I Run Marathons, Do You?

I am 6’3″ and tip the scales at 200 pounds. I am far from what you would consider a “stereotypical” runner, but I love it. I run to clear my head, I run to minimize stress, I run to stay fit and I run marathons. Over the last ten years, I am averaging one marathon a year. (There was one year I went crazy and ran two in three months, but for some reason I have not attempted that feat again, go figure!)

Running marathons is not easy. Over the last ten years, I can honestly tell you that it is not getting easier, but I am getting smarter in my approach. I do my best to maintain a certain level of fitness throughout the year so when marathon training begins, I am not starting from scratch. Ideally, you build on lessons learned from year to year and throughout your training to set a PR (personal record). 
My sixteen week training schedule will begin in August so I have the month of July to shake off any remaining rust, work out the kinks and get mentally prepared for what is a long, arduous and painstaking sixteen weeks. This past week, I was nearing the end of a five mile run (on a hot July afternoon) and just felt gassed. I was out of water and still a half mile from home. If you have any experience running, you know when you hit “the wall”. It’s that moment when you start thinking more about the heat and your lack of water that makes the last half mile seem like an eternity. Trying to put one foot in front of the other, I realized I had finished another marathon one week prior. The 26 miles was the 14-15 school year and the final .2 miles (which you never underestimate) was my first experience as being a summer school principal. 
Since my epiphany of realizing I have actually been running multiple marathons a year, I began thinking about just how similar both of these experiences; education and running marathons really are.  
It is Not for the Faint of Heart

We all know teaching is not for everyone. Successful educators have a specific mindset, similar to the mindset required to complete a marathon. One hundred eighty school days brings joy or what runners refer to as the “runner’s high” but those days may also bring moments where you stop and question yourself; otherwise known as “hitting the wall”. Hitting the wall may be due to a lesson that didn’t go as planned or wishing you had a “redo” in regards to a conversation that didn’t end how you had envisioned. Regardless of your wall, educators, just like runners, must push through the wall, knock it down and come out the other side to yet again, experience that “runner’s high”. This separates the good teachers from the great. The ability to knock down the walls and come out the other side. 

It Takes Preparation

There is a very small percentage of people who can successfully complete a marathon without the proper preparation and the same can be said about successful educators. We could all give it the old college try, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. 
As I mentioned, my training schedule is a sixteen week routine. I say routine because each day is just that…part of a routine. The days include having a specific breakfast, lunch and dinner and staying hydrated throughout each. Not to mention the 4:45 wake up call six out of seven days a week. (Another reason I love Fridays) 
Isn’t education the same? There are few of us that could roll out of bed and deliver a collection of lessons to students but would it give our students the “PR” we are looking for? Education takes time. It takes much more than 16 weeks. The preparation that goes into becoming an educator starts long before you have your own classroom. Years of course work, student teaching and professional learning come before the starting gun. You approach the starting line or your own classroom with a back pack full of theory, ready to put your training to the test as students enter your room for the first time. 
Much like running marathons, year after year, you learn from past experiences and continue to seek out expertise along the way, looking to constantly improve upon your last “race”. You spend countless hours collaborating with colleagues, speaking with students about what did and did not work and conferences with parents and families about the progress and success their children had under your direct guidance. 
As educators, we prepare ourselves because our students need our best. They need our best each of the 180 days, every year. Anything short of our best would be the equivalent of preparing for a 10K when race you are running is 26.2 miles. 

It Takes Support

26.2 miles is a long race and 180 days is a long year. You are going to need support along the way. The aid stations set up along the course our necessary to your well being. Ignoring the support or failing to recognize it could lead to full body shut down or in education terms, lack of student progress. 
My biggest supporter during training is my beautiful wife. 4:45AM is early for all of us. My alarm does not ring privately just for me, the piercing noise is shared equally. The only saving grace for her is that she can fall back asleep, most mornings. 
Throughout sixteen weeks of course there are mornings when you do not want to get out of bed to go run. In the fall it’s still humid and by the first week of December you were wishing it was still fall or at least a little bit warmer. We face some of the same challenges in education. We have late nights followed immediately by an early morning. You need support to make it through the rough patches, when it’s easier to “have a rest day”. Support comes in various forms; loved ones, teammates, colleagues, your PLN and most importantly your students. 

You cannot be a successful educator alone. It’s the support you surround yourself with that pulls you up the hills, gives you the shot in the arm and allows you to have the extra boost as you near the finish line. 

Where do you find your support? 

Recovery is Necessary

Do you recall me sharing my attempt to run two marathons in three months? I ran. The Chicago Marathon in October and the Dallas Marathon in December. Two amazing races in two great cities, but if I could go back and do it again (which I have not) I would plan for recovery. I ran my body into the ground. By the end of the Dallas Marathon, my body found a new level of exhaustion. 
As educators we need to be careful we do not put ourselves in similar situations. Over the course of 180 school days it is easy to extend the days longer than they need to be. “If I can just finish this one last thing” or “I will take it home and finish it” are two lines used frequently by educators around the country. I am always humbled by the work ethic of educators, but find the balance. There is work that can be left until tomorrow. Walk away. Begin the recovery process.

There is significant research behind the power of recovery; stating that it takes up to two weeks for muscles to fully recover from running a marathon.  Without research to back this up, I would suggest it takes a similar amount of time to recover from a school year. At least I hope that is all it takes, because that is how long my recovery period (summer vacation) is this year after completing summer school. Whether you are an administrator with a couple weeks off our a teacher with a longer period of time, the focus is not how long the recovery period is. Rather, the focus should be what you do to recover during that time.

Recovering from a marathon includes maintaining a health diet, a combination of hot and cold soaks in a bath and slowly getting back into running, but not right away. Taking time off from running is highly recommended. Recovering from the school year can follow a similar model. Take some time off. Unplug from the profession you hold in such high regard. This is harder for some than others, but present company included, we must make ourselves. As our bodies begin to recover, we can slowly get back into a combination of soaks, which may include reading books that will push our thoughts or engaging in face to face conversations with our support group as mentioned above or reflecting on your thoughts.

If your recovery process is anything like mine, by the time you are feeling recovered you begin getting the itch to do it all over again. Lucky for you, just about the time the itch returns, August is around the corner, you will take your mark on the starting line and anxiously await the sound of the starting gun, starting another marathon.

Yes, I run marathons and you do too. 


2 thoughts on “I Run Marathons, Do You?”

  1. Matt,
    I love this post. Your comparison is right on point. You are a great principal who also happens to be a great runner and your reflective ability makes you better yourself in both areas. Proud to be your colleague and blessed to be your friend.
    L

  2. What a great comparison, Matthew. As a runner myself, I can completely relate. It's the passion that keeps us going in both fields. Primarily solitary activities, the importance of “support” enables us to keep going. Good job remembering the importance of recovery. The renewal of body and mind enable us to start over refreshed, rehabilitated, and renewed. You're an excellent writer. Best of luck in your career and on the pavement.

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