Healthy Talks with Coach Kai (Run Coach Kai)
Photos by RCS Images
On my run journey I’ve crossed many runners along the way, met some great people and learned a great deal when it comes to everything running, but every now and then we come across a few runners that not only run but also are making changes in their communities not only from a healthy standpoint but also from a mental point of view. Coach Kai offers a tremendous amount of insight when it comes to training which also translates into a better mental well being as he’s not only able to help runners physically but also help them to break through those tough mental barriers we always fight with daily. Let’s have some healthy chats with Coach Kai.
MSM: Welcome to Mid Strike Magazine. You’ve been a person I’ve always found interest in simply because as a runner we’re always looking for ways to improve in all aspects of our run journeys. For our readers, when did this run journey begin for Coach Kai?
Wow, are you really taking me all the way back to a seven year old running elementary school track. The smell of Spring and yellow school buses always reminds me of track meets at the East River Track and Downing Stadium (now rebuilt and renamed as Ichan Stadium). I dabbled in other sports in school like basketball and even bowling, but ultimately running found its way back to my life when my childhood friend, Dom and I started running over the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges every Monday night. We were pretty consistent, some of our friends started jumping in, and eventually we decided to cross the NYC Marathon off of our bucket lists. In 2014, we completed NYRR’s 9+1 program which locked down our spots in the 2015 NYC Marathon. Even though I made the classic rookie mistake of going with the cooler minimal running shoes versus a more supportive pair on race day, which had me lug my cinder block legs from mile 16 all the way to the finish line – I caught the marathon bug. I really couldn’t stop running since – I’ve completed 60+ races, 20+ marathons, a handful of ultramarathons, and a bunch of short distance races sprinkled in between. I’m telling you, the NYC Marathon is magic and everyone should experience it at least once – running or cheering.
MSM: We’ve crossed a few times while running on the good roads of NYC and one thing I’ve noticed with you is consistency. No matter what you’re always moving, always looking to improve. Not only that, you’re also helping others to improve. What was it that made you want to get into the wonderful realm of becoming a run coach?
Run Coach Kai: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, we simply cannot improve if we are not consistent and we cannot be consistent if we are injured. Are olympians simply born better than us? Angela Duckworth in her book, Grit talks about how elite athletes learned the skills to do what they do properly then put in the effort to do it consistently. And you already know the Malcolm Galdwell’s rule, “to become world-class at anything, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice.” Therefore, in order for you to become the best runner you can be, you must learn how to run and train properly then have a training program hold you accountable so you can do it consistently.
Alright, back to the question: How did I become a run coach? Well, everytime I started a new job I would create a “My Legacy” folder on my desktop. This is where I would keep everything I’ve done to make an impact on the company and how I would hold myself accountable. In 2016, I started questioning my life legacy and that’s when I met a woman on a dating app who then became my yoga teacher. I joined her yoga retreat on the US Virgin Island of St John in 2017 and that’s where my life changed.
They say you should get outside of your comfort zone by changing your daily routine. I say we should physically take ourselves outside of our daily environment and surround ourselves with the peace of the Atlantic Ocean, trees, and mountains so we can have a clear mind to put ourselves first, think deeply about what’s important to us individually, and make an actual plan to go after the life we want. And that’s exactly what that retreat did for me. It brought back all the TedTalks I’ve watched which asked questions like: when were you in such a flow state that no one can pull you away from what you were doing and when do you feel so much joy that you would smile to yourself when no one is around? For me, those questions kept bringing me back to pacing and coaching everyday people as a captain for Harlem Run. High fiv’ing, hugging, and showing everyday people who didn’t think they could run just an hour ago that they can do it too. No one can pull me away from that and it just had me smiling to myself on my walk back home every single night. It was at that retreat, I decided to quit my full time job with great pay, full health, vision, and dental insurance, life insurance, matched 401K, and all to pursue my life’s work.
Since I was already a certified run coach, I emailed a few coaches in the city asking how I can help when I returned home from the retreat. I don’t think I can ever thank Coach Cane of City Coach enough for offering me a job and countless opportunities to coach couch to 5K and marathon programs for Jackrabbit, corporate wellness programs, and much more. Unfortunately, those opportunities came to an end in 2018 and knowing that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life I started my own private coaching practice at www.runcoachkai.com and here we are now.
Coaching everyday people to start running properly and runners to run their next personal best injury free is my life’s work – my life legacy.
