Education as an Educator

Sometimes I feel like I go to more classes or trainings than my students. If I were to go ask others in the education arena, every single one of them would agree.

Before entering the school district as a teacher, every person must have at least a bachelor’s degree. To advance in any sort of meaningful way, an educator must earn a Master’s degree. To move into administration, educators must obtain a degree in educational leadership. To renew and maintain a teaching certificate the educator attends a variety of professional development for recertification points the total of which depends on the individual state regulations. Throughout the school year educators attend in school day PDs designed, hopefully, to equip educators with the necessary tools and resources.

I understand the motivation behind the regulations. The creators and implementations have good intentions. (I try to give them the benefit of the doubt as far as intentions go.) A lot goes wrong when it comes to implementation.

My first encounter with this phenomenon came with my initial foray into the profession. I attended a challenging K-12 school and later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in which nearly every class challenged me to work hard to earn the high grades. I entered my graduate education program with the expectation that my classwork would challenge me beyond what I had experienced in undergraduate education.

I applied myself with full vigor to these classes, only to find that phenomenon where you push or pull too hard and find yourself flying because of the sudden release. I attacked initial assignments with my usual overachiever vigor. Then I looked around and saw the results of my work and the work of my classmates. I ended up being challenged in a meaningful way only in practicum and student teaching. I did not realize it then but much of that challenge came from inadequate preparation and training.

When I started teaching the first time around, I marveled-not in a good way-at how so many trainings and meetings devolved into vent sessions. I had support from my instructional coach but little to no training on how to transition from teaching social studies or language arts to teaching Spanish. Naive and inexperienced, I figured that the skills I had learned would easily translate to the new subject. I had no training in developing multiple lesson plans; my first year I had four distinct preps. I spent most of those two years so completely underwater, I have no recollections of faculty meetings or PDs.

When I returned to school, I received what I craved, challenging, stimulating education. I had to work to earn this 4.0. I worked far more vigorously than I ever had to in my first Master’s degree. I knew that graduate work was supposed to be difficult.

After my long hiatus from teaching, I yearned for as much training as I could possibly have. I wanted to equip myself with as many techniques as I possibly could so that I could give these students the best education possible. The phrase “utter frustration” approximates my feeling after each so-called training. I either knew all the information or the training lacked any depth or both. Additionally, many of these trainings contained “discussions” with colleagues about an inadequately explained topic or a hands-on demonstration of a particular technique that added nothing to my understanding of the topic.

I hoped for better when it came to the wonderful opportunity to take graduate TESOL courses from Furman for free, courtesy of the district. I thought it would challenge me, finally. Not even close. We held many discussions, postponed due dates, significantly adjusted assignments to make them work for the students in our class. I had hardly any outside of class work to complete. I hoped that this current semester would hold more applicable subject matter. While it does, I now feel a bit of frustration with the material and in class meetings and their lack of specificity regarding the teaching of English Language Learners rather than students in general.

The icing on the cake came with the two courses I took this past summer as required to add the Gifted and Talented Endorsement to my teaching certificate, a stipulation on my employment contract. I knew that logistics would be difficult with all the travel I planned. I hoped to also have a bit of a challenge academically as well so that I could grow as an educator. What came with these classes blew my mind but not in a good way. We met only twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of each class. The remainder of the class “took place” in Google Classroom. The assignments looked on the surface to be somewhat vigorous, so the Type-A student within me indulged in a brief panic moment although that quickly dissipated when I observed the incongruity of the copied and pasted instructions with the format of the class and ability of the “instructor.” I could fill numerous pages with many ridiculous recollections but I will limit myself to just two. One, all of our assignments for the entire first class were graded on one day, more specifically within two hours. With approximately twenty students in the class each completing six assignments, I’ll let you figure out the ramification. Two, due to a much longer story, I never obtained the textbook for the second class, the one geared for curriculum and instruction. I cobbled together responses for the reading reflection as well as a unit and lesson plan with zero additional instruction or support. I based my work solely on prior knowledge yet I earned full credit.

