Originally published in the September Flyer Newsletter, republished here with permission from myself since I wrote it...
A Lesson Learned
“Did you win?” they wanted to know. Thirty captivated eyes stared at me in eager anticipation. I had just finished telling the terrific tale, everything from soup to nuts, of my first marathon to my fourth grade class. Did I win? It seemed like every time I shared that story with my class—no matter what grade level--they would all ask the same question. In their minds, if you ran in a “race”, you could either “win” or “lose.” There was no gray area. My response to their innocent inquiry could range from the reality that I had finished somewhere in the middle of the pack (which would require a lesson on advanced statistics for full comprehension) to the fact that I had, indeed, managed to finish the race. (So what? they would wonder. You ran a race, but you didn’t win. Why is this story so amazing?) How could I provide an answer that would maintain my dignity and effectively communicate the significance of simply finishing a marathon?
My solution? Offer them an after school running program. Give them the chance to step into my shoes and participate in the glorious sport of running. Let them experience the pain, agony, triumph, joy, and elation; let them embrace the blood, sweat, and tears associated with running and see for themselves what “winning” really means.
After perusing a few online sites about kids and running, I came up with a concept that would parallel the actual running of a marathon. Participants received a running log to record each mile they ran. Their ultimate goal (ie. to win) was to run 26.2 miles throughout the course of the program. It didn’t matter if you reached that goal first, second, or last; if you ran 26.2 miles (a distance I would ensure all would achieve), then you would “win.” Simple enough. And no extra points for going over.
And so “Running 101” was born. After short discussions about stretching, proper nutrition, or the definition of a new running term, the kids and I would head out for a run. Each step was accounted for. We used “Gmaps Pedometer” to track accurate distances (oh, the math lessons we stumbled upon!) and diligently recorded the mileage using colored pencils to distinguish each session’s accomplishments. Our workouts mixed lap running, speedwork, relays, and games accordingly. Twice during the program I administered a “ten minute run test” where the kids counted their laps for ten minutes. This allowed them to experiment with pacing strategies as well as enjoy the sweet satisfaction of increasing their laps the second time around. They practiced the “hand-off” technique in relay races using a real running baton. They leisurely ran in the park and chatted endlessly about elementary school drama, much like we do.
By the end of the program, they had all managed to “run a marathon.” They held up their colored charts displaying the miles they ran and clapped and cheered for one another while devouring chocolate Power Bars and sipping Fruit Punch Gatorade. No one pointed out that some kids had run 5 or 10 or 20 miles more than the requisite 26.2. That was irrelevant because that had not been the point. I believe they learned something that day. They learned that you do not have to place FIRST to be a winner; that they could all be winners because they accomplished what they set out to achieve. It’s a lesson that holds true in real life as well. Kids will discover that they may not be the best speller or read the hardest books, but they can strive to be better by setting new personal bests and reaching one goal at a time. Perhaps we could all learn a little lesson from the kids.
*today's run: a sixer in 56 min...