Dec 8, 2012

Getting Over Easy Pt 1: "Taking the Hard Road"

This year's class of Buckeye Classic Challenge conquerors, all 8th grade students, at the finish line of the Buckeye Classic 10K Run, Sunday, November 11, 2012.  From L to R:  "The Win" and "EK" both returning veterans from last year's Challenge, "The Voice" this year's new CAA champion, "The Actress" and "J-Z" our two young ladies on the team this year.

If you think about it, running is a funny thing to choose to do.  It's certainly not the easiest way to get from point A to point B.  It's one of the least efficient means of traveling.  Of course there are the exercise benefits,and I guess that's the main reason most people run.  But then you can exercise without ever entering a race.  And why would one sign up for a race with hundreds, if not thousands of other runners, knowing you have no chance of winning?

I believe the reason so many of us come to embrace running is because we want to challenge ourselves.  We want to take on something difficult and succeed at it.  In a world that is continuously peddling ease, comfort, pleasure, and instant gratification something in us cries out for a challenge, for an opportunity to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and accomplish something that demands real effort.  While I may not win against other runners, I can win against myself--I could defeat the lazier, less determined me who said I couldn't do it.

This mindset, I'm learning is not a given though. There are many who ask with incredulity why they would ever do something discomfiting and difficult on purpose.  But I believe there is value in avoiding the easy way from time to time, and I've made it a goal of mine to develop that mindset in my students. . .and in myself.

Here's the thing.  Covering 6.2 miles on foot is not necessarily difficult, even if hills are involved.  Almost anyone could do it.  All you have to do is walk.  It might take close to three hours, but you could do it and it would be easy. . .

My challenge this year with the five students that took up this year's Buckeye Challenge--to train for and run the annual Buckeye Classic 10K--was to actively seek out difficulty.  This concept seemed completely counter-intuitive to them.  Why on earth would we make something any harder than it has to be, they asked.  The answer is that great rewards inherently come with great cost.  It simply wouldn't be enough to claim they had covered ten kilometers--it needed to cost them something in order for the accomplishment to truly have value.
"The Win" and "EK" at the starting line.  Both boys set new PR's this year at the  Buckeye Classic with "The  Win" nudging a minute off of last year's time at 1:27:00 and "EK" blasting a full six minutes off his old time to finish at 1:22:17.

A thumbs up from "The Voice" at the starting line.  I always  knew this kid could run and I was so excited that he decided to take the Challenge this year.  Even as the fastest runner on the team this year, I believe he can go faster still.  What I often told him during training, I still believe: "I believe you can give more."

"J-Z" and "The Actress" ready to run.  It was so great to have these two girls with us this year.  I felt it was especially important to have girls taking on and achieving the Challenge.

I realized the focus had to shift during the final month or so or training, after all five students were no longer intimidated by the idea of running in and of itself.  All of the kids had learned to handle the weekday conditioning runs as well as the longer runs on the weekend, and the problem was they were pretty satisfied with where they were.  They were not pushing themselves towards any goals, and if anything seem determined to take it easy.  Up until this point I'd been running with the kids at their pace, taking turns pacing with the faster and slower runners, and encouraging and coaching them along the way.  But I now realized that this type of motivation was no longer what they needed.   I had been talking a good game about pushing themselves and giving 100%, but honestly it was easy to say.  What the kids needed was to see me set an example.

So I set a challenging goal for myself, and what I hoped were equally challenging goals for my students.  Then I dared them to meet their goals by the time I met mine (or sooner).  My goal was to complete five laps of our course in Innis Park in 30 minutes or less--a total distance of approximately 3.8 miles.  I'd covered that distance in that amount of time before in runs near my house, but that had been a flat course and this course required me to climb a fairly steep hill in every lap.  I had set a goal that I felt was difficult but where success while not a given was definitely possible with the utmost effort and focus.  I wanted something that would require me to push myself, to really give everything I had.

This was our practice course at Innis Park .  The star marks where each lap began.

