26.2 Miles

by Doreen Blanding


If you have studied Ancient History, in particular Greek History, you may have read about a Greek solider named Pheidippides.  Legend says that in late summer of 490 BC, Pheidippides was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated.  It is reported that he ran the entire distance without stopping and after delivering his message, he collapsed and died.  The distance from the battle field to Athens is 26.2 miles, the distance of today's modern marathon.

Road racing is gaining popularity of late with the American public.  Marathons are selling out and attracting large crowds of road racers. On any given weekend you can find a road race in your area and people running it from all walks of life and in every state of health.  Winners can cross the finish line as quickly as 2 hours 15 minutes (world record for men is 2:03:59; women 2:15:25) to 6 hours or the course limit. 

Recently I've picked up the running bug and have been training for my first marathon.  I already have my first road race under my belt. I ran the BMO Vancouver BC half marathon in May, 2010. I did pretty well considering all of the medical hurdles I was facing and that it was my first.  I am now training for my first full marathon in October, 2010; the Women's Nike in San Francisco. I've learned a lot about health, my body, and my spirit while training, but I've even learned more about homeschooling.

Training for a marathon is very similar to homeschooling.  In this two part article I will give you 26 ways homeschooling relates to a marathon.  Because I have already run 13.1 miles, I'll give you the first 13 reasons. When I finish my full marathon I'll give you the last 13 reasons.  They are in no particular order...

1. Hills

It is hard to escape hills if you are a runner.  If you live where I live you can't escape them at all.  My neighborhood is called English Hill for a reason.  I climb 414 feet in the first two miles from my front door on my daily run.  I can tell you with all honesty, there are days when I don't run all 414 feet; I have to walk some of the way.

There is a technique to running hills.  By shortening your stride as you go up you use your big thigh muscles to propel your body up the hill.  Mentally this also helps you because you keep your eyes about ten feet in front of you and you don't see how tall the hill is.  Relaxing your shoulders and letting your arms drive you up the hill also helps.  Your arm action actually propels the legs to turn over more quickly. 

When you come down the back side of the hill you have to be just as thoughtful in your technique as going up. If you aren't careful you can do some damage to your knees. Once again you shorten your stride and slow your arm swing down just a bit and let gravity assist you in coming down but you don't let it take over.  You also lean back so your center of gravity stays behind your hips so you are in control; not gravity. You also enjoy the moment of making it all the way to the top and "coasting" down the back side.

In educating our children we will face many hills. Some are huge and seem like they are impossible to climb.  Those are the ones where you need to shorten your stride, drive with the big muscles and only look ten feet ahead.  After all, you can always make it another ten feet.  Also, never be ashamed of walking the hills.  It is better to stop running and walk than to stop and quit because you went too far without a break.  Shorten the goal by dividing it up into easy segment, relax the pressure and before you know it you will be at the top going down the back side.

On the back side you need to remember that it isn't a race to the bottom. You need to keep that disciplined stride. This can be much like summer break, where things are forgotten, discipline goes out the window and it takes weeks to get back on track.  But do enjoy the break from the regular up hill fight.

2. Records

When I first started running a friend of mine told me to keep good records of my time, distance, route and general well being.  I thought she was joking, but I followed her advice and I am so glad.  When I felt like I wasn't making any progress, I noticed that I ran more than I walked. I noticed that my distance was increasing and I was accomplishing it in less time.  I noticed that my aches and pains were diminishing and that I was actually looking forward to my runs.

While teaching my children, I have kept loose records. One reason is because the state I live in requires it, but more importantly I love to see the progress of my children.  I can see where I need to tweak a curriculum to better fit one child's needs. I see when I need to push a child a bit more because it was too easy. I see where the holes are in another child's education and can design a program to better suit his learning style.  Since I have been homeschooling for 15 plus years, I can revisit something that we did with the older children and bring it back out for the younger ones.  I know that it has been so many years since we studied whatever it might be and the younger ones didn't get a chance to discover that topic.  Because I kept records and notes, I usually don't have to reinvent the wheel, I have all my stuff and I just need to present it to the children again.

