Feeling Left Behind

As the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family, I accomplished a lot of firsts for the new generation. I was the first born, obviously, the first to go to school, the first the graduate from high school and then college. As I entered adulthood these firsts slowed until they now have trickled into nothingness. That has led to the subject of this essay, feeling left behind. Before I delve into the topic, I must disclose that I have no concrete answers, only thoughts and musings.

As a high schooler, I had plans, dreams about how my life would unfold. I have discussed this in previous essays so I will not repeat myself excessively. I bring up that point to place that propensity in context. These dreams frequently included all sorts of achievements I desired, things to cross off a bucket list before I became acquainted with the term. My dreams followed these activities to the furthest extent the activities could reach.

In reality though, I often shrunk back from actually pursuing that day dream, content to persist in the status quo for its familiarity. Perhaps I believed that reality could never approach the brilliance of that dream. Perhaps I assumed that these various amazing things would just materialize. I stuck with what I knew was achievable for myself while still dreaming of the impossible.

I write now just beyond ten years after graduating from college. Many of the life events I expected to happen have yet to occur. I expected that I would move out of my house when I married and purchased a home with my husband. In reality, I write this entry in my bedroom in the same house I have lived in since my junior year of high school. The room may have changed but the martial status of the occupant, single, has not changed. I expected that I would have at least two children, one of them a girl to whom I could pass on the middle name “Louise.” As I have not married, I do not have any children.

I think about the things I just described when looking at the lives of my cousins and other people I grew up with. I realized recently that out of the eight grandkids on my mother’s side, I am the only one that lives in the same house they lived in at high school graduation except the one who has not yet graduated. The next youngest cousin, age 20, got married this summer and recently closed on a house. Then I found out that another cousin and his wife are in the process of closing on a house that looks they hope to probably turn into an airbnb rental in a few years. By comparison, I look at my own goal of purchasing a house only when I can pay for the whole thing in cash and realize how far away it seems since I have yet to fully fund my emergency fund.

Then there’s the profound FOMO (fear of missing out) generator known as Facebook. Through Facebook I see long single friends become engaged and other former classmates announce pregnancies. The dangers of Facebook-generated envy could fill many pages of another essay.

At the end of the day I must face reality and the stark differences between reality and the dream. Occasionally, I give in to weakness and allow my thoughts to dwell on the differences and wonder why that long single friend can finally find someone to settle down with but I can’t. I feel miserable when I go down this path. That is no life, living for what could be and becoming bitter when things don’t go my way. That’s why, with God’s help, I have chosen a different path.

I am thankful that I do not have to stay in that bitter place. I struggle with how to express this while avoiding sounding trite and cliché. Now when these thoughts pass through my mind God reminds me that His plans are higher than mine, His thoughts far above anything my mind could imagine. I still feel left behind at times, wondering when my turn will come. Thanks to God, I do not need to stay there. He provides the faith and assurance necessary to continue stepping into the unknown.

TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k 2017 – Race Recap

Race #138
8k #12
2017 Race #20
2017 8k #1
TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k #8

So…before I get to the recap of today’s race, I have to admit that for the first time since I started running, I did not write a recap of a race that I ran. Last Saturday Mom and I ran the Tryon Half Marathon. Neither Mom or I felt particularly stellar on race day. For my own part, I was on the rough tail end of a cold that just wouldn’t let go along with a couple other minor temporary complaints. It had been a long, emotionally draining week. My only goal for that race was to go out and finish the race. Mission accomplished. Below are the stats for that race, just for reference.

Race #137
Half Marathon #44
North Carolina Half Marathon #8
2017 Race #19
2017 Half Marathon #9
Tryon Half Marathon #4
Final time – 2:02:27

Back to today’s race…

The week as a whole went much, much better. I felt better. I got in a couple speedwork sessions. The cold finally released its stranglehold. I felt confident that I could go ahead with my original plan for this race, use it as a test race for my goal 5k race which happens in a month.

I am glad that I did that. I learned a lot about myself as a racer.

When I put in my goal time into the race pace calculator, it spit out a goal pace of 7:15. I knew that would be tough but I wanted to see how well my body would hold up at that pace

Mom and I started together nearly at the front.

TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k 2017
(We started behind the line, obviously.)

When the announcer gobbled to indicate the start I took off, feeling almost like a newbie. It has been quite a while since I have raced a short race. For so long as I have rebuilt after the injury and then trained for longer races, I start off at a more reasonable pace. This felt strange as I started that first mile. The pace felt fast but doable. I started to doubt that I would be able to keep up that pace, especially with the “hill of death” coming. (The hill that nearly kills me in mile 3 of the Greenville News Run Downtown 5k.)

Mile 1:https://flic.kr/p/GSnrSZ 7:13 (spoiler alert…this was the only mile that I achieved my goal pace)

When looking at the course map beforehand, it looked like the “hill of death” cropped up in the first mile. No, we got to start mile 2 with that hill. Thankfully though, the course turned onto McBee, halfway through the hill, so we did not have to run the entire hill. My pace definitely slowed during that mile and only gradually picked up through the second half of that mile.

Mile 2: 7:41

I expected my pace to slow down a little bit because of that hill and determined that I would negative split this course like a champ. If only that mental stamina had persisted.

The third mile of this race was the easiest mile mainly because it lacked any significant uphills. We also had a wonderful little downhill leading into Cleveland Park where we started running on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I felt good but I think this was where I started to ease the mental push. I should have pushed myself harder here, just a little.

Mile 3: 7:29

I liked the fact that I had picked up the pace. I wanted to do that for the rest of the race. The course and my mental toughness did not cooperate.

Just before we exited Cleveland Park, I saw the uphill and remembered the uphill that challenges me every time. I had no desire to push even harder than I had been pushing up that hill. I knew how challenging that felt. The negativity started to creep in even before I started up that hill.

Then came the hill. I walked, twice, in that second to last mile. I couldn’t believe that I did that. The second time I tried to keep running but my body wouldn’t cooperate. As soon as my mind said that it was okay to walk, my legs eagerly complied with the order. I didn’t walk for long, maybe 15-20 seconds but I had lost the will to battle to the finish, to really shoot for that PR.

Mile 4: 8:06

When I reached that last mile I told myself that there was less than a mile left. I could negative split this last mile. I could push hard. I could get back to that goal pace.

I started off that last mile well. I pushed hard.

Then we turned onto East Broad. I have never run up that street. No one in their right mind would choose to sprint up that street, especially in the last mile of an 8k. That street held a nearly 50 foot elevation change in one block. I did not expect that last hill. Seriously? Yes, I gave in and walked again.

After mentally slapping myself, I took off again. I kept pushing even when we merged with the much slower 5k runners at the turn onto McBee when there was another small hill. As the 5k “runners” around me power-walked up the hill I pushed forward. This hill and that other short 10 second walk slowed my pace for this mile but I am much more pleased with the last mile than mile 4. Mile 4 was the worst mile of the race for me.

We finally made the turn onto Main Street and got to enjoy the downhill.

We didn’t finish on the downhill though. We had to go a little bit further past the downhill until the finish line just before the entrance to Falls Park.

As the finish line grew nearer I threw on a full out sprint and passed about 10 people, most of them 5k participants. I felt so strong through that final sprint and knew instantly that I could have pushed much harder through mile 4. I knew then that I had the fitness level for an 8k PR even on such a ridiculous course.

Mile 5: 7:35
Final time: 38:02 … Yes, I very much wish that I would have started my sprint just a little earlier.

Mom came in about 5 minutes later, looking strong and amazing.
TreesGreenville Turkey Day 8k 2017
Mom finished in 43:17

Final thoughts:
One of the first things that I thought after I finished was that I definitely needed to push myself harder in those last few miles. I felt fine, not even close to nauseated or in pain. That’s how you’re supposed to feel if you lay it all out there on the line for a short race.

It has been so long since I have raced a short race, really raced. For so long I have given myself an out and let myself run whatever pace that I wanted to run. While on one hand, it’s good to give yourself a break and not race every single race. That’s a recipe for burnout. On the other hand, every race can’t be this way, not if you want to push yourself to a PR.

