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'In the Spotlight' with Jessica Schultz-Verdusco

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'In the Spotlight' with Jessica Schultz-Verdusco

In this edition of ‘In the Spotlight,’ let’s talk with Jessica Schultz-Verdusco. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jessica since October 2020 when she joined other all-star runners for the RunStrong Challenge. She was actually one of the co-winners for the program which was earned with a high level of consistency and dedication.


One thing that allows Jessica to stand out and constantly improve is the eager desire to learn and get better. Rather than simply following the program, Jessica’s success can be attributed to her attention to detail. Whether it’s recording herself performing exercises to get feedback on form, reading related research, or attending webinars, having a never satisfied mentality and exceptional insight on the strength program/running plan is a game changer. This has been paramount as we continue to tweak the dials for bigger achievements and more sustainable training.


Jessica loves to battle and challenge others around her to be better. Her idea for a weekly post-workout plank competition quickly escalated to being barefoot in the snow, and then progressed to harder movements such push-ups, and plyometrics. I remember the days when I used to win some of these competitions… Over time it has become more one sided and she has rightfully been given the title of ‘All-Around Champ’ due to her strength, strong mindset, and tenacity.


Without further ado, let’s shine the spotlight on…


Jessica Schultz-Verdusco


Q: Where are you from?


A: "I am a true Midwestern (Bay City, MI).  After moving around a few too many times, I currently reside in Brighton, MI."


Q: If you could live anywhere in the world where would that be? Why?


A: "I have visited the Pacific Northwest a few times and really appreciate the Seattle area which has plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures.  Also, Seattle is a prime gateway for a short trip to Alaska or Hawaii, both of which I have frequented."


Q: What do you do for work?


A: "I am an operating room pharmacist in a large academic medical center, where my time is spent ensuring appropriate and safe use of medications when patients are not awake to the world.  I also spend a large portion of my time with compliance and regulatory affairs, such as sterile compounding and prevention of controlled substance diversion.  I enjoy participating in process improvements for better patient experiences and also learning from brilliant students who share the hot topics in the realm of continuing education."


Q: You're an active and high energy person. When you have some free time, what are your favorite activities?


A: "Free time? What’s that?!  Something is always begging for my attention, whether it’s work life, training life, family life, or my wild fur friend.  I do make a dedicated effort to schedule “me” days on my calendar, during which I like to honestly relax, unwind, spread my toes, and read a good book in a hammock.  I could also be found catching up on sleep, hiking some trails, writing my blog, or practicing my sidewalk chalk art skills."


Q: Do you have any good book recommendations you can provide us?


A: "Honestly, I never enjoyed reading for fun until about a year ago.  I just never carved out specific time for it.  However, I really have found a passion for learning through reading.  My favorites list keeps growing almost every month!


(1) Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry

(2) Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

(3) The Comeback Quotient by Matt Fitzgerald

(4) Mind Gym by Gary Mack

(5) The Champion’s Comeback by Jim Afremow"


Q: Tell us about your background as a runner and any proud moments or lessons learned that have ultimately shaped who you are today?


A: "Running is not my first love with the athletic world.  I’m a baller at heart, with basketball being the first sport I played.  It wasn’t until I was in my professional career when I took up endurance running.  I completed my first 5k in December 2014 but now have completed 16 half marathons and 5 full marathons.


The proudest moment from running came in 2021, during the pandemic, when I absolutely slashed my marathon personal record by 21 minutes in the middle of winter, after 6 months of strength training dedication.  This was a virtual race at my happy place with the coolest pacer pals and finish line unicorns.  The people that made that day possible will forever hold a special place in my heart.


The biggest lesson from running also came in 2021.  I had to learn the hard way that running all the races is not a smart plan for longevity and sustainability.  Making something positive out of a negative situation was how I stayed focused on the future, one day at a time.”


Q: During your first consultation you said, "Strength training... who has time for that?" Has your mindset regarding running and strength training shifted over the years?


A: "Absolutely, without a doubt, my mindset has shifted regarding the gigantic benefits of strength training.  I actually now enjoy strength training more than running — and this comes from someone who did ZERO strength training consistently prior to 2020.  I knew I needed to do something besides running all of the miles if I wanted to elevate my races to the next level.  Now, I actually have more strength training goals than I do for anything related to running.  Nothing better than tossing around weights and stepping up to the competition!”


Q: What are the most noticeable improvements you’ve seen so far as a result of your training?