All of these stories indicate a glaring discrepancy between perception and reality. Peruse the department of education’s website, specifically the certification requirement page. All of that looks good on paper. Require teachers to have technology proficiency while classes on the basics of Google docs provide points to satisfy this requirement. Require teachers of gifted and talented students to obtain an endorsement to show that they took classes to learn how to best teach these students while accepting credits from a substandard class. Require that teachers attend trainings outside contract hours so they can have a day off which results in additional time requirements outside of school. These teachers attend these trainings just to earn the hours which means they often bring things to grade or other things to finish, thus learning nothing from the “training.”

I struggle with the disconnect. It shouldn’t be this way. Something need to change. More requirements is not the answer. The problem is so endemic, I and others like me cannot change it on our own. A part of me wants to put something like “it might not ever change” into the discussion here. That would be giving up. I don’t do that. I also will not say that I have no answers. The reason that needed change seems so hopeless is that the solution requires a heart change. Educators on both side of the table need to adjust their approach. Right now the only thing I can do is change my own approach and advocate for change.

Spinx Run Fest Half Marathon 2017 – Race Recap

Race #136
Half Marathon #43
South Carolina Half Marathon #31
2017 Race #18
2017 Half Marathon #8
Spinx Run Fest Half Marathon #4

I almost forgot about this race. After Chicago, my mindset shifted first to recovery and then to building up for a 5k PR training cycle. (I’m finally devoting an entire training cycle to a 5k!) It’s a good thing I already registered for this and that Mom texted me earlier in the week asking me to remind her which races I had registered her for.

I was on my own for this one. Mom had a marriage conference at church so she couldn’t run with me. I made no distinct plans. My half marathons coming on the heels of marathons usually do not include anything close to speed. Although, usually I am the glutton for punishment who decides to run one two weeks after a marathon. This time around I waited an extra week.

Dad was going to come watch me at the finish but forgot to write it on his calendar. I totally get that. I have to write things on sticky notes or to do lists and still forget half the time.

Instead of writing a detailed recap I will simply leave a summary. I knew while I was running that I would likely not have enough to write a detailed post. I simply settled into an easy pace, at least it actually felt pretty easy and zoned out, in a good way.

My paces were as follows

I continue to love this race distance; yes, I am half crazy.

Becoming That Person

You know the type. That person digs paper out of the trash can to put in recycling? That person composts food scraps, brings lunch from home, uses reusable bags instead of plastic, uses a clothesline to dry their clothes and things like that. I suppose that person could be labeled as “crunchy.”

Many experiences in my childhood generated a propensity towards the reduce, reuse, recycle lifestyle. Although I have talked about some in relation to composting, much more contributed to this transformational process.

My mom provided for my sister and I on a single parent income starting when I turned 10 years old. She had insufficient resources for many years before that as well. Granted, my mother had resources through the strong family network and active support form my grandparents, that others in our situation lacked. We had little money so when my mom spent money, she spent it wisely. I grew up believing it normal to reuse printer paper by printing on both sides or squeezing every last bit of toothpaste out of the tube before throwing it away. We still took care of our teeth through regular cleaning but instead of paying through the nose, figuratively speaking, for a dentist, we headed to the local technical college and offered ourselves up to be practice patients for students in the dental hygiene program. We could have skipped this altogether but instead, my mom helped instill the wisdom of prevention care.

Additionally, I learned early on the importance of good stewardship in my personal life of the things that I own and my environment, my tiny footprint on this planet. I saw how my mom cared for the tiny house she owned and the far different way that others in our low-income neighborhood cared for their rented homes.

In school, in Sunday school, in my family, I learned that God owns everything on this planet yet He has entrusted certain things to our care-taking. In the future a time will come when we will present back the things we have had in temporary custody and give account for our care while it was in our care.

With the groundwork in place, how have I started becoming that person? Many people have similar backgrounds or nearly identical backgrounds in the case of my sister, yet not everyone becomes that person. What makes the difference?

My background and personality type contribute significantly to this process. I often call myself a font of useless trivia because certain facts in a wide variety of subjects stick in my brain in a permanent way while others pass through in an irretrievable manner. How else can I explain the fact that at the beginning of last year, I had to place my car key on top of my lunch box to make sure I wouldn’t forget to bring it with me. I call it useless trivia because it’s not always the most important thing that I remember. I like to eat. I get “hangry.” Food is very important to me. I have yet to figure out what makes things stick in my brain over others. When I do, count on a post.

