Marathon Miles: Covid-19 Edition
By Alexis Mercer
I signed up for my 2nd marathon. Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota on June 20. After completing the Army 10 Miler in Washington D.C. last October, I knew I was up for the challenge of a marathon again, but I took my time deciding where I wanted to run. There are so many great options. This is a well-known race in the runners’ circles. Many elites make appearances here from year to year. I liked the course layout, the fact it would give me a weekend travel destination, that it is along the coast of Lake Superior, and that it is in a northern state at the end of June so I might not die of strangulation from humidity.
After forking over the cash (marathons are expensive, people), I thought about a goal. My first marathon goal time was very clear: survival pace. I accomplished that goal. I never walked and crossed the line in 4:24. I can do better. I have a few thousand more miles on my legs since then and have been focused on shorter distances and speed. Sub 4 goal time. Then I found out my dad ran the ’84 Detroit International Marathon in 3:56. So my new goal became 3:55.59.
That’s A LOT of time to take off. But why have a goal if it doesn’t scare you?
I carefully laid out my spring races to build up. I would base train all of January and February. Then March 28 I would run the Kent City Ridge Run 15k (a really great local race full of hills and good competition). And because I had a deferred bib from last year’s Riverbank Run in May, I would race that as well. For the remaining 5 weeks I would focus on my long run Sundays, speed Tuesdays, and tempo Fridays with maintenance on the other days. I was all set.
Then came Covid-19.
Silly me thinking my plan would go exactly as I hoped.
March 13 was my last day of work. I am a teacher. I had to say goodbye to my students until April 13. An entire month of not seeing them. My worry for them - some of whom don’t have internet or even consistent basic needs like 3 meals a day – was eating away at me.
Monday rolled around and the reality that I was all of the sudden a homeschool teacher to 1st and 4th grade boys hit. So.Help.Me. “Oh but you’re a teacher” they say. Yes. A HIGH SCHOOL Spanish and English teacher. I know exactly zero about elementary curriculum and appropriate implementation. I do know enough about teaching to appreciate and respect that every grade (and even classroom) is completely different and we all spend years, really our entire careers, becoming as close to expert in our specific field as possible. I had officially 2 days.
For the record, I have always said I could never, ever homeschool my own children. In fact, I have maintained I would be the world’s worst homeschool teacher. Joke’s on me.
So amidst worrying about my parents’ well-being, my sister and her family, my in-laws (who were not even in the same state at the time), my students , friends, and even complete strangers who were in some way vulnerable to this disease, I was now going to have to implement some sort of homeschool schedule for my kids, be the chef, and make sure they don’t kill each other in the process. Oh and also make sure our immune systems were at peak performance with enough vitamins coming from unprocessed foods that I would somehow have to get from the grocery store without actually touching anything and then immediately sanitizing with the no-soap I had left in my cupboard. Pppsh no problem.
(Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone needs to homeschool. If it doesn’t work for your family, don’t worry. Just love your kids. That is enough.)
Sunday night I told myself “this is just another marathon. You can do this. Think long distance, not a sprint.”
So now I am training for two marathons.
I set up a plan for my new, unexpected marathon that looked like this:
-8:30 wakeup time (my kids are NOT morning people)
-8:45 breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed
-9:30 walk dog together
-10:00-11:00 academic time (no electronics)
-11:00-12:00 creative time (no electronics, but yes to Legos, drawing, puzzles, games, experiments)
-12:30 – bed time: extended recess and physical education (yup, that’s right, I love PE)
Day 1 went great. I only got “why do we have to do school?” one time per kid. No arguing about electronics. No fighting. But I knew this day was like crossing the start line of the race. Everyone is always smiling at this point. There’s no pain yet.
Day 2 started like this (no lie): “I AM SO SICK OF HAVING TO GET UP AT 8:30 EVERY DAY.” Umm, it’s day 2. We aren’t even to the first mile marker yet.
Thankfully my husband, Adam, didn’t have to work on Tuesday. So as the boys were sitting in academic time, he tried to answer their questions about why they needed to do academics. He said “we aren’t going to sit around all day and not learn. It’s a long time without school. We don’t want to get dumb.” As he continued, I knew I was in for a special treat with his explanation. It didn't disappoint. “Just start thinking of your mom as your teacher. (Insert kids rolling their eyes) And I’m your principal. And superintendent. In fact, you can now refer to me as Superdaddy due to my extensive role in your new education.”
Ok. I shut that down real quick. Now that the boys had completely lost focus and were gigging like middle school girls, I fought to bring them back.
Midway through the week my mom offered to FaceTime to do some ELA and science lessons with the boys. Yes, please. As a retired elementary principal, literacy specialist and all-around rock star when it comes to anything elementary, I was ALL in for the help. I had reached the first water break session – and it wasn’t just equipped with water, but multiple flavors of Gatorade, Energy Blox, and some pretzels, too.
By the end of week 1 in Homeschool Marathon, I am starting to figure some things out. I have changed game plans multiple times. I have made a lot of mistakes. But I’m not tapping out. It’s my 1st Homeschool Marathon – no matter how I cross the finish line, it’s still a PR (personal record).
Part of my being able to navigate Homeschool Marathon is actual marathon training. The Ridge Run has been cancelled. Riverbank Run was postponed until fall. But Covid-19 hasn’t taken away my ability to run. Alone. In the woods. In the fresh air.
I went out today for a tempo run (I still get to choose which days I run certain distances or speeds: Control what I can.) It is so cold, which is so refreshing. I drove to a nearby seasonal road. The 1st half mile I eased in. I let my lungs feel the fresh air. And then for 3 miles I pushed hard. I wanted to feel the burn in my lungs and in my legs both.
With every step I was able to let go of some of the tightness in my brain and body. No expectations or fear. Just being.
One step at a time.
As I rounded the last corner of my 4.7 mile route, I felt the significance of feeling lighter in mind and body while on a seasonal road. My clear head spoke to my calm (albeit quickly beating) heart.
This is all just a season.
Granted, not a season we are used to. Not one any of us could have possibly anticipated or prepared for. Certainly not a season anyone wants. While some of us like to think we have our training plans all laid out for the foreseeable future, the reality is that is not always true. Life happens.
I choose to train and continue through two marathons. One chosen, one forced upon me. Throughout the season of training, I am aware there will be more hurdles, huge, seemingly impassable mud puddles, and unimagined obstacles. I will forge ahead doing what I know I can accomplish: one foot in front of the other; taking one step at a time.
Be well, my friends.
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