26.2 Miles (Part 2)

by Doreen Blanding

I completed my first marathon on October 17, 2010, and I know what the last half feels like.  It is a struggle to stay on course and finish, but I did it and achieved something I never even dreamed I would do. It was hard, but I did it!

Since then, I’ve picked up the running bug. I thought that maybe after I crossed the finish line of my first full marathon I would be cured and never pick it up again, but the bug was very infectious and I’m still running today.  During those quiet minutes and miles, I can’t help but bring my mind to my family and how our lives have been shaped so profoundly because we homeschool.  I can’t help but relate the struggles and triumphs of running to homeschooling.
In part one of this article, I listed 13 ways in which running is very similar to homeschooling.  I will finish my “race” by listing 13 more ways that I believe homeschooling is much like daily running and finishing the race.  Lace up your shoes and let’s get started.

14. Family Support

There was no way I was going to run in a race without the support of my family.  I remember my first race and just thinking, “I have to keep going because my family is up there somewhere to cheer me on.”  I did keep going and I did find them.  I kept going because they were along the sidewalk cheering me on.  

I’ve had the advantage of a very supportive husband through this whole process.  Almost 18 years ago I presented this crazy idea of homeschooling our children and he let me.  He then saw the value in it and began to whole heartedly support me.  He would even spend his lunch breaks with a group of homeschooling kids teaching them how to play chess.  Even today, although he works farther away and his demands are greater on his time, he still spends time reading to our children as well as answering those very hard math questions.  He has been a great asset to our schooling.  

My extended family soon saw the value in what we were doing too, and although some never agreed with me, they soon left me alone and left their opinions unsaid.  I truly have been blessed with a very supportive family.

If you are so unlucky as to not have the support of your close family, do not be discouraged. Take my mom’s words to heart, “You attract more flies with honey.”  Continue to be nice and remember that they probably don’t know much about homeschooling.  You won’t convert them with facts and figures, but perhaps with love, kindness and time they’ll come around.  Hang in there and find a surrogate family who can support you.

15. Stretching, Warm Ups 

Many weekend warrior athletes don’t think much about stretching and warming up before doing their exercise of choice.  This is a mistake and it can often cost them a trip to the doctor and a few weeks of missed training.  For someone who is training for a race, this type of setback can be race ending.  We must warm up our muscles with some sort of stretching and light activity.  We must get the blood flowing to our muscles.  We must get ourselves ready before we start our workout.

I had knee problems before I even took up running and I know how difficult it is to run with a painful Iliotibial Band (that is a muscle that runs from your hip to your knee). I also know how painful shin splints can be.  I know that I will pay for it later if I do not spend just five minutes stretching my muscles.  

There are many theories on when and how much to stretch.  Some say after you have run for five minutes, other say before and still other say not until after your workout.  I have found that I need to do it before I work out and sometimes during if by chance a problem arises.  If I don’t take care of a problem right then and there, it grows and one day it will be my race ending injury.

In homeschooling we must stretch out.  We need to give our brains a bit of warm up time. There are many different ways to stretch our brains and warm up our minds for the day ahead.  In my family we like to start with a review of yesterday’s studies.  Often we crack a few jokes or perhaps even work a word puzzle.  Something light and fun helps to get the blood flowing and our minds refocused on learning.  We will also stop during the day and pick up a good read aloud book.  It doesn’t matter what time you do it as we really won’t pull a brain muscle, but there should be a bit of time set aside for “stretching and warming up”.

16. Cool Down

Just as stretching is important, cooling down is even more important.  I have learned the hard way that squeezing in a run without giving my body the proper cool down can have some devastating consequences.  When you understand what you have just done to your muscles you will understand how important it is to give the blood a chance to get rid of the lactic acid built up in the muscles.  If you don’t give yourself a proper cool down you can experience some of the worst muscle cramps of your life.

Our brain also needs cool down time.  We need time to let our brain sort out all the information that was just stuffed into it and a chance to properly put each bit of information in its proper place.  When we give our minds this chance to sort things through it will be easier for it to start up the next time.

Cooling down with some fun reading, playing outside, sitting quietly, watching a movie, doing simple crafts or just taking a nap gives the brain a moment to sort through all the information it has received throughout the day.  Scientific studies have shown that while we sleep our brains are busy sorting through the input received during the day and putting them in sections of the brain to be recalled later.  It is through this cool down period that we process the information.

