs — but some are to a frightening extent. And as far as misogyny and sexism, women are at times quite complicit. With rabid attention, some women consume (and help create) the media that not-so-quietly promotes it. And some women use their looks and charm for personal and shameless gain. They violate what I call “women code.” That is — stay safe, represent your gender with integrity, and promote values that propel our opportunity for gender equality.

That said, men have to respect that being a man makes them wildly incapable of understanding what sexism means to women. Whether a man defines himself as sexist or not, many are socialized that way and even benefit from it. They enjoy the heavy end of unequal compensation and they don’t generally need to plan their route to their cars because they’re afraid of being raped. A man’s role should not be to dispel the issue of predatory behavior or sexism by claiming it is a minority practice. But rather to openly recognize that it exists and that it hurts women. They can distance themselves from the the worst of the lot by simply speaking out against it. And by being a living and breathing example of how men carry themselves with respect.

And women, boy do we have some work to do. We need to be our own bodyguards. We can exercise some control by being self-aware. And we can boldly tell our stories so that we may help other women. But we can do more than that. We can speak out against the women that have a role in compromising our progress. And we can speak up for the men that are breaking the mold. Because there are many; I am proud to call several of them my friends.

Progress is made through conversation, not accusation. When I see that balance shift, it will be a sign that we can put differences aside and focus on impacting change.

10 Ways to Lose Friends and Irritate People (a back-and-forth #blindpost)

10 Ways

A couple weeks ago, I came across a headline in Inc. magazine titled 10 Ways to Lose Friends and Irritate People. “Oooo, this could be a great #blindpost,” I thought. Because we’ve all experienced irritating behavior in the workplace. And, I certainly have a few tips for the offenders. Blind posts are something Jeff Hilimire started doing a few years ago, where he writes his take on a business headline, without having read the article. So, I invited Jeff to join me in a dual blind post. He took it a step further, suggesting we write it together. The result …

Jeff:

#1. Force your religious/political/crazy ideas on them. Personally, I love when people are passionate about their beliefs. But I’ve seen more friendships tarnished by people who force their ideas onto others than maybe anything else. At one point in Spunlogic’s early days I had to ban political conversations from the office because so many people were getting into arguments over it.

Stephanie:

#2. Being an INTERRUPTER. There is the obvious thing — being interrupted when you’re in the middle of a thought is super annoying. And while most of us are guilty of doing this on occasion (you’ve argued with a significant other, right?), people who do it frequently are doing more than derailing conversation. This action subtly (or maybe not so subtly) suggests that your viewpoint is superior. And…that you are. Making your point clear is one thing. Trouncing all over somebody’s thoughts and bullishly forcing your words in small spaces is just … irritating. All of this is not to mention the even more toxic effect of interruption — when you interrupt you’re simply not present in the discussion. Instead, you hear something, latch onto it, brew your rebuttal and wait for the noise to stop long enough that you can interject. Healthy, fecund dialog happens when you really listen to what the other person says – the entire way through.

Jeff:

Knock Knock.
Who’s there?
Interrupting Cow.
Interrupting Cow wh
MOOOOOO.

Ok, just my favorite all-time kids joke that you made me think of.

#3. Over-emailing. Over-sharing. Over-texting. I think this one is pretty self explanatory. I’ve personally taken to sending an #unsubscribe hashtag when I’m in large text chains with friends/family.

Stephanie:

Moo. Did my #2 make you want to #unsubscribe halfway through? (Hey, that rhymed!) Do you think there is undersharing too? Not as egregious as oversharing, but also annoying.

#4.  Eating Chips in Open Spaces. It is the noise equivalent of heating up fish in the shared microwave. Ever tried working through somebody munching on Lays? Good luck.

Jeff:

Wow, remind me not to invite you to Subway for lunch.

#5: Looking at their phone while talking to you. The worst.

Stephanie:

I’m sorry, what? I was checking Facebook.

#6. Being late. To meetings, to appointments, to lunches … cocktails, conferences, whatever. Being late says, “I don’t value your time.” I don’t mean being late once or twice. We’ve all been in unexpected traffic (curse you 285 and GA 400!), or had our kid throw a wild card at us (It’s dress like a President day, I’m supposed to be Martin Van Buren). I’m referring to the habitually late. A grown up can manage time. Being punctual doesn’t just tell somebody you’re prudent and organized. It is a sign of respect.

