Things I Know 358 of 365: I’ve 2 races left

When I set the goal nine years ago, it didn’t have nearly the immediacy it will have after tomorrow. I’d just finished my second marathon, which meant that my body was, in fact, built to handle more than one marathon in our time together.

Not one for big goals or plans, I caught myself by surprise the first time I said it aloud to someone else.

External Me: I’m going to run 10 marathons in 10 years.

Internal Me: Wait. Who said that.

And so I started.

At first, it was one race per year. As I’d skipped a year between my 2002 marathoning debut and my second goal-inspiring race, I realized I’d need to run two races in one year to meet my goal.

It happened the year I ran both Chicago and New York City. I’d imagine this not to be much of a problem were the two races not separated by two weeks.

I finished both.

The back-to-back racing left a mental scar. I didn’t run for a year. I was back in the same predicament.

Heading into 2012, I’ve run 8 marathons in 9 years. I know it’s not much when compared to ultramarathoners or people who embark on quests like Dean Karnazes’s 50 in 50 in 50.

You have to understand, I wasn’t supposed to be a runner. My boyhood clothes came from the “husky” section. My P.E. grade was a mercy pass. The only R word I’d ever associated with myself up to my first day of training was reader.

And then I started running.

Now, it is a part of me.

It is a key to my identity.

I know more about myself and what I can do because I am a runner.

I will never be the fastest or the trimmest, but I will be running.

This does not solve my problem. I have two races to run. My habit of approaching goal setting with a minimalist’s penchant gives each greater heft when I do commit.

I’ve two options.

The first is a Spring race and a Fall race. This would put a marathon smack in the middle of my Spring semester of grad school. Consequently, it would mean training for a marathon throughout the first half of the semester. I’d have to dig deep for the moxy.

The second option is two Fall races again. Because it was my first, I’ll be running Chicago this year. I just have to decide if I want to re-visit the gauntlet of two races in close temporal proximity to one another.

I’m open to suggestions. No matter the decision, I am thrilled to run these races, to do something 5th-grade me never considered.

Things I Know 152 of 365: Kirstie graduates today

The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Mary Schmich

At 8 pm tonight, my sister Kirstie graduates from high school. I’m back home in Illinois at my dad’s house for the occasion.

Kirstie is 12 years younger than I am.

She will forever be the same age as the last class of my students I will see graduate. I realized this on the plane ride last night and almost turned to the stranger next to me to share the news.

My other sister, Rachel, is another keystone of my teaching career. The first time I stepped into my own classroom in Florida, my eighth graders were starting the same year of instruction as Rachel was back up in Illinois.

Though the ages of my students have fluctuated as I’ve taught different grades, I know that those from that first class who went to college just finished their third year.

Next year, as Kirstie begins her first year at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, I’ll think of this graduating class of SLA students who will be starting their full-time college careers all over the country.

My students will be taking all sorts of paths once they leave our halls and classrooms. My connections to past students on Facebook have taught me this. Still, Kirstie will be my bellwether of where they are in their lives. For every milestone in Kirstie’s life over the next few years, I’ll wonder about the same milestone in the lives of any number of students.

This is a change.

For the past 8 years, my students have unknowingly filled in for my siblings.

For each teen drama, every end-of-quarter stress out, all the proms and formals – I watched my students feel their way through the chasm of adolescence, thinking of my siblings stumbling along their own paths hundreds of miles away.

My students have helped me come to terms with choosing to move away from my family after college. The pieces of their lives they brought with them to school and allowed me to counsel them on helped me to be at peace with not helping my siblings work through those same experiences back home.

While always my students, in moments, they let me care for them as a big brother.

In the same way I hope Rachel, Kirstie and my brother Taylor will choose their own paths in life and go where their passions take them, I have done the same.

At mile 10 of my first marathon, my friend Julie, with whom I had run almost all of my long training runs, turned to me.

“Ok, Zac, go.”


Julie had a slower pace than I did. She was telling me to leave her behind.

My gut resisted the idea.

“No. I’m fine running with you.”

“Zac,” she said with a sternness that was impressive 10 miles into a marathon, “run your own race.”

I did.

We both finished the race. Had I stayed with Julie, I would have felt the frustration and pain of running someone else’s race. Had she run at my pace, Julie would have felt the same pain and frustration.

We each needed to run our own races.

This is what I want for Kirstie. It is the same thing my students have afforded me as a long-distance big brother. It will be the thing my sisters and brother afford me as I leave the classroom.

At 8 pm tonight, my sister Kirstie graduates from high school and passes another mile marker.

Run your own race, Kirstie.

13.1 miles and living

Running 13 miles didn’t kill me. I don’t even think I garnered any scars.
As I wrote earlier, I’m pushing through with Toronto Marathon training this go round in South Africa.
That meant a long run Sunday.
The last time I tried anything over 10 miles, I ended up running 10 miles. It wasn’t pretty. Not enough to eat that day, dehydrated from the get go, no precursor training beforehand. Name a stupid error distance runners make and I made it.
It was ugly.
Luckily, it was also 5 months ago.
I’ve a solid training foundation of approximately 30 mi/wk working for me this time.
Sunday worked.
Though I had to complete it by repeats of running out 2 miles and back 2 miles, I got my 13 – well, 13.1 (Why not run the half when you’re that close anyway?).
Clocking in at a 8’11″/mile pace, I was proud.
The only real break was when the ole digestive track sent me inside. No worries on that; it provided a chance at grabbing an orange.
After a day off for recovery Monday, I hit the road again Tuesday, running toward the sun setting behind Table Mountain. There are worse moments in life.
Six miles completed with a 8’19″/mile pace.
I didn’t stop the entire six. The goal was to slow myself down.
It didn’t really work.
I need to run with someone else. I need a pacer.
This has never EVER been a problem for me. Then again, I’ve never run this much or this fast before.
All I know how to do is run.
I mean, I know more than that. I know a bunch of the jargon and science and philosophy.
But, when I’m on the road, all I know how to do is run.
Slowing down was never an anticipated problem.

