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  • Writer's pictureBetsy

Interview with Coach and Mental Health Counselor Paul McRae

I called my friend Paul today to chat about how we can better take care of ourselves mentally and physically during these extraordinary times. Paul is a licensed mental health counselor and owns two businesses: Personal Running Solutions (PRS) as well as the Jacksonville Center for Counseling. The mission of PRS is to "promote and encourage running and education of the community about the benefit of long distance running and endurance athletes". Paul lives with his wife, Lydia (also a fantastic runner and person) in Jacksonville, FL.

BS: Thanks for setting aside some time to chat with me!

PM: Yeah, Thanks for having me!

BS: How are you were doing with all this stuff going on and are you are noticing anything that’s really different with your clients' needs or anything that has remained basically the same?

PM: If anything, I am busier on all fronts. Busier in the sense of mental health counseling because I think there is so much uncertainty and it’s not like “hey, this is all going to be over May 1st”. People are having a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that “oh my gosh, this is going to be going on for awhile … and I may not have a job….” There’s lot of uncertainty and I think most of us struggle when it feels like everything is out of our control. For coaching, we don’t have any races coming up, so we’ve been coming up with new ways to connect people and get people together virtually.

BS: Are you finding your athletes are having at least two modes of thinking like “we are going to use this time to get in really great shape” vs. “what is the point to push ourselves really hard”?

PM: About 60% of my people are saying, “we probably don’t have to focus so much on speed because we don’t know when the next race is going to be.” So with them, we are working on building a stronger base and getting people to work on core strength. The other 40% have had the outlook of, “I want to go as hard as I can because running is my stress release and it’s not really about the racing at this point it’s about getting out the demons.”

BS: Are you seeing the tendency of some folks to over-do it with their training or is that just always a risk with motivated runners?

PM: I think it’s usually the ones who do too much are always going to have that tendency. (Regardless of a pandemic situation.) So I think that is probably the same. The biggest thing I’m seeing is that people who aren’t used to strength training are trying it and going too hard and that is making them sore and that is adversely affecting their running. We have to temper that tendency.

BS: I am seeing a lot of advice online about how folks can live their best lives through this pandemic and how important things like keeping routines are. I am wondering if you subscribe to that philosophy or if you think we should be cultivating more of a forgiving mindset with ourselves? Do you have any tips or strategies for someone who is having "low-grade anxiety" that is manifesting in perhaps insomnia or paralysis in work or perhaps over-eating/over-exercising, etc? (asking for a friend!)

PM: I tell my patients that there is always going to be something out of your control. People are usually more in crisis if they focus on what they cannot control. It's important to reach out and share your day with people. In terms of routines, the closest you can get to "normalcy" is going to benefit you in the long run. Instead of obsessing about, for instance, cleaning out and organizing all your closets, maybe get out and take a 30 minute walk around the block and listen to music. All of us can benefit from some more cardiovascular exercise, even if you are not a runner.

BS: How do you think we can be better humans to one another while we are all living in such close proximity?

PM: It's really about being kind and not jumping to conclusions about, for instance, why a person snaps at another in the grocery line. You never know what is happening in that person's home. If we can just remember to have some empathy and rein in our initial reaction, that will go a long way.

BS: Absolutely. No one is getting out of this unscathed. We are all sacrificing something and making decisions we probably don't want to make, but have to.

PM: The other thing is, I have been trying to reach out to those people that I haven't heard from in awhile and just check in on them. Something like that can also go a long way.

BS: Definitely. Some folks put up a good front when they are actually struggling may have the tendency to retreat and they may really appreciate someone extending themselves. As a race director, do you think things will "go back to normal" and how to you see around corners and plan for the future?

PM: First off, I don't think it's going to be back to what we know of normal any time soon. I don't think there will be any major races before next year. On a positive note, we have been organizing virtual races and trying to get people engaged in new and exciting ways. We just did one to benefit the YMCA. We are sending $5 from every registration fee to the YMCA of the runner's choice.

BS: That's great! And kudos to you and Lydia (Paul's wife and super fast runner - hi Lydia!) for pulling together the food donation program for kids in Jax. PM: That was all Lydia. She kept herself up one night feeling really bad that kids who were on free or reduced school lunches weren't going to be in schools where a lot of them received their daily meals. We set up a Venmo account and in within one evening we raised over $3,000. That was cool.

BS: Is there anything else you would like to communicate to my legions of FitFooter followers? :)

PM: I think the one thing that sets running apart is that we are already part of a community of support. We come together and celebrate anyone and everyone. I think if other groups could do this, the world would be a better place. We all set goals and no matter whether you are running a 5k for the first time or running a sub 2:50 marathon, one person is no more committed than the other. And running can give us such humility and connection and my wish would be that others could feel the same.

Thanks so much, Paul! And thank you for the great work you are doing!

If you have more questions for Paul on mental counseling you can email him You can also find him on Facebook (Personal Running Solutions) and Instagram @prsjax.

Happy running/walking, FitFooters! Stay well!


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