Running Lessons

I never really thought I’d be a teacher. But, this is my second semester as an adjunct English instructor for a local technical college. Last semester felt a little like drowning, and I was determined to have a better go of it this time around. Today I realized that part of my growth as a teacher has come directly from the things I’ve learned as a runner:

 

1. Experience Matters. Walking into class for the very first time was easily as nerve wracking as when I toed the start line of my first marathon. I had no idea what to expect, if I had hydrated properly (yes, for class, too!), if I was going to blow up after the halfway point, and generally if I would survive it all. Nowadays, even though there is no way to predict exactly how class or a race is going to go, I am not nearly as terrified because I’ve done it before. I can rely on having been in the scary last 10k of a marathon or in front of an unresponsive class before and making it through. Not without a few battle scars to show for it, though!

2. Be Prepared. Just like it’s a terrible idea to show up for a race without having trained, I definitely can’t roll into class without a lesson plan. My planning hours are just as precious to me as my hours spent logging miles. And just like I tweak my training over the course of a racing cycle in order to get faster and better, I have changed up the way I prepare for class over time. It’s not always the most fun thing to do, but I don’t really like track workouts either. It’s worth it though, to have a smooth running class period and a faster running race.

3. Dress the Part. I’m no fashionista, but the performance aspect of running and teaching have created something of an evolution in my clothes choices. I still aim for comfort above all else, but comfort with a purpose. I need to feel fast during a race, so I dress to inspire that feeling. I need to feel like a seasoned educator during class, so there too, I dress to evoke a capable persona. Of course, I’m usually still nervous before a races and class, but by wearing my running or teaching “costume” I can at least sort of fake it!

4. Participation is Key. I struggle with this one. I train mostly alone, and I’m wont to spiral into monologues during class. However, I see a real difference in my own running when I’m more involved with the Greenville Track Club or get to run with others. And of course, class is a lot more energetic and successful when I’ve got the students moving about and talking with each other. I have to really work on this, but I’m trying.

5. Roll With the Punches. If you’ve ever tried to follow a training schedule to the letter, then you know that is pretty much impossible. The same goes for following lesson plans– which is why I make sure to note that the schedule is tentative right on the syllabus! With running, there is always the possibility of injury, unexpected travel, feeling burned out, or prohibitive weather issues. In class, the students might be burned out, or just super uninterested in the material, or a seemingly great lesson plan fizzles out in practice. During all of these times, it’s important to be able to reassess the situation, change tactics if necessary, and most importantly, don’t give up! Things rarely go perfectly, but just keeping at it as best you can is often enough to get through both a rough training patch and a rough class day.

6. Setting Goals. I know what I expect from myself when it comes to running, and I extend that same level of expectation to my students. Having clear goals laid out at the beginning of a training cycle or new semester is so helpful when the inevitable rough patches hit (see #5). Then, even if you don’t exactly go straight from Point A to Point B, you at least know where Point B is, and know that you should end up there eventually. Goals are also built-in accountability managers. My students want to achieve their high grade, and I want to achieve a new PR. Goals are important, duh.

 

I still have a LOT of growing to do as a teacher– and as a runner! I do love that being a teacher means also being a student. I have learned so much from my students and other instructors/professors and I’ve gained a sense of accomplishment that is not unlike running. It takes hard work to do it right, but it’s so, so worth it when I cross a finish line with a new best time or know that I’ve made a positive impact on a student’s life.

Harbison 50k: 2015 Edition

Is there really any better way to kick off your racing year than by playing in the woods with a bunch of other weirdos for a few hours? Of course not, which means I registered yet again for the Harbison State Forest 50k.

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Course map and bib from packet pickup Friday evening. It’s a simple but nice touch to have names printed on the bibs. I’m not one for race keepsakes, but I can appreciate the effort for those that are.

Saturday January 3rd dawned…wet and foggy. But, it was warm unlike last year! Also different from last year is that we weren’t going to run the Lost Creek section (that’s the super squiggly bit on the far left of the map above. Squiggly bits are slow and sad). The wet conditions weren’t really a concern as my only goals for the race were to finish and remain in one piece. It’s very likely that Harbison will be the only ultra I run this year as I shift my focus to road racing and shorter events so I wasn’t about to take any unnecessary chances on trail that might derail the rest of my race plans. Deciding to take the pressure off earlier in the week ended up being the best thing I could have done for myself due to the conditions of the trails which got progressively worse as the day went on.

