A colleague approached Joe Coeling several years ago and asked if he had ever considered running a half-marathon.
At the time, Coeling’s longest run to that point was about 6 miles — less than half the 13.1 miles a half-marathon would require.
The colleague was registered for the Dexter-Ann Arbor half-marathon that was a few weeks out and wondered if Coeling wanted to use her registration as she was no longer able to run.
Coeling had never thought he could do a half-marathon, yet he accepted the registration.
“For me, it was something about finishing that after so many years of telling myself I’d never be able to run that distance,” said Coeling, human resource generalist associate in LSA.
Overcoming that self-doubt was a monumental moment for Coeling, who aims to help others fight similar battles by sharing on social media channels what he has learned over the years with regard to fitness and nutrition.
Coeling has turned to Instagram and, most recently, Twitch to share content about his physical fitness and to encourage followers to reach whatever goals they might have. His Instagram, under CoelRunnings, has more than 1,100 followers who for over a year have joined Coeling on his journey of self-discovery and self-love.
“When I started my Instagram, I recognized there is a very narrow definition of what our bodies should look like, what our diets should look like, what our lifestyles should look like, and if you want to engage in that, great,” said Coeling, a U-M graduate and former Michigan Dining employee. “You also have all these other things you need to take care of, like your emotional wellness. I am someone who has struggled with body dysmorphia. I think a lot of folks struggle with yo-yoing and finding self-acceptance and making a positive relationship with food.
“These are all things I battled with and I wanted to share with folks. It’s OK to not have it figured out 100 percent of the time. A lot of what you see on the internet is a lot of people claiming that they do, and that’s not necessarily true.”
By posting regularly on Instagram, Coeling is not attempting to peddle products or stroke any ego. If anything, there’s a level of discomfort that comes with posting photos or videos of his workouts for public consumption.
Coeling said he takes care to ensure he’s exhibiting proper lifting form in his posts, but his days of posting a video of him making his recipe for chili — an ordeal that took hours while trying to perfect camera angles of every step — are definitely over.
“Later today, I’ll post a selfie and a video of me doing power cleans, talking about my learning and getting my form right. That kind of thing doesn’t take as much time,” he said. “I still get self-conscious about recording myself in the gym and taking pictures, but that’s just something I’m trying to get over, and I don’t know if I ever will.”
In his posts, Coeling attempts to re-create the sense of community and support that he felt when that colleague convinced him to do the half-marathon, and also while a member of the PR Run Club in Ann Arbor. The club organizes frequent runs and workouts, and without the encouragement of the club, Coeling might not have ever tried to do a full marathon.
But a club member told him he could do it, so Coeling entered his first several years ago and in 2019 ran his third, the Twin Cities Marathon.
“It was beautiful, wonderful. You had so many people cheering you on,” he said. “It really does come back to community for me. Getting involved with a group like PR Run Club, you have to trust that when people say that they believe you can do something that they really do believe it.
“The more you can internalize it — that person is rooting for me — the more I can do this thing. I don’t want to call it as simple as group accountability, but group support.”
Closest to home, Coeling’s wife, Lauren, has provided infinite support.
“The number of races she’s stood out in the cold at 7 a.m. and dashed off from the start line to the finish line to catch me there,” Coeling said of his wife, to whom he has been married since September. “Having a partner who supports you has been critical to me.”
Coeling had been posting daily on Instagram for a time but has settled on about every other day, in part because he has discovered the streaming service Twitch is another outlet where he can interact with people while also taking part in another of his loves: gaming.
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On Twitch, Coeling mixes his content between game play and wellness. All the while, he said, he’s mindful of ensuring the content he does publish contributes in some way.
“I want to make sure I’m contributing and not just creating this additional piece of shiny trash that sits on the internet,” he said. “There are moments I’m thinking of making a post and it doesn’t say anything or contribute in a positive way. This is not going to help anybody and it’s not going to help me grow, so there’s no point.”
Coeling said he eventually wants to graduate from marathons to ultra-marathons and was training for a 50k before an Achilles injury and the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on those plans.
Anyone interested in following his fitness journey can find him on social media.
“The few times I’ve had people say that (a post) stuck with me, that makes my day,” he said. “Down the road I see this as something that helps me share my knowledge, learn about the industries I’m interested in and get closer to the communities those industries are a part of.”