Following the Stars

Over the weekend, several messages about a weekend run were flying between a friend and me and, then, they stopped.  Silence.  Our run didn’t happen.  And a few hours after that run that should have happened, I got another message: “Body still isn’t working and kids are being disasters….Maybe it was just not meant to be this morning.”  To that, I replied, “Yup, sometimes you just have to wait for the stars to line up.”

That’s the message that I have had to tell myself for the past week.  This summer, I have been building mileage towards a fall marathon.  My initial goal to run Quebec City fell apart because of my son’s soccer schedule so I quickly planned other options.  I really wanted to marathon in Victoria, B.C. for several reasons.   I use to live in Vancouver, and I have been itching to go back.  The timing worked because it was over Thanksgiving Weekend so I would have an extra travel day.   Finally, one of my training partners, Kelly-Lynne, is aiming to run the half in Victoria.  All signs were pointing to the west coast.

Then, last week happened.  I had been waiting for a few weeks to hear back from my employer about whether I could take an extra day, and I needed to confirmation before the end of the month so that I could book my flight.  Well, I am still waiting and the seat sale is over.  Secondly, while my two boys really want to take an early school break, my husband isn’t thrilled about making a long distance trip (3400 kilometres, or 2200 miles) for just a few days.  Lastly, my feet are starting to hurt.  For the past few long runs (22+ kilometres), I have been getting achy feet.  Like most runners, this always happens to me during marathon training, but this time the pain is different; it’s sharper, and it lasts a lot longer.  It’s the kind of pain that makes me think that I am setting myself up for injury, and I don’t want that to happen – especially if I do decide to run Boston in the spring.   And, I certainly do not want to make the long and expensive trip to run in Victoria if I am not feeling 100 percent.

All summer, my training has been going well; it has been great.  My mileage has increased the way I wanted it to, and I’m feeling power in my legs that I haven’t had in a while.  But the stars weren’t in line for my flying to Victoria in October, and I need to follow the stars.

Did this upset me?  Yes, of course.  But there is always another marathon.  Whatever the reason, this one was just not meant to be.  noneedtospeed Meanwhile,  I’ve slowed down a little and had an easy 10 days of training to rest and think about some different goals for the fall – maybe a little track, a bit of trail racing, cross-country, some road racing, or some pot-pourri of all. And who knows?  Maybe the stars will realign themselves and I will find that other marathon.

On Coaching Kids

IMG_2035I’ve coached kids for years, so many years now that my first cross-country team is now grown up, starting their own families and looking for ways to get their own children involved in sport.  As a young teacher, I did it all: cross-country, volleyball, basketball, and track.  Now that I am more experienced and in a large school with other teachers who have their own set of expertise, I can focus on what I know best: running and track.

When my own children were young, I coached their soccer teams.   It didn’t take long, though, for them to walk away from the sport.  My oldest was a music guy; my youngest simply didn’t have the maturity or mindset to play a team sport.  It didn’t make sense to force them to play so our family went on a soccer hiatus as they became more involved in other sports.   This year, both are playing soccer again.  The Littlest Dude, 10 years old, asked me to coach his team.  My oldest shut down that idea.

Whether as a teacher or a parent, I coach because I want to.  I don’t keep track of how many hours I have put into selecting and organizing teams, corresponding with parents, running practices and competing; nor do I worry about the unexpected costs that can be incurred, such as buying relay batons for track or gloves for our soccer team’s goalie.  The excitement that kids bring to each practice or game and the occasional thank you (yes, thank you’s are far and few between) make it worthwhile.  I can’t imagine working with kids in a sport setting not being a part of my life.

Sadly, that is now taking place in my work life.  In Ontario, elementary teachers are currently in a Work to Rule situation.  We have been without a contract since September 2014, and our union and the provincial government continue to negotiate.   Among the issues the union is standing up against are increased class sizes and significantly reduced support in Special Education.  In order to show concern to the government, teachers have gradually walked away from tasks which are not assigned parts of our jobs, but have come to be expected.  This past Wednesday, all extra-curricular activities have been added to the list.  The government’s response was a threat to reduce teachers’ pay.

Like many other teachers I know, I already miss spending time in extra-curriculars, be it a team, an art club or an outreach group.  Docking our pay, though, is not the solution.  In fact, exactly how do you take money from someone for not coaching a team that they volunteer to run?  How do you remove pay from a volunteer?  As a parent, I completely understand the frustration that others have over the cessation of extra-curricular activities but it would be far more frustrating to see my 10 year old child in a class with over 30 students.  How could I possibly expect any teacher, regardless of youth or experience, to be able to manage a class effectively, plan, teach, assess, and report accurately?  Add in all other expectations, such as coaching and other many demands of the job, and our education system will certainly lose strong teachers; it will fall apart.