Over the years, things in the crunchy lifestyle have passed through my brain and gradually, some of them have started to stick. I have been on the recycling train for quite a while. I watched the aftermath of having to clean up after hoarders and started weaning myself off my need to collect and save just in case. I became intrigued about minimalism through the influence of my cousin. I started learning about composting after Ellis mentioned that he had started a compost bin in their backyard. Most recently, a single comment in one of the blogs I read served as a catalyst to change my thinking about the total waste I generate. I knew all of this in one form or another for years yet it took small comments here or there or repeated iterations for it to sink in. One stone built upon another until I come to the point where I am now. I am just starting to become that person. I pull recyclables out of the trash. I just restarted the habit of saving paper used on only one side to reuse before I place them in the recycling. I bring home leftovers from from everyone at my table to compost. (I did this a couple weeks ago at 5 Guys when I brought home the peanut shells that my family discarded.) I purchased reusable baggies so that I would no longer keep adding plastic to landfills. I sold my Keurig on my church Facebook Marketplace rather than throw it out. I collect extra food to distribute to the students. I set up a makeshift compost bin in my room and encourage the kids to toss the cores and peels there instead of the trash can. I reuse the bag that I use to collect extra food at lunch. I am working towards setting up a space in my house to set up a clothesline to dry my clothes as well as find some old clothes or material to make into rags to use instead of paper towels.

In the end, I still want to become that person, but without all the connotation laden overtones. That’s a whole other post.

Prone to Procrastination

Recently I noticed a proclivity for procrastination and negativity creep into my daily routine. If only “recently” meant the last week or two. Weeks past, I opened the door just a crack or maybe I just forgot to close it all the way. Like a persistent weed, this proclivity took root. Half-hearted attempts to change have succeeded only in removing the above ground stem and leaves.

Enough of the botany metaphor.

Before I sink my trowel into the dirt and remove the weed by its roots (okay, that’s the last time) I must identify and locate these roots.

I talked about this before, but I know that some of the trouble started the day I came back to school. It’s present in many or even most professions but it appears to be particularly endemic to the teaching profession, especially for those teaching in Title 1 schools.

I won’t go into specifics here. That’s been done before by someone else and done well. (I will add a link to the post if I am able to locate it again.) In fairly vague terms, I will say that many of the things that have happened this year, unfortunately, are not unusual for many Title 1 schools across the country.

We deal with inadequate administrative support when it comes to discipline. That support comes instead in the form of increased expectations on the teacher. “Rigor” has come close to becoming a four letter word for us. We have to deal with entirely inequitable student distribution between teams. As an ELA teacher at a school on the brink of failure, extra administrative support from the school and district has been “given” to me.

That barely scratches the surface. On top of the involuntary time commitments and expectations given to me, I have placed other things on my plate. I am part of Bike Club and Youth in Government, both of which require extra after school commitment. I am absolutely passionate about both of these. Then there’s my homebound student. I initially took the job to make up for a lack of afterschool income. However, after meeting and working with hi, I have become passionate about providing all the help, even if it is limited, I can give him.

All of this plays into the procrastination I find myself so prone to. At school, I often find myself talking to colleagues during breaks and afterschool. Unfortunately, most of these conversations serve only as a chance for us to get things off our chests. This feeds the depression. At home, I often arrive after 7 with things like grading and other work still left to do because meetings or class consumed my afternoon.

Even with all that left to do, each night I pop a bag of popcorn (not the single serve kind) and then plop down on the couch with my iPad. I tell myself that as soon as I finish the popcorn, I will get to work. Then I finish and look at the clock. So often, 8pm looms. The amount left do do mushrooms.

I look at everything I just wrote and everything seems hopeless. It appears that I have written a recipe for burnout. Without God, this would be a recipe to create a burnt out, bitter, two times education quitting woman. I am so thankful that God has been working in my life lately to take what humanly seems disastrous and turn it into beauty.

The bring back the botany metaphor, what will serve as the trowel I will use to root out the negativity weed? To most, my answer looks like a cop out. That “trowel” is God. I know that I am not able to do any of this on my own. I want to start by asking God to change my words, to help me not only avoid complaining but fill my mouth with encouragement to my students and my colleagues. Step two comes with asking God to mold my heart into a mode of receptivity especially with regard to administrative demands. Third, I am praying for God-given reminders to put myself last. To help shed the “I need chill time mindset” that infects more and more of my days.

