Sunday, August 26, 2012

Going the Distance

Heavens!  I've done enough whining about running that even the occasional reader of this blog or a casual Facebook friend probably knows it is not my favorite thing.  It is hard to say exactly WHY I don't like running, but it remains a fact that I don't.

However, I have long had the goal of completing a triathon.  It goes back to high school when I read about the Hawaiian Ironman.  Those Ironmen are some tough cookies;  they complete a grueling course which includes a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bike ride and then, to top it off,  they run a  full 26.2 mile marathon.  I was probably 15 when decided that I wanted to participate in an Ironman competition.  This was clearly the folly of youth.  I was not at all athletic.  While I have always loved swimming, I did not take up bicycling until my mid-twenties and as for that running... well, as I have lamented numerous times... I'm workin' on it.  But as a teenager, the allure of the Ironman was so compelling that I resolved that at some point in my life, I would complete a triathlon.

Of course, I was also going to be a Hollywood actress.

Clearly, not all of my high school ambitions will come to fruition.  Nor should they.

But that triathlon has stuck with me.  Even through the soft years of my 30's and 40's.  Even now.   There is something that compels me to push myself to do this and I promised  it would be by the time I was 55.

That will be next January.

I guess it is now or never.

After a month or so of tentative training, I registered for the Tawas Sprint Triathon.  This is scaled down significantly from the Ironman competitions that initially inspired my goal.  It is "only"  a 500 m lake swim, 20 km (12 mile) bike ride and a 5 km (3 mile) run.

I went out for a 5K practice run yesterday.  It was early in the morning, but the sun was already hot and the route I chose had little shade.  Physically, I was doing all right- I was huffing and puffing a little, and yes, it was hot- but really I was fine.  I knew it too, but nonetheless, I really wanted to stop.  I wanted to walk.  I wanted that run to be over. It was really hard for me to just keep running.

I know I am not a very good runner and I don't hesitate to regularly remind myself of that fact while I am running.  In truth, I am not actually fully confident that I CAN complete the triathon, and it is the running that worries me most.  It is  so very hard to persist at something when faced with feelings of incompetence and insecurity.  There is a mental resistance that makes every step difficult, like running through quicksand.

I tried to push these negative thoughts out of my head and  think of other things.  My mind, naturally enough, wandered to the new academic year, which formally begins tomorrow.   I had the opportunity to meet a bunch of new freshmen and their parents during the move-in days last week.  The students are both excited and nervous.  Excited, because they have been waiting forever to be on their own and make their first foray into the adult world.  Nervous, because they are worried about social adjustments and the intellectual demands of higher education.

As I struggled to keep running, I was reminded that many of these students will struggle academically.  Nonetheless, we will expect them to attend classes, listen to lectures, solve problems, write papers, do projects, read and analyze difficult texts, have insightful discussions, and study for examinations.  We tell them they should expect to spend about 10 hours per week on each course they take, and if the subject is difficult for them, it will require more time.   Yes, the harder they find it, the more time they will need to endure that horrible feeling of incompetence and insecurity that I feel while running.  Like me, they will want to stop and spend that time doing something - anything- else.  Of course, as educators we know that there are no shortcuts; if they are going to be successful, they have to stick with it and push through that resistance.  It is a steep learning curve, but as educators, we know that once the students have some level of competence, it gets easier and they sometimes even start to enjoy the subject.

I have a general rule that I don't ask anyone to do anything I won't do myself.  So, I will not ask students to face their challenges with persistence unless I can face my own with that same persistence.

My head filled with these thoughts, I kept running.  I finished the 5K and did not give in to the temptation to walk or rest.  It was all right.  Not so bad, really.  Maybe, if I keep at it, like with many difficult things, I will reach a level of competence where I can actually enjoy it.

It's possible you know.

Athletic endeavors are not my natural strength, although stubborn persistence might be.  I don't expect to get an "A" in triathlon, but I do plan on passing the course on September 8.

Today I am grateful for inspiration that pushes me to do more and think harder, and for the support of those who seem to have more confidence in me than I have in myself.

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