A: "Single-leg stabilization is absolutely paramount to the sport of running.  When I first started working with Garrett, I could barely balance on one leg.  Now, I’ve challenged him on single leg side plank holds.  I’m currently working on becoming a single leg squatting ninja.  Another aspect from strength training with carryover to running has been the ability to hammer out the hills with confidence.  All of the step-ups, calf raises, and plyometric drills pay dividends for a hill-seeker like myself.  You absolutely have to put in the work in the gym to reap the success on the roads (or trails).”


Q: What is that one thing you dislike the most but continue to work on because you know it will help?


A: "Honestly, I don’t have one strength training drill that I dislike so much to omit it.  All of it always gets done and I enjoy the challenge to “build a solid foundation for the sport we love.”  If there was one thing I dislike, it would be putting “supporting session” days (rest days) first on my calendar.  It’s very hard for me to unplug, but the reset is mandatory.  Rest for me resets the body and mind to keep all of the ecosystems in balance.”


Q: Rest and recovery alongside a busy work, life, and training schedule is paramount for success. What strategies have you found the most helpful to recharge and keep all ecosystems in balance?


A: "One aspect that has been very helpful is keeping an ongoing spreadsheet of the number of training days vs. rest days each month.  Look at the proportion of time spent training vs. resting and ask yourself if your recent performances are a reflection of that proportion.  Maybe you didn’t hit a goal because your rest days are absent.  It’s time to do something about that.


In terms of recharging, I do my best to have one “me” day scheduled, even if it’s just a few hours monthly.  It’s a time when I can forget about all training, work, family, and friends to zone in on my own self-care.  You can’t help others unless you help yourself first.  This really has become vital to myself through the pandemic as a healthcare provider.


A final aspect is to reach out for help when the ecosystems get too much to balance for one person.  We all go through rough patches at times and fly like a kite during other times.  When you reach a breaking point, never underestimate the power of your innermost support circle in helping to restore balance to your ecosystems.”


Q: Having an established set of principles is the backbone of any training program. What are some 'non-negotiables' you have established to facilitate smart and successful training?


A: "The non-negotiables for me are adequate sleep and respecting recovery.  If I make these my primary focus for the week, everything works so much better.  As part of the recovery piece, one vital element to the training calendar has been dropback weeks (reduction in mileage every 4 weeks) and taking an honest break from training after a major goal race (no workouts for at least 7-14 days).  A final principle to a training program for better longevity is that I learned to stop running all of the races and living like a weekend warrior.  It is not sustainable for anyone to jam pack the calendar with races upon races.  If you violate your own non-negotiables, your body will make you pay the price one way or another.”


Q: You have a unique lens into various ways the Healthy Running Program is offered (in-person training sessions, virtual training sessions, and self-guided training). How would you summarize the pros and cons for someone who might need help recovering from injury or simply becoming a better runner?


A: "My training program has been phenomenal with Coach McLaughlin in so many ways.  The in-person sessions allow me to bring my best A-game and receive immediate feedback.  The opportunity to work virtually with Coach McLaughlin through zoom is very convenient for balancing the demands of life.  The workouts on zoom are a smooth transition from the in-person sessions and the feedback on zoom is just as effective.


Self-guided training has kept me committed to getting the work done behind the scenes and gives me confidence that I will be successful once again in running pursuits.  (One tip for self-guided training:  If you want feedback, you have to upload all of your videos and provide self-critique in advance.)


The final element that has made my training program successful even during setbacks is keeping open and honest communication with Coach McLaughlin, especially if exercises are remedial or the body parts are squawking.  You absolutely get out of the training program as much as you are willing and able to put into it, so “step-up” to a better version of yourself and Coach McLaughlin will guide the way to success, keeping sustainability at the forefront the entire way.”


Q: Looking ahead, do you have any new goals/races you are working towards?


A: "From a strength training perspective, I am working on achieving 10 quality full-depth pull-ups by the end of year and finding symmetry between left side imbalances compared to the right side.  From a running perspective, I’m still working towards enjoyable running as I fine-tune nutrition and mental toughness.  From a health perspective, I am working on optimization for a female athlete and not settling for “normal” results.  In the meantime, I’m staying focused on some fun things to wrap up the year, but eagerly anticipating returning to the marathon distance in 2023, with the mind, body, and soul all in harmony once again.”


Q: What are your favorite mottos or mantras that you find effective?


A: "“Keep showing up.” - Des Linden

“Stress + Rest = Growth.” - Steve Magness

“Less is more.” - Coach McLaughlin"

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