Even in the light of tremendous adversarial odds, I have faith that God will provide the necessary strength and wisdom.

After the Chicago Marathon – Review, Tips and Lessons Learned

An introspective person by nature, I spend copious amounts of time after a race (or pretty much anything for that matter) reviewing and reflecting upon my performance.

After my tenth marathon, with a time that met my C goal but nothing more, I have plenty to reflect upon and learn from regardless of how pleased I am with my time and my performance given the conditions.

First off, the review.

For this race, I am adding a tips section. The night before the marathon I searched fruitlessly for concrete, applicable tips on arrival, even reaching out to a marathon Facebook group I participate in and came up with nothing, even concerning anything related to the race.

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
Registration – Chicago has two different methods for entry: time qualifier and lottery entrant. Unlike Boston, times for qualifying marathons last for three years. Thus, this year constituted the last year I could use my Rome Marathon time. Registration for time qualifiers and lottery entries ends much sooner than expected. About the time I was about to start training for Chicago, Mom mentioned that she might like to run this with me. Unfortunately, lottery entry had long since closed. If you want to run Chicago, you must decide way in advance.

Packet Pick-Up – Some people really love expos. I like looking around, being with all these other running focused people. Seriously, 40k people running a marathon all getting together? Best. Ever. As far as buying stuff? That’s not my focus, as the many posts on frugality and minimalism would best explain. I did not mind attending the expo only a couple hours before closing. We did not have to deal with long lines plus, Paula Radcliffe just so happened to be on the Runner’s World stage when we walked by. *Cue major running nerd geek out moment*
Chicago really does have the packet pick up down to a fine-tuned, efficient science which is a must for the second largest marathon in the world.

Race Shirt
I really like the clean and simple design. When I first picked up the shirt I wondered if I had made a mistake in choosing the small. Most times that is the perfect size. Occasionally the smalls run too short. Thankfully, this one fits just right. I will likely use it as a cross-training shirt since I am not a fan of high-neck shirts on runs.

Pre-race amenities
I will cover a lot of this in the tips section below.

Course and course support
As I mentioned in my recap, at times I wondered if I should just turn my music off since I couldn’t hear it over the crowd support. I love having this problem. According to an article I read afterwards, somewhere around a million people lined the course to cheer on the runners. (See the tips section for more.) This course has quite a few turns but lacks hills of any significance. Even the rollers a few people around me noticed, I hardly noticed since they pale in comparison to the hills we have in South Carolina. The Marathon’s over 12k volunteers handily manned water stops and served as course monitors having been well trained. I never once had an aid station issue. Plus, the course has 20 aid stations, nearly one every mile.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
I tend to head straight home after a race or at least straight to the nearest milkshake and coffee purveyors. Nothing about that changed. I wandered through the post-race area, the one accessible to only runners and volunteers and picked up necessary accoutrements along the way from my medal to a bag of food. I also witnessed many caring and efficient medical volunteers checking on any person who sat down in that area. You had to keep moving.
Unlike in DC for the Marine Corps Marathon – which, granted, ran mere months after Boston 2013 – Mom had no trouble finding the Runner Reunite area and me. The tall polls with the letters were positioned just after the entrance and security check making them highly visible.

Marathonfoto provides official photography for the race. They have a strong enough reputation that I do not need to review their services.

Results can be found immediately online or via the app. Unlike past experiences with race apps, this one worked like a charm for Mom. She could easily track my location and has plenty of screenshots to prove it.

Tips Section

1. The official recommendation is to arrive two hours prior to your particular wave start. You do not need to arrive that early. I understand why they give that recommendation. Despite those instructions, too many people wait until the last possible second to access their gate and corral causing enormous congestion. In race this size, they will not delay the start for you. However, even an hour and a half before the start, I breezed through security and the portopotty lines which meant that I ended up spending half an hour sitting on a bench shivering until close enough to the start I actually headed into the corral.

2. If you possibly can, avoid having to use gear check and arrive one hour before, not two.

3. Use the portopotty section in the area before entering the corrals. I was able to cycle through this line, with plenty of time in between, twice. I attempted one last time in the corral but that line moved so slowly I ended up abandoning the attempt.

4. Bring throwaway gear for the time that you wait before the sun comes up. You will have to wait a little. Bring a trash bag or a heat sheet form a previous race or something like that to stay warm and save the energy that you would otherwise waste on shivering.

