For this week’s Spotlight, we spoke to Beit T’Shuvah’s marathon coach, Leslie Gold. She tells us how she got into running and what it takes to lead a team through the difficult race.

 Have you always been a runner?

Yes, ever since I was 15. My uncle ran every day and was so much more energetic, fit, and active than most of the other adults in my life. I remember thinking “I want to be like him when I grow up”, so I started joining him on his morning runs.  That was over 40 years ago, and I’m still running regularly. Today, Uncle Bill is 85. Two hip replacements ended his running a few years ago, but he is still playing baseball in multiple leagues.

How did you start coaching the Running 4 Recovery team?

If you had told me 10 years ago that this is what I’d be doing, I would have been laughing so hard. Back then, I was running a few miles a day, a few days a week.  A friend encouraged me to try a half marathon, so I did. Since it was fun, I did a few more.  Then my running buddies started encouraging me to do a full marathon.  I had the same response every time: “Why in the world would I want to do that?  My body can’t take it.  I don’t have the time to train.”  But, there was a little part of me that was thinking “You’re just making lots of excuses because you’re afraid you can’t do it.”

I started going longer distances on my own just to see if I could, and when I discovered that in theory, I “could” run a Marathon, I was still thinking, “Why?” I decided I needed to run for a good cause.  Then, I sat back and waited for that good cause to appear and inspire me.  A few weeks later, as I was flipping through the Jewish Journal, I saw an ad: “Run to Save a Soul. The only Jewish charity team for the LA Marathon.”  I had no idea what Beit T’Shuvah was at the time.  I just thought, “Hmm, I’m Jewish. Running for a Jewish cause sounds like a good idea. I’ll join.”

My first day on the team was back in October 2012.  Being a more experienced runner, as I ran, I offered words of encouragement and training tips to those on the team who were beginners and struggling. I connected with more and more people. I got stronger. I showed up every week.  I loved it. In March 2013, I proudly crossed the finish line of my first marathon, with one of the residents at my side. A few weeks later,

the Director of Development at the time, asked me if I’d like to coach.  I replied with an emphatic “YES!”. It’s among the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What do team members get out of the marathon?

It is different for everyone, but I’d say that most of what people have shared with me falls into two categories: a huge improvement in how they view themselves and what they are capable of, and the power of being part of such a supportive team all working together to achieve a challenging goal.  Let me share some of what our team members have written about their experience over the years:

“Training taught me that I’m stronger than I thought.”

“I learned that the impossible is possible, and I don’t know the meaning of giving up.”

“Training taught me to believe in myself.”

“Being part of this team means that I am no longer alone.  I have support in something greater than myself.”

“Sometimes we carry others and other times we are carried. Sometimes we need to be loved when we can’t love ourselves, and love others when they feel unlovable.  We go through seasons and we need each other.”

What does running do for you?

I run just as much for my mental and emotional health as I do for my physical health.  My shorter weekly runs are generally with friends, and I always enjoy the time to socialize as the miles go by. My longer weekly runs (12-20 miles), when I’m not coaching, are always done alone.  I love the solitude and the headspace it offers. Sometimes new ideas or simple solutions to current challenges pop into my head when I’m not even thinking about anything. It’s also a great time to work through complex issues or process negative emotions. And sometimes, I just focus on being present.  I try to notice the beauty of Nature all around me and pay attention to how good it feels to propel myself along. No matter what I am doing in my head, I always finish feeling recharged and ready to take on the day.

What do you tell a team member when they want to give up?

I first try to get at the why. Sometimes they have a very legitimate medical reason for needing to stop. If physical pain is making them want to quit, I try to figure out if it’s something that can be alleviated with a change in body mechanics, foam rolling, and/or a few stretches. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get folks able to run again. If it appears to be something more serious, I urge them to seek medical attention and take a break until the issue is resolved. If, however, it’s all about what’s going on in their minds, my first response is to acknowledge and validate their feelings.  We all have days when we feel like quitting.  What matters is what we do next.

Sometimes, people are thinking far ahead and tell me “I can’t do a Marathon” or “I can’t run 13.1 miles (a half marathon). The task seems so daunting they don’t believe they can ever succeed.  I am always quick to point out that nobody is asking them to go that distance today. I remind them that they are already going further than they thought they could at the beginning of the season. I tell them that if they stick with it, today’s distance will eventually seem easy to them soon too.   It’s all about a series of small achievable steps. I get people focused on how many times they have already been successful.

Sometimes people are down on themselves because they aren’t going as fast as they’d like to.  I remind them that training is not about speed; it’s about moving forward.   It’s about making a little progress each week, just like they do in their sobriety.  Then, I’ll shift to tips on how to maintain a reasonable pace. People often get caught up in the excitement of getting started, go out too fast, and burn out, just like they might in other areas of their lives. I teach them the benefits of slow and steady, and then jog beside them to set that slower pace.  As they settle into a pace that they can maintain for mile after mile, they often start feeling more positive.

Can you tell us about the nonprofit you started?

As current year participants shared their success stories with me season after season, and past year team members told me that being on the Marathon Team was critical to their long term sobriety, I started thinking “Why is this experience only happening at Beit T’Shuvah?” In 2018, I decided to quit my job and start a non-profit that would bring similar experiences to other recovery communities.  Strides in Recovery offers 5K, 10K, and half marathon training for residential treatment programs, PHPs, IOPs, and sober living homes. Nobody has taken me up on the offer of full marathon training yet!

Having the Beit T’Shuvah experience has been enormously helpful in getting this off the ground.  I’ve learned a lot about how to manage teams and what needs to happen behind the scenes to make the program a success. When I tell local treatment providers considering a Strides in Recovery program that I coach Running4Recovery, I often get a smile. They then eagerly share their stories of people they know who were on the Marathon team and how much it helped.  In addition, several of my volunteers are past team members.  They are wonderful role models as to the power of goal-oriented group training for supporting addiction recovery.

Now, instead of inspiring one weekly group to become a community doing more than they ever thought possible, I get to enjoy this rewarding experience much more often. Who knew that answering an ad would change my life? Thank you Beit T’Shuvah.