the merits of public school, or, how and why I run

I’ve been thinking and thinking about how best to give training advice to those of you who will be training for the Family Fun Run 5K this September. In all honesty, it’s been difficult for me to figure out the best approach because it’s been awhile since I’ve trained for that distance. It’s hard to get in the right head space. I truly don’t mean to toot my own horn by saying that. I’ve said many times, and I’ll say it again, that I am a slow, amateur runner. But I stick with it, so I’m able to build up a lot of endurance. Trust me when I say that anything I can do, you can do too, and I in no way mean to poo-poo the fact that it’s daunting to take on your first 5k. I’ve been running my entire adult, and most of my young adult life, so 5k is my standard daily run. I’m at a place where that’s my starting distance. That wasn’t always the case of course and it was my stroll down memory lane today, back to the beginning of my love affair with running, that helped me get back in touch with what you are feeling. I do in fact remember what a mountain 3 miles can look like to someone who has never run before.

I’ve never wrote about my history with running and what made me start. Most of the time I feel like I’ve just always been a runner but that is, in fact, completely not true. I owe every ounce of my passion for running to my 6th grade teacher Mr. Turner. There were two 6th grade classes at my elementary school. You either got the eclectic, artsy, eccentric teacher with a passion for ancient Egypt; or you got Mr. Turner, the sarcastic, brash, tough jock who reminded me of Coach Hayden Fox. Guess who I got. The jock. And I’m so glad I did for many reasons. I don’t need to delve into the merits of my public school education right now so I’ll only talk about one specific thing for which I owe Mr. Turner a debt of gratitude. He got me in shape. Mr. Turner made the entire class run… every day. When he told us we’d be running a mile every day, we were a) mad and b) convinced our teacher was crazy. We had P.E. once or twice a week and we all played during recess, so why the heck did we need to run every day? I’m not exactly sure what Mr. Turner’s motivations were, but I know he was on to something. Making our class run every day not only blew off the excess energy we 12 year olds harbored and helped us focus when we got back to our desks, it laid the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle and the discipline and routine it takes to maintain it. It’s easy to play tag at recess when you WANT to, but that’s not going to last forever, and neither is a 12 year old’s metabolism. It’s not so easy to be healthy and fit when you don’t necessarily feel like it, but if you build in the habit at a young age you’ll be ten steps ahead of the fitness curve for the rest of your life. I think Mr. Turner knew this, and I think this was exactly why he made us run every single day. Or he was just living out his dreams of being a drill sergeant.

Throughout the rest of my life I haven’t always been perfect about maintaining a fitness schedule, but I’ve always known that it’s important and that I should strive to keep myself active. I’m proud to say that I’ve never been a couch potato, and I definitely would have veered in that direction if it were not for the running practice I started at age 12. If you’re reading this, it doesn’t matter if your 12 or 70, it is absolutely never too late to get yourself into an active lifestyle. Running a 5k (3.1 miles) is a fantastic goal to strive for.

So now that we’ve covered what laying a healthy foundation did for me, now let’s talk about my actual experience of running back then. The daily requirement was that we walk or run a mile. That’s it. Boy, back then, it seemed like a million miles. That field we ran around was HUGE and we had to run around it 4 times? Crazy talk. For weeks and weeks I did a lot of walking. Run walk run. The weeks passed by and the walking breaks subsided. Before I knew it, I was running a solid mile every day. It felt great. At that point Mr. Turner upped the stakes. He said that we still only had to run a mile every day with the rest of the class, but if we wanted we could start aiming for 2 miles.. and even 3! No way. 3 miles was like the same distance as a marathon, right? Absolutely no way.

Looking back, I feel like I have two different brains. The brain of now that feels like 3 miles is a warm-up, and the brain of my youth that remember 3 miles feeling like an impossibility. Both feelings are true, and one is a hearty reminder that the impossible is never truly impossible. 

I continued to run with my classmates a mile a day. I didn’t jump into the 2 mile club. I may have added an extra lap here and there but on the whole I was happy with the 1 mile. Some days I’d push myself and get faster. Others I’d slow down and spend the time gabbing my girlfriends about the brand new training bras we’d just gotten. I enjoyed the time so much. Time to clear my head and not worry about homework, or taking notes, or whether Danny was looking at me on the playground, or whether someone would ask me to play foursquare with them. Not a care in the world. Just run. After a couple of months I decided that maybe I would try and reach that 2 mile goal. A lot of my friends were aiming for it, and a few kids in my class were even going to try for 3. Crazy! Mr. Turner set a specific date that we would try to run the extra distances. That way we could really focus on a timeline to achieve our goal. I kept adding laps , sometimes running and sometimes walking, and slowly but surely I felt like I could take on 2 miles. 

The big day came. About 12 – 15 of us were going to try for 2 miles. 2 kids in class were going to shoot for 3. I still remember those kids. One was a tiny little lighting bolt with brown hair and spindly legs. Boy could he fly. Another was a tall blonde boy who was almost all leg. Clearly he had an advantage. He covered the same amount of ground with 1 step as I did with 3! We started all together. I remember a lot of kids stopping after the first mile. I remember myself wishing I was one of them. But I didn’t give in. I kept going, and after what felt like an eternity later, I crossed that finish line to the sound of my classmates cheering me on. That was the first time I experienced the “oh my god I’m going to puke” feeling from a workout. It felt good 🙂 

Mr. Turner had three big cards up on the wall in our classroom. One said “1 mile.” The other said “2 miles” and the third said, yep you guessed it, “3 miles.” After our accomplishment he would put our names under the corresponding card. Everyone’s name was up on the board some where. Most kids stayed under the 1 mile card. A handful of us made it to 2. And still only those 2 quick as lightning boys made it under 3. That bugged me. What can I say, I’ve always been competitive. 2 boys, no girls. That just couldn’t stand.

The next date rolled around where we could try and reach the next running goal. Many of my fellow classmates were more confident this round shooting for 2 miles. I was proud of them. Me, I was going to, hopefully, do the impossible. I didn’t know how I would be able to ever run so far, but somehow, I was going to try and run 3 miles. The whistle blew and we all started running. I instinctively knew to pace myself. Boy did I ever. I trotted for the first mile more than ran. A very slow trot. The laps came and went. If 2 miles felt like an eternity, this felt like eternity times a thousand. I made it past 2 miles, and 4 looooong laps later, I stumbled across the finish line. Wow… Holy.. I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe I actually ran as far as that tiny brunette kid, and couldn’t believe that I’d accomplished the impossible, and couldn’t believe how sick I felt. Yet I knew I’d be ok. I was too excited to not be ok. In that moment I’d set a new bar for myself. I thought back to how difficult I thought it would be to run 1 mile, and here I’d just run 3. That was the beginning for me. The beginning of a lifelong love affair with running. And the beginning of a lifelong quest to achieve the impossible. Thank you Mr. Turner.

If you’re gearing up to begin training next week for the first time EVER, I’m so excited for you. You’re going to discover a new side of yourself. You’re going to change the way you live and the respect you have for your health. You’re going to achieve things you didn’t know you could do. You’re going to exceed your own expectations and after that, the sky’s the limit. Get ready for the journey that leads to The Happiest RACE on Earth!

This isn’t exactly the right era but it’s the closest thing I have to looking like a little jock. Wuddin’ I cuuuute?

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