5. If you absolutely must have music, use at least one headphone. I have stopped using headphones and instead run with the music playing from my phone. Those little speakers have nothing on Chicago crowd support. Only a few sections lack complete crowd cover so a little silence might be welcome.

6. Wear your name somewhere. I did this for the first time during this race and loved it! It never ceased to bring a smile to my face.

7. Start taking water or Gatorade at the first aid station. Despite the October date, Chicago has a reputation for some really draining heat. Take hydration at every station. Your body will thank you.

As I think of other tips, I will add to this section.

Lastly, the reflection bit…

As I mentioned in my retrospective, my training has not approached the rigor I would have hoped. Several things seemed to get in the way. Instead of waxing eloquent, I will stick with simple bullet points, boil it down, so to speak.

  • I do not run well in the heat, no matter how “acclimated” I am.
  • My best performances have come under one of the following circumstances: cooler weather, spring date, with a coach’s help or all of the above. (See Rome for proof.)
  • My best two times have come while working with Matt as my coach. I think I have reached the limit of how fast I can push myself when I am the one designing my training plan.
  • My base mileage for this training cycle hovered too low. I think I would have been able to make it a little farther in those later miles even with the heat but only one other time this training cycle has my mileage reached 40 mpw.
  • Tiered goals and letting go of goals makes the overall race experience far more enjoyable.
  • I need to rebuild my mental toughness. It’s been a while since I really pushed myself out of my running comfort zone. That’s what it’s going to take to get that BQ.

Chicago Marathon 2017 Race Recap

Race #135
Marathon #10
State #7
Illinois Marathon #7
2017 Race #18
2017 Marathon #2
Chicago Marathon #1
Marathon Major #1

I enjoyed this race so much.

Going into this race I had three goals
A (extreme reach) – BQ – sub 3:35
B (reasonable reach) – Chicago Qualify – sub 3:45
C (reasonable goal) – sub 4 hour, technically sub 3:56 aka 3rd fastest marathon

After my test half a month ago, I decided that the A goal was pretty much off the table unless all the stars aligned. With the alert level at moderate, I took that goal off the table completely.

Then at Charlotte when I earned that 1:50 with relatively easy effort, I decided that a 3:40 would be completely reasonable. With better weather, I’m sure that would have been a slight stretch but doable.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

We arrived super early. I ended up waiting a while without my jacket since Mom couldn’t come closer to the corrals with me. I didn’t mind that much and had enough time to cycle through the relatively short portopotty line twice. (The longer lines occur at the portopotties inside the corrals. I stood in that one for a little while, just in case, but then ended up heading back out to the corral. I stood relatively near the 3:40 pacer thinking that I would try to run with that group and just drop off if the pace ended up being too fast.

I lost the pace group early on but didn’t stress. Instead, I switched my screen over to the heart rate screen aka the blank screen and left it there the entire race.

I decided to run by pace and not worry about anything else.

I struggle with remembering minute details about many of these miles, especially the early, really good feeling miles. The one thought I do remember had something to do with thoughts of turning my music off since a lot of the time I could barely hear it.

I also decided to take Gatorade at every water stop, starting at the first one. I even managed to drink it while running, a major feat for me. I barely spilled anything on myself. When I did, I just wiped my face to get some sweat and then rubbed my hand so it wouldn’t stay sticky. A tad bit gross, I know.

I also really enjoyed having my name on my shirt. Laura came up with that idea and provided the duct tape, sharpie and handwriting. Every so often I would hear a cheer for “Jeni!” At one of the hydration stations, I even got a “Jen-nay” as in Forest Gump.

Mile 1: 8:33
Mile 2: 8:07
Mile 3: 8:17
Mile 4: 8:10
Mile 5: 8:18
Mile 6: 8:32

For some reason somewhere in mile 7, doubts started to creep into my head about my ability to finish the race. I still felt great. The temps had yet to heat up. These doubts come in to just about every one of my long distance races. Thankfully these lasted just a few miles and I continued on the race, on pace, for the next several miles.

