Back to Basics – In Running and Education

By: Amy Baker

The best thing you can do to make yourself a better runner, is by running.  The best way for kids to get better at math, is by… doing math.  Sometimes I think that these basic concepts get lost somewhere between the shoe sales, recovery drinks and exercise fads.  The main idea is lost between the textbook sales, testing strategies, and politics.  Education and Wellness of the American people are some of the hottest topics in the media today, but to me, the answer seems basic, but not at all easy.

As an Algebra II teacher at Del Valle high school and a Rogue Local Elite runner, I think about these issues all the time. I wanted to share my thoughts with you.  I’m very lucky. I am challenged everyday as 140 students walk in and out of my classroom.  After school, I rush over to the trail and get my run in.  Some days I run workouts with other Rogue’s who push me to my limits, and sometimes I just get a quiet hour to calm myself from a hard day of work.

Last week, I gave a lecture about beginning proper training to a group of teacher colleagues on a professional development day.  Many were surprised to find out that I’m not on a special diet, I don’t run in any magical shoes and I don’t have a one-size fits all training program.  Instead, I gave them an outline of basic training principles and explained that it wasn’t going to be easy.

1) Doing any running, even very little, is better than nothing. 

The harder/longer has increasing benefits, but with diminishing returns.  The challenge is to get people to accept the first statement and not be too intimidated by the second.

2) Start where you are at, not where you want to be. 

Too often runners start training at their goal pace.  They run too fast, too far, too early and end up giving up or getting injured, and they are back to doing nothing.

3) Have a plan for increase- If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always gotten.

After 3 – 4 weeks, your body will adjust to training and if you want to get better you have to increase, either the pace you are running, or the distance you go.  If you don’t have hard days, you can’t have easy ones…

4) Consistency is key.

You can’t just run every other week or when you feel like it, if you do 2 weeks of training, then take a week off, you’ll probably have to start your training program over.

My lecture made me realize, this was exactly what my students need to be successful.  They need some math every day, 10-15 minutes of homework a night adds up to 60 – 90 hours a year.  They need to be consistent and constantly challenging themselves.  When students do math they retain 90% of what they do, when they watch a teacher lecture they retain only 30%. What makes the biggest difference in a child’s math education is that they sit down and struggle through things. We need to encourage them to explore, think, work hard, and most importantly, never give up. The harsh reality is that it’s not easy.  I’ve been in classes where I’ve studied for hours just to fail the midterm. I’ve had to drop out of a marathon at mile 22 despite months of training.  Ultimately, it’s the will to get back into it, study harder next time, to keep running over the years.  I’m not saying that the other things don’t make a difference, the quality of the teacher and the school matter, your diet matters, whatever magical pre-race routine you do to get yourself psyched up matters, but running is always better than not running, doing math is always better than doing nothing.  Get out the door and run today.  Stop worrying so much about the media and politics and tell your kids to turn off the television and do their homework.

Thanks for reading.


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