What I’m Doing This Year: The Resolutions

At the end of May, I’ll be doing something different with my life than I was doing in October and different still from what I was doing 365 days before that. This promises to be a year of change to rival the changes of years past.
As I was working on my resolutions for the year, I kept this in mind. I want to document the year with the same spirit as last year, and I know another daily writing project will run the risk of draining me and distracting me from experiencing what’s going on as the changes take place.
As such, I’ve arrived at the following resolutions:
1. Run every day for at least 10 minutes. This one was clearing inspired by last year’s project. I understood the why better through explaining it to someone else. I came to know myself as a writer last year by putting myself in writing each day. In the same way, when I get to know people, I think of myself as a writer and a runner. So, I’ll be running. It’s a new approach. I’ll be running for 10 minutes some days, though my mind will want to go farther. I like that. I like actively working to shift my paradigm and experience as a runner. I’m also knowledgeable enough as a runner, at this point, to know to listen to my body and be mindful of the injuries possible in such an undertaking. If this year is to include the geographic changes I anticipate it to, experiencing where I am and who I am in those places through running will be interesting.
2. Make one photo each week that represents that week of the year. I thought briefly about a photo-a-day project, but my sister, Kirstie, helped me make up my mind. Kirstie is, as I have said, a brilliant photographer with a keen eye. She completed a 365 project last year to tremendous results. When I asked her if she would be continuing it this year, she said no. The goal of a photo each day meant she wasn’t creating shots of the quality she wanted. I can appreciate that. This year, she’s surveyed 52 friends and family members for inspirations quotations and ideas. Each week, she’ll be creating a photo each week around one of those guiding ideas. My project will be less global and much more self-centered, but I hope it to be a catalog of life this year that pushes me to think more visually. The photo above was my first week’s attempt.
3. Go vegan. I’m still a little sketchy of the details on this one. I wrote last year of my month-long go at eating vegan and the cultural and personal quandaries it inspired. Since then, I’ve continued to consider my role as a citizen, the effects of what I eat on who and what I am, and the footprint of all of this. I’m starting to think of this as a biological retirement plan. More on this later.
4. Journal each day (even if it’s only a line). My mom journals every day. Leading up to the new year, she spent her mornings on the couch reading through her life in years past and remembering the connective tissue of who she is now. For a long time, I journaled alongside my students in class. It’s different than blogging, and I want to remember why.
5. Read 52 books. That’s it. Similar to running, I count myself as a reader. As much as I could easily remain among the choir who chant solemnly they “don’t have time” to read, I know I can make time for this. To be sure, grad school will continue to help push me toward this goal. The other piece is one of genuine living. In the classroom, I told students over and over of the connection between reading, writing, and thinking. I insisted they would be better writers for reading and vice versa. If I am to stand by that and improve as a writer, I must read. Fifty-two is an arbitrary goal furnished by the calendar. Still, it’s as good a number as any.
I didn’t intend 5 resolutions this year. It just shook out that way. As much as I’m excited to work at each of them, I’m excited to find how my internal understanding and logic of the rules surrounding each resolutions shifts during the year.
I’m most curious to see how they shape me.

Know your audience


“Start with a reasonable goal, develop a plan, then record your workouts and progress,” says Martin. “If that’s not enough motivation to not skip workouts, find a coach or a training buddy who can help you keep your feet to the fire, and announce your goals to friends, family, and coworkers.” Social media is a good place to declare your running plans, too, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, dailymile.com, or runnersworld.com (Forums or The Loop). If all else fails, for every mile you run reward yourself with $1 toward a trip or something else you desire. Just don’t confuse consistency with rigidity. It’s okay to skip a run for a legit reason; it’s not okay to repeatedly skip them if your reasons are as thin as an Ethiopian marathoner.


via 2012 Running Resolutions at Runner’s World.

In the march toward defining my New Year’s Resolutions, I was reading this article today. Bob Cooper of RunnersWorld.com does something simple and brilliant that works toward the argument of knowing your audience. After building a case for each resolution and providing starting steps, he includes one other piece of information – a degree of difficulty.

It’s a perfect example of writing with your audience in mind. The folks stopping by RW are looking for a challenge. They hit the road or trail each day looking for something a little more than they found their last time out. Cooper includes no explanation for his designations, but that doesn’t matter.

When we talk about creativity and approaching problems from new angles, it’s often implied that type of thinking needs to be gigantic and disruptive at all times. Cooper manages to be fresh and creative in his writing with the addition of a three words and a number.

Now, how do you teach this kind of thinking?

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 348 of 365: There’s one list I won’t be unsubscribing from

I love to go running. It’s a way for me to stay centered, to lose the stress of the world around me, and to just be present. I recommend it to everyone, especially if you’re looking for a way to find peace and focus in your life.

– Leo Babauta, The Zen of Running, and 10 Ways to Make It Work for You, zenhabits.net

I’ve been unsubscribing quite a bit this week. In an attempt to cut down on the overflow of e-mails finding their ways to my inbox, I’m unsubscribing. I’m removing the digital plaque.

