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How Running 100 miles in Six Days makes me a Better Teacher

Step into my shoes and walk the life I am living, and if you get as far as I am, maybe you will see how strong I am. (Anonymous)

As a teacher, I often think about how to motivate my students best. Navigating the virtual classroom, I have found that reaching students has become even more important.  

Each person’s perception of what a challenge consists of is different. Some people dislike looking at a big challenge and are not excited about the journey involved in making something big happen. While I thrive on setting goals and testing my limits to accomplish big things, I am aware that my students might not share the same mindset. Sometimes a long journey or a big challenge is stressful, challenging, and unmotivating. I know that the only way I will reach students is to step into their shoes and experience life the way they do. Stepping  in my students’ shoes on a literal level proves to be unrealistic since I am not their age, or living in the situations they are. 

However, what if there was a way to endure a huge challenge that might take me out of my comfort zone? 

Last week a college friend of mine passed along a link to a virtual race. She was excited about it because the swag looked good.  A few of us, former Resident Assistants and still friends today we’re excited about the possibility of “Running a Race Together”. I have to admit, my initial thought on the run was that I wasn’t sure it was worth the cost or time invested in doing something that I had already done my share of this year. I love challenging myself and testing my limits with new goals, but I struggle to find the “Just Right Challenge.” If something is too easy or exceeds my current ability to complete by a large amount, I am not motivated.  

A week ago, I found a way to make a challenge personal and perfect for me. I took what someone else decided was a perfect challenge and modified it to craft my own. I thought about 100 miles differently. I noticed a 100-mile challenge available along with the 5K and 10K distances. Typically the 100-mile challenge is to be run over a few weeks or months. 

Last spring, I completed 100 miles in seven days. It was exhilarating to finish a huge accomplishment. As I stared at the phrase, “100-mile challenge” I wondered what it would be like to try and break my PR in the challenge and complete it in six days.  Within minutes I was hooked on the idea.  A hundred miles in six days was something I was excited to begin. I was ready.  December 1st, the challenge would begin. I love the adrenaline rush involved in seeing the finish line in the distance. When I decide to take something big on, I go from being interested in completing it to committed.  

One hundred miles over six days requires an average of 16.6 miles per day. The key to a high mileage challenge is doing well in the beginning.  Even when you do not necessarily want to go out for a second run, it is necessary. Tuesday morning, December 1st, I figured I had better start with a substantial amount of mileage to get the day started. Many of my mornings included seven miles before work, followed by a short lunch run to be topped off by a final run similar in mileage to the morning run. 

Three days in, I looked at my overall pace on the race tracker and noticed that I was right just above a nine-minute pace.  At that point, I got excited about having a sub nine-minute pace overall.  That was when I realized how important a “Just Right” goal is. And how goals change. Over the spring, I ran 100 miles, and it was enough to finish within seven days.  However, when I started with the six-days I had to work with, I realized that I needed to elevate my goal. Only you know when a goal feels like the right challenge.  

I did not want to shorten the number of days to complete the challenge since I am working full time, and have a family. Running between 16 and 18 miles a day requires me to spend a fair away from my responsibilities. Fourteen hours and 56 minutes, to be exact. And the 14 hours do not include the recovery time, shower time, and overall preparation to run time.  

As I reflect on my experience running an extreme amount of mileage, I learned a few things that gave me a new perspective about helping students set goals in the classroom. While my students are not running a certain amount of miles, they embrace lengthy challenges to stay motivated and do their best work over a period of time.  

  1.  A tracker is beneficial.  I used the race website and Strava to keep me aware of exactly where I was at with my goal.  Google Classroom’s methods for students to keep track of turned in assignments and other trackers are critical for success. 
  2. A support system is essential.  I informed a few close friends and my family of my quest to run but gained the best support from a few close runner friends on Strava who encouraged me and talked me through the process each day during the week.  As I think about this in the classroom, I realize that peers can provide support. I also considered how much support I facilitate each day. 
  3. Setting a just right goal and having the courage to modify it is important for overall success. Had I set the goal of completing 100 miles in four days, I might not have been able to do it. If I had attempted a pace that was too far from where I was running at; I might have struggled and lacked overall motivation to finish.  
  4. I ran a few of the miles on the treadmill to make sure that I could control my overall pace more easily. Seeing control of what can be controlled reminded me of encouraging students to choose the best conditions and environment for success.  It works best when students focus on what is in their control. 
  5. Lastly, to solidify my pace for the last two miles, I wanted to make sure that I did not get sloppy and struggle, sabotaging the effort throughout the run. So, I asked my 12-year-old runner son to accompany me for the final two miles. He is a fast runner who can easily hit the pace I needed to run.  As I thought about his willingness to not only cheer me on with encouraging words but to run alongside me as I finished the challenge, I saw teaching in a whole new light.  What if I do this with students? What if I “Run alongside them” by helping a student who is stuck with the first sentence and then one much later in the paper?  What if I read a page or play an audio chapter in the middle of an assigned novel? Sending regular emails that encourage students to keep pushing, even when they are exhausted, is something I cannot do enough of. Having my son work with me during the final tough two miles gave me renewed strength and exactly what I needed to finish my goal.  

Participating in the 100-mile challenge allowed me to consider what my students feel regularly. Finding the courage to start when something feels like a big undertaking requires risk. While I ran an excellent time for my first seven miles of the challenge, I still had work to be done. Committing to goals rather than being “interested in seeing them play out” is a big part in success in the journey. This challenge gives me insight into the feeling of regularly being in the middle of a week-long challenge. I also realize that the support systems and the experience achieving big goals go a long way. One of the reasons I felt confident taking this challenge was that I had tested myself with difficult things before. The experience of running 100 miles in 6 days reminded me to help students create a mindset that will enable them to do big things.  

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