Jeff:

Oh man, that was going to be my next one! Well played.

#7: Follow up every time your friend says something that they are stressed or worried about with your even worse thing to be stressed and worried about. The classic one-upper. Same thing on the positive side.

“You’ll never believe who I sat next to on the plane! Usher!”

“Wow, adorable. That reminds me, did I tell you about the time I accidentally spilled apple juice on Lebron James and we ended up dating for six months before I dumped him? It’s crazy how we both have celebrity stories.”

Stephanie:

Nice one! Self deprecating humor is great. One-upmanship is awful.

#8.  Taking credit for somebody else’s work. I mean, of the things that suck the most when you’ve worked really hard, this has to top the list. Most people who take credit are aware they’re doing it, other times they’re just not being conscientious. I have always made it a point to give credit to the people that put time into team projects — beyond being the right thing to do, people who work hard deserve recognition. The worst thing about somebody who takes credit for your work, though, is when they do it in front of you in a meeting. Because you can’t call them out, or you look like the turd. You just have to take it.

Aziz-Ansari

Jeff:

Wow, you’ve worked with some real d.b.s!

#9. Canceling on commitments. We all know these people – heck, we’ve all BEEN these people. People who say yes to attending an event or meeting up and then cancel. Over and over and over. Just say, “No, I think that’s a dumb idea so I’m not going to go.” That really bums people out if they’re counting on you.

Stephanie:

Yeah, fortunately, that has not happened to me often. But if you’ve been on the receiving end of someone taking credit for your work, you never forget.

#10. The last minute guy/girl. The one that shows up with a huge problem or deadline at 4:30 on Friday afternoon. This one requires no further explanation. Jerk.

Ode to Cohutta

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On April 26th, I participated in the Cohutta, a 100-mile mountain bike race.

Legs afire
This climb is a thirsty beast
The summit in sight, the soul prepares for relief
Like a mirage, it is but a savage illusion
Are the trees that form my false apex mocking me?
Back muscles scream under tension
The climb is surely waning now
Shivers call up the rising heat 
Another climb
It’s still time
Bicycles wend their way across jagged gravel
Only when we give fully in
Descend

I finished 100 miles, with 16,000 feet of climbing, in 11:56. I am pleased with that time, but that only gave me 14 out of 21 (women were just 13% of the field!). The girls who come out to race are animals. All in all, it was a blast to be out there riding with these boys and girls. Mountain bikers are awesome! Except that one who forced a pass in the first 10 miles (really dude?).

You Go Girl!

How a three-word cheer became a paragon for gender segregation

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It was said so matter of fact, impulsively even. Like a gag reflex.

75 miles into the 112 mile bike portion of my Ironman and I was feeling good. Picking up speed too — training in motion. In triathlon, there are rules against riding behind others; it is called a “no drafting” policy. This means people are often left making pass after pass in the inevitable shift of individual pace making. I was among six or seven riders doing just this thing. One of them was a man wearing a Mont Tremblant kit (an Ironman course with the distinction of being among the most difficult in Ironman’s portfolio). At one point, he groused, “You’re fast too!,” referring to me, along with another women who was also trading passes. Eventually, she left us for good and was on her way. Soon I did the same. As I passed Mt. T, he said it. “You Go Girl.”

Surely we can assume it was to be a complement. I will take it as such. But not without an eye roll. Exactly when did this happen? When did a gender-defined blurt become to the go-to salvo for cheering on women?

Over the last several years, women have made great strides in sport — both professionally and recreationally. Yet, it seems that in equal measure a swath of pink and a tangle of tutu are cutting through that progress. The “You Go Girl” bromide is simply a byproduct.

Let me explain.

An emphasis on encouraging women into sports such as running and triathlon has effectively done just that — it has served to raise the number of women who are becoming active (more than half of newcomers to triathlon, for instance, are women). So I will always support that. However, the tone of this encouragement has created another kind of gender issue.

That issue is the general feminizing of sport. Dousing races in pink and calling excessive attention to gender does little to propel women, or to create balance and acceptance as athletes.

