Monday, August 27, 2007

Minor Setback

Grade checks today. Yikes! Our already small team of eight is now an even smaller team of three due to bad grades. A teacher friend of mine told me the first-term grades are always the worst because the kids are just getting back into school and haven't started taking things as seriously as they need to. If the kids are getting bad grades, they are ineligible to participate. That means no going to practices or meets for three weeks. I ran into one of my ineligible runners after school and made sure he went to see his teacher to see what he needs to do to get his grades up. I wish I could have spoken with all the boys to encourage them to do the same. If at the end of three weeks, they have gotten their grades up, they will be able to start coming out again. Hopefully we will get some, if not all, of those guys back. I challenged the eligible runners to bug the others about their grades every time they see them and encourage them to work on getting them back up, and also to encourage their friends to come out for the team. Being small is not going to stop us, though. We are still going to practice and keep working to help these kids become better.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"To iPod or not to iPod?"

"To iPod or Not to iPod?" That is the question. I recently read this article about the prolific use of MP3 players. The author, Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillvray, made me smile because I often feel the same way he does--alone in the sea of iPod-clad runners. He went out for a run one morning and noticed almost every single runner that he encountered (55 out of 62) had some form of MP3 player coming out of his or her ears.

This is not to say that I never run with music. I even own one of those little iPod Shuffles--although I've only used it on a run a handful of times. Occasionally I feel like going out with it, but most of the time I run in silence. I like the quiet peace of being out on the road or trail. I think running is a great time to just think and enjoy the beauty of our world (see my earlier post "Why I Run.")

With that said, I admit that I do have a "Running" playlist in my iTunes. I don't know how most people select songs for their own playlists, but I have read about choosing songs with exactly the right tempos and ordered in such a way to have the songs coincide with the warm-up, work out and cool-down portions of their run. That sounds like a lot of work, and more of a hassle than I want to worry about. I have a much less scientific method of adding songs. I just chose some songs that don't annoy me (right now they are in alphabetical order). So, here are a few of the songs I like to listen to on those rare occasions that I run with my iPod:

All These Things That I've Done - The Killers
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Chariots of Fire - Vangelis
Eye of the Tiger - Survivor
Feel Good Inc - Gorrilaz
Hook - Blues Traveler
Impression that I Get - Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Send Me on My Way - Rusted Root
Upside Down - Jack Johnson
Yellow - Cold Play

My actual playlist is much longer than this, but these are some of my favorites. Feel free to comment on my list or suggest some of your favorites. I like to see what keeps other runners going.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Middle School Motivation

One of the things I love about running is that it is so easy to monitor your progress. I can go out and run a course in a certain amount of time and then come back another day to run it again. I am pretty competitive with myself, so I always try to beat my last time. So today, I timed my cross-country kids for the mile. I was surprised by how much a stopwatch in the coach's hand could push some of those kids (although for others, it still didn't seem to have much of an effect). I was very pleased to see how hard some of them worked. One of the boys looked pretty excited when I told him that I wouldn't be surprised to see him break 8 minutes within a couple weeks. That comment brought out a little competition with a few of the other boys. "I can do that." "I bet I could beat 7 minutes!" Seeing these kids realizing that they will be able to do more and get better as runners is awesome. That gets me excited. This is where running meets life. Goals are being set, and they are realizing that it is going to take a little more effort to get there. And I bet he will beat 7 minutes. Timing them once in a while will be a great way to show them that their effort is bringing them closer to their goals.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Small but Spirited Group

I think I'm gonna like being a coach. We had seven boys turn out for the first day of practice. I was a little surprised at the small number. Even more surprising was the fact that there were no girls! I'm sure we will get more kids in the next week or so, though. Other sports like soccer and volleyball are bound to have more kids than spots, so some kids will be encouraged to participate in another activity. So, hopefully our numbers will increase.

The boys seem to be excited about running. A few of them were on the team last year. I asked them why they came back and they said "We like to run!" Music to my ears. We did some stretches and then headed outside into the heat. I think it was about 107 degrees today. The plan was to just run about a half mile since it was the first day, but we ended up running a full mile. And the kids did great! We'll have to work on pacing, but for the first day, I was surprised how much they were able to run. One sixth grader was able to keep up with the eighth graders for most of the final half mile. With about 200 meters to go, he started walking. I didn't want to push him too hard, but we were almost done, and I knew he could do it. He started running and he was able to make it all the way to the end. I hope he was able to realize that he can do more than he thinks.

All in all, we had a really great start to the season. The boys came out and were excited to run and be part of the team. They exceeded my expectations of what they would be able to do, and we had a fun time. I was even able to throw in a few of the ideas from the ELM Tree.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The ELM Tree

In preparation for my upcoming coaching experience, I have started reading The Double-Goal Coach by Jim Thompson, the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance. As I read, I hope to add frequent posts about things from