Mile 7: 8:45
Mile 8: 8:41
Mil 9: 8:45
Mile 10: 8:47
Mile 11: 8:42
Mile 12: 8:45

In the 12th mile they handed out Gatorade Chews. I have used these before so I grabbed a pack but waited until I crossed the halfway point before I managed to get the pack open and pry out two chews, barely getting the second one out. If I had any criticisms of these chews (which are actually my favorite out of the various brands I have chosen) it would be that the packages are notoriously difficult to open, especially while in the middle of running a marathon.

By this time, the temps had started to warm up. I started to notice this when I no longer had to wipe the sweat off my face. That’s never a good sign. I still felt relatively good and strong. Plus, I looked forward to just before mile 16 where Laura and Aaron would be spectating in front of one of their friend’s houses.

After crossing the half marathon mark, I started trying to remember which side of the road I needed to be on. Even though I asked specifically, my running-drained brain could not remember. Thankfully, I picked the right side and got a nice boost of energy when I passed by. Laura noted that my speed increased after I passed them. Ah, that wonderful placebo effect.

Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017
Chicago Marathon 2017

Mile 13: 7:57 (I should have not been going anywhere near that fast.)
Mile 14: 8:13
Mile 15: 8:39
Mile 16: 8:53
Mile 17: 8:47

During the 18th mile, my legs started to feel fatigued, not fatigued due to lack of fitness but heat-induced fatigue. I wondered how I would be able to make it to the finish at this pace. A temporary boost of energy came from a rude runner who side swiped me somewhere within the mile. Arm bumps happen, especially in a race this size. Every time that happens, I say “excuse me” or “sorry!” If it happens to me, the other runner usually says something similar. Not this time. I muttered “excuse you.” She shot back. “It’s a race, honey.” The “honey” is what did it for me. That’s what galled me the most. Afterwards I wish I had been able to think of something like “It’s been 17 miles and I haven’t run into anyone yet.” Instead, I just shot back , “when you run into someone, you say something.” She simply glared at me and kept running.

This indignation fueled me for the next couple miles, almost to mile 19. That’s when the heat started to get to me. I knew it would likely be a bit of a slog to get to the finish. I thought about walking at mile 20. I walked a little but my stride felt weird so I started running again. I thought that I might walk at each mile marker but by the time I got to mile 21 I thought that I would definitely make it to mile 22. That was a mistake.

Sometimes during this these few miles my left big toe started to hurt which perplexed me a bit. Recently, I had twice developed a blister on the big toe side of my second toe. It only recently healed so I decided to put a bandaid over the sensitive area, just in case. This turned out to be a terrible idea. When I finally took my shoes off, I discovered the the bandaid had rubbed a nice dime-sized section of skin off of my big toe. Yeah. No wonder it hurt. (I’ll spare you a picture.)

I definitely had slowed down by this point.

Mile 18: 8:52
Mile 19: 9:09
Mile 20: 9:06
Mile 21: 9:40 (reflecting the walking at mile 20)
Mile 22: 9:05

I barely made it to mile 22. I cannot believe that my pace was that “fast.”

I ended up walking at the water station just beyond mile 22 and ended up walking through the entire hydration station. I took two cups of Gatorade and then two cups of water. I wondered then if my sub 4 hour goal was fast flying out the window. I wanted to check my Garmin but refrained.

From there, I tried to pick the pace back up by my jog was barely a jog. I ended up walking through each water stop save the last one which also happened to be the only one I did not take hydration at.

I wonder if miles 23 – 24 had some sort of incline. I thought I might have to seriously slog to the end. After mile 24 and a half or so, my legs started to feel decent again, not great mind you, but enough so that the idea of jogging through the final hydration station became a possibility.

I did wish that my duct tape name had stayed on through the whole marathon. I really did try but somewhere between miles 17 and 23 it blew right off. Yeah, that’s marathon brain for you.

I managed to jog through the end not looking at my Garmin until after I crossed the finish line and stopped the time.

Mile 23: 10:13
Mile 24: 10:17
Mile 25: 10:10
Mile 26: 9:38
Last “.2” 8:40
Final time: 3:55:49

Chicago Marathon 2017

Even with the heat, I am more than pleased with how well I ran this race. I think my training lacked what it would take to get to a BQ. If the weather had cooperated, I think that this race would have been my second fastest race rather than my third.

I had so much fun running this race! I can’t wait to run it again, whenever that may be.

Marathon Retrospective

This coming Sunday, I will run my tenth marathon, a milestone deserving some reflection.

