If my minutes are filled with running or writing…

Every Monday my students write freely for five whole minutes.  Over the last two years I’ve struggled to build their stamina, but I’ve also enjoyed those magical Mondays of constant writing–even after the buzzer tells students to stop.  Today, like most days, included some periods of bliss and one particularly difficult free write.  Students were jumpy and antsy after lunch and a few didn’t produce much.  I was frustrated and reiterated that our five minute free writes are a luxury.  I wanted those boys to see that how precious our time was and how important their thoughts were and are.  So today, instead of getting started on dinner or rolling out my ITband, I am indulging in five minutes of writing.

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my classroom one early snowy morning

Sometimes I can’t turn off my runner brain, even when I’m super out of shape, so for me time is always connected to distances.  Three minutes to catch that next train? No problem! I could go a half mile in that time if I REALLY needed to!  When students try to pack up with one minute left in class, I squeeze more in.  Hey! If people (my old self included) can run 400m or more in that time, we can fit in one more ounce of English.

My running and teaching world’s collide in a Rudyard Kipling poem that I was initially drawn to because of his reference to time in this way. As a 400 runner and an English Lit. major one of my favorite lines in poetry comes from his poem,”If”.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

It gave you chills, right? The sixty-seconds of a distance run are what initially drew me to this poem, but as with every piece of literature, the meanings change for us during different times in our life.  No longer am I only drawn to the running reference, but now it’s the power and repetition of if.  

I never thought about just how much is contained in those two letters.  The word if when used as a noun is full of possibility. The word if when used as a conjunction can express an exclamation, “If only they could see me now!” being my favorite.

As a high school teacher each day is full of questionable ifs.  What if no one gets the lesson? What if no one learns? For me my job requires a certain level of self doubt.  It helps me to anticipate what could go wrong and work to answer the what ifs before they even happen.

If the what ifs are the most daunting, then my favorite part of being a high school teacher has to do with the if of uncertain possibility.  The infinite if.  The anticipation of wondering what my kiddos will become and if the work and learning they do with me will have an impact.

I cheated on my buzzer.  Writing time is 23 minutes…and I’m wondering if my out of shape butt could run a 23 minute 5k this week.

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I Am More Than A Runner

I’ve struggled to maintain this blog.  Partly because I feel like my self-given title means I ALWAYS need to write about running.  My husband made fun of me throughout my marathon training because I did so little running about it.  “I’m too busy actually running!” was my go-to excuse.  And while it was partly true, I realized my roadblocks often come from my deep seeded insecurities about writing and running. In the educational world we call one’s self-esteem in a subject self –efficacy.  Hate math? It’s really low self-efficacy caused by a perceived lack of skill.

 

So where does my running and writing low self-efficacy come from? I love writing; I teach it for crying out loud! I’m a pretty good runner; I ran D1 track in college and I ran a respectable first marathon.  I shouldn’t feel that badly about my running!  Sometimes I wonder if it’s lack of practice or the people I surround myself with.  I have some really fast and smart friends.  I also worry way too much about what people will think of me.  She’s an English teacher? Look at that comma placement! King ran that time in a 5k? Man, she got slow!

 

Last week my students completed a digital writing project.  Watching their videos pop up in my inbox days before they were due, and seeing how hard they worked was one of my proudest moments as a teacher (I like to refer to these moments as times when my teacher heart felt happy).  Kids who had done little or no work for me in the past created meaningful work outside of class time.  They had taken risks and risen to the occasion.  The only time during the entire project that I got pushback was when they found out we’d be watching their creations in class.  “Please Miss! Don’t show mine!” My response is always the same, “Do you watch/listen to/read other people’s work and judge them?” The kids always say no, “Then know that people aren’t doing that to you! And if they are, they kind of suck as a person”. 

I learned a lot from my kids last week: how to edit a video, issues that impact teens (sexting and recording fights and putting them online are big problems that they think need a voice), and how to practice what I preach.

Everything came down to two big takeaways.