17. Trainer and Coach

I couldn’t have made it across the finish line without my trainers and coaches.  All through training they answered my questions, quieted my fears and eventually cheered me across the finish line.  They answered silly questions like how to solve the problem of the blister on my toe, and the hardest one: “How do you train when you can’t get out of bed because you are so sick from chemotherapy?”  They were my cheerleaders and they truly got me across the finish line.

Teaching our children is very hard, and to make it even harder this is a job that we do mostly by ourselves.  When we first start out we have thousands of questions, from the simple to the hard.  We have fears and we aren’t sure we can make it to the end.  We aren’t even sure where the finish line is.  If you are lucky and persistent you can find your homeschooling trainer and coach.  They don’t have to be just one person or one source.  I picked up books and read many websites when I first started homeschooling.  I eventually found someone who could be my coach, my mentor and my trainer.  She guided me and even today, I can send off a quick email and her calm words come in reply.  She has helped me cross the finish line.

18. Pay it Forward

I didn’t plan on becoming an expert at running, but I have, at least in a few friends’ eyes.  I’m not so much an expert as someone who has blazed the trail before and can give helps, hints and suggestions to those who follow.  I am careful when giving advice as I’m not professionally trained, but I give as much as I can and hope that it is helpful to those who are just beginning the running journey.

When I first started there weren’t internet magazines, websites, or even curriculum designed specifically for homeschoolers.  There were a few things out there but that was about it.  The information and support today is more far reaching and thorough than when I began.  But beginners want to hear a real voice and read real words from parents who have walked the walk.  I am not shy when asked how we homeschool or other similar questions.  I try to “pay it forward” so that those who are coming after me can have an easier time and find success.

19. Keep your Eyes Open

Nothing wakes you up more on an early morning run than running into something or tripping over something.  You have to keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings.  Not only is it embarrassing to run into a mailbox, but it is also painful.  I’ve had my hat knocked off by a low hanging branch and twisted my ankle stepping off a sidewalk.   Locally we have had a few women runners attacked during their runs on a few well travelled running paths.  We have bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes and other wild animals sharing the same trails as runners.  Those are just some of the dangers I need to keep my eyes open for when running.  But along with those dangers I also get to witness some of the most beautiful sights.  I’ve seen marvelous sunrises and sunsets.  I’ve seen the first blossoms of the spring pop out on trees, shrubs and flowers.  I’ve seen the magnificent trees turn red, yellow and orange.  I’ve witness the beauty of snow in pastures.  And it never fails on one of my trails that a beautiful horse comes to the fence whenever I run by.

When you are homeschooling you need to keep your eyes open.  Because we are with our children and teaching so intimately it is easy for us to see the trouble spots our children have and take steps to correct them.  I noticed that one of my kids wasn’t grasping a concept in math quite as quickly as I thought he should.  I was able to slow down his math assignments and fix the problem and then continue on with the course work. 

When you keep your eyes open you will notice that a favorite children’s book author is coming to your library, or that a museum has a collection you have been dying to see, and then quickly study the artist.  You will notice that the Summer Olympics are coming and you just finished studying about a country and can tie it in.  You will notice an article in the paper talking about something you just studied.  You will notice a program on a network that ties in beautifully with something you want to teach your children.  If you keep your eyes open learning opportunities will just fall into place.  I remember one child asking for a pair of scissors one day so that he could cut an article out of the local paper.  I asked him why and he told me that it was on Lewis and Clark and we needed to add it to our file.  He had been listening and he knew how I liked to find tidbits to add to our file even after we were done studying and learning about a topic.

Don’t forget about spontaneous learning.  I can’t tell you how many times we are out and about when a learning opportunity arises.  Don’t pass it up. 

20. Take the Kids with You

When I go for a run, I often like to take my kids.  There are a few places that afford me the luxury of running in circles while my kids play at the play structure.  Luckily I have older children who can be guardians if I get too far away.  There are also trails that are safe enough for my children to walk along while I run ahead.  I even will take a day or two a week and walk with them.  We have a lot of fun while getting fresh air and good exercise. 