When I tell people about my upcoming milestone marathon, they speculate that I must have been running for a while. In some respects, I have dedicated quite a bit of time to running. In other respects, I have called myself a marathoner for only the past six of my thirty-two years.

This journey began back in 2009 when I set foot in a gym for the first time. A casual comment introduced me to Spinx Run Fest, the site of my first half marathon and full marathon. I decided to run the half marathon in 2010, doubting that I could actually complete the distance. this doubt persisted even after I finally registered three weeks before race day. In the middle of that race as my mind wandered through the miles, I realized that the following October, I would be 26.2 years old. That thought planted a seed that took root in fertile ground. The roots dug deep.

I registered for that first marathon the first hour of registration. I stumbled through the training, making my fair share of rookie mistakes. However, I crossed that finish line and became a marathoner, finishing less than a tenth of a second under five hours. I knew when I finished that one was not enough.

I thought that marathon #2 would come the next November after I took advantage of an 11/11/11 sale and registered for the Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon. Instead, after reading someone else’s musings about being thought crazy for running two marathons in a year, I decided to up the ante at one of my May half marathons and go the full distance. Marathon #2 in New River taught me that this marathon thing might just be right up my alley. Even with a last minute training plan chance to bump up the mileage, I shaved twenty-four minutes off my first marathon time.

Marathon #3 taught me the power of mantras and the importance of hydration. Even in approaching winter, Savannah maintains humidity. My mantra for that race was “I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.” (Bonus points if you can name that move.) That marathon still bears the distinction of being the only marathon I have ever run completely without music. At the time, I planned to run a trail 50k a couple months later.

Then came marathon #4, San Francisco. After running first the first half marathon and then the second half marathon, I had to run the full. Not only that but I also made the audacious goal of making San Francisco my first sub 4 hour marathon. I met that goal even though the odds seemed to stretch out of my favor in the last 10k. I also lost my first toenail. (It’s also the only toenail I have ever lost.)

I ran my first really big marathon for #5 that fall when I ran the Marine Corp Marathon. I had big, in retrospect too big, goals of qualifying for Boston. Instead, the beginnings of what, so far, has been my only injury a mere week before the marathon cropped up and grabbed my attention. I learned how to deal with unexpected curveballs with humility as I crossed the finish line with a nearly identical time as San Francisco three months before.

I took time to regroup and put off my next marathon, #6, until the fall of 2014. I got a coach, a new type of training plan and headed to the Twin Cities to a marathon that is still one of my favorites. I learned that I had improved as much as I could on my own; it was now time to reach for more experienced help. That extra help paid off. I shaved off another ten minutes.

Marathon #7 took me across the Atlantic to the Eternal City. I started under the shadow of the Colosseum, ran across cobblestones slick with a light drizzle, smelled the “stinky man from Bologna,” marveled at the splendid opulence as I ran through St. Peter’s Square and finished back where I started with a time that still today is my PR. That marathon taught me that I could do this. I came so close to that ever elusive BQ with marathon #7. I giddily registered for Chicago and continued to push forward. I ended up with a distal hamstring strain. Although I trained smart, I had underlying structural issues that finally came to a head. Chicago 2015 was not to be.

Once I, with a lot of help, started figuring things out and rebuilding, I wanted redemption. Marathon #8 taught me that I could still do this. I enjoyed Tobacco Road even though for the first time on my marathon journey, I went “backwards,” time-wise.

Marathon #9 took a lot longer coming due to major life changes that started the week before Tobacco Road. I wanted to run another marathon in 2016 but I knew that I wanted to make my return to the classroom my priority so instead I trained for and ran the Hilton Head Island Marathon with Mom. Marathon #9 taught me that tackling this sort of training with someone else often exceeds expectations of marathon running enjoyment. I learned that putting my goals aside for the sake of someone else brings much greater rewards.

Even though I have yet to run marathon #10, I have already learned a lot. I have become a smarter runner. I have learned to adjust to ridiculous weather and a lack of AC at work after 3:15 – the district turns off A/C at that time in all the school buildings to save money – and the subsequent exhaustion. I have learned that rebuilding takes time, especially rebuilding the right way. I have learned to hold loosely to my goals so that a slower than expected time doesn’t completely crush me.

Here’s to marathon #10 and to the ten that follow!