13 miles tomorrow

October 17 I’ll be running the Toronto Marathon.

It’ll be my eighth marathon.

When I turned 21, I decided to run my first marathon. The whole idea was that the only milestone of being 21 years old shouldn’t be the right to legally drink.

From there, somehow, the goal became running 10 marathons in 10 years.

Sure, people run a marathon a month or 50 marathons in 50 days…

…but I’m a mere mortal.

I’m training for #8.

Being in South Africa and training for a marathon whilst working with teachers in schools and planning workshops and all the other life detritus makes scheduling a little weird.

Last year, I felt wonky about running at night.

This year, I know my surroundings. I know what’s what.

In this, our third home of the trip, I’ve marked an out-and-back course that’s 4 miles, round trip.

Tomorrow, I’ve a 13-mile long run.

That’s 3 out and backs with a mile somewhere at the end for good measure.

Should be interesting.

I’ve been averaging 25-30 miles/week the last few weeks.

The other piece of this training puzzle that’s been a tough navigation has been diet.

Vegetarian distance running is one thing when I’m in the familiar confines of my own city and have total control over my diet.

I learned last year that “vegetarian” here oftentimes translates to “only chicken and fish.”

I’m turning to No Meat Athlete and The Runner’s Kitchen for my inspiration to keep my hopes high.

Sure, they lose me when they start talking brand names that aren’t on the shelves here, but talking protein content of everyday foods is crazy helpful, not to mention the recipes.

13 miles tomorrow

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Find the Hard Pack

We’ve been starting each day of the Eastern Cape project with a period of reflection. It’s been my task to orchestrate these moments of reflection.

Wednesday, I told a story.

Mid-October, I’ll be running my 8th marathon.

Because of this, I need to keep training whilst I’m on the ground over here. As many of the locales where we’ll be working aren’t necessarily safe for a lone foreigner out on a run, I’ve been taking advantage of each location I can.

The venue here on South Africa’s “Wild Coast” is safe(-ish).

Wednesday, I set out before the sunrise to run along the beach.

Whereas Gonubie was a little resort town situated right on the beach, here, we’re much more middle of nowhere. The beach is expansive and I had it to myself.

Living in Florida taught me about running on the beach – you stay close to the water on the hard-pack sand. Otherwise, you’re running in mush.

The first mile-and-half of my 6-miler was great. Still dark, light breeze, waves crashing.

Then, I lost the hard pack.

It was mush.

It was whatever the morning equivalent of twilight is and I was running in mush.

I pushed through.

“I’m a marathoner. A little soft sand won’t get me down.”

It didn’t end.

I’d stop and rest and run again and stop and rest and run again. No end.

I was fatigued.

I turned around half a mile short of my set halfway point.


As I took another walking break, I spotted the two people I’d passed about a quarter of a mile before turning around.

This was their beach.

They’d left a path.

I started to run again – in their tracks – ignoring my own footprints.

This was their beach.

The way back was easier than the way out.

I was following those who knew the path and I was pretty certain were so used to walking it they thought nothing of it.

Pace-wise, my time was horrible.

As far as all the other reasons long-distance runners do what they do, it was superb.

This is the story I told the e-Personnel Wednesday before a day-long workshop where we asked them to create lesson plans in which they incorporated Information Communication Technologies to serve as examples for the thousands of teachers they work with. They’d never done what they’ve been asking their teachers to do for two years now.

It was arduous and confusing and jargon-splitting, but it was so good.

If we’re going to ask others to go there, we must first go there ourselves.

It’s up to us to find the hard pack.

New Rules

The Gist:

  • For a year of my life I lived by some pretty helpful rules.
  • I’m reviving the experiment in preparation for my next marathon and to apply what some of my students are learning about food.
  • Once a week, I’ll be writing about my progress here.
  • Many of the rules this time around are from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.

The Whole Deal:

When I turned 27, I set some rules for myself.

I’d moved to Philly in a whirlwind the Fall before and still hadn’t regained my bearings in life. The rules were social and wellness based. I eliminated high-fructose corn syrup, I pledged to run 27 races within one calendar year, I worked to cut my use of plastics as much as possible, etc.

It worked. I felt better and life gained some semblance of order.

That year, I ran both the Philadelphia and Chicago marathons within a few weeks of each other. That was a mistake.
Chicago was one of the sunniest, hottest races I’ve run. In Philadelphia, we had to be careful at the water stops because the spilt water had created ice patches on the course. I didn’t really run for a year after.

Now, I’m signed up for the Ocean Drive Marathon in my attempt to get to 10 marathons in 10 years.
Add to that the disjointedness of my eating habits since returning from Africa, and it’s time for new rules.

Not one to do anything boring, I’m adopting Michael Pollan’s rules from In Defense of Food:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that include D) high-fructose corn syrup.
  3. Avoid products that make health claims.
  4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay our of the middle.
  5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

I’ll also be running every other day w/ the ole Nike+ attached to my iPod to keep track of my ramp up to the race (and those that follow).

As of right now, that’s all I’m working with. I’m open to any suggestions.

The plan is to blog once a week on how it’s all working out. I realized it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment when I couldn’t put the pre-shredded cheese on my eggs this morning.

Tim Best and Matt VanK worked with our seniors on a food unit throughout most of the first quarter. I’m hoping to pick up where they left off and explore the applications of what they learned.