MSM: Coaching over 8+ years I’m sure you’ve coached hundreds or thousands of runners, some from couch to 5k and even couch to marathon I am sure. For a runner interested in training with Coach Kai, what are some of the things you like to focus on with new runners?
Run Coach Kai: Let’s start with a trivia: which animal is the best endurance runner on the planet? We are! We are so good at it, about 600 million of us do it just for fun and we even go as far as paying hundreds of dollars to run 26.2 miles. Our human bodies are built for endurance running!
I’m so grateful to have been able to help so many beginners in the training programs I mentioned earlier. This is really where I pour my heart out, since new runners tend to easily get discouraged, intimidated or injured. Speaking of being discouraged, intimidated and injured, if you are someone who wants to start running, I am telling you that running is not painful and it doesn’t have to be if you do it properly and to my fellow runners, let’s all agree to stop saying how painful running is and that we have to run through the pain to be successful like the saying, “no pain, no gain”. It may be scaring off a lot of new people or mislead others to career ending injuries. Again, I understand that running can be very uncomfortable at times but you never have to lose a toenail or it never has to be painful.
Now, the good news is that running is simple and it’s just repetitions. Therefore, it’s extra important for beginners to start off by building good habits. First, we need to establish a good foundation of strength – after all, we have to build a house that can withstand the hurricane of a first 5K or marathon. Second, learn how to run properly with good techniques and third, understand how to train properly and how each workout helps you achieve your goals. A lot of my athletes have found my Running Form Program as a good place to start and once they are ready they can start following one of my training programs for their first 5K.
It’s important for me to analyze my athletes’ training data like pace, distance, heart rate, elevation, cadence, etc. on the TrainingPeaks app to identify their strengths and weaknesses, design a training program based on their current fitness level, and monitor their performances to ensure that they are progressing towards their goals.Coach Kai
MSM: The hardest part about doing what we love as runners is actually getting out the door to actually run but you on the other hand have always been consistent. What is it that makes Coach Kai go?
Run Coach Kai: Yes, it can be very hard to get out the door – even for me when I don’t know what the purpose of my running or my workout is. That’s why it’s really important for me as a runner to know and lock into my goal (whether it’s to stay consistent, lose weight, run my best race, etc.) and fully understand how every run or workout helps me achieve my goal.
With races canceled this past year, runners including myself have started what Mike Saes, founder of Bridgerunners would say, “running for something worth more than medals.” Whether it was getting PPE into the hands of our frontline healthcare workers, #IRunForMaud, #JusticeFor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and more, #StopAAPIHate, support struggling local AAPI businesses due to xenophobia, or simply for love and community. I guessed I never stopped running throughout the pandemic because I knew what my purpose was every single time I walked out that door.
MSM: What I like is that you’ve embraced the science behind the coaching as science and numbers always wins in my book. With that being said you’re always evolving as a coach. From an analytic standpoint, what have been some of the ways you included both science and good ole fashion coaching into your runs and client training?
Run Coach Kai: Science has allowed us to live longer than ever, created vaccines to help us fight viruses, and helped us (specifically Eliud Kipchoge) break the two hour marathon barrier we thought was impossible. So, it’s important for me to analyze my athletes’ training data like pace, distance, heart rate, elevation, cadence, etc. on the TrainingPeaks app to identify their strengths and weaknesses, design a training program based on their current fitness level, and monitor their performances to ensure that they are progressing towards their goals.
Now, training programs are fun and all but I think where the magic happens and where my athletes get the most out of their training is through “good ole fashion coaching” on our coaching calls. That’s where we take a look at and break down their training numbers and the stats together, educate, answer all the questions, and share tips so everyone can go into their program or workouts with confidence.
MSM: The past year and a half has been more than challenging for all of us due to Covid which essentially froze our way of life and how we go about our day to day. Most of all it cancelled races but NOT running. I see that you have a saying “Goals are not cancelled”. Mentally and physically how has not being able to race impacted not this past year?
Run Coach Kai: I think not being able to race was devastating to a lot of runners this past year. Runners lost their purpose, community, and daily routines that have kept them motivated and sane. Which then led to a lot of inconsistency or non-existent running – and you already know what happens when you are inconsistent right? Yep, we don’t improve.