Take for instance the surge of women’s running races. They are around every corner. Even Nike has one, where they give away a Tiffany necklace at the end (cliché much?). But it doesn’t end there; there are women’s-only magazines for running and many other sports, and an endless supply of products with a feminine touch. And not the kind that enhance performance, such as a gender-biased cut on a bicycle short, but a leopard print gusset on a bicycle seat, a pink dial on a GPS watch, and an increasingly pastel inventory of shoes, hats, shirts, shorts, and socks. The line between making these options available and making them the norm is beginning to blur. Ever tried NOT to buy a pink running shoe? Good luck.

There is no way around seeing all of this as decidedly … ladylike. Not that being a lady is a bad thing. I embrace that. It is the overall cape that is thrown on women that gives little latitude in how we are seen, or how we choose to define ourselves.

When I entered the world of running and biking years ago, there weren’t all these florid things. There weren’t a plethora of women’s races. And women didn’t expect to always train and race together. The joy in this, for me, was that I fell in love with a sport — and with all the people who participated in it. And because men  by nature have a faster potential, they pushed me to work harder. Rather than sitting on the periphery with a carved-out group of women, I immersed myself and ended up feeling completely included. Likewise, it helped the men around me see me as equal — equally passionate, equally driven, and often, equally capable. It was a real sense of belonging to be considered an athlete, not just a female athlete.

To be clear, I am not focusing my attention on the world of professional sports, where women compete against women, and men against men. I’m referring to us regular folk — recreational athletes and middle-of-the-packers. In this world, women factioning off into their own races, their own running packs, and decorating themselves, is more akin to gender segregation. And, in fact, this trend could have very real unintended consequences on professional sports.

I have witnessed this divergence—from women being fully part of a sport, to gradually separating themselves. With the best of intentions, the entire category of sport simultaneously encouraged women and stifled their experience.

The words, “You Go Girl!” are a steady reminder of this isolation.

Certainly this, in and of itself, is not a wholesale implication that all women will be held back. It does suggest, however, that we could be. When we create walls around our gender, we run the risk of dampening our progress and of missing out on what it fully means to be an athlete.

If women are raised to see sport intrinsically linked to femininity and fragility, we suspend ourselves in hazy, pink ether. And we begin to define ourselves as somehow less competent as athletes. For every fantastic role model there is out there pushing boundaries and running their professional sporting careers as a gender equal, there is a little girl in a pastel running skirt thinking that it’s cute to run, but she shouldn’t take it seriously.

I know this article will make women angry. Because: Being pretty is our right!; Dresses are fun; We choose to be around women, they are so supportive; There is nothing wrong with pink!; Are you against breast cancer support?

Sure; Yes; Good for you; Nope; Of course not.

Just remember this — women could run before there were pink shoes. They could feel real, genuine camaraderie before there were women’s-only events, and they could still wear dresses and be beautiful.

This is not an attack. It is pointing out a steady, formidable cadence of feminizing sport.

Interestingly, women can easily see the fragility and incompetence suggested when our dolls say, “Math is hard.” Or, when Legos creates a pink and purple set just for girls. It even makes us mad. It is harder to see it when we are so very complicit in painting ourselves into a pretty pink box of sport. Subtly, but surely, we are telling ourselves — and our children — that we should be treated differently.

Think about that the next time you hear, “You Go Girl!”

Originally published on Medium; to make annotations, visit the story here.

Five Crowdfunded Wearable Tech Devices to Watch

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We are witnessing — and taking part in — one of the largest shifts in product development of our time. Crowdfunding has completely reinvented what it means to create a product, reducing the time to market and bringing a more complex and innovative set of goods to the marketplace.

Even a cursory look through the popular crowdfunding platforms shows that there are some very interesting products being developed, very quickly, in the wearable tech arena. Here are five.

1. Fin: A ring that makes your hand a gesture based control for common actions (Funded, 4 days left)

Fin is a small ring, fitted for the thumb that turns your hand into a numeric keypad; it also uses gesture-based controls such as hand waving. It’s designed to be connected to smartphones, smart TVs, automobiles and home automation. One can imagine tech like this becoming commonplace for every day use. Plus, it has the very altruistic benefit of helping people with limited mobility or visual impairment.

