I think I may have used up my entire daily allotment of energy on this morning’s run. No more coming. It’s not even 9AM, and I’m about to fall asleep in my chair.
But the run was better than I really expected it to be. I went out to the high school track (getting there before they opened the gate; thankfully, I’m now small enough to slide through the crack without getting stuck and having to wait for a guard!) and did eight reps of 880 yards, with two-minute rest periods between them, so about 4 miles. They were supposed to be at my 5K pace, but I’m either getting much faster or I pushed too hard. We’ll find on on Saturday, when I run the Steve’s Encore XC 5K. (Probably shouldn’t try to compare cross-country pace with track running, but whatever.)
Running on a school track for fun just continues to fuel my frustration with myself and with my physical education past. I used to hate phys ed – the way it seemed to pit kid against kid, making the “fat kids” and the less coordinated feel like lesser people. I was the chubby child who had trouble catching a ball; guess where I fell in the social pecking order, based in no small part on the way I performed in gym? It shouldn’t have been that way! It shouldn’t have created a situation in which I thought I “hated to exercise,” and wound up spending years in a body that didn’t feel good, wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do!
I don’t know what would have been the ideal situation. I remember being taken out in the group, lined up at the start of a mile-long loop, and told to race around it. I always came in near the end, of course, and no real instruction was given about how to improve or what to do with those results. In middle school, there were “Seven-Minute” and “Six-Minute” clubs, the members of which were able to run a mile inside those times and had their names put on large posters displayed in the gym. I don’t think there’s much wrong with rewarding kids who do well, but what about recognizing those who might be slower but who still do their best? If a kid went from a twelve-minute mile to a ten-minute one over the course of the year, there was no fanfare, no attention given.
Why even make a big deal over speed during gym class? There was a cross country and a track team; either of those situations were more suited for it. In gym class, why not completely remove the idea of “racing,” or only do it a few times over the course of the unit? Let the kids run the course at whatever speed they can, even encouraging walk intervals that might allow them to keep moving over greater distances. Don’t keep official record of who completes the circuit the most times; if Janey, giving her all, only makes it around once, and Julie goes five times, that’s fine. Janey might well continue walking and running for the rest of her life if she’s allowed to find it enjoyable. Isn’t that the goal?
By the time I was in high school, class selection was broad enough to allow students to discover the subjects that interested them most. You could find out that you were a budding biologist, or an accountant, or a musician. I see no reason why gym, too, couldn’t have been used to allow students to discover the method of exercise or the physical pursuits that interested them enough to become lifelong hobbies. Maybe it worked that way for a few people, but for most of the people I knew, it was just an endurance test through which we suffered in order to graduate. Nobody said anything about using it as a springboard into an active adulthood. It certainly didn’t feel like one. (Okay, perhaps the badminton unit felt a little like that. Anybody for a picnic?)
And me, I hated it all. I made a link between the negative feelings I had about coming in last in front of my peers, over and over, and the whole idea of exercise. Why run at all, if all I was going to get out of it was sneers from the fast kids? I was never going to be one of them, so why bother? Awful lot of work, you know.
Sam loves gym at the moment, even though he’s definitely “my child” in the realms of coordination. He may be a late bloomer, physically, or he may never be a contender for any athletic awards. That’s fine! He doesn’t seem to mind, and he gives great praises to his friends who are more adept, not a single hint of jealousy in his voice. If that changes, my heart will break a little. I want to take him running with me, not because I want to improve his abilities, but to show him that, even if you come in last every single time, every single race, for the rest of your life, it’s still okay. It can still be fun.
It’s not about medals, trophies, six-minute clubs, or popularity. It’s about doing your own personal best and satisfying yourself. If that means being flushed with pride after finally being able to run a fifteen-minute mile, then wear that pride boldly. I’ll cheer for you.