We sat down with the owner of “Run for Change,” Denise Sauriol, to hear her incredibly inspiring story. And also to find out what advice she has for runners looking to go the extra mile…
Denise Sauriol is the owner of “Run for Change,” which is based out of Chicago. But she also trains and coaches people via the internet around the globe. We sat down for a Q&A to discuss her business and knowledge of coaching and running and to get some insider information about the running world and answers to common questions many runners have.
Tell us a Little Bit About Your Background and Running History?
I have been a runner since the fourth grade, and after all these years; running continues to be my best friend. In 1994, I ran my first marathon and that finish line gave me my first dose of confidence that I had been searching for. It turned “I can’t!” into “what else can I do?!” This still leads me to do other things in my life that I am SCITED (scared + excited) about. Some of those things include an Ironman (when I am deathly afraid of open water), sky diving, and bungee jumping (when I am deathly afraid of heights), taking improv classes to get over my fear of public speaking and completing a 100-mile ultra marathon.
Shortly after completing my first marathon, I started working with a running coach and running group, and discovered that I had untapped talent in me. My coach helped me get really fast. I even qualified for the Boston Marathon the first season that I worked with him. I also won $1,000 from the Chicago Marathon back in 2008, when I was the fastest female master’s runner in Illinois. After achieving all of these goals and finally finding something I was good at, I become obsessed with my race results.
The Fourth Grade Denise Emerges
If I didn’t get a Personal Record (PR) at each race, I would beat myself up. If I did get a PR at a race, I would be proud, but then that feeling would leave, and I would focus on the next PR. I was logging 60-70 miles per week and I lost sight of what the fourth-grade girl had found in running. I forgot what running gave to me spiritually, physically, socially, and mentally. At a certain point, my relationship with running was reset to “Fourth-grade Denise”. On August 16, 2009, I survived a near fatal car accident when I was walking in a crosswalk and a car came out of no where and hit me. My body flew onto the top of the car and shattered the windshield. I then bounced off the hood and landed in front of the car on the street. I survived with 5 broken vertebrae and that day became my re-birthday!
Run for Change is Born
During the rehabilitation period after my accident, I was just grateful to be able to walk, talk, and breathe on my own. My orthopedic doctor told me I would come back stronger. Then and now, I never cared about getting faster. I ran my first mile about five months into my recovery. That was as monumental to me as completing my first marathon back in 1994! I knew in my heart there was a reason that I survived the accident. That is when I decided that I wanted to give back to running for what it has given to me. This led me to becoming a certified running coach and starting my own part-time coaching business, Run For Change. Fast forward to 2016, and I left my career in accounting to become a full-time running coach! Helping someone do something they don’t think they can do sticks in my soul!
As of today, I have run 114 marathons on 7 Continents, completed 2 Ironman triathlons, qualified for Boston Marathon 32 times, completed 2 100-mile ultra marathons, and completed the Abbott World Marathon Majors twice. However, helping the runners I coach achieve their goals means as much to me as any of my own accomplishments.
Tell us About Your Coaching Business
I coach all different levels of runners. My clients are people who reach their first finish line, and their fastest finish time, no matter their age or pace.
Fall marathon season is my busiest time of year. It’s also my favorite! I coach first-timers and many timers online, one-on-one, and in group workouts. I even run alongside some of my clients in their races. In 2017, I ran the Chicago Marathon with my 81-year-old client, Max, and helped him cross the finish line, which was an incredible feat.
In September 2018, I published a book to help people train for their first marathon. It is titled, “Me, You & 26.2 Coach Denise’s Guide to Get YOU to YOUR first marathon”. It includes lots of tips, tricks, and Denise-isms from my experiences running 100 marathons. The book also includes personal stories from 26 first-time marathoners who I coached, and my personal story. And if you are looking for something to listen to while in transit; it is also available on Audible.com.
What Questions do you Regularly Hear That You’d Like to Answer for Runners Everywhere?