In college I majored in Education with an emphasis on physical education and coaching.  I have always tried to be active and physical health means a lot to me.  In the past few years I have had some major physical hurdles to jump over.  I was in an auto accident that left me with seven years of physical therapy and a few surgeries trying to repair the damaged caused.  Then I was diagnosed with cancer.  Needless to say my children have learned a lot about physical health as they have watched me go through these trials. 

Opportunities to teach are all around you but if your kids aren’t with you, you may miss them.

21. Preparation

When you are getting ready for a marathon in a city hundreds of miles away you need to make sure you pack everything you will need.  You start a few days earlier and make sure that you have the perfect pair of shorts, the preferred top, undergarments, socks and your broken in, but not too much, running shoes as well as all the other little things you need for your run. If you don’t, come race morning when you are getting to the start line at 6 am, you will not be ready and you will fall short of your goal.  

The same is true in homeschooling.  If you are not prepared for the day, you will fall short of your goals. I know that the days when I don’t take just 15 minutes to prepare usually don’t turn out to be stellar days.  I also know that the days where I took just 30 minutes the night before to refresh my mind about the subjects I want to touch on or to correct assignments, are days that are going to be good learning days.  Preparation is the key.  Even after 18 years of homeschooling, I still take time to prepare for the coming day, even if it is just 15 minutes spent looking over the subjects that are being taught that day.

22. Foundation

When I picked up running I didn’t know I was going to be diagnosed with cancer.  I just started and kept running.  When the exhaustion from the treatments caught up with me four months before my race, I thought that there was going to be no way for me to finish a full marathon.  My coaches informed me that I had laid a good foundation of nine plus months of hard training and that I would be fine if I just picked up where I left off when I could run again.  I did just that and six weeks before my race I was able to get out and start training again. It was slow but, because I had such a great foundation already built, I was able to complete my first marathon just ten weeks after my last chemotherapy session.

Homeschooling affords us the opportunity to help our children build strong and firm foundations both in secular and gospel learning with minimal interference. These foundations that we are helping them build will help them survive during the hard times.  My sons who are in college thank me for drilling math facts with them.  They have had an easier time with college calculus.  My high school student has often thanked me for our constant reading of the scriptures as a family.  These foundations that we are building will sustain them.

23. Listening

Not long ago in a Stake Conference a member of the Quorum of the Seventy was visiting. I don’t remember much of what he said, but one of the things he said stuck with me.  He was a runner and loved the time he ran.  It wasn’t because he lost weight or was a great athlete but because it gave him an hour of alone time.  He liked to think of it as a long prayer.  I know exactly what he is talking about.  I love the time that I get to just think and say what’s on my mind to my Father in Heaven.  I think of it as a really long prayer too.  I enjoy the time I have to just listen to my thoughts and sort out troubles.  I actually learn a lot by just listening.

While we are homeschooling our kids we need to listen to them.  These kids are intelligent and have thoughts and feelings all their own.  I remember one day while teaching about the life of Michelangelo a son asked me, “When is he going to die?” I think he was trying to tell me he was bored with the lesson and wanted to move on.  I took that to heart and moved on to a more exciting subject.  One year I was so excited to teach botany and was gearing up to teach it when one of my children came to me so excited about wanting to learn biology.  She must have heard me wrong.  With a distraught face she left the room.  Later that night I polled the children and it was me against them; they all wanted to learn biology.  I didn’t let pride get in my way and we look up biology.  I didn’t know it but within a year my family would be using all that we had learned in biology as we figured out how best to treat my cancer.  I was amazed at how much knowledge they had retained from our studies.  I have learned to listen to my children.  They often know much more than I do.

I also know that I cannot teach without first consulting with my Heavenly Father.  He knows what lessons my children will need.  He knows what I need to learn as well.  I cherish my conversations with him in regards to my children’s education.

24. The"Bite Me" Mile

How appropriate that this be number 24, for that is just about when the “bite me” mile hit me in my first marathon.  I didn’t believe the books or what my running friends were saying about the “bite me” mile.  I knew I wouldn’t hit that mile.  Well I did hit that mile.  It is the mile in a very long race when you just want to give up.  Your legs just don’t have anything left in them.  Your feet refuse to move and you want to scream “BITE ME!” to those running with you.  You want to just give up and let the aid car drive you to the finish line.  You are done.

