Member Profile: Lisa Wong, 54

After training with Brian for 15 years, Lisa stopped during the pandemic when the practices shifted to a virtual and then hybrid format. She continued to work out on her own and with other groups, but wasn’t satisfied with the results. So she rejoined Brian’s group this year with a fresh perspective on the hybrid approach and a renewed appreciation for Brian’s detailed methodology. Here’s Lisa, in her own words:

I started training with Brian around 2015. My mother had married his cousin, who proposed we start this program with Brian Clarke. I went mainly because I wanted to support her. I’ve always been somewhat athletic but I was really not a trained jogger, and I came to find that out by going to Brian’s program. Before meeting Brian, I would go out and run for maybe five miles, but by five miles I’d be done. Now five miles is nothing, it’s a warmup. I became a runner with Brian, because that’s when I learned the science behind it, where I learned about my own body. 

What I like about Brian compared to other groups is that his training is very scientific. I was a Biology Major in college so I appreciate the science behind it. He’s so knowledgeable, he can sit and watch a jogger and know what their range is – if they’re pushing, pressing, if they’re comfortable, if they’re uncomfortable. Often you don’t realize that just by showing up and doing the practice how he’s designed it, you’re getting stronger over time. A lot of people think you really have to push and feel like you’re dying to get stronger but that’s not true. So what I found was, if I could just get to the training, then everything else felt effortless. Before I knew it, I was done and had finished a great workout. By 2019 I was probably in the best shape of my life, 

Brian’s training was very methodical compared to other groups I ran with. For example, he’d divide everybody up according to their ability and each group would have a different pacer in charge of keeping the group together. With Brian’s pacers, you don’t have to think about your training, you just have to stick with the workout. But in other running programs, they’d give everyone the same objective and just say “go.” So let’s say your objective is to do intervals, for example 7-minute intervals, 30 second rest, at your race pace – that’s a lot for one person to manage on their own, and a lot of the time, people just don’t. 

Or they’d say, “Go out and do a 10-minute warmup and then push it to – 40 or 60 or 80 percent – and then come down.” Most people don’t really know what their 80 percent is. But Brian would give you very concrete, methodical ways to know, like measuring your heart rate. The other groups were structured but not methodical. If you’re a trained runner and you know how to manage all this information, that’s one thing. But if you’re a newbie, there’s a lot of knowledge you need to acquire to train more efficiently.

Regarding the hybrid format: I was with him before and at the beginning of developing it and now. I think that as long as people get that foundation of meeting in person, then the hybrid option becomes a bonus. People look forward to seeing the other people in their groups, especially at first. It’s more social and it just makes you feel more comfortable. You can’t talk to people on the phone and have that same camaraderie. But people by nature can get derailed by life, so then you have this hybrid option to fall back on.

“While some people join Brian’s program because of a specific race, I think it’s actually best designed for people who want to be lifelong athletes. It’s not about the race, it’s about overall fitness.”

When I stopped training with Brian during the pandemic, I could see and feel that my fitness level had dropped significantly, even though I was swimming and doing other things. So I came back this year, and now his hybrid training format actually works out really well for me because I’m not always able to reach the workout locations. What happens is: after doing the workout in person a certain number of times and getting into the routine, if I’m not able to make his locations, the phone becomes a second option. So I started using it and it really worked out, and now I’ve actually learned to train better on my own, because instead of having to meet with people and being social I can just be in my own mental space and focus on the practice. Sometimes small talk is exhausting when I just want to clear my head. 

On the phone what I find to be really helpful is how Brian keeps us structured. He’ll say, “Go out and start the warmup.” So we’ll do that for 10 minutes. He’ll say, “Go at a leisure pace,” and you know what that means because you had to learn it with him in person before you could do it on your own. Then he’ll go through the warmups, which you also have to know before you can do them over the phone. Now let’s take intervals: if we’re going to do five 5-minute intervals with 30 seconds in between, if he can call them out on the phone, I don’t have to do it on my own. He’ll also say things like “Check your posture,” or “Check your heart rate” – all the little things that are easy to forget, and that’s really helpful. And since it’s recorded, I can even do the workout within a 12-hour window if for some reason I couldn’t practice that particular day. 

While some people join Brian’s program because of a specific race, I think it’s actually best designed for people who want to be lifelong athletes. It’s not about the race, it’s about overall fitness. I personally like the half-marathon range, so I want to be at the fitness level where I can just jump in and do a half-marathon and not even feel like it’s a big deal. Your goal should really be living at your optimal fitness level at all times, rather than trying to reach only one racing objective. And that’s what I found when training with Brian.

There’s something to be said about focusing on sustainability. Brian always emphasizes training without getting hurt and that is so invaluable, because once you’re hurt, you’re out for months and that could be enough to completely throw you off your trajectory. The thing about Brian is that he can take you from where you’re at to doing half-marathons or whatever your personal goal is in a way that feels effortless. The way he structures your training, it almost feels like you’re not getting a workout, but in fact you are. And you’re making real progress but you’re never hurting and never derailed.