3. Rest Days

In any good training program there should be rest days: days you don't run or do other types of physical training.  These days are important so that your muscles have a change to heal and relax.  The Lord even put in a rest day for us.  It is important to relax, recuperate and enjoy. 

It is also important to give our families rest days.  Taking a day off from schooling won't kill the kids and will usually give everyone a huge boost.  Our family has movie days, museum days and park days.  Yes, sometimes the movies or museums are connected to what we are studying, but sometimes they are just fun to visit without the pressure of learning something.  It is amazing to me how much our children learn when there is no pressure on them to learn.  We love rest days and I wish I could do one every week, but once every two weeks is about what we average.  Maybe this coming year we will take one day a week and rest; our mental muscles may thank us and actually do better come race day.

4. Walk/Run

When I first took up running I couldn't put a solid 30 minute run together without walking.  There is a running program out there that uses the walk/run method.  The idea is to walk four minutes and run for one minute until you can walk three minutes and run two and continue until you are running for the full five minutes.  From there you increase the amount of time you are running until you are running the full 30 minutes. Then you increase your time until you hit your goal.  The ideas is that walking isn't bad when you are out for a run.

When we homeschool we need to remember that slowing down to catch our breath or to really stop and understand a concept isn't bad. In fact many of us list "going at our child's pace" as one of the reasons we picked homeschooling as our method of education.  There have been times when a certain child needed to slow down just a bit to grasp a concept but as soon as the concept was grasped, his pace would pick up. It was amazing how much farther he can go when we take a break from running through math and instead walk for a few minutes. 

Looking back at your time in school (probably in the public school system) I bet your favorite part of school was recess.  I know it was mine (although reading hour was a close second). Why is recess such a favorite part of schooling? Because it was fun and the pressure of learning was off.  Our children need rest time from learning.  Their brains need a moment to relax and a chance to stop working so hard.  I know taking breaks in the middle of the school day is hard when you school at home. There are so many distractions for mom and kids which prevent us from getting back to schooling.  But it is important to give ourselves and our children a moment to catch our breath and let our mental muscles relax.  

5. Drink & Eat

I love water. It is my choice of drink most any time of day or year. When you are out for a run you lose a lot of water and electrolytes. If your run is longer than 40 minutes you need to have some way of drinking some water or your body starts to fall apart.  I've learned about dehydration the hard way. I never want to see another person put on a stretcher because they didn't drink water when they needed to.  I carry water with me when I run and on long runs (90 minutes or more) I make sure that I can run past a water fountain or have some water stashed out on the trail.  It is that important.

The same goes for fuel. It doesn't take long for the body to use up all the energy stored in the muscles.  In fact, for a big race we start the week before really watching what type of food we eat so we have enough fuel to finish a five hour run. Yes, that is extreme, but it is important if we want to finish the race.  During the race it is just as important as it was the week before. You need some quick energy when your legs are burning muscle tissue.  Jelly beans, gummy bears or specially designed quick energy foods are a necessity out on the road. 

When we are homeschooling our children it is sometimes easy to forget to fuel them properly. I found that out the hard way when one of my kids quit mid day because he was hungry.  I know I can go longer without breaks and I hate to break up my school day. Restarting is so hard.  I remember my favorite part of kindergarten was the snack (Graham crackers and milk).  In our house, we like to take a mid morning break to get a quick snack and to stretch our muscles.  It makes the rest of the morning go smoother and pushes the full lunch break from 10:30 to noon.  That leaves more time for studying and fun.

6. Equipment

There is a saying among serious runners:  "Pay for it at the shoe store or you will pay for it at the orthopedic surgeon's." In the past year I have purchased three pairs of running shoes. I don’t think I have ever bought that many shoes in one year, for one purpose, for myself. In fact, I hate shoe shopping.  But the saying is true.  My first pair lasted just over 400 miles and then they started breaking down. I knew they were breaking down because my knee started to hurt. I didn't just go to my local discount store to buy my shoes, I went to a running store. I asked my running buddies what type of shoes they liked. I had my foot, stride and gait check out by a professional runner. I did my homework so I could have the best fitting shoe for me. It is that important.

