Friday, September 17, 2010

Some Thoughts on Running...and Reading

I started running about five years ago, and when I say started...I pretty much mean that before that, I really did not run.

At. All.

I was a true couch potato. In fact, even before I started running in late 2005/early 2006, I had also canceled my gym membership because I hadn't used it for FIVE YEARS! Yep...I was one of those people, paying for a gym membership that I never used.

Somehow, much to the surprise of almost everyone who knew me, I caught the running bug and have never really looked back.

So, I suspect I am like many "late-blooming" runners who harbor a secret fear that their old "non-running" self will re-emerge at some point and take over. Certainly, it is for that reason that WHENEVER I have a couple of days when I just don't feel like running, and then I DON'T RUN, I freak out a little bit.

The irrational part of my brain screams, "EEEEEIIIIIIIIEEEEEE OH NO! YOU'RE NOT RUNNING TODAY AND YOU WON'T RUN TOMORROW AND THEN YOU'LL NEVER RUN AGAIN AND YOU'LL GET OLD AND FAT AND LAZY... AHHHHHHH!!!!!!" whereas the rationale part of my brain says, "Relax, it's only one day. You are a runner now. You are an athlete. You will always be active and will continue to run for as long as your short legs will carry you." 

Then rationale brain rolls eyes at irrational brain's freak out and has a glass of wine.

Sometimes I am even a "good runner" because over the last five years I've learned some things about running, and I even do them without really thinking about it. In other words, there are times when I run fluently, and when I run fluently, I...
  • run the pace for the distance I'm running 
  • know what the correct pace feels like (even without my Garmin).
  • slow down when I'm breathing too hard.
  • relax my shoulders.
  • slightly lean forward and work with gravity and not against it.
  • shorten my stride when going up hill.
  • breathe into my belly and not into my throat.
When I do all of these things, I run faster and without much effort. I am pretty much convinced that my five years of knowledge and experience with running has led to this kind of "running automaticity" and it is what is behind my recent speed increases. Honestly, it couldn't possibly be the amount or even kind of training I've been doing lately.

I've been running with Walter a lot this summer. For the most part, he is faster than I am. He's a dude. He has greater lung capacity. He's stronger. His legs are longer. Yet, I still think I run better than he does. I've enjoyed sharing what I know about running with him. I remind him to relax, to shorten his stride when we go up hills and not just charge up them (what he wants to do), to breathe deeply, to slow down, to lean forward.

He tells me that he "forgets" to do these things when he runs. He knows he should do them, but it's not automatic for him...yet.

I've been thinking about these things the last couple of days.

As many of you know, I teach developmental reading and writing at the local junior college. I teach adults to read and write better so that they can be successful in college.

I'm going to be honest with you here. I'm really good at it. 

Adults who get to college and can't read or write well have picked up some bad habits along the way. They're not fluent readers or writers. There are many, many things that they know to do, but don't do them automatically. In fact, most of them doubt their ability to even learn how to read and write well.

They are really a lot like I was when I started running. I had some bad habits. I wasn't fluent. The first time Betty suggested that we should run a marathon, I told her she was crazy and that I could NEVER run that far.

Learning to run has really helped make me a much better teacher. 

Much like a fluent runner, who doesn't think much about how to run, I don't really have to think about all the things I do when I read, or when I write.  When I'm writing, I don't think about which words to use in which order. I don't think about verb tenses, or prepositions, or commas, or spelling, or clauses, or phrases, or subject-verb agreement, or any of those things. I just write and as I write, I typically go back and re-read what I've written and make changes or corrections so that what I've written will (hopefully) make sense to someone else (and, as you no doubt can tell from reading this blog, sometimes I miss a few things). 

It's far more difficult to think about what I do since reading is so darn invisible. Meg and Mik, both of whom teach kindergarten, will tell you that watching a kindergartner learn to read is a miracle because at first they say outloud EVERY SINGLE LITTLE THING THEY ARE THINKING ABOUT AS THEY READ, but eventually they crack the code (learn about sound-letter relationships) and it all starts going on in their little brains. It's pretty remarkable.

Unlike writing, we can't see reading. Our blogs, however, provide a pretty good model for what reading looks like. Our blogs are sort of a record of our collective thinking. We read each other's blogs and make comments; we ask questions; we connect something we've read to our own lives; we make comments; jokes; suggestions. That's what good readers do when they're reading well. They're having a conversation with what they're reading. Just like the conversations we have with each other.* 

But we don't really THINK about having to do all these things, we just do them. 

Being good at something can make it hard to teach it to others. I've been lucky in the last five years in that I've had a LOT of knowledgeable people who have explained, shown, and taught me how to run, and I've tried to copy it and make it my own.

That's what I've been trying to do as a teacher. I try to show my students what I think about when I read and when I write. I try to get them to notice what they think about when they read and write so that when they're struggling they can think about what they should be doing.

Mostly I tell them to never doubt that they can become better at reading or writing. I say things like, "Look at me. Do I LOOK like the type of person who would run a marathon? I I can run a marathon, you can read and write."

Becoming a runner and learning to run has made me a much better teacher.

So, tomorrow, I'm going to go try to apply what I know about running to a 9 mile run. Sometimes I'll run with fluency and automaticity. Sometimes I won't and I'll have to remind myself to do the things that I know I should be doing.

I bought this t-shirt at a local yogurt place last night. An organization called Traveling Stories is selling them. Proceeds go to help build libraries in The Sudan. 
* I'm always a little surprised when I meet a blogger because you all rarely sound like the voice I have in my head for you.  

Another reminder: Java Joggers is doing a fabulous Ryder Sunglass giveaway. Check it out!


  1. Very true!
    I also have wondered what the voices of everyone sounds like-you've had the opportunity to find out a few times!

  2. Nice post.

    I'm often a little surprised when I hear a recording of my own voice because *it* doesn't sound like the voice I have for myself in my head. LOL.

  3. That's funny! the irrational part of my brain is screaming exactly the same thing! I haven't run since IMC, and don't plan on running till October. I've been in the pool a few times, and on the bike once. Crap weather. It's entirely likely I won't get in another outside ride this year (sob) and will have to set up the trainer.

    My rational brain knows my bod needs the rest. There are twinges and sore bits just from everyday activities. Still, I went about 30 years without significant physical activity, and I'm feeling the urge to maintain that level of fitness. My rational brain is chilling out, eating pizza, drinking beer and wine, coffee (which puts my dental hygenist to lots of work).

    I'm glad to hear you teach reading. I happen to think that reading well, and manipulating the information from reading, are the most important skills a person can have these days. (Can you work on the Tea Partiers next, please and thank you?) So many people don't read. To me, hearing someone say that is the same as hearing them say "I don't think".

    One of the things I've done is teach adults how to use software. But really, their need is more fundamental than that. First, many of them need to learn to type. But you'd be surprised how many of them need to upgrade their reading and reasoning skills.

    On your dark days, never doubt that you are making people's lives better.

  4. I love that it's the rational part of your brain getting a glass of wine! :-)

  5. Very inspiring! Great shirt

  6. I agree - people rarely sound like I think they should. LOL ;)

  7. That irrational brain has been driving me insane for the past few weeks.

    Great post.

  8. As a fellow teacher and runner, I loved this post! Whether running or just living life, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities... thanks for the reminder! And thanks for the giveaway shoutout :) Enjoy your 9 miler!!!

  9. I never really thought of it this way. I like the comparison between running and reading. As a mom to a first grader, I see every day the struggle to become a fluent reader. I also coach beginning runners. I guess with both it is practice, practice, practice.

    Thanks for the post.

  10. There is a great life lesson in this post. Thank you!