One list that’s made the keeper list is my daily e-mail from the folks at Runner’s World Magazine.

Called the “Daily Kick in the Butt,” it brings an quotation about running to my inbox each day.

I don’t remember when I signed up for the service, but it feels like years ago.

Most days, lately, I haven’t been running. Being a student again has frazzled most hopes at a regular schedule, and I’ve failed to make it a priority.

Still, each morning, my Kick is one of the first things I read. It’s a reminder that I’m still a runner. It’s a nudge toward being a better one, and it reminds me other people are in the game with me.

This is someone’s job. I imagine it’s not their entire job, but each day, someone sends out an e-mail to thousands of people filled with words of inspiration to be just a little bit better. It’s not a conversation, a friendship, or counseling. It’s just taking a chance that what they do can make a difference in the decisions other people make.

Sounds familiar.

Things I Know 323 of 365: Turns out I’m no huge fan of standardized running either

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea.

– Isak Dinesen

After 10 years of running, I’ve tried a treadmill for the first time this week.

Once, in my first weeks as a runner, my friend Katy persuaded me to try running on a treadmill at the student recreation center. Though I was struggling with running half a mile without walking, I was already enough of a runner to know something seemed wrong about running on a treadmill.

The weather back home in Illinois has been a bit gross over the last week, so I decided to give the treadmill another choice.

Three times this week, I put Google Music on shuffle, punched in a program and “went” for a run.

I’ll not lie. I ran faster than I’ve been running as of late. I was able to keep track of my pulse whenever I wanted. I new my speed at all times. I kept running the entire time. I was protected from the elements. I had a full report of each accomplishment when I was done.

As helpful as all that information is, I miss running outside.

When I was done with each treadmill run, no matter how successful the data flashing on the screen told me my run had been, I hadn’t gone anywhere.

I was still in my mom’s basement – staring at the furnace. I’d gotten nowhere faster and more efficiently than if I’d run outside, sure. But nowhere was still nowhere.

While I might pause to walk sometimes while running outdoors, I have control of that stopping, and it’s up to me to set the goal for starting again.

Sure, I was sheltered from the elements and protected from distractions, but I hadn’t seen anything. I imagined if I’d been running on a treadmill exclusively in training for my first marathon. Each week, my training would have improved, racheted up mechanically according to schedule.

What a shock it would have been, footfall after footfall, to attempt to reach my goal on a course filled with imperfections and distractions. I would have trained perfectly efficiently, but have no idea how or experience in adapting to my surroundings.

To learn how to run in the real world, I needed to practice running in the real world. My success wasn’t in a computer read out, but in the sense of accomplishment of enduring freezing rain or discovering a new part of my neighborhood.

While I’m home during break, I’ll likely continue to use the treadmill from time to time.

Starting next week, I’ll be back outside. When you’ve learned to do something authentically, anything less than feels just that.

Things I Know 245 of 365: I’ve been re-arranging the furniture in my head

A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.

– Mark Twain

I’ve been trying to change my mind over the last couple day. Lifehacker posted a blurb on a report from Science Daily suggesting runners should drink water when they are thirsty.

This information probably didn’t blow your mind the way it did mine.

Let me explain.

For over nine years, I’ve been a distance runner. Since that comical first go when I was sure I’d make 2 miles to my last marathon, I’ve been amassing pieces of running knowledge and sharing them as I meet other runners:

  • During morning runs, warm up with two easy miles and then stretch so as not to injure cold muscles and tendons.
  • Your metabolism is spiking for the first 45 minutes to an hour after you run.
  • About 20 minutes into a run is where the average person’s sugar supply is depleted and the fat burning process begins.
  • If you wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, you’re probably already dehydrated.

These are the pieces of who I am as a runner. They represent the framework of knowledge I carry with me that let me know I have some idea of what I’m doing.

Except, as Science Daily seems dedicated to pointing out, I don’t know what I’m doing.

This is the battle in which I’ve been engaged.

I’ve been grieving an idea.

Though it’s painfully simple – one sentence long – my flow chart of running is built around such conditional statements. If this is wrong, how do I know what is right?

I’ll be fine on the running front, I know.

I’ll do some research and figure out what makes the most sense.

It’s got me thinking, though, about what this means in the other systems in my life. I’ve started contemplating how receptive I am to new ideas and how receptive I expect others to be when I introduce a new idea or way of framing understanding.

New ideas aren’t easy. They require the shuffling around of the furniture in my head to make way for that new armoire. The thing is, collecting the new ideas requires losing some of the old ones. I can fit in the armoire, but I’ve got to lose the love seat.

And that’s the piece that’s probably been the most difficult in this instance. My best friend Katy, who taught me to run, educated me on when and when not to hydrate. That knowledge has emotional attachment.

I frequently ran into this problem on the other side when I’d tell students they could begin a sentence with “because” or they should avoid starting sentences with “There is…” or “There are…” To me, I was building a framework to help them succeed. To them, I was asking them to donate most of their mental furniture to the infinite.