But you find something deep down and you will your legs and feet to keep moving.  You force a smile on your face, wipe the tears from your cheeks and take one more step.  It is worth making it through the “bite me” mile for the exhilaration of crossing the finish line.  There is nothing quite as sweet as crossing the finish line and screaming “I DID IT!”

I can’t begin to count the number of days I would come upon the “bite me” mile of homeschooling.  The house was a mess. The kids were a mess. I was a mess and there was nothing to show that I did anything that day except move a pile from one corner of the room to the next.  Of course I felt like I had to prove to my husband that we really did do “school” that day and we didn’t just spend the day watching Disney movies and eating cereal out of the box.  Worse would be the days when I had spent the night before preparing and then watch it all fall apart within minutes of us starting school.  Someone would write on someone else’s paper, the read-a-loud book would go AWOL, the phone would start to ring, breakfast was still out on the table and no one, including you, was dressed for the day; and you have prepared for this day.  

You feel like giving up and sending them all out the door with a brown bag lunch and just count the hours until the school bus returns them later.  Then you remember why you are doing this and the “bite me” mile just seems like something you have to go through to get to the glorious end.

25. Smile

My favorite trail is a very popular trail. It is used by thousands of runners, cyclist, skaters, walkers and families.  I try to greet each person with at least a nod and a smile if not a “good morning,” or “have a nice day” when I pass them on the trail.  It still amazes me how many don’t reply or look down at their feet or at the river or just stare glassy eyed at a spot ahead of them.  Then there are those who reply back or even beat me to the greeting.  When they do it makes me feel like my world got a little smaller, a bit friendlier and, more important, a little bit brighter.  

When you are out and about with your children, smile, wave and be friendly.  I know when I take my kids to the library during “school hours” that the people in the library are a bit leery. They see a hoard of children there when they should be at school.  I smile, wave and even sometimes open a conversation with them.  We not only meet unique people, but every now and then find another homeschooling family.  I also know that the smile can start to alleviate some fears of why there are children in the library at that time.  The same goes with stores or other places of business during “school hours”. 

I frequented the same grocery store at the same time for years with all six kids in tow.  The bakery attendant came to recognize us and enjoy our conversations.  She would always have special “school” cookies for us and joke with me about our “field trip” for the day.

26. Enjoy the Journey

When I was in high school I was on the track team just to stay in shape for my other sports: volleyball and softball.  All I wanted to do was be able to use the weight room, throw the javelin and work out.  I didn’t want to run.  In fact I told my coach that I wasn’t going to run anything over 400 meters (once around the track).  Twenty years later, I can’t wait to get out every day and put in 3 to 5 miles and run a long distance race a couple of times a year.  I’ve looked back and wondered why I’ve changed my mind and how it happened.  

I’ve learned to enjoy the journey that this obsession has taken me on.  It isn’t the 1000 plus miles I’ve run or the races I’ve run, but all of the above that makes this journey so wonderful and powerful to me.  I’ve learned so much about my spiritual and emotional body as well as my physical body along the way.  I’ve learned that I can push through some very tough times.  I’ve learned that I enjoy running and being with myself.

We all start our homeschooling journey for many different reasons.  Some do it because it is a fad, or something different.  Others are sold on the educational value.  Still others are trying to save a child.  It really doesn’t matter how we got on this homeschooling journey.  What matters is how we enjoy this journey.  I’ve known many friends who have stopped homeschooling for many good reasons.  Don’t let not enjoying it be one of them.   Take a moment and look back at all that you have accomplished, all that you have learned and all that you have done with your family.  You will notice that you have grown alongside your children.  Enjoy the journey because doing so makes the journey that much more pleasant and you will want to lace up your shoes and do it again tomorrow.

I don’t know how many more races my legs have in them, but I do know that I love running.  I’ve finished my first full marathon and have signed up for my next in May of 2011.  I hope also to do one in October of 2011.  I hope that each time I’m out on a race course that I can reflect on the road that led me to this point in time and focus on the road that lies ahead of me: physically, spiritually, emotionally and especially the one I will be taking with my family.  There is nothing so satisfying as a race where you gave it your all and you know that you pushed through that steep hill and through that nasty “bite me” mile and were able to cross the finish line and say, “I did it.  We did it.  And I’m so glad.”

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

- Doreen