2. Atlas: Nike Fit Band on steroids, with a Strava-like competitive facet (Mega-funded 18 days left)

As an owner of a Garmin, I was blown away that my device could figure out when I was doing freestyle versus breaststroke. Atlas makes this look like child’s play – it knows a bicep curl from a hammer curl, and even tells you if your form sucks. And, you can teach it new tricks (cross fitters, rejoice!). Oh, and it builds in a Strava-like community that lets you measure your activity against your friends.

3. Haloband: A wristband that controls your smartphone (Funded, pre-ordering now available on Indiegogo)

Perhaps the simplest on this list, Haloband could be a very common device in the very near future – because it is simple to use and can pretty immediately address common problems. An extension of your smartphone, it uses NFC (on NFC enabled phones) to perform tasks, without having to dig your phone out of a pocket or bag. These tasks could include switching songs on your media player, or even taking the place of your office pass card.

4. Atheer One: Google Glasses with a 3D angle (Funded)

Google Glass has spawned all kinds of me-toos. Antheer One does a better than average job of doing so. With a depth sensor, it gives a three dimensional immersive view. And, it combines what appears to be a more complex set of gesture-based controls. Watch the video, it’s hard not to see how these glasses are paving the way for immersive user experiences.

5. Angel: Blood Oxygen Sensor (Funded)

An open API will really give this product an interesting future. Yet, even off-the-shelf, Angel is pretty powerful. Worn on the wrist, it monitors pulse, temperature, activity and blood oxygen level. With funding, the company plans to transfer and integrate that data into smartphone apps, laptops and even treadmills. The device has great potential for not just athletes — who are the obvious first-users — but also for those with medical conditions that require regular monitoring.

http://vimeo.com/74271995

[Originally posted on the Proving Ground blog]

5 and 5: Five Tips and Five Product Recommendations for Runners

Hurdle on an athletic track

How long have you been running? It’s not something you think about, is it? Somebody asked this question recently. After some quick math, I came up with over 20 years. Twenty years!! Considering how vivid my memories of those first runs are, it’s hard to believe it has been that long. I suppose it’s not surprising that, over the years, I’ve had people ask me for tips. If they’re new to running, the answers are typically focused on the importance of a good pair of running shoes, decent technical wear, stretching and just sticking with it.

There are even more tips I would share for people who have made it over what I affectionately call “The Hurdle.” Imagine a hurdle on a track; it’s tall, and it feels like you’ll never be able to get over it. Every run before you’re able to leap over that hurdle is painful. Running stings. You walk a lot. You become certain there is no such thing as “runners high,” and you begin to curse people who happily slap those 13.1 stickers on their cars.

Yet, when you finally get over that hurdle, running changes. I don’t think it ever gets easy. But it feels a bit more effortless. You find a rhythm. When every step stops being a reminder about how far you have to go, you can find a real sense of pleasure in running.

If you are a Hurdle Jumper, here are my 5 & 5 — five tips and five products I recommend for runners.

5 Tips for Runners

1. Core work. It is very important to add core training into your routine. Running puts a lot of demands on your body. Developing a strong core allows your entire body to assist in the effort – by creating stability, and improving the quality and efficiency of your run. And, despite how the term is commonly used, core is much more than your abs. It is everything that gives your center of gravity strength. That means your abdominals, lower back, obliques and even your pelvic floor muscles. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time. Here are a few links to great routines that you can do in 15 minutes or less.

2. Speed work. My running improved dramatically when I regularly added speed work into my training. For me, it is at least one day a week of something that moves the intensity up the scale. To improve, our bodies need to learn how to train at intensity, how to clear lactic acid efficiently, and push through pain. There are a number of track workouts available online.

A very straightforward workout is the 6 x 200. Warm up on a track for a mile or two, easy pace. Then, do 200 meters at your 5k pace, jogging between sets for 200 meters. Cool down for a mile. I also like 6 x 400s, with 400 meters at 5k pace, jogging 200 between sets.

When I can’t get to a track, I locate a stretch of road that is somewhat straight and as flat as possible (though, invariably, there will be hills) and do quarter mile repeats, jogging back to the start after each set.

