The Pezz Dispenser

Ocala-based elite runner, Olympic trials qualifier and running coach serves as the official coach of the Big Hammock Race Series—Season 3.

Instead of candy, Stephanie Pezzullo, aka Coach Pezz, is dispensing running advice to those participating in the Big Hammock Race Series—Season 3.

“The BHRS is such a unique and wonderful event that brings the community together through a health initiative,” says Pezzullo, 36, who has a degree in kinesiology from Penn State. “I love how it’s inclusive, open to everyone from walkers to serious runners. The series of races gives you plenty of options to suit your health and fitness goals. I am very honored and happy to be the official coach of the BHRS.”

Co-founded by Ocala runners Karen Donnelly and Tina Banner, the BHRS is a year-round North and Central Florida run/walk fitness challenge. The BHRS is an all-ages and skill level walk/run program, with finishing each race the only requirement. BHRS PassHolders in the 10-race series accumulate points toward medals and season-ending honors. The BHRS began with the Super RockStar Virtual 5K (open July 1, 2018 through May 31, 2019) and will wrap up with the PACE Derby Run 5K/10K on May 4.

“Coach Pezz is the embodiment of perseverance, strength and indomitable will. She is an incredible motivator and mentor. She demonstrates with action what it takes to build the best you,” says Donnelly. “We couldn’t be prouder to have Coach Pezz as the official coach of the BHRS—Season 3.”

Donnelly has firsthand knowledge of Pezzullo’s coaching prowess.

“Coach Pezz is my personal running coach. She has helped me work on my head space during training, which is 90 percent of the work,” says Donnelly. “She has customized a very challenging training program for me to reach my goal of a sub-two-hour half-marathon. And I have no doubt that my goal is attainable, thanks in large part to Coach Pezz.”  

For each Season 3 PassHolder, Coach Pezz has offered one complimentary Training With Pezz Run Clinic. Visit the Big Hammock Race Series Facebook page and Coach Pezz’s website ( to find out more about the clinics. Make sure to sign up early, as spaces fill up quickly. 

“BHRS PassHolders can sign up on my website for the race clinics,” says Pezzullo. “I love the BHRS and want to help as many people as possible enjoy it as well.” 

Although running is her sport, Pezzullo’s fitness philosophy is more wide open.

“I promote movement in general for people who want to be healthy and fit. It certainly doesn’t have to be all about running,” she says. “It’s not about how much you’re running; it’s that you’re moving on a consistent basis. And that’s where the BHRS comes in. Setting a goal to participate in the BHRS races keeps you moving. And if you do that, you’re going to be healthier.”

All About The Shoes

When it comes to running, the only piece of equipment you really need is shoes—make that good running shoes.

“I played college and semi-pro soccer. You run five to six miles a day in practice and during a match. But I wore very tight soccer shoes and had all kinds of feet issues,” says Pezzullo. “When I transitioned to becoming a pro runner, my first running coach took one look at my feet and said I had been wearing shoes that were too small. Once I got fitted for good running shoes, my feet issues went away.”

Pezzullo suggests getting fitted by a running shoe expert at an athletics footwear store. She adds that “the best-case scenario is being fitted by someone who is a runner, too.”

“People get too hung up on what size shoe they think they should wear or what size shoe they wear in everyday shoes,” says Pezzullo. “But when you run, your foot expands so you need to account for that. Most people need a half-size to whole size larger in running shoes. Running shoes are not fashion shoes; you have to think about form and function.”

Although different from fashion shoes, heels do play a part in running shoes.

“My theory is that the less of a heel there is in a running shoe, the better,” says Pezzullo. “This allows for a natural mid-foot landing strike for running. Sprinters run on their toes, but we’re not promoting sprinting here. We’re dealing with a good, normal running foot strike.”

Pezzullo acknowledges that finding your perfect shoe could take some patience.

“Everyone’s feet and mechanics are different. You’re probably going to have to experiment a little bit until you find the absolute best shoe for you. A good coach can give you feedback on your running gait,” she says. “Pay attention to how you feel when you run in the shoes. After you’ve run in them for a while, check the wear pattern to see if you’re rolling inward or rolling outward. You might need a stability shoe.”

Running shoes generally last 250 to 300 miles. To extend the shoes’ life, Pezzullo recommends, if possible, buying two pairs and alternating them every two to three days. She also adds that “you might want to have your everyday trainers and then another lighter shoe for race days.”

And let’s not forget socks.

“Go for good running socks to keep your feet as dry as possible to avoid blisters,” says Pezzullo. “Good running socks can be pricey, but they’re worth it.”

Getting Started & Beyond

It’s basically putting one foot in front of the other, but a little coaching help goes a long way to starting a running program.

“People get intimidated by running, and they really shouldn’t. The first thing I tell someone is that it’s OK to run/walk,” says Pezzullo. “A lot of people think you can’t call yourself a runner unless you just go out the door and run all out, all the time. That’s not true. Again, it’s getting back to just keep moving.”

Pezzullo calls her beginner’s running program “Time On Your Feet.”

“The biggest thing is starting slowly, mixing in running and walking to maximize the time on your feet,” she says. “You can start with one minute running, one minute walking for 10 minutes and gradually build on that. The important thing is not speed but just being consistent and building that base.”

Once a client is up to 30 minutes, Pezzullo changes up the program.

“Depending on the person and what goal they are aiming for, we start to add in different elements,” she says. “We maybe add in longer runs. I really like adding in high intensity intervals, especially if someone is planning to run in a race. Again, that’s the beauty of the BHRS. You can run/walk in everything from a 5K to a marathon.”

For many beginners, Pezzullo considers a 5K (3.1 miles) a good goal, one that seems attainable and not overwhelming.

“I have an eight-week program to get someone ready for a 5K, and that has worked very well for lots of people,” she says. “The goal of the program is for the person to finish a 5K comfortably and feeling great both physically and mentally.”

When asked about any diet tips, Pezzullo laughs and says, “I’ll admit my eating is all over the place. I do eat cookies and fast food just like everybody else. But when I start seriously training for a race, then I do pay more attention to what I’m eating.”

To Pezzullo, food is fuel, and she eats to train.

“I’m not a nutrition expert, but, yes, there is a connection between what you eat and how your running is going to go,” she says. “I prefer to eat small meals throughout the day and avoid a big dinner. A small snack combining carbs and protein, like peanut butter and a banana, two to three hours before and after a run or a race is also a good thing.”   

In addition to helping her clients achieve their fitness goals, Pezzullo has her own running goals. She is aiming for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials-Marathon on February 29, 2020, in Atlanta. The top three female and male finishers, who have met qualifying performance standards, will be named to the U.S. Olympic Team and compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“I’m no different from anyone else. I need goals to motivate me, and I very much want to represent my country at the 2020 Olympics,” says Pezzullo. “Closer to home, the BHRS provides its participants with running goals and is a great motivator to be healthier. That’s a great combination.”  

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