5.14.2012

Today’s Homework: Run a 5K


“Whether you’re here for a PR or R&R, it’s a great day to run!” the announcer booms enthusiastically.
“Mrs. Weaver,” one of my students asks, “What’s a PR?”
“A personal record,” I answer.
“Mrs. Weaver” another student interjects, “What’s R&R?”
“Rest and relaxation” I say smiling.
“Oh,” says yet another student. “Well, that’s cute.”

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We’re at mile one of a 5K. I am running in-between two of my students.
“Mrs. Weaver, tell me again, what do you do if you have a cramp?”
 “Breathe. Breathe in through your nose and think about sending the air to the place where it hurts.”
We’re running together on the trail.  It is shady and warm.
“How are you doing?” I ask my student with the cramp.
“Better. Thanks.”  She smiles at me as we chug along.
I think I beam. I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to be able to help her breathe through a stitch. Over the years as a teacher, I’ve worn many hats, but I never felt like a coach until last Saturday.

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I started running with my fourth block advisory a few months ago. Fourth block is our last block of the day. My particular class this year is full of unbridled energy and I thought maybe running would help us channel it. If nothing else I figured the vitamin D and cardiovascular activity would be good for all of us.  I know firsthand how good running can be to over-enthusiastic high school students (yes, I mean me).

I’ve found, when you get kids out doing something, they open up. The 5K that we were running in was a fundraiser for cancer research. One of my students talked to me about her dad’s battle with cancer.  The runners were spaced in such a way that the conversation seemed like it was just between us. I told the girls about my Uncle Loren, who passed away from lung cancer a couple years ago. When we didn’t know what to say next, running provided a good distraction.

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For most of the kids running with me, this is their first 5K. They have their doubts, their nerves, their butterflies. Before the race I’d invited two colleagues to join us. One said he didn’t race because he didn’t feel like he could compete. The other said he didn’t want to run with his students because they’d probably beat him. I understand this perspective. When I started competing as a distance runner I also wanted to win. I worked at it and for a while I was a pretty great local runner. Then I became a teacher and everything changed. Then I had a family and everything changed forever.

A little before mile two one my students needs to walk.
“Do you want me to walk with you?” I ask.
“Yes,” she pleads.
“No problem” I say. And to my surprise I mean it.
My student and I walk along together. I notice she is taking some big breaths in just like I had showed her.
“You are doing great!” I tell her.  “Should we jog a little?”
She nods and takes off like a bullet.
“Hey, you just built up that energy, let’s try and make it last a little longer.”
She matches my pace and we run together.

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Together the girls and I make our way, smiling at the volunteers cheering us on at every corner, and thanking the kids who offer us little styrofoam cups of water.  We come to the top of a big hill.
“Don’t run full force down the hills or your knees will be sore tomorrow.”
A boy, not much older than my students, takes off recklessly down the hill almost falling.
“He’ll have sore knees” one of my students says shaking her head.

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There’s another reason I wanted to run with my students. It’s the same reason I like to run with my son.  Running is a gift. It feels like one of the best gifts I can give young people. My sneakers have been there through every major turn in my teenage and adult life.  I’ve hit the streets before dawn to clear my mind for an exam. I’ve hit the trails after work to plan my response to a big question. I’ve run and run and run until I’ve solved a problem. I’ve run while the rest of my house sleeps. I’ve run and marveled at how much stronger I am than I was last week. I’ve run to the top of a hill and looked back and felt strong.  I want all of that for my students.

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“You’re almost there.” I say encouraging my weary student.
We come off the trail and are back on to the street. The finish is just two blocks away.
“Let’s give it all we got.” I say smiling broadly.
We take off down the middle of the street, pounding the pavement, our ponytails flying in the sunshine.
When we cross the finish line my student glows. And I may finally be learning that winning-- or at least finishing first-- really isn’t everything,

In under a half hour I feel like I’ve taught a lesson on breathing, believing, enduring, staying the course, and finishing strong.  After the race my students and I hang out together catching our breath.  I take a moment to look down at my worn out running shoes, appreciatively.  I look back up at my group of red faced kids and smile with pride.

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