Having the right curriculum for your child is very important.  You need to do your homework and find what works for your child.  You may end up with different curriculum for different children.  Each child is unique, just like each runner is unique.  In my state there is a yearly curriculum fair for homeschoolers to look at and buy from hundreds of vendors.  When I first started homeschooling there were a handful of vendors and most of them were just repackaging public school curriculums for homeschoolers.  It now seems as if the world is our oyster and we can pick and choose from the very best.  When choosing your family's curricula, do your homework, ask your friends, get opinions, ask to look it over and don't ever think that you are stuck with your choice.  I've switched between curriculum mid year and you can too.

7. Mailboxes

I love mailboxes! I can always run to the next mailbox.  I can take a walk break when I get there.  In fact, when I run the river trail where there are no mailboxes I have to look for shadows on the trail or a special tree.  When the going gets tough and I don't think I can take another step, I can always make it to another mailbox.  But before I slow down and walk, I pick out the spot where I have to start running again.  This has enabled me to finish some extremely long runs.

If you haven't had one of these days, you will. Some day you will have a day that seems like it will never end.  These are the days you pick out a short goal to accomplish and when that has been accomplished, you set another one.  I remember one day when one of my sons just had the toughest time finishing his math homework.  We set the kitchen timer and worked for fifteen minutes and then took a five minute break.  What was amazing that day was to see how many more problems he got done in the third fifteen minute time period compared with the first.  We did the same thing the next day and again the next day.  We went from six fifteen minute periods to one twenty minute period in a month.  He gained more confidence when he broke it up into smaller chunks and saw how much he was accomplishing with those chunks.  Of course, the key is to set the timer for the five minute breaks and come back to work until the assignment is finished.  You don't have to use time, you can use a set number of problems or pages.  Let your child help you come up with a suitable goal.

8. Goals

When I first starting running I didn't have a goal. I wasn't in it to lose weight, although that was a great bonus. I was in it because it was the only way I could naturally relieve the pain caused by an undiagnosed tumor.  When the tumor was diagnosed, treated and subsequently shrunk, I didn't have a reason to run anymore.  I liked the fact that my jeans were looser and I loved the runner's high I experienced, but I knew that the cold wet weather of the northwest would keep me indoors during the winter if I didn't have a reason to lace up my shoes.  So I picked a cause: Team in Training, an organization dedicated to raising money for cancer research; and a goal: a half marathon. That kept me moving.  From there I was able to set both short and long term goals.

Homeschoolers need goals to.  Our goals could be getting a child through a rough year in public school or taking them all the way from pre-school to college.  I know our homeschooling goals change year to year and we take it one step at a time, but we do have a big picture goal in mind while we set littler goals to accomplish the big picture.  I do better when I write my goals down, even if I'm the only one who will read them.  I also know that when a goal touches other people's lives it is important to include them in making short term goals that will help in accomplishing the big goal.  It is from these goals that our family comes up with our curriculum as well as some great family adventures.  As someone once said, "If you fail to plan then you plan to fail."

9. Friends

Running can be a very lonely way to exercise so running with a partner is much more fun. It makes the hours go by more quickly and it also helps you keep a steady pace.  I belong to a running team that has practices three times a week. Being a very busy mom makes it difficult for me to attend every practice, but when I'm able to attend, my runs go much better and it seems to carry over into my solo runs.  I also have made friendships that will last a lifetime with people who wouldn't normally be part of my circle of friends. These friends can help solve problems, give advice, motivate me and encourage me when the road get tough and it seems impossible to go 26.2 miles.

Homeschooling can also be very lonely.  You may be the only one in your family, your ward, your neighborhood or your town who homeschools.  Finding a group of like-minded families can be a lifeline.  The couple of groups I belong to are just what I need. They fill a hole that couldn't be filled by the other social circles in my life.  They understand me and they are there to support me.  We get together for hikes, play groups, science fairs, co-op classes, mom's nights and teen groups.  We have so much more fun together. We are able to support each other, give each other confidence, bounce ideas off of one another and share concerns.  Homeschooling is better with friends.

10. Pushing Yourself

On one of my runs each week I try to push myself just a bit more than the week before.  There is always something that you can improve on: time, distance, hills, feet turnover, arm movement or even enjoyment.  Pushing myself helps me improve each week. 

