A blog by runners. For runners.

Back to school: applying lessons from the classroom to running

Back to school: things I've learned from teaching that affect my running.Can you remember the feeling of the first day of school? Butterflies in your stomach. Nervous anxiety creeping down your spine. Jubilation coursing through your veins. Inevitable doom enveloping your very being.

Teachers feel the same thing.

Every year. Always. To elicit such a bouquet of emotions in me, all one has to do is say “September!”

It’s late August, and that means I’ve dusted off my plan books, paged through my opening day procedures, and browsed my class rosters. This will be my eighth year of teaching and my eighth consecutive year of serious running since college. The two lifestyles go hand in hand. When I teach, I think about and draw upon running experiences, and when I run, I reflect on and plan for the classroom.

Here are three tips that I practice inside the classroom and on the road that keep me sharp, honest, and cognizant.

1. Put yourself out of your comfort zone. 
To some (most) of us, public speaking is not a favorite practice or past time. Speaking in front of an audience can be frightful. When we feel fear, our bodies produce adrenaline, which is great for matters of life and death, like outrunning a bear, lifting a car off a pinned passenger, or going into battle. But adrenaline is terrible for public speaking. Our heart rate rises, pores perspire, neck stiffens, stomach sinks.

But once a prepared speaker begins, symptoms decrease. They relax. Trust themselves. Performs. Public speakers builds confidence through experience.

And while I’ve developed strong public speaking skills over the years, I still feel these symptoms in a different context: the starting line.

No matter how prepared I am for a race, nothing dampens this pre-race anxiety. But as soon as the starting pistol fires, I use it to my advantage. I summon confidence. I trust my training. I seek greatness.

Without walking to the starting line or putting myself out of my comfort zone, I will not grow.

2. Make mistakes, but be mindful not to repeat them.
When a teacher hands back a test or essay dripping in red ink, our gut instinct tells us to look away. Red has a number of negative connotations. STOP. Hot. Rage. Blood. I can’t even tell you how many essays and tests I’ve fished out of the recycling bin to hand back to students. But red also has positive ones. Love. Passion. Life. So if we don’t read the feedback on the page, we risk missing a valuable opportunity to learn, and worse; we risk making the same mistakes again.

Likewise, after a bad run or race, take time to assess what exactly went wrong. Use all the feedback at your disposal. Pinpoint what went right and wrong. Why did your pace drop sharply after the first mile? Why did you feel “out of gas” so early in the race or workout? Did you properly fuel and hydrate your body? Have you acclimated yourself to the race conditions: hills, temperature, time of day? Remember, on race day, everyone battles the same elements and conditions.

Keep detailed workout log and page through it from time to time. You may see patterns that lead you to successful outcomes or failures. 

3. Begin with the end in mind, but embrace spontaneity
Before I begin each school year, I make a list of the skills I want my students to develop by the end of the year. Then I break up the year into a series of units which target those specific skills. Then I break up each unit into a series of lessons and assessments to measure students’ progress throughout the year. While I don’t waver from my set goals, I embrace and seek new, exciting, and pertinent articles and texts. My best lessons are those that I think of on the way to work while listening to NPR.

Most of us apply this strategy on a small scale. You have a race in 12-20 weeks, you follow a plan, hit your target workouts, run your race, repeat. But you can try this on a bigger scale, say, a year.

Make a list of goals for the year: run sub xx:xx in the xk; complete xx miles in a day, week, month, year; run x days a week; etc. 

Print a local or regional race calendar and with a highlighter, mark the races you would like to complete in the upcoming year. Make sure to bedazzle the most important races with hearts and stars so they stand out.

Hang both documents in a prominent place to keep you honest and mindful.

But don’t fret over following your plans to a T. Look for opportunities to break up the routine: go to a spin class with a friend. Play a pickup game of basketball at the park. Explore that trail you’ve been meaning to get to. Training plans are exactly what they sound like, plans.

But life doesn’t always go as planned, and that’s okay.

Written by Stephen Marcin / Photo Creative Commons