Falling Out of Love

My previous post detailed the joys of running and writing and training with your athletes in the same way you would write along with your students. But what happens when you fall out of love with running and with teaching? Both happened to me.

Some days, running is really painful. I have tendinitis in one ankle from an old high school injury, patellar tendinitis (pain in the middle of my knee), and a neuroma that flares up between my 3rd and 4th metatarsals (just imagine a nail going into your foot with each step, and that’ll give you an idea what it feels like).

In my most recent half-marathon race, all three of these things hit me, and by mile 7, I was ready to call it quits. But the problem, I figured out, was that even if I stopped, I would still have to walk to the finish, and moving my legs and feet at all was terrible, so I decided to just keep on running and get it over with sooner. I also had a wonderful lady who thought we were wearing the same shoes, run with me for the last three or four miles. She thought I was helping her, but really, she was keeping me going. I’ve never been more happy for a race to be finished.

So, after that race, I realized that my long distance career was over. I used to love those long runs because they were freeing, and I was really proud of how far my legs could carry me. But now, it’s just so painful, there’s nothing freeing about it.

Five years ago, this is how I felt about my teaching career. When I first starting teaching, I told myself that I knew I would have bad days, but when I had an entire week that was bad, I needed to do something about it. And then it happened. A whole bad week.

It was my first year teaching freshmen. Over half the class of 33 were repeaters and a third had specialized learning plans. I was at my wit’s end. I felt like I had no support from administration, all of my subject-matter colleagues were teaching that same block, so they couldn’t help me, and I was losing control. To top it off, I battled mono that semester and then shingles. Teaching wasn’t enjoyable anymore.

A school year later, I found myself in a job outside of the classroom, working in instructional technology. I found a bit of peace in not having to discipline students or failing them (literally, figuratively). I’ve been out of the classroom officially for three years now, but I’ve spent that time working with teachers and faculty members, developing instructional practices and online courses.

I haven’t stopped running since my last half-marathon, but I certainly haven’t been running as much or as far. I’ve actually discovered I really like biking and rowing and taking long walks with my husband and dogs just as much as I like running. This diversity of exercise helps to keep things interesting, but also means that on days when I do run, it’s not nearly as painful.

Sometimes we have to step away from what we love, or used to love, in order to renew our passion for it. And maybe the passion never comes back in the way it once was, but now it’s something new, and something shaped by a variety of experiences rather than a tunnel-like vision on one goal, one activity, one classroom.

In my time outside of the classroom, I actually spent a lot of time in classroom, they were just other people’s and not my own. I got to see good teaching, great teaching, and moments of teaching we all wish we didn’t have. I got to have conversations with people about teaching, literacy, technology, assignment design, caring for students, and curriculum planning. I got to hear their ideas, create collaborative presentations and truly learn from my colleagues. I also got to see what I didn’t like about myself as a teacher and how I could fix that.

This past semester I was able to teach a course; just one single, three credit hour course. It was fun again.

I think someday I’ll return to teaching. Someday too I’ll return to racing. And when I do, I’ll be a different teacher and I’ll be a different athlete. What’s important, when I do return, is to make sure that my life, and my workouts, have more balance.

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The Running/Writing Metaphor

I wrote this post in 2010, but I wanted to republish it today because I have a follow-up entry coming on reflecting on running, teaching, reading, and writing as my relationship with running has changed over the years.

The Running/Writing Metaphor (inspired by Cindy Urbanski’s book)

“Beginning to write is like standing at the bottom of a hill…The hardest part is putting one foot in front of the other and getting started.” -Urbanski, p34

I am a runner, and I’m proud of it. I’m not intimidated by other runners because I fit into the sport. They won’t judge me; they’ll see me as a fellow runner. I’m not so confident about climbing. I like climbing, but I don’t call myself a climber. I know some of the lingo and I could climb a 5.9 pretty well, but every time I go into the gym, I feel like I’m being judged. I’m not a part of their culture. And so I should remember that feeling with my students when I’m writing. It’s a culture as familiar to me as running, but most of them probably feel like I do when I walk into a climbing gym: like people will judge me for not being as good as them or for not knowing what to do when they tell me to “smear.” And what would make me feel more comfortable in that culture and what would make my students feel more comfortable in the writing culture is to immerse myself in it daily: practice until I can climb a 5.13, take a lesson on lead, use the vocabulary. If I were to climb on a regular basis, I could call myself a climber. If my students were to write on a regular basis, they could call themselves writers.

As runners, writers, and climbers, we have to practice every day to get better, and we have coaches and teachers who push us through those daily practices and exercises. It was never my goal or dream to be a high school cross country coach, but that’s exactly where I find myself now. When I start connecting coaching and teaching writing, it gets me thinking: Would I give my cross country kids random workouts without understanding the physiology of their bodies, they way different workouts affect them, long term consequences, and short-term benefits? No. Why not? Because I don’t want to injure them; I want to train them for the appropriate event in the most efficient way possible. I want them to get the most out of each workout so I’m going to ground myself in things like lactic acid buildup, fast twitch vs. slow twitch muscles, and so on. But coaching isn’t just understanding the science of running; it’s knowing your kids, motivating them, working with them, encouraging them, etc. And so when we go to teach writing it’s the same thing. It’s studying theories, reflecting on practices, keeping a “running log” of what you’ve been doing to see what works and what doesn’t.

My high school cross country coach never ran, well once he did, but he didn’t even make it all the way around the lake for the warm-up lap. This is not how I view coaching and teaching. Once we get our students introduced to the culture of writing, we can’t just leave them with a blank page and a pen and say, “Go!” We have to be a part of the training with them, run with them, write with them. But when you get down to it, running can be downright miserable. I know some of those workouts I give my athletes in 90 degree weather or in the freezing cold rain are downright miserable. I know this because I’m out there doing it with them. Sometimes it’s just really hard to even motivate myself to go on a run, or it’s easier to take the flat route instead of the one with hills. Sometimes I even want to stop and walk. It’s the same with writing. When I write with my students, I am reminded of the frustration I feel sometimes, or the joy I get in accomplishing my goals. That’s why it’s so important to write with our students so that we don’t forget how intimidating a giant hill can be, or how far away three miles seems to be, or how difficult it is to fill a blank page with coherent ideas, or how daunting it seems to write an eight page research paper. They appreciate it too, seeing you suffering with them, and all the while growing yourself as a runner and a writer.