So, I felt that it was important for me to print this on a shirt and go out there to remind runners that although racing amongst other everyday life things were canceled last year – goals are not canceled. However, I do think the silver lining is that we all gained some of our own time back where we were able to use those moments to sit, reflect, and prioritize what is most important to us. For some runners, it was to run for what’s right. Our future, our children, our planet, justice, equality, inclusion, representation, etc. are all not canceled. Running is back stronger than ever and runners are now mentally and physically stronger than ever.
MSM: One thing Covid has essentially made us do was learn to be more creative when it comes to our day to day. Being a coach and not being able to work with clients, what are some of the things you have done over the past few months to keep your runners focused on their goals?
Run Coach Kai: I think that’s another silver lining out of all of this. It forced us to think outside of the box, pivot, or try new things. For me, seeing that my athletes were losing steam I started hosting Instagram LIVE strength workouts with my wife (who’s also a personal trainer) and chatted with experts in the industry, hosted educational workshops on Zoom, staged unsanctioned solo races where some of my athletes ran their personal bests, supported my athletes on their virtual races or fundraiser runs, etc.
Again, you don’t need permission from a race to go after your goals – goals are never canceled.
MSM: Sticking with the metal well being for a bit, as runners we kind of learn that running and life go hand and hand. Our journey’s and goals we’re on usually come with as much patience and practice that we put into it. What are some of the things you do that have helped you mentally as you’ve progressed on your run journey?
Run Coach Kai: Say you’re on an airplane, the plane experiences turbulence, and oxygen masks drop down. Who do you put the mask on first? Yourself or the person next to you? They always tell you to put it on yourself first. Why? Because we can’t take care of anyone unless we take care of ourselves first. We can’t take care of our body unless we take care of our mind first.
I know I mentioned this in a previous question, but it’s worth mentioning again: physically taking myself out of my daily environment at least once every season by going on one of PineappleYogi’s yoga retreats is the best thing I have done for myself. It has allowed my mind to explore, think deeper, and to prioritize what is important for me. I know that if I’m not mentally and physically healthy then I can’t fully be there for my myself, my running, my family, my friends, and my athletes. Meditation, breathing, and yoga practices have also helped strengthen and balance my mind, improve my running form, and breathing during my runs. Now, some will say start with meditation but I’m going to suggest you start getting into the habit of getting a full night’s rest every night. Let me know how it goes!
MSM: You mentioned over the last year that you’ve essentially learned alot about yourself, what your joy and purpose is when it comes to helping others. Where you also mentioned there was a moment in 2020 which was a low point. What were some of the things you’ve done that have helped you out of those feelings?
Run Coach Kai: When the pandemic hit last year, many of my athletes reached out to me in April and told me that they wanted to take a break from training. It was hard waking up everyday not being able to do my life’s work. I know that we all have a set amount of energy each day, so I can either spend it by crying about it (which is completely okay. Emotions are real and sometimes you just have to let it out.) or get up and do something about it. I think not bottling it up (which was what I did when I got laid off from my job back in 2009) and openly talking with my wife, family, and friends about it was really helpful. I needed to understand that although it’s my problem, there are people out there who care about me and were probably in a better frame of mind to think it through with me. My wife, Sharon, reminded me of how good I was doing leading up to that point and to see that now I actually have the time to work on something I never had the time for before – my website, www.runcoachkai.com. As of today, I am helping and coaching more people than ever before.
MSM: Let’s switch up the pace a bit, Run for Chinatown, over the past few months some of your runs have been geared towards breaking limits through running and introducing runners to Chinatown led by a 50 mile run for representation. Running is not a white sport it is a diverse sport where sadly the diverse community isn’t necessarily represented as it should be. How have you worked to help shed light to these communities in Chinatown and what have been some of your goals to help change the narratives.
Run Coach Kai: I’m a proud Asian American who was raised in the Lower East Side of New York City, so I’m just happy that I can do what I love, which is running to bring awareness to equality, justice, diversity, inclusion, and representation to people from all over the world who all love this country so much and call it home.
Since the first reporting of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China, the AAPI community has experienced a surge of racism. Hate crimes against Asians have increased by more than 150% and more than 3,795 incidents have been reported including a series of mass shootings of three spas in Atlanta killing eight people, six of which are Asian women. Till this day, I wake up bracing myself in fear of news that another grandmother, grandfather, mother, or father in my community is shoved, punched, stabbed, or killed. Let me be clear, no one community should be blamed for these hate crimes. It’s not about one community versus another community, it’s everybody versus racism.