The first- If I, an educated adult, still face fear about putting my writing and my running out there, how hard must it be for my kiddos? How can I support them and make them feel good about their work, like they did for their PSA projects?

The second- People who stalk race results looking for slow times or who read blogs to nit pick have their own issues going on and kind of suck as people. 

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Cool Nights

There’s something about fall that naturally lends itself to nostalgia.  The weather gets cooler and it’s easy to get warm instagram filtered memories about back to school.  Autumn nostalgia hit me hard today-nostalgia for blog writing (oops, more on that next post!), for running, and for back to school. 

Tonight was one of those perfect early fall runs.  Breathing in the cooler air immediately brought me back to high school cross-country practice.  There was something about the dusk and running in the row house lined neighborhoods that cling to the cliffs overlooking New York City that made me miss running with my best friend and September in my hometown.

 My memories made me realize how much I have grown as a runner.  This fall marks the first time that I have trained for something on my own (with the exception of some awesome speed workouts with my good and speedy friend, Karen!), and the first time I am actually excited to run a race.  Knowing the NYC marathon is only eight weeks away gets me out the door after a long day at work.

Thinking of my own high school memories brought my mind to my current high school life that of a NYC public school teacher.  Sometimes it’s really hard for me to remember what it was like to be a teenager and even harder to know what it’s like to be one of my teenagers.  My students have very different high school experiences than I (and almost anyone else I know) had. But today, their excitement to be back at school, to see friends IRL (in real life for those who aren’t as text language savvy as others), to be back in routine was electric.  My run even made me less frustrated with my super chatty 7th period class because I remembered what it was like to finally see my friends after a long summer apart.  Today the chatter…tomorrow new assigned seats!

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A Half Is Hard To Fake

I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon this weekend.  I should have known it would not be pretty; I only ran one run over an hour in the months leading up to the race. I shouldn’t have had any expectations of success, I didn’t train, and yet, as I stood on the line I had some sort of delusion that I would run fast.  I had turned into one of my students, the ones who say they’re going straight to the NBA even though they only play street ball.  I thought I was going somewhere big with very little work.

Despite knowing I wasn’t going to PR, and despite a mile 8-13 possible stomach disaster (yuck! No more Peanut Butter Gu) that nearly brought me to walk, I cried when I saw my finish time.  At the time I was embarrassed of my mediocre finish.  When I saw Sean waiting for me in Coney Island, I immediately felt better (he has that effect on me) and then worse, because he knew how much faster I could go. How could he ever understand what it was like to be me? He had just run a 72:01.  It wasn’t until we saw our friends Jeff and Lauren, two of the nicest and fastest people I know/parents to the cutest little boy out there, that the post-race point was driven home.  Lauren, after listening to my list of “why I ran so slow” excuses, said in her kind and honest way, “A half marathon is hard to fake”.

Those words put my last few months into perspective; I had been half-assing my running. Sure I could get away with running some okay 5k and 10k times with very little training, I couldn’t do the same for a 13.1 mile race.  I had forgotten just how long and how hard a half marathon could be, and that memory lapse gave me false confidence.   That same lapse let me back off of my training when my life got in the way this winter and spring.

Sometimes running gets pushed to a different part of my brain and is replaced by the everyday crazy that is working in a New York City public high school, my second job, and my social life.  Sometimes at the end of a long day I want to have a glass(es) of wine with my girlfriends because that makes me feel better than a run.  Some days there aren’t enough motivational Facebook gifs in the world to get my butt from my apartment to the streets.  Most days, I feel like a twenty minute run isn’t “worth it”, even though I know, really know, that anything is better than nothing.   This winter I ran a lot, this spring I did a lot of nothing.  I faked it.

As I look toward my first ever marathon this fall I’m working to balance all of these pieces of my life.  This race did a lot for me. It made me realize that I can’t “fake” my training and expect to run well.  It also made me realize that it’s okay to have times where running is not my priority, and that I shouldn’t sign up for races when it’s not.  Running is supposed to be a release not a burden. I have to make peace with the fact that sometimes I might just run because it feels good and that sometimes I’m going to train my butt off and really make it count.