It isn’t really a question, as much as a thought process. Most of my future runners think they can’t run a marathon or even a 5k. They say things like, “I am not a runner”. But what I tell them is that running isn’t like the one-mile trial they did in gym class. As a runner, now, you can go whatever pace, distance, and location you want. And once you start running/walking, you become part of a very welcoming community: the running community.
The philosophy that I try to instill in my clients is that it isn’t always easy to find the energy to run, but there is rarely a time when you finish running and wish that you hadn’t run to begin with. When someone I am coaching progresses from going from walking a mile to running a mile, it brings tears to my eyes.
Running is a way to Experience the World
Running is a great way to see the world, and there are races that cover the globe. So it is not just a sport; it is a means to experience life fully, meet people you otherwise wouldn’t, and travel to places that you thought you might not ever see. Sometimes, I feel like it is my duty to undo all the damage that has been done by gym teachers and coaches from peoples’ pasts.
So it isn’t the question that I get most frequently, as much as the statement of those who come to me insisting that they aren’t a runner. Future runners typically don’t believe in themselves, or that they can run. And what they fear most is that they are going to compete in a race and look foolish coming in last place. I tell them that the only ones who lose are the ones who never make it to the starting line.
What is Your Favorite Race or Most Memorable Race?
My favorite marathon is the first one I completed. I had so much self doubt and anxiety, I didn’t know what was going to happen that day. I see so much of myself in those runners who come to me with the same mindset. And I also know that if a marathon transformed my life so critically; it will transform my client’s lives too.
What is Your Dream Race?
My dream race is the North Pole Marathon. The only problem is that it costs $17,000, which is crazy! But I know that it will be an amazing adventure. The event is expensive because the logistics of getting there are nearly impossible. And that is why I think it would be an incredible experience!
What was your Worst Race Experience Ever?
I can’t even think of a bad race because I learned something about myself in every one that I have participated in, whether I had a good time or a bad one. My worst race experience, I suppose, is when I hit a wall and I just wanted to quit in the middle the race. But when you push through that wall; it is at that moment, that you learn your greatest lessons. When I felt like quitting, but I didn’t, and instead forged through to the finish line, I learned that I had it in me.
How did you Bounce Back?
I bounce back from all of my races by continually getting deep tissue massages, and also submerging in ice baths. I also don’t “race” every race. Some of them I run just for fun.
What is one Piece of Advice That you Would Like to Share With Runners?
The piece of advice that I would give anyone who wants to be a runner is to not be so hard on yourself when you don’t hit the goal time that you have set for yourself. The key to being a runner is not to compare yourself to anyone else. Instead of thinking about everyone who might be quicker than you, consider all of the people who don’t even put their shoes on to get out the door. Not to mention, there will be people behind you that would love to be running at your pace.
People are so hard on themselves and feel that they just aren’t good enough. And instead of seeing all the amazing things they have done; they think of all the things they have yet to do. If you get out there and try, what else can you ask of yourself? Instead of constantly looking to your shortcomings, relish in your accomplishments, both great and small.
If you Weren’t a Runner, What Sport Would you Take up?
If I wasn’t a runner I would be a biker or a swimmer. Even if I couldn’t or didn’t run, I would be out there doing something athletic; it is just my nature. I enjoy doing anything that gets my heart racing and my adrenaline flowing.
Is There Anything Else you Would Like us to Know?
I published a book to help people complete their first marathon. My goal was to share tips and tricks to crossing the finish line with fellow marathoners. The book is called Me, and you, and 26.2: Denise’s Guide to Your First Marathon. It is a super inspiriting, informative, and fun book, written by a girl who just finished her 106th marathon…and also one who never thought she could complete the first one, to begin with.
Legacy & Super Ambassador
I am a lifelong runner, as well as a writer, a wife and the mother of six. Throughout the many challenges I have faced, the one thing I could always turn to was running, which is where I find solace and healing. Ironically, it is when I run until I can’t run anymore and feel empty, that I find peace. I became a writer more than a decade ago when I wrote an ongoing blog for my first husband, who was dying of pancreatic cancer. I realized that I loved writing as much as I do running, and it became my life.