That’s why I’m so glad my athlete, Leland Yu reached out this past Fall for some help with his running. Seeing that the local businesses in Chinatown were struggling due to xenophobia, he challenged himself to run as many miles as possible for 12 hours straight twice (once in May 2020 and again in December 2020) and fundraised more than $50,000 right back into the pockets of those struggling local business owners.
Since then, I have extended my coaching services to Leland and even joined him to help tackle other run challenges like the Bridgeathon back in February 2021 – which is a marathon that had us run over both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges seven times and more recently the AAPI 50 Mile Run for Representation where we fundraised for the Chinatown Organization for Media Awakening (COMA), formed by the late, Corky Lee and his friends and Chinatown activists Victory Huey and Karlin Chan, to address the negative stereotyping of Asians in media and cinema, and to promote and ensure true representation in mainstream media. We haven’t hit our goal yet and are still fundraising. So if you support what we are doing, please consider donating at this GoFundMe page: https://gofund.me/0e2c082d .
I’ve also volunteered to support OG Bridgerunner, Victoria Lo who is also doing amazing things for the community by rounding up running clubs and crews from all over the world to participate in monthly solidarity runs to protect and give back to Chinatowns and the AAPI community with Chinatown Runners. Running is now beyond running and my coaching is beyond coaching. I’ve made it my mission and will continue to extend my coaching services to keep runners who are running for what’s right healthy and strong.
MSM: I’ve only been running consistently since 2016 and when I started on my journey some of the things I struggled with was seeing runners that looked like me, that had the same interest which led to me quite honestly not want to run a lot in my first year as I essentially stopped running for months at a time. I can only imagine the feelings you had early on in your run journey. Did you ever feel as if you were on an island when you first started running?
Run Coach Kai: You’re right, I don’t think I can name an Asian person on the cover of a running magazine and I think Yao Miao, Qi Min, Yuki Kawauchi, Tony Cheong, Paul Tam, Dao Yi Chow, Leland Yu, Victoria Lo, Michelle Darce, and so many more are pretty amazing runners with amazing stories.
So yes, I think it can be pretty hard to strive and be inspired to do something if we don’t see someone that looks like us doing it. That’s why inclusion matters so much because it not only makes us question if we belong, but it also shows the world and other communities if we belong or not. And when we see that we do belong, proper representation matters. The pandemic has got me watching Netflix more than I really should and still till this day the AAPI community only holds only 6% of speaking roles in film with only 3.4% play a lead role. But, when they do hold a speaking role they are usually portrayed as stereotypes like a foreigner who doesn’t speak english, oversexualized women, undersexualized men, the model minority myth, the martial arts character, or a strong evil empire.
That’s why it was really special standing in Union Square on March 21, 2021 and seeing people from all corners of the world walking up the Running to Protest Black and Asian Solidarity Protest Run. It was special because it reminded me of just showing up for a weekly Bridgerunners group run where everyone was welcomed and accepted, people greet each other in different languages, share miles together, and grab post-run pizza, empanadas, or ramen. Then it hit me, Bridgerunners have been hosting solidarity runs and fighting racism since Summer 2004. Like Power Malu always says, “This is what community looks like.”
MSM: We haven’t discussed the most important thing, your successes most importantly you achieved unicorn status qualifying for Boston and even more important you found the love of your life while running. We’re all for sharing success while running, give us a peak into some of your successes. Also we’re ALWAYS up for a good run love story.
Run Coach Kai: Thank you so much and I have to say that I’m very lucky. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is great, but I have so much admiration for everyday people who are out there trying running for the very first time, giving their best, and staying consistent.
For me, qualifying for Boston was not a straight or easy path. I had to train through multiple heat waves and flying solo all the way to the Santa Rosa Marathon only to have the pacers lead us out of the race and into car traffic in the first two miles. We may have to save that story for another day. It actually took me almost two years and a couple marathons later to get my mind right and make another attempt. But, by improving my consistency, strength, and mobility, I got it done at the 2017 Chicago Marathon. My wife, Sharon, met me at the finish and I said, “I did it!” She said, “I want to go to Boston with you!” “Yes, come cheer me on!” “No, I want to run with you.” “It doesn’t work like that babe. You have to qualify for the race.” “Then coach me!” Ten months later, in her debut at the Sri Chinmoy Marathon, Sharon qualified for Boston. In 2019, the year we got married we completed our first World Marathon Major, the Boston Marathon together.
