Seniors at Sheldon High School are required to complete a senior project. They can choose any project, but it needs to be challenging, take at least 15 hours to complete, and be something they have never done before. After completing the project, they present it to a board of teachers and community members and talk about what they did, why it was challenging for them, how Sheldon prepared them for such a task, and what changes they would make if they were to do it again. It should be an exciting and challenging culmination of their high school experience. For many it is.
In recent years students have become aware of my love of running and have asked me to mentor them in a running project for their senior project. I welcome the opportunity to introduce them to the trails and try to encourage them to run on dirt when possible.I take this very seriously.
I take this very seriously. I have created a training plan that is a combination of Couch to 5k, Hal Higdon’s 50k training plan, and a plan designed for me by a mentor and coach that has helped me tremendously. I talk about nutrition, both during the race and leading up to it. I teach them about hydration and how to plan for that. I introduce them to Strava and follow them on the app so I can encourage them. I offer them group runs so we can get out on the trails they will be running on during the race. This is also accompanied by a lesson in recognizing poison oak and avoiding rattlesnakes.
This year I had 6 students planning for a 35k. A few years ago it was rightly decided that half marathons are not enough of a challenge and the minimum distance was raised to a marathon. I lobbied to allow a trail 35k (only 3 miles short of a marathon and on trails). 4 seniors ran this race a couple of years ago and tore it up. This year none of these seniors had any running experience. I gave them a plan that would take them from walking a couple times each week to running a weekly distance just over the race distance. I also had a student running a marathon and I had him on approximately the same program. Another student was training for a Tough Mudder. His program included weights and upper body work for the obstacles.
Everyone was enthusiastic for a while. Things got sloppy pretty fast.
My Tough Mudder was using a different APP and did not check in with me again. Because of the nature of Tough Mudder (it’s possible to skip any and all obstacles and still “complete” the course) the distance is not enough to be a real challenge.
My marathon runner had his race canceled and, instead of coming to me, his “mentor,” he went to the head of senior projects and, somehow, convinced her to allow two half marathons to satisfy the requirement. In my opinion, unless he ran them both the same day, that is not the same.
I watched the others as their training diminished and they fell further and further behind. I offered to take them to run the course a couple weeks before the race, but not one took me up on it… or even responded.
Race day came and I was entered in the 50k on the same course. The guys took off with youthful enthusiasm and soon discovered the difficulties of running on trails, of running in the heat, of running 22 miles when you have only run a total of about 30 in preparing over 15 weeks. Two of them missed a turn because they didn’t see the sign and did some “bonus” miles.
As a teacher/coach/mentor, there is little as frustrating as having those you are trying to teach dismiss your expertise and then watch them suffer the consequences of their poor planning.
Truth be told, I’ve been that kid. Sometimes, I’m still that kid. I’d like to help these students learn that lesson from my experience, but some lessons have to be learned the hard way. I may get discourages sometimes, but when I do I think about the other students who have worked hard, followed the training, and accomplished great things.
Last year a young man trained hard and completed a 50k for his project. He came in 2nd in his age group in 5:34. Not bad for a first ultra. He still runs and is currently serving our country in the Marines National Guard.
The year before, a young lady completed a half marathon. She was not in very good shape when she started and, even though she slacked on the training, it motivated her to keep conditioning and recently posted a very confident picture in a sun dress. The confidence she now has in herself, she told me, has a lot to do with running and getting in better shape.
The first year I mentored a young lady to run a marathon. She completed it in 6 hours and raised money for charity at the same time. Afterward, she told me that if she could do that, she could do anything. A few days later she ended an abusive relationship with an older boyfriend. Confidence earned through running and facing challenges.
So, I’ll keep doing this because I love the trails, I love the kids, and the ones that truly do great things because of what they learn from me far outweigh the ones that just go through the motions, if not in number, certainly in significance.