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Get out the door!

Yesterday my husband and I went back to Lehigh to cheer on the Mountain Hawks at the Patriot League Championship meet. It was weird being back, watching “kids” (they all looked so young!) running, jumping, and hurdling. And while watching the races go off and smelling the all-weather surface made my stomach hurt with forgotten anxiety and pre-meet jitters, it also made me miss track so much and inspired me to try harder with my training.  Well, that inspiration lasted about as long as the dinner and several drinks I had last night.  When my husband and I finally poured ourselves home around 2am my run-spiration was the last thing on my mind.

400m Hurdles set up.  Even six years after my last race these still make me feel nauseous.

400m Hurdles set up. Six years since my last race, and these still make me feel nauseous.

Despite feeling entirely hung over I put on running clothes when I woke up.  I figured a morning spent in a sports bra might make me get out there-even though deep down I had a feeling I’d remain on the couch watching Anchor Man for the twelfth time. My husband was the one who forced me out the door.  He invited people over for brunch and reminded me I should probably get my run in before anyone came by.  He even offered to clean up the kitchen, how can a girl say no to that? So, fueled only by last night’s dirty martinis and a cup of coffee, out I went.

While my run wasn’t a pretty performance, I was glad I did it.  So many great things happened. Today was the first time in a long time that I didn’t get chaffed (I’d think this was TMI, but I know most of my readers are runners and can totally commiserate).  It was the first time I used my new Garmin 210.

My new Garmin 210 and my Brooks Adrenalines

My new Garmin 210 and my all-time favorite shoe, the Brooks Adrenaline

I know I’m a little late to the game but I had fun playing with my slowish pace and really know how far I had gone.  Checking my watch every few minutes made me think about all of the miles ahead of me, as I train for my first ever marathon.  The marathon mindset kept me going as I cramped up from dehydration.

I didn’t run with any music today, though I wished I had, because I missed out on taking a picture of the family of baby geese who crossed my path at mile two.  If I didn’t run today I wouldn’t have seen the new merry-go-round in Jersey City or gotten to weave around little kids on their newly training wheel free bikes.  I always appreciate my running routes and their views of the NYC skyline, but looking at the Empire State Building against the bright blue backdrop seemed even more awesome than usual.

Today was also my first run wearing these bad boys:

Running sunnies?

Running sunnies? They didn’t fall off my face!

The best part of my run? Finishing.  Getting back home and knowing I had done something felt pretty damn good.  It was the perfect reminder of why I started this blog.  Even after seeing all of those kids do what I used to, I remembered that it doesn’t matter how fast or how far I go; sometimes I just have to get out the door.

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For Boston

This is not how I imagined my first blog post.  I pictured writing something prolific and witty about rediscovering who I am as a runner.  But then someone brought violence to one of the most beautiful days in racing and I can’t stop thinking about how interconnected all runners are and how much we are all mourning what happened this afternoon.

Humanity-it’s a word we hear often after a tragedy.  We mourn for strangers, we hug those we love a little closer, and we question how or why anyone would want to cause so much pain.  For runners, today hit home.  Fast, slow, new, veteran, we all connected to what happened this afternoon.  There are so many of us who connected to the runners and spectators because almost anyone can run and because those who do become a part of a huge universal family.

Yes, there are elite runners, but the sport its self is anything but elite.  Anyone can run.  Running is virtually free; it’s one of the few aspects in life where poor kids from the projects can truly compete against wealthy kids from the suburbs. It’s one of the few places in life where who you know doesn’t matter, and the only way to get better is to work harder.  Running is humanity.  We get to see our peers at their best, coasting to a personal record.  We see them at their worst, sweating, hunched over, and dry heaving on the side of the track.  For us, each of these moments is beautiful.

We live for competition but we really care for the people we compete against.  I think about how happy I am for my friends when I see a fast time next to their name, and how they inspire me to do better.  I think about my customers, those who are new to running and how excited I am for them to join the club.  It’s a good club to be in.  We’re resilient.  We’re tough, all of us.

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