Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Runner's High

After the first Cross Country practice of the year, and the second, and the third, I tell my middle school runners to hang in there.

"These are the most difficult practices of the year," I tell them.

"You mean we'll never run any further than this?" Someone inevitably interprets what I said in this way.

"No, we'll run a little more each week.  It just gets easier the more you run."

And it does.  Those first work-outs, when you are trying to start running regularly, are brutal.

Why would anyone do this for fun?  Why put my body through such abuse?

Still, there's a recognition that each practice builds on the last.  We look ahead to a time when we'll be stronger and when we'll be able to keep running; and not only keep running, but to ENJOY running!

From my vantage point as a 4th year teacher, I can say that teaching is much the same way.  My first year of teaching, like that first week of practice, was more painful and uncomfortable than fun.  There were many times when I was tempted to give up; many times when I felt like quitting would be the  wisest decision.  Just as the experienced runners must seem super-human to a fledgling runner, the experienced teachers seemed to me to be gifted in ways that I wasn't; that I'd never be.

I'm so glad I kept pushing through.

Each week of running sees the runner growing in strength, speed and endurance; the runner can travel further and faster, and more efficiently.  As a teacher, each year has seen me growing, developing in understanding and ability.

It's not to say that all will be smooth sailing... as one of my better high school runners discovered last week, it is still possible to have a bad race no matter how experienced a runner you are.  I shared with her the story of my last cross country race, which I ran not knowing I was sick with strep throat--I remember the feeling that I couldn't get a full breath, that my joints and muscles were sticky, sluggish and in pain, and more than anything else, the feeling of not being able to do better even though I knew I could.

My mistake in high school was that I gave up.  In both my running and my teaching, I've resolved not to give up, even when I have a bad race; even when that class comes along who just seems impossible to connect with.  I keep running even in the hard times because I look forward to the best, and the best is worth it:

Feeling as though I am flying; taking long, yet quick strides over pavement, rubber, dirt, grass and gravel.  Feeling the burn of my calf muscles breaking down with every step, but not caring because I know I'll recover and emerge stronger and faster still.  Feeling the endorphins lift my spirits and push me on to the end.

This is the runner's high; this is the feeling that runners actually become addicted to, to the point that they go through withdrawal symptoms on a day when they are unable to run.

This is the point that I've hit in my teaching--it's still hard work, and I honestly feel like I'm doing more hard work now than I ever did in my first two years, and I'm doing it more efficiently.  I feel like I'm flying.  I enjoy every moment, and feel withdrawal on the days when I'm not teaching.

The great thing is, this isn't where it ends for a runner: it's not as though growth ceases at this point--the runner must still push hard, and in so doing, will continue to grow, to become faster and stronger.

So will I, as a teacher--I still have much growing to do, and so many opportunities before me in which I can grow.  I'm so grateful that I've hit my stride; the stage where the hard work involved feels natural and necessary, even enjoyable.

As far as I'm concerned, they can just push the finish line back a mile or two... or 2000.

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