How I Reinvented Myself After 50: Hazel Wood

Who says you cant teach an old(er) dog new tricks? Not Hazel Wood.

At 52, the Northern Californian left a lucrative career as a sales manager at a major software company to become an expert who teaches people how to start running, how to improve their running and how to run without getting injured. She is what is referred to as, a ChiRunning and ChiWalking instructor.

Instead of working behind a desk, Hazel now works with individuals, groups and corporations that have programs for helping their employees stay fit and healthy, and she feels more liberated than ever.

ThirdAge talked to the 59 year old about what it was like to reinvent herself later on in life.

Q: What inspired you to make this switch?

I took some running form lessons with Danny Dreyer, the founder of ChiRunning and ended up changing my life, not just my running form. At the time, Id already been running for over 20 years and thought I knew how to run and I had even done quite well in my age group. However, I had my share of injuries over the years and having just turned 52 my energy and enthusiasm for running had started to wane. To be honest, I thought my lack of energy when running was hormonal or perhaps I was just tired from long days at work. But, when I took the ChiRunning lessons I discovered that it was the way I was running that was draining my energy. Very soon I rediscovered my love of running and felt revitalized. Then, when Danny told me that he was going to start a Certified Instructor Program, I knew instantly that I was going to become one of his first instructors.

Q: Were you scared? Yes, in several ways. I had been successful in my corporate career and the idea of starting a business from scratch and being my own boss was challenging. It can be difficult to transfer your confidence in one field of expertise to another. There was also the fear of why would people listen to someone over 50 about how to run and walk? I soon let go of the fear though as I found that my passion and excitement gave me power and confidence.Q: Were the people around you supportive? My biggest supporter was my husband. My change of career would affect our lives in several ways, including budget and schedule. Friends were also a great support. In the period where I was qualifying to become an instructor I had to practice teaching a certain number of people and they were willing volunteersand also willing to give me feedback.Q: How do your days now compare to when you were working in an office?I havent worn a business suit in years and I dont go to the dry cleaners, but I do have to do laundry more often! There is variety in my days nowone day I might work on business development, another teach a group of youths, another work with people by phone and online. Within a day there can be any blend of those. I thrive on variety.
Q: How much did you make before vs. how much do you make now? Its hard to answer because it was a life decision to down scale. As a service provider there is obviously some monetary reward, but the real reward comes from the unsolicited feedback from people who say theyve achieved their goal or are feeling good in mind and body.Q: How should one start running? Start by making a plan so that you have a schedule otherwise it can easily slip off your to do list. It helps to get some direction and have some company. If you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes 4 days a week you could start incorporating some runningQ: How much should you run if you're just starting?As a brand new runner it is best to apply one of the principles of Tai Chi and one that we teach in Chi Runningthat is the principle of gradual progress. At first, try to set aside 20 to 30 minutes every other day and concentrate on time spent moving rather than miles covered.Q: What are some running tips you can provide our readers with? I could write pages here, but here are a few key principles:Keep a straight posture: The more you slump, the more your bodys muscles work to hold you up. Poor posture also restricts blood circulation and oxygen supply. When you are in alignment your structure will support you and your muscles can relax.
Engage your core by leveling your pelvis: Many runners dont have a strong core or dont use their core as they run. Engaging your core helps you keep your posture straight, powers your movement and protects your hips and lower back from overuse.Arm swing: One of the quickest ways to improve your running is to use your arms efficiently. Bend your arm so that you have a right angle at your elbow, put your focus on the tip of your elbow and just swing it back. Dont swing your arms forward, just swing them to the rear and it will automatically create propulsion.Q: What are some things you learned through the process of reinventing yourself?One is that in my corporate career I was very much goal oriented and the achievement of those goals was often a result of determination, preparation and mental discipline. Although I still have goals, my focus is now on enjoying the process of achieving them. Also, when I was in software, I realize I didnt take the time to dream and visualize. Now I do. I dream of leading a group of women on a running and walking tour across the north of England!Lastly, I find I have become more open to ideas and possibilities. For example, I had always told myself that I had no desire to run farther than the 50K distance. I thought it would be too hard. Then, when I turned 55 a light bulb went on in my head and I realized there was no reason I couldnt run 50 miles. So I did. And strangely enough, my husband said I looked much better at the end of that race than I had in shorter races. And no, that doesnt mean a 100 miler is next.Hazel Woods website is: http://www.stridebystride.com/Photo credit: Erin WiggerNicole Fabian is assistant editor at ThirdAge.com.
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