I think that the more routine something becomes the less we appreciate it. So I just want to say that I’m grateful that my wife simply runs and races with me. Boston was our first World Marathon Major, Berlin and New York City this year will be our second and third. We are doing it all together!
Speaking of running together, do you guys have time for another running story? Okay great. So, Sharon and I traveled to France for our friends’ wedding just outside of Paris back in 2018. I already asked her parents for their blessings, so I had the ring made, and brought it with me on the trip tucked away in my luggage with a note to TSA saying “I’m proposing, please don’t blow my spot.” After the wedding we took a road trip down to the south of France. When we arrived in Nice, I told her I was itching to run and asked if she would join me for a fun 10K. She asked if I had a route and I told her that I had found a “popular” route based on the Strava heat map that will take us to the sunset on Castle Hill, so just follow me cool? Late afternoon the following day, we headed out the door and I took her up and down the back streets of the town. She was confused as to why we were going up and down the same streets instead of running by the sea along the gorgeous Prom des Anglais and I said trust the route and let’s keep following it. Half way through around the 5K mark we pulled over into a McDonald’s to use the restroom and I had a feeling that she was so upset she wasn’t going to come back out. She finally did and thankfully we completed the run together. Tired, hot, and not fluent in French, we had to find our way to Castle Hill and when we finally arrived we were told that the elevator was off. We didn’t speak at all but pointed in the direction we were going the entire climb up. Midway up security announced that the park is closing and I’m pretty sure she considered dumping me then and there and flying back to NYC solo. We picked up the pace and finally arrived at the summit and it’s probably the most beautiful sunset we have ever seen. Sharon walks towards the sun, I spot a guy with a big fancy camera who looks like he knows what he’s doing, walked over to him, nicely I patted him on the shoulder and asked, “Hey, how are you doing man? I’m about to propose, can you please take a couple of photos for me?” He pulled back his shoulder and didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, but I later learned that he’s from Switzerland. I asked again nicely, his girlfriends started giggling, and he agreed! With new found confidence, I walked over to Sharon, fumbled with my phone, and showed her the route we just ran. It was supposed to spell “Marry Me?”, but because my service was so spotty it just ended up being chicken scratch. Okay moving on to the next phase, I needed to pull the ring that had been sitting in my running shorts pocket out – which felt like a full 10 minutes. The ring is finally out, I got down on one knee, asked Sharon if she would marry me, and hoped to hear the camera shutter go off. I did, she said “Yes!”, and all of this was captured in photos. The cool thing is that the photographer met up with us for tacos in the West Village a few months later and gave us a USB drive with all the photos he took like a true new friend and a professional.
Boston was a big personal best for me but the biggest personal best of my life was marrying the love of my life.
MSM: Most of your clients all have positive testimonials of running their best races under your tutelage. For runners that may be interested how can they get in contact with Coach Kai and what can they expect to learn in training?
Run Coach Kai: Contacting me is easy and simple, here’s my direct phone number, (929) 356-5347 and email, firstname.lastname@example.org . Just text or email me your name and goal or questions.
MSM: How can our readers continue to follow your journey?
Run Coach Kai: I like to share what I’m up to on Instagram and Facebook, log my training miles on Strava, put my services up on my website, and all the professional stuff on LinkedIn. I’m also out there running with the running community a lot, so I hope to run with you all sometime. If you are free Monday nights, join me and Run for Chinatown for some community miles. We meet 6:30pm at Eggloo, 60 Mulberry Street.
MSM: Any last words you’d like to share with our readers?
Run Coach Kai: Remember, we are the best endurance runners on this planet, you just probably have to learn how to do it properly then follow a training program to do it consistently.
- Eat real food.
- If it’s important to you, then you will do it at the beginning of the year, beginning of the season, beginning of the month, beginning of the day, and beginning of the hour.
- I prefer an athlete who shows up consistently and gives 80% effort versus an athlete who rarely shows up and gives me 110% effort.
- If we don’t show up, we can’t talk with each other. If we can’t talk, we can’t listen to each other. If we don’t listen, we won’t understand each other.
- Always do what’s right.
MSM: From us here at Mid Strike thank you for allowing us to share your story.
Run Coach Kai: Thank you for thinking of and having me. This was so much fun. We should do it again sometime!