Monday, September 1, 2014

How to have a successful school year: run it one step at a time.

Those who know me know that I greatly enjoy distance running.  Long distance running. And while I've had to battle back from a chronic Achilles injury sustained several years ago when I bit off a few more ultra miles than I probably should have, it hasn't dampened my love for getting out on the open road and pointing my face into the wind.

Some years ago, I had the chance to run with Dean Karnazes, ultra runner and author of the best selling book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner (2006). Prior to that, I had read his book met him at a local signing and from there, I was hooked. A little more than a year later, and several 50K and 50-mile runs under my belt, Dean came to Grand Rapids during his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days tour and I signed up along with several dozen others to join him on the local marathon route, running stride for stride --- for the first twenty miles, anyway. The guy was an impressive running machine and a true inspiration.

Dean Karnazes (front, fifth from right) and the Grand Rapids contingent for the Endurance 50 marathon. I'm in the third row, fourth from the right (glowing bill of my running cap).

I started listening to Dean's latest book, Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss, first published in 2011 but updated as an Audible Book this year with a new chapter on his incredible 3,000-mile run across America. I did what any runner might do. I strapped on my iPhone, plugged in my earbuds, selected the book, and headed out the door for a short fifty-minute run. Just enough time to listen to the first chapter with Dean describing the trials and tribulations of 3,000 mile run. Trying to absorb myself in his vivid descriptions while keeping both eyes on the road and my surroundings, the last few minutes really hit home:

How do you run across America?  Simple. One step at a time. 
(T)here are no shortcuts or paths to least resistance on the road to reaching something worthwhile.  The secrets for success are really no secrets at all: Hard work, dedication, commitment and sacrifice. 
(P)assion and conviction are more important than talent. Find that which you truly love and pursue it with heartfelt fervor. You will realize an inner strength that is boundless, and an external energy that is indefatigable.  Do what you love, dream big, be restless, sleep little, don’t play life safe, dare boldly instead. Live as though you really mean it. 
(I)f you keep tireless chasing your dreams, one day you just might catch one. You don’t always have to go fast, you just have to go. 
We runners are a unique breed. We like chasing dreams. When you distill it all, we don’t run for the trophies or the records or the recognition; we run because a rapidly beating heart pumps more life through our veins. Our ultimate calling is not to arrive at the finish line in a composed state but rather to stagger in breathlessly, totally annihilated and on the verge of collapse, proudly knowing in our hearts that we have run our race and it was glorious. 
Whether you end up with a medal being place around your neck or an IV line being place into your arm, the inner bliss is the same. You have waged your war and you have emerged victorious. The job is done. That is, until the next one. Yeah, every runner knows the feeling.  ~ Condensed from Karnazes, Dean. Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss. Audible Audio Edition (2014)
I know, it sounds like typical distance runner stuff but this being the day prior to the start of a brand new school year, his words reflected not only what it takes to complete a run but what it will take each and every day if we want to face up to the many obstacles that make our days difficult and help our 1,900-plus young charges reach their own finish lines. Think about the next 177-school days we face and then go back and read Dean's words again. Every teacher and school administrator wants to finish the year "proudly knowing in our hearts that we have run our race and it was glorious."

The biggest fear most folks have for long distance running is fear of the unknown. What will happen to me when I get tired? If I get hurt? Should I become lost? If I get thirsty? And it goes on. Often those same fears confront us when we embark on a new school year, whether we are new to our profession or a seasoned educator. It probably doesn't help lately with all of the negative attacks on public schools and teachers but there's little we can do about that. We have to focus and run our race.

Earlier this summer, my wife read a book titled God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life's Little Detours by Regina Brett. She shared with me a quote from chapter two, When in Doubt, Just Take the Next Right Step. Brett is describing her inability to get her life moving forward and her fear of choosing a goal and pursuing it. Once she got started, however, one step led to another and another.  Once she achieved success and looked back, she realized that pursuing your goals, especially when they involve change and fear of the unknown, is something like "driving a car at night." She goes on by quoting E. L. Doctorow, "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." In other words, as Brett puts it, we've all experienced driving at night (or running at night as most of us ultra runners have done) and even if we've never before driven (or run) in that direction or by that route, we can always see in front of us, and "even with that much light, I can travel all the way to California." We each only need to see just enough light to get us going and to take the next step.

So here's to whatever race you'll be running this school year. No matter what difficulties lie ahead, just remember to take it one step at a time. And then another. And then another. Keep moving forward.

And don't forget that even if darkness comes, you can always turn on your headlight.

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