Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"I'm Not Invincible": A Teacher Learns to Listen to her Body to Run Free Again

As you all know, I am an obsessive, relentless runner through and through. There is nothing more I love than at the end of the day than going for a long run and leaving all of my stress, angst, and fears out on the roads and trails. This year, I established an initial goal of finishing 5 marathons in 5 months, which quickly (and rather impulsively) turned into a rather lofty and perhaps unrealistic goal of running 12 marathons in 12 months. Crazy? Yes? Achievable? I thought so. 

I managed to run 8 marathons in 7 months from early January through mid-July. Up until the last marathon (a 24 hour ultra that I had to finish prematurely due to chest pains), I felt strong and fully optimistic of achieving my 12 in 12 goal. Then came my scary chest pains in July after about 30 miles of running. After thorough examinations and an EKG, the doctors could see nothing medically wrong with me or my heart, suggesting that perhaps I had pulled muscles while running or was just severely dehydrated (which is unlikely due to the sheer amount of water and electrolytes I consume on a daily basis). They said to lay off the running a bit, which I did. I kept my runs easy and manageable throughout my time in South Korea in July/early August and then enjoyed hiking seven national parks during our trip out West last month (with no actual strenuous running!). 

Arriving back at the track for my first speed workout in two months last week, I couldn't have felt worse. My legs felt like bricks, I couldn't get up to normal speed, and I was unable to finish a workout I could have completed with dignity last year at this time. I attributed the horrible workout to a lack of consistent summer training and speed work. But when I finished the Annapolis 10 Miler last Sunday almost 20 minutes slower than I have ever run 10 miles before, I knew something was up. Never before had I wanted to drop out of a race so badly or had to walk so much (And this was a 10 miler, not even a marathon!). I felt like complete rubbish and wanted to cry my eyes out.

Back at home, I emailed my coach and explained what happened. His response was not at all what I wanted to hear. He suggested that perhaps I take a break for awhile to get everything back in balance, as I was traveling a lot and racing (too many) marathons. Apparently, I didn't understand what he meant when he said "break." I thought this meant that if I dropped out of the Chicago Marathon but still trained for the New York City Marathon and JFK 50 Miler, I would be fine. I just needed a bit more time to get back into my normal training groove, right? Well, not so much. I arrived home from an amazing wine tour in Virginia late last night to the following email:

"When I suggested taking a break, I meant an extended break with no hard workouts and no races for at least several weeks to let your body repair itself! Skipping Chicago and substituting a couple of half marathons isn't what you need. The few times that you have been at the track in recent months, you have not even looked like the same runner that you were a year ago. Your running posture looks totally off kilter and you look completely fatigued. If I were you, I would completely stop running for a few weeks, get into the pool for some aqua jogging, work on my core strength to try to restore a better running posture, and meet with a sports nutritionist to make sure that your diet and hydration plan is keeping up with what you need to fuel your running schedule. This running stuff is supposed to be a healthy activity, but when you reach a point where you're feeling terribly fatigued and having problems with chest pains on multiple occasions, that is a clear sign that your body is telling you that your running is no longer a healthy activity and you need to completely revamp what you're doing. Don't ignore the wake up call!"

WOW. He really does mean business here .... in a BIG way. His points are valid, and I really cannot ignore them anymore. I certainly have not FELT like the runner I was a year ago, and even my regular running routes in DC I can normally do with my eyes closed (not literally) have recently felt far more taxing than they should. I recognize that I have become a marathon fanatic this year, and clearly, it has destroyed any chance I had in improving this fall. I have nothing to prove in running so many of these 26.2 milers and only everything to lose, it seems. 

You can imagine how much my coach's email stung and how foolish I feel to have attempted so many marathons in a year while possibly causing permanent damage to my body. Trust me; this is one wake-up call I will NOT ignore. It is obviously an absolute necessity at this point, as much as I hate to admit that. 

Running has become such an intense passion (and addiction) of mine over the past few years that it is often synonymous with my own identity in every facet of my life. Has it become obsessive? Maybe. But asking to let go of this fiery passion -- even temporarily -- is harder than one can imagine. I seriously feel like I've been stabbed in the chest and then hurled against a concrete wall. It's that bad. 

Luckily, aside from my coach's "tough love," I have the endless support of my friends, family, and, of course, my amazing husband, who more than understand how difficult this change in mentality is and how much I am deeply affected by this all. Their words of wisdom, kindness, generosity, and willingness to just listen to my venting has been invaluable. 

While I may not be able to run all of the races I wanted to this fall or achieve a new marathon PR (personal record), I promise to listen to my body, fall in love with other sports (swimming, biking, Bikram yoga, etc.), take time off from hard running, and let my body repair itself so I can healthfully continue to do the one thing that makes me most alive outside of teaching: running. 

I'll end these thoughts with some sage words of advice from a good friend and fellow runner who always knows what to say:

"....And don't worry about it so much, and you know you aren't going to improve your running speed this fall, and you knew that when you signed up for all those races, so just go/run to have fun...enter the races because you can and are healthy enough to do so! Running is fun, slow it down and enjoy the run. Now if that is not what you have in mind for your fall schedule, then definitely don't run until you get back to enjoying running for running sake. Then spend the winter really recovering and start to focus on speed again in the spring for a fall race."

No matter how many marathons I run, races I enter, or what time the finishing clock displays, I will always be a runner. I will always have the drive to do what the first humans did for survival: run my heart out. Unlike them, I can run to enjoy every moment and worry about nothing else.

As an English teacher, I love books and have collected numerous books on running the past few years. Inevitably, I will turn to them in the coming months for encouragement, advice, support, and nostalgic laughs. In them, I have found countless quotes that encompass my undying love for the timeless sport. As Sir Roger Bannister, the first runner to run a sub-4 minute mile, said, "We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves ...The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, 'You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.' The human spirit is indomitable." 

And, as John Bingham, running speaker and writer so eloquently wrote, "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start." Now there is a lesson we can apply to our own lives, one that I live by every day in my classroom and running. I may not be invincible, but I am willing to make decisions that will help me become stronger, more balanced, and healthier, as a runner, teacher, and person. Let the journey begin; I am ready for whatever each new day brings. 


  1. We should bike together! I'm having a blast discovering all the new trails around town!

  2. Love You Kay!!! You are a woman of soooooo many amazing and inspiring talents!!!

  3. So glad you are listening to your "wake up"'s very important to get things in balance.Your drive is inspiring!
    <3 you!

  4. Kay, sometimes the hardest part of self-care is listening to our bodies true messages. I love that you are able to stop, be still, and listen. Not only listen, but respond with courage. No doubt, running is a huge passion of yours, a true love, shall we say. How fortunate that when we need to take breaks from any kind partnership, we are able to tap into the Unconditional Love that is within...always. You are so brave Kay and so inspiring!