I also throw in short, fast runs in a pinch. A 3-mile run that is a little slower than your 5k pace is a great and simple way of incorporating some speed work. Even running stairs is a great way to push your anaerobic effort.

3. Put the pasta down. It is easy to tell yourself that you need to carb up. But that doesn’t work for everyone. And it’s easy to mindlessly pack on pounds and get less protein than you need. Protein builds muscle. Muscle is needed to gain the strength that protects your body from the impact of running. It also helps muscles heal faster. Don’t give up carbohydrates; your body does still need them to properly process proteins and other vital nutrients. But, all too often, people think they need more than they really do. The answer isn’t always a giant bowl of pasta. Have your protein with a side of carbs. Think Greek yogurt and oatmeal. Or chicken wraps with corn tortillas and vegetables. If you’d like a little more scientific exploration of this topic, give this a read.

4. Go data-less. Data can be a fantastic tool. Devices like Garmin help us understand our pace, heart rate, zones, elevation and more. It gives us insight into improving. Yet, all that data distracts us from “feeling” our runs. While I do most of my training with my Garmin, I try to be as in tune with my body as possible. So I switch the screen and don’t look at my data until after the run (with the exception of my speed work). Many also know that I go music-less (that’s another story). I try to use my body to feel distance and pace, and to push myself. If you can’t get out on a run and take a guess at your pace, or how far you have gone, I consider that a clear sign that you need a lesson in tuning into your body. It’s not always about training in a zone, or at a certain pace. You cannot forget the love of running. Feeling your body move. Hearing your feet hit the ground. Give it a try — put the device down and just run. Be free.

5. Be consistent. I give this tip to newbies and long timers alike. It is particularly easy to reduce your running volume when you’re a triathlete. And you should, to a certain extent. But to really build a base and continue to improve your running, you have to be dedicated. That means more than just a couple runs a week. Whenever I find myself in a slump, I do immersion running — doing a run every day. It helps me build back up and renew focus. For me, it’s shorter miles (usually around 3), in between my mid distance weekly runs. Scheduling doesn’t always make this easy. But if you keep the miles short, you can almost always squeeze in and extra 20 or thirty minutes somewhere.

5 Products for Runners

1. Wright Socks. If you have problems with blisters and sweaty feet like I do, you’ll appreciate these socks. They are a double-layer sock that redistributes the friction that causes blisters.

2. Brave Solider Friction Zone. This can be a pretty individual thing, but I really love Brave Solider. I started using it for cycling, and realized quickly that it works very well for running if you suffer from chaffing at all. Occasionally, my shorts will give me trouble on long, humid runs and this stuff stays put. It also smells a bit herbal and totally fantastic.

3. Amphipod Handheld Bottle. Finding a bottle that doesn’t leak and feels acceptable to hold for hours is harder than you might think. For longer runs, this Amphipod handheld bottle fits the bill. It has an ergonomic design and a flexible neoprene band that ratchets for a snug fit, a pouch that holds a couple of gels and a key. And, it doesn’t leak. A total keeper.

4. Coppertone Sport. Have you ever had a run where you thought you were suffocating in your own skin? I have learned the hard way that not all lotion and spray sun blocks are created equal for athletes. Generally, lotions have clogged my pores. That will ruin a run in a nanosecond. Coppertone Sport, however, has consistently worked. For the summer months, it is a staple. I need a frequent buyer card.

5. Road ID. If you run alone, you owe it to yourself to pick up a Road ID. Should the worst case scenario happen, your vital information, emergency contact and insurance information are all stored on the Road ID website via a pin number. If it doesn’t give you peace of mind, it should provide it to your family.

[UPDATE: Triathlete Magazine just shared news about an app Road ID has issued for free. I downloaded it within five minutes of reading the piece.  It has two functions – an “ecrumb” tracker and a lock screen. The ecrumb is a tracker that you turn on, so friends and family don’t worry why your 3 hour ride is taking 4. It lets them track your progress, so they don’t have to worry. The lock screen lets you add your vitals, and emergency contact, to the lock screen of your phone — easy access for emergency medicine, should it be necessary.]