And so we began.  I'm telling you we who are teachers, parents, and other adult authority figures need a wake up call like this one.  When you tell your kids never to give up, to not quit when the going gets rough, it lends you a whole other level of authority when you are being tested to your very limits too.  The runs were unbelievably difficult.  I had to run much faster than my usual comfortable pace.  Very early into my runs the mental battle began.  On the one hand feeling like I just couldn't do it, that I needed to stop and walk and on the other feeling that I couldn't quit, I had to keep going.  Day after day, I struggled to reach my goal, and most days I was close--just yards away from victory when the time ran out.  I realized that trying hard was not enough.  I needed to prepare properly--eating well and hydrating well in advance of the run as well as getting enough sleep.  I also had to plan strategically. I had to track my pace constantly and carefully.  I experimentedwith different combinations of running and walking in an effort to shave a few more seconds off my time.  Walk too much, obviously, and I wouldn't be able to make it up when I ran.  Walk too little, and the blistering pace I was pushing would begin to flag in final portion of the run.  This was not about merely going the distance, this was about meeting the goal.

I shared my observations and experiences with the kids after each run, and this time it wasn't advice delivered from on high, but insights shared by a fellow runner.  I don't know how much the kids noted my struggle, but one by one the students started rising to the challenge.  I believe "EK" was the first to meet his goal, smashing it easily, and then immediately setting new and more challenging goals for himself.  "The Actress" (so named for her considerable talent as a performer on stage) and "The Win" were next, both also accomplishing their goals with relative ease.  Having met a goal that in hindsight was probably too easy, these two were satisfied with their accomplishment and stopped really trying after that, much to my irritation. The last two kids had goals more similar to mine--just hard enough to make success possible but uncertain.  "J-Z" closed the gap on her goal on the second to last run before the 10K and "The Voice" finally achieved his on the final day of training, after having argued to me that the goal was too hard and there was no way he could ever achieve it.  I was so proud of him when midway through the race as I noted his pace and the grim look of tortured determination on his face and knew that the goal was his to lose.

As for me?  I was the only one of our group who never managed to achieve my goal.  I came the closest on the last day of training--the same day that "The Voice" knocked off his goal.  I missed it by mere footsteps.  I was alone at the crest of the hill when the time ran out and I was only an arm's length or two from the finish line. For a few moments I was sorely tempted to tell the kids I'd done it.  After all I was "basically" there right?  I'd completed the goal more or less, I rationalized.  And of course no one was around to argue otherwise.  But in the end I went back and told the kids I hadn't done and shared the reason why.  I had begun to celebrate too soon.  As I sped up the hill towards the end of the fifth and final lap at a pace that seemed more than fast enough, I allowed myself to slow down just a tiny bit.  I decided to relieve the burning in my lungs, the aching in my muscles just a little early.  After all, I had made it.  Those precious few seconds were enough to snatch defeat from jaws of victory.

It was a disheartening end to our training for me, but I like to think that my example made a difference for the students I was training.  When the real Buckeye Classic on a pleasantly balmy November Sunday morning, the kids were ready.  They all finished, most set new PRs, and one, "The Voice" shattered "B.SteaLth's" record from last year with a time of 1:13:04.

On the course with "J-Z".  I ran with "J-Z" through the entire race and though her  pace wasn't as fast as the  others I think she was one of the hardest workers of the group.  She pushed herself more than most.

As for me, there is still unfinished business.  Once we get the baby on a regular schedule and I have some normalcy I'm going to start training again.  And sometime, on a day when the weather is pretty good, I'm going to head back out to Innis Park, and I'm going to get this done.

  5 laps. 30 minutes.

I know it won't be easy.  But that's the point.

Celebrating a job well done with family and friends at the finish line

"J-Z" and "The Actress" with their proud mamas


Mai said...

Man, I gotta get back out there! Thanks for the inspiring post - I need to set a new goal and strive for it!!! Let me know when you reach yours! :)

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