Even though I did not reach my goal, I am glad that I was able to treat this race like a test race for my goal 5k coming up in a month. I know what I need to do. I know that I need to work on my mental toughness.

On the plus side, this is the first time that I have broken 40 minutes in this race, one of the few races that I have run every year since I started running. This is also my third fastest 8k time. The other two are my PR and one other Sunrise 8k where I ran only 2 seconds slower than my PR. To finish not feeling drained at all or like I had given anything close to full out effort? I’ll take that.

I feel reenergized and ready to full-out tackle the second half of my 5k training. Hilton Head be ready. I’m coming for you!

The Reason Why

Nine years ago, many people wondered why I chose Lakeview Middle School for my practicum and student teaching. Some of my cohort members had not even heard of the school. A little over a year ago, when I first got the job that I currently have, many of the same questions arose. AT a summer training, someone said that they had seen the job opening but did not bother applying. “You’re welcome,” she said. Even before I started working at Lakeview, I knew well how everyone viewed this place.

Why did I choose Lakeview?

Originally, I chose Lakeview because I identified with the school. When I lived on East Decatur, Lakeview was the precinct location for my mom when she voted. Additionally, if I had attended public school in middle school, I would have attended Lakeview. Once I started my practicum, my heart knit to those students in a way I could never have imagined. I saw the immense needs each child brought with them, needs both physical and emotional. Though other circumstances prevented me from starting my teaching career at Lakeview, when I returned to teaching, I jumped at the chance to return to the school.

One week ago today, I returned from a trip with 24 of my students that proved exactly why I chose Lakeview and also grew me in a way I could not possibly imagine. This trip exemplified the reason why I teach and why I teach at Lakeview.

This process started back in late September when we held our first Youth in Government meeting. When my colleague asked if I would join her on this adventure, I said yes, having absolutely no idea what lay ahead. I left that meeting which had been chockfull of eager, prospective delegates, many of whom we specifically selected for this opportunity, riding high.

Each week the students gathered and we moved closer to completing bills and perfecting speeches. My colleague and I sacrificed precious brain power to edit and format bills to submit them before the deadline. My colleague sacrificed even more as she worked tirelessly to arrange all the details from arranging the donation of professional clothing to writing the placards with their name and delegation.

We got a small taste of just how amazing the trip would be when the YMCA brought over rack after rack of donated clothes for our students to try on. Two at a time the students selected from the clothes and tried them on. They walked back looking so sharp in their new Oxford shirts, pants, jackets and ties. I witnessed first hand the enormous effect clothing has on how we are perceived and how we perceive others. They looked as amazing as I knew they were.

Finally the day arrived. Chills went down my spine as I watched each student step out of their vehicles, dressed to the nines pulling a suitcase behind them, many accompanied by parents who looked more nervous than their kids. I waited nervously for the last four stragglers and sighed with relief when the last came inside to practice their speeches.

Things did not become real until we entered the Marriott, checked in and got all of our official materials. I felt almost as overwhelmed as the students. I did not want them to miss out on anything simply because I did not direct them correctly. From that point on we hit the ground running.

Our students were so nervous. We entered an already packed conference auditorium. Immediately our students noticed how rich and white everyone was. They looked at the tables already set for lunch and wondered if all they would get for lunch was salad. “Are we going to get any meat?” Several of them asked, severely concerned. They had no concept of an entrée or a multi-course meal.

They relaxed a little at lunch, providing us with plenty of laughs as we responded to their many questions. “Why are there two glasses on the table?” “These napkins are cloth. Are they the same thing that I use to wipe my mouth?” “Why did they put the dessert out if we can’t eat it yet?” “We have to wait until everyone gets their food before we can eat?” Adorable.

All levity vanished the moment that they heard that it was time for committees. All of our students nervously fumbled around, making sure that they had their placards, their folder with paper and their speech, and their pen. With thirteen different committees, we could not go with them all. Many of them went into committees where they were the only Lakeview delegates. As I watched them head out, I hoped that the brief advisor meeting would pass quickly so that we could get into those committee rooms to watch them present their bills. I thought that might be the only time we got to watch most of them at work.