Sometimes we need to push ourselves in our teaching.  I was very content to sit back and teach fourth grade math year after year.  With six kids, for quite a few years that was exactly what I was doing.  Then all of a sudden I didn't have anyone in fourth grade math anymore.  I had to push myself.  I found myself in some unfamiliar territory and I had to increase my knowledge. 

11. Have fun

There is no point in going running if it isn't fun.  I don't know why it took me so long to find out that I like running.  There is something about being in the fresh air, wind blowing through my hair, sun on my face or even the rain drops running down my cheeks, that is fun.  It isn't for everyone, but for me there is a lot of personal enjoyment in running. I've had to run through a very difficult year while going through cancer treatments, but it has been my little retreat from the pressures of the world.  I really enjoy it.

Homeschooling should be fun.  I know when I stop having fun teaching my children it is time to step back and examine why we aren't having fun.  As I look back on the past 15 years of homeschooling, I see the many fun adventures that our family has taken.  We have gone on field trips (some quite extensive) and also done some incredibly fun things at our house.  We have built a teepee, dropped eggs from a second story deck, flown an airplane, traveled the Lewis and Clark Trail, hunted in tide pools, painted fences, dissected frogs (OK, so that wasn't so much fun for me, but my kids loved it), and planted a garden, just to name a few.  I know my kids like schooling better when it is fun. They learn more and I enjoy the experience as well.  I know if it was boring I would have given up long ago and let someone else have all the fun.

12. Chafing

There is no way you can go on a long run without something irritating you.  Something is going to rub against something and you will develop a sore or blister.  There is stuff that you can do to prevent chafing, blisters and irritants.  Using the proper equipment is first and foremost on any runner's list of ways to prevent irritants.  If there is no way to prevent them, then there are ointments and tapes that can help reduce them.

There is no way you can get through a year of homeschooling and not be irritated by something or someone.  Sometimes the fix is as easy as switching curricula.  Sometimes you need to change environments, the time of day, or maybe it is even something physical or medical.  Once you have figured out how to reduce or eliminate the irritant, you are on your way to a great year in homeschooling. 

13. Setbacks

This past year has been plagued with setbacks.  I've had to stop for vacations, chemotherapy and other family emergencies.  These are part of life, but we always pick up where we stopped and move forward with training.  It is when we give up that we lose all that we have gained.  This past summer I had to slow down my training in a major way while I went through 14 weeks of chemotherapy.  I didn't stop training. I just slowed down.  Some weeks I was only able to get in one 30 minute run and others I could get three 30 minute runs in.  When my health returned I picked up my training schedule where I left off and continued training for my marathon.

I don’t know of a homeschooling family who hasn't had to deal with setbacks at least once during the year.  Sometimes it is a baby, or an illness or a family emergency.  It could be for any reason.  Sometimes  all we accomplish for that day of schooling is reading out loud to our children from the scriptures or a story book.  I know that as I have battled illness for the past year our schooling has been a bit hit and miss, but we've hit more than we've missed.  Looking back over the year, we didn't accomplish all that I set out to learn and do for the year, but we sure did cover a lot and most of it was a bit different than what I had planned.  We were originally planning to do a botany unit, but after I was diagnosed, I learned that the dirt could have given me an infection because of my compromised immune system. So instead we studied weather.  Instead of giving up, our family did what we could. We read a complete nine volume historical fiction series, watched many documentaries, did our math and wrote a little and learned a lot about service and healing.  When my children were tested at the end of the year (per state requirement) they didn't test poorly, in fact they were where they should be and my second child was able to pass the entrance exams to our local community college with room to spare. 

Unlike Pheidippides, I am training for my marathon. Because of that training, I will survive running 26.2 miles.  Some days out on the trail or road, I ask myself, "What am I doing?" Then I remember what I'm doing: I'm improving my health, raising money for cancer and enjoying the journey.  Homeschooling is just like training for a marathon. There are days when I ask, "What am I doing?" Then I remember: I'm training my children to be productive citizens, happy people, and educated young men and women.

In part two, I'll present thirteen more things I've learned about homeschooling while running around my neighborhood.

You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Doreen