Learning is tricky stuff.

I’m going running later today. I’m seriously considering not drinking water until I’m thirsty. Is that crazy?

Things I Know 197 of 365: There are two kinds of angry in the classroom

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

– Steve Prefontaine

Recently, I’ve started reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

I don’t know that I like Murakami, but I’m enjoying his book. I’m a social animal and he is not. He speaks highly of his comfort being away from people. While I enjoy my times of solitude, I feed on social interaction like some weird Buffy villain.

Something Murakami writes, with which I agree, is the following:

When I’m criticized unjustly (from my viewpoint at least), or when someone I’m sure will understand me doesn’t, I go running for a little longer than usual. By running longer, it’s like I can physically exhaust that portion of my discontent. It also makes me realize again how weak I am, how limited my abilities are. I become aware, physically, of these low points.

John Spencer has been writing a wonderful series of posts for new teachers – a collection of truths he wish he’d known or someone had told him before he entered the classroom.

He crowd sourced ideas online before embarking on this journey and the question of what I wish I’d known has been ruminating with me since he asked it.

My answer at the time and one of my answers now is embodied in Murakami’s words.

It was a doctrine of my classroom for years before Chris gave it words when we were in a discussion one day.

There is a difference between teacher angry and real angry. Teacher angry is what you let them see. It is the verbal kick in the butt that shows you care. It comes from a place of personal control akin to a parent telling a child they aren’t angry, they are just disappointed.

Real angry comes from the part of your brain the Vulcans work to control and repress. It is the moment when what you want to say is “For the fortieth time, stop interrupting, you little shit!”

These moments are exceedingly rare. They are born of exhaustion, confusion and periodic realizations that you are a last front between an ignorant and an informed citizenry. These are the intermittent terrors of the first through 30th years in the classroom.

The best teachers I have ever known never gave wind of their anger. I have taught alongside those for whom I would make a voracious case for canonization.

The good teachers know the line between teacher angry and real angry. They leave the room when the darker parts of their humanity well up within them in moments of great frustration.

The others see no line. Teacher angry and real angry are interchangeable in their classrooms. I’ve only seen a few of them, but they’ve tarnished the shine of what it means to be a teacher each time I’ve encountered them.

Each time I’ve encountered them, I’ve taken it as a sign that I must pick up the load they gave up carrying.

When I started running in college, I took none of this with me when I went out on the trail. I carried other injustices, other moments that showed me the world was not as beautiful as I imagine it to be. I would run, as Murakami writes, to “exhaust that portion of my discontent.”

Now that I’m entangled in the lives of the children I’ve served, I find myself carrying the injustices inflicted on them. It’s not always teachers. Mostly, though, it is one adult or another from their lives.

I will always do all I can to make up for those who have let them down. Still, when I run, I often find myself pushing myself because of what the world is not and what I would like it to be.

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.

Things I Know 75 of 365: Today I ran nowhere in particular – for an hour

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.

– John Hope Franklin

Today, for my run, I put 60 minutes on the clock and ran wherever for an hour. I did the same thing yesterday.

Pace and distance didn’t matter; I was worried about the run. Both days, I ran routes I’d hesitate to call straightforward. Yesterday’s, in particular, included more staircases than I’d ever knowingly include in a route were I planning for distance.

Yesterday, though, I came to some staircases and understood they would be part of the run.

I wasn’t trying to solve the problem of how far or how fast. I knew I would be running and let that happen.

This is the same reason I like Star Trek. No matter what problems they faced episodically, the missions of the crew from any iteration of the Enterprise was to boldly go where no one had gone before.

I wasn’t exactly hitting warp 9 on my runs, but I felt kindred.

This is the same reason I asked the instructor of my newest grad school module if I could forgo coming up with a problem statement for my course project and focus on trying new stuff. My instructor told me to message him separately after explaining we needed measurable goal lest my work appear to be innovation for innovation’s sake.

It was all I could do in that moment not to reply, “I’m a fan of that.” Instead, I told him I was worried about getting lost in a deficit ideology about education. I wanted to try something new.

When I was younger, I called it play.

I didn’t sit with my toys in front of me and think, “Now, what’s the problem I’m trying to solve here?”

Sure, kid life must have been full of its fair share of dilemmas, but I didn’t play for the purpose of solving them. I played to play.

I’ve no doubt I was able to solve many of those problems because of play – because of the time away from my problems that playing involved and because playing in a non-problematized world let me develop skills without worrying about transference or application.

In one of my favorite episodes of The West Wing, Rob Lowe’s character Sam Seaborn is explaining to Chief of Staff’s daughter why it was important for the government to send a probe to Mars.

“Why?” she asks.

His answer is why I decided to run nowhere in particular and what I’d like to guide my course work:

‘Cause it’s next. ‘Cause we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.

I want to solve the problems in my classroom. I want to improve my teaching. I also want to remain passionate about ideas and where they can lead. I want always and forever to have the freedom to ask, “What’s next?”

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.