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I had to stop by a Fleet Feet in Columbia because I’d completely forgotten any Gu. Luckily, they had my two preferred flavors in stock!

Despite (or because of?) the rain, mud and muck, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I didn’t wear a watch, but the few little time splits I heard after the first loop told me that I managed to stay pretty even paced on the second loop even though the rain began coming down in earnest and some sections of the trail got downright treacherous (I’m looking at you,Midlands Mountain Bluffs). I ended up 6th woman (29th overall) and a time of 5:38. Full results are here. I chose to have the four Gu that I brought with me, plus some water, Coke, and pickles from the various aid stations. I saw that the aid stations were more than adequately stocked with the ultra runnings classics like pbj sandwiches, chips, fruit, Tailwind products, and more I’m sure. I just tend to stick with my own little tried and true options since I know they work. Also, I didn’t carry any water with me, but the aid stations were placed evenly enough apart that I knew I’d be okay just grabbing a cup of water every few miles.

The course itself was great. I REALLY like that Lost Creek had been removed. That meant we reached the fabled SpiderWoman and SpiderWoman II trails much earlier in the first loop and they were…dare I say it, manageable! Of course it was somewhat (a lot) worse on the second go round, but I would say that the newer course allowed for lots of recovery time between sketchy/technical sections. As alluded to earlier, the bluffs section of the Midlands Mountain trail (I think that’s what it’s referred to. Either way, it’s the far right of the map that is beside Broad River) was probably the worst part. It’s a single track section with a steep banking and a severe drop off. Also, it was super slick from the rain. Also also, it got beat up pretty badly the first loop from all of us. Also also also, being already brain dead from the several hours of running prior means that Slip ‘n Slide OF DOOM is a far more accurate name than the lovely imagery that the name Midlands bluffs conjures up.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of the course. I am also partial to loop courses and out-and-backs, but I understand that I’m in the minority with that preference. One downside to the day is that I heard of a few people getting off trail. I know I did that briefly last year so I don’t have much room to talk, but I have a hard time understanding how that happened this year. I never felt confused when looking for the surveyor’s flagging, and the directional signage seemed very obvious to me. Frankly, I feel like someone gets turned around or lost at every ultra I have run on a trail system. There’s got to be some kind of Vegas odds that dictates that sort of thing. Again, it didn’t happen to me so I don’t know the circumstances behind folks getting confused, but I felt like I should mention it for the sake of full information as I have it. On the upside, that’s easily the only negative thing about the entire day I can think of.

My personal favorite part of the day is that I inadvertently ended up running most of the way with a couple of fellow Greenville Track Club members. Getting to chat with Brian and Kerrie through the early and mid portions of the race made it much more bearable when I was on my own for the last miles. Also, the HAM radio folks that volunteered their time to keep tabs on us runners meant that I was never too far from human contact– a reassuring thing to know when the going got tough! Actually, ALL the volunteers were absolutely awesome! There were motivating signs (“Run now, poop later” was the obviously best one), cowbells (so glad to know I wasn’t hallucinating ringing in my ears), and cheerful encouragements (“Good job, and hey, you don’t have to see me again!” from one gentleman later in the second loop).

The finishers, like last year, get these trail/tree motif medals that double as a bottle opener:

Photo Courtesy of Nathan Maxwell <--- Another 50k runner!
Photo Courtesy of Nathan Maxwell <– Another 5ok runner. Thank goodness other people remember to take pictures at races because I am terrible at it!

After the race there was a new challenge if getting the mud out of places that mud shouldn’t be. I didn’t even fall down, but there was gunk everywhere. Everywhere.

While I can’t say what my future in ultrarunning will be given my other goals and life and such, I can comfortably say that I plan on being back to Harbison 50k for the 2016 edition. Thanks again to all the volunteers, the RD David Nance, and to y’all that put up with my running and writing about it!