Running As Teacher

Running As Teacher

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Of course, there are plenty of erudite sources for lessons one can learn from running (or the pursuit of any long-term, difficult endeavor). You likely have your own experiences with sports that inform how you view and respond to the world. I thought I would share some of the insights I’ve gained in nearly 10 years of hitting the road as a reluctant athlete.

  • Don’t make decisions about the rest of the run when you’re going uphill. As a novice runner, I would assess my aches and pains and energy level while on an incline and think I should cut a mile or two or more off my planned route. “I can’t finish 8 miles today; I feel so tired, and I’m only 2 miles in.” I would eye the top of the hill but not connect the depletion I felt to the extra exertion. Now I know that when I’m suddenly “not feeling it” on a hill, to put away thoughts of quitting early. In other areas of my life, I try to remember this and don’t allow myself to make decisions on the future when something isn’t going particularly well. Those decisions are best left for the straight, flat days when a more accurate perspective will help me make the wisest plans.
  • Charge the hills! While we’re on the subject of hills, my friend whom I think of as “Running Sensei Sarah” told me a long time ago not to take no crap from no stinking hills (I’m paraphrasing). “Charge up them!” she exhorted me. “You can rest on the way down. Pass those people who are giving in!” It makes such a positive difference to really push through something difficult, like the incline on the Big Dam Bridge, and feel like Rocky Balboa at the top, triumphant. It’s also important in work and relationships and other areas of life for me to put everything I have into doing something I think I cannot do. Move by myself to Arkansas with all the animals, while my husband is in England? Charge! Original research for a master’s thesis with more than 60 secondary sources as well? Charge!
  • Take advice from more experienced runners: I’ve gotten lots of good advice from Running Sensei Sarah and other runners. When I was just beginning to run and working on 1- or 2-milers three times each week, I told my friend Adrian that the walk from our house to the corner, where I started my route filled me with dread for the difficulties that lay ahead. He responded, “Then run out the door!” Eureka! That was exactly what I needed to do. Other runners have given me tips for stretches, icing, avoiding side aches, etc. As a new runner, I knew I had much to learn, and now that I have more experience, I’m still trying to maintain that openness. I don’t know what I don’t know, and others can make things easier for me if I just pay attention.
  • It’s supposed to be hard: I remind myself on all the unrewarding slogs or the tough miles at the end of a good, but slightly too long run that this isn’t supposed to be easy. As one of my Jazzercise instructors likes to remind us, “This is not a fun-out! It’s a WORK-out!” As I’ve gained experience, a pesky assumption often lurks in the back of my mind that I must confront: because I’ve been at this awhile, this routine 4-miler will be easy. It’s rarely easy (if it is, I may be doing it wrong). It may be easier than it was six years ago, but it’s still demanding, challenging, difficult, sometimes frustrating, or even painful. Many things in life are not going to be easy, but they must be done, and seeing them for what they are instead of what I’d like them to be helps.
  • Settle into the pain and finish the unpleasant miles: Finally, some runs are, as I mentioned, painful. Maybe my back hurts or it’s just that my feet hurt after 10 or 12 miles of asphalt impact. But there is no way to mitigate whatever hurts out there on the road in some situations, so you have to accept the pain, settle in, and cover the ground. My friend Meg, a runner and cyclist, made this analogy to me in the past, when I was coping with emotional upheaval and loss. “Just settle into the pain, runner girl. You know how to do that.” It isn’t that she wanted me to accept sadness forever, but rather to know that if I kept moving forward I would come out of it in the end, but I couldn’t do that, if I didn’t get used to it for the time being.

There’s so much more to learn out there on the road. I’ll keep you posted on my continuing education.

Stacey Margaret Jones, M.S., APR, (@sharkushka) is a market research consultant and a member of the inaugural class of the Arkansas Writers MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas. She lives in Conway with her Chaucerian husband. Jones, a South Dakota native, does not play team sports, unless you consider cocktailing a competitive event.

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