What we need is not threatening language or complaints. Public support and respectful negotiations are a must.  Understanding is essential.  Once those are in place, things will settle and we can slowly re-establish the public education system in Ontario.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions above are solely my own.  They have not been endorsed by others.

A Teachable Moment

Betty and Veronica2One of my students’ favorite times of the week is the visit to the school library.  It gives them a chance to get out of their chairs, roam around shelves full of books and pick two – one in English and one in French – that they can read for the next week.  I love it because it gives me a chance to see them get excited about books.

Today, one girl brought “Betty and Veronica” to the circulation desk to sign out.  I took it from her, exclaiming, “Ooooh, Betty and Veronica!”  She and the librarian both looked at me, expecting me to tell some story about how I loved to read Betty and Veronica when I was in school.  “Did you watch any of the PanAm Games?”

The girl was confused by my question.  “Ah…no…”

“Do you ever follow Canadian track?”  She shook her head again.  “Well, let me tell you about Betty and Veronica.”

Betty and Veronica1
Photo credit: Canadian Running Magazine

I proceeded to tell about Lanni Marchant and Natasha Wodak, two of Canada’s top distance runners, to a blank look.  I bragged about how well they ran at the PanAm Games and how they helped to put Canadian female runners on the international scene.  I talked about Lanni’s marathon at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and about Natasha’s 10K record.  “They train together, they are both sponsored by Asics, they race against each other…they’re frenemies.”

Her face lit up; frenemies was something she understood.  Excited by her now mild interest,  I couldn’t stop myself.  I quickly pulled up a picture of the two of them on the computer and gave her more.   “And look!  One is blond; the other is a brunette.  They’ve been nicknamed Betty and Veronica on the running scene.”  And I held up her comic book.  “See.”

Poor kid.  Speechless by my on-the-spot lesson on Canada’s female distance runners, she took her book and sat down to read it.  That was all she wanted to do.

Me?  I had a great time sneaking in a lesson on how to connect what we read to the real world or, in this case, how we connect the world to what we read.  Most of all, though, I had a great time sharing the story of the real Betty and Veronica.

The Race to the Buses

This month, it has been obvious that my boys live a runner’s life.  Ironically, though, they don’t run.  I wish they did as both have a beautiful stride and my youngest has natural speed.   At times, I think they are ready to jump into the running scene and, then, they pull back.  I think that they are intimidated by seeing me train and race; I think they worry that they have to put in the same dedication and effort, and come home with the same kind of results.  When I questioned both, and separately on this, their replies were “no”.  But deep down, I think that they are simply intimidated, believing that they need to follow my footsteps, race and race well.  One day, they will be ready; meanwhile, I’m not pushing it.

Canada Day - Andrew and Mom
Eating Tasty Tatters, one of the day’s highlights for The Littlest Dude.

I saw the excitement that running brings to The Littlest Dude on Canada Day when we headed to Bronte Harbour to watch the evening fireworks.   When we heard that there were only 4 shuttle buses to take everyone – hundreds of spectators – back to the parking lot with our cars, the two of us knew what that meant.  It was going to be a race to the buses.   As soon as the final applause started, we were on our feet and running.  Follow me!  Stay on the outside of the crowd!  Run next to the teenagers (since they wouldn’t be rushing home so it was a section that wasn’t moving)!   All of my race-start strategies came through, and The Littlest Dude instinctly knew what to do.   And we made it; we were on one of the first four buses to leave the harbour.

PanAm Flags and Tents
Tim Horton’s Stadium, Hamilton, Ontario

This past week, we faced the craziness of shuttle buses again when we left the soccer field in Hamilton, where we were watching PanAm Soccer.  This time, it was the fourteen year old who sensed what had to be done.  In the last few minutes of the game, he looked at us and said, “When the game whistle goes, we have to run.”  And he was right.  Unlike the hundreds of people at Bronte, we were leaving the stadium at the same time as thousands of other soccer fans.  The two boys are smaller than I am so they could weave their way through the crowd inside the stadium more easily than I.  Once we were outside, though, the starting horn sounded in our minds and we raced to the shuttles.   I heard my youngest coach his older brother “Stay on the outside of the crowd.  It’s faster.”  I watched them jump curbs and hurdle trash lying on the ground, and I hoped that they wouldn’t bump into anyone.  We made it to the buses quickly, which got us to the GO station with 40 minutes to spare.  It made us wonder why we rushed out of the stadium but we had fun doing it, so much fun that we raced out of the stadium the same way on the other two nights that we were there.

Each night ( at Bronte Harbour or Tim Horton Stadium), my boys proved to me that they can run.  They have speed and they can manoeuvre.   For them, running is fun.  But, for whatever reason, they aren’t ready to make a commitment to Cross-Country or Track and Field.  And I’m just fine waiting for it to happen because, once they do, they are going to be awesome!