Five hours never passed so quickly. My colleagues and I slipped in and out of committee rooms, watched our students at work, watched them nervously step forward and watched them succeed. We had no time to prep them to ask questions of other bill presenters or to formulate arguments in support or opposition of other bills. We had only briefly prepped them to sum up their own argument in their closing speech. Our students did not let that stop the,. They watched, learned, and executed. By the end of the night, ten out of our twelve bills passed out of committee. The joy on their faces when they posed for a “We passed!” picture? Indescribable. Most of them exceeded their own expectations.

These kids ended the day with completely different expectations. They entered the conference intimidated, believing in their inferiority to the other more experienced, more privileged delegates. They went to bed determined to succeed. They showed up the other delegates at their own game and knew it. Several of our students expressed their disbelief at the lack of good behavior they saw in many of the other delegates. A couple of them commented on the racism directed towards them in committee. Little did we know that was just a preview.

Monday we headed up to the Statehouse itself. My face could barely contain my smile as I took the picture of them standing together on the Statehouse steps. I knew that what we were doing was already making a difference when, as we passed the statue of Ben Tillman, their first response was, “we should write a bill next year to make them remove that statue!”

Things moved into high gear and started to get heated when our first bill pair stood up to present their bill. Their bill would extend eligibility for instate tuition to all South Carolina residents, regardless of documentation status. Lakeview certainly hit the ground running. The first delegate to stand in opposition to the bill started down the track of racism both covert and overt that directed itself against our students repeatedly throughout the day. She consistently referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegals,” claimed that this bill would give them something for free and spouted off that if they wanted to go to college they should have come here the right way or pursue citizenship because that’s supposedly such an easy thing to obtain. (Keep in mind that South Carolina residents affected by this bill would have immigrated as children, brought by their parents.) Our students rose to the occasion. The first, an eighth grader, stood and quite elegantly and passionately defended the bill, remembering several of the talking points we covered with them in the debrief session the day before. Then, in the second affirmative speech, one of the two white students on our delegation stood up in support. That was the moment our entire delegation united as a team. I felt so proud of all of them. The cherry on top came when the bill passed!

I could talk for hours, and already have, about the many highs and lows of this trip in intricate detail. I could talk about the concerted efforts of entire delegations against our students for no other discernable reason other than racism. I could talk about the enormous smiles on those two students’ faces when their bill passed in the Senate. I could talk about the heartbreak four of our girls faced when their bills failed in the House, when the cards felt stacked against them. I could talk about my own frustration upon learning that our first bill had fallen victim to the Youth Governor’s veto, how as I encouraged those young men to continue the fight like those who fought for civil rights, I learned how many of them must have felt when doors kept slamming in their face for over a century. I could talk about how I made a giddy fool out of myself in the hall with the other advisors when another one of their bills passed out of the House. This happened even with other delegates telling their friends not to vote for the bill because “they’re Hispanic”

This day transformed our students. They became victors. Youth in Government is a learning process but just like in life, sometimes you learn how to lose with dignity and win with grace. How can you not love those who go through fire and emerge with love?

This day transformed me. I liked all of these students before the trip. After that trip, I loved them. I learned what maternal love feels like. I learned how difficult it is to battle injustice with dignity when I saw it directed at those I love. My heart nearly burst with joy when I watched them succeed. How could this day get any better?

The bonding continued through the evening. I took many of them on a CVS run and made a distinct impression as the teacher with the (cold-induced) croaky voice who should have brought her whistle. Also, I am that teacher that let them buy candy and Monster; I must have temporarily lost my mind. After supper I lead a small group back to the hotel, skipping the dance, and also became known as the teacher who let them stop at Starbucks. When we returned to school the next day, one of those girls hugged me tight and thanked me again; she’d never been able to go to Starbucks before. Once we got back to the hotel, I saw first hand the devastation that broken promises leave in their wake and experienced the sheer joy that comes from being able to keep a promise for that girl who had lost faith.

Despite all the ugliness, all the “polite racism” as one student termed it, our students exceeded our wildest dreams and their own. Several won awards. We did not expect that. Lakeview won premier delegation; people noticed their hard work. We returned home exhausted but exuberant and then my heart nearly exploded with joy. The entire school stood outside their classrooms to cheer and clap for their classmates.

This trip epitomized why I teach and why I chose Lakeview.

For Love of the Run

A little over a week ago, I ran my 43rd half marathon. Sometime in the midst of the run a recurring thought popped into my head, the thought of wanting to be done already. This thought and others like it occur fairly often during runs of all types, not just races. Why do I do it then? Why do I devote so much time, energy and money to something I frequently just want to finish and be done with. In this post I will attempt to explain something I have thought about for years, a feeling nearly indescribable, something that has hooked me so well, I just can’t quit.

To explain, I have to look back. My number one strength is context, after all.

Growing up, I both loved and hated running. i loved the sprints like the 50 yard dash at field day in elementary school or the sprint to first base after hitting an infield ground ball in softball. I loved the idea of accomplishment, of beating everyone across the finish line or beating the throw to first when everyone assumed that it was an automatic out. I disliked the prolonged effort of running the mile in junior high and high school. Others beat me routinely. My junior high P. E. teacher sat on the bleachers while we ran. I distinctly remember how much we all disliked her for that. I felt out of shape and lacking in the athletic gift department. A homeroom full of jocks in eighth grade helped little. In the end, I internalized these negative thoughts and believed the lie that athletic endeavors aside from recreational softball weren’t for me.

Then steps in the achiever in me. I often obsess over goals, anything from reading a certain number of books in a year to completing 26 races before my 26th birthday. I started running because of the thought of adding the tantalizing title of “half-marathoner” to my list of accomplishments. Many times over my first few years running, doubts dogged me through every single run, especially those leading up to my first half and full marathons. I wrestled with doubt throughout the races until I crossed the finish line. Why did I keep going then? Pure stubbornness, pigheadedness. I made a goal and I determined to keep it. When did it switch? When did it become something I do for the love of it rather than an extrinsic and sometimes self0created reward?

This came on gradually, lacking a specific aha! moment. The longer I ran, the more specifically I trained, the fitter I became. My body leaned out, becoming thinner but not lighter. My speed increased which led to a climb up the rankings. I no longer felt out of shape when I ran. I often finished runs feeling exhilarated, thrilled with my effort and hungry for more. Often I felt highest when the run had challenged me the most. I felt the lowest when I gave in to the negative thoughts and cut the run short or walked in a race.

Why running then?

Running suits me. The long minutes and hours stretch out like a canvas primed for the paint of my imagination. Running suits my introvert nature. I can go for a run whenever. I have no need to scrounge up other people to form a team. I tasted success much more quickly with running than with sports that required much more upfront investment.

Where do these thoughts of being ready to finish come from then? I have thought them from the moment I started running; I love a good countdown. These thoughts stick around because running still challenges me. I push to the uncomfortable point, expecting the due reward at the finish. The thoughts come from the struggle. The payoff comes with the finish line.

That is why I continue to run marathons and chase my Boston dreams. I hurt like no other time than in the throws of the marathon, all of the miles that come after mile 19 yet I push forward because that marathon finish line bestows a high like no other. Even when my time expectations got the better of me, I cross that line and smile form ear to ear.

This past Sunday reminded me of both the struggle and the victory as I watched Shalane Flanagan pull away from three time NYC Marathon champion, Mary Keitany and end her professional career, likely, with her first world marathon championship, the one thing lacking form her stunning pedigree. I watched her run, her stride strong and steady and wanted to get out there. I thought about her dedication to her training and wanted to step up my own efforts. I watched my all time favorite athlete, Meb Keflezighi give absolutely everything he had in his final competitive marathon, his 26th at age 42, and collapse at the finish line, utterly spent. That feeling surpasses all others for me, that feeling that comes after leaving everything on the course. Then I watched a little of the footage of some of the 50,000 other runners there that day, all running the marathon and thought back to the amazing sensation of camaraderie I felt in Chicago last month.

All these words still do not come close to an accurate picture of the runner’s high, the thing that keeps me running even when I start a count down. I run for love of the run, for all the reasons I delineated and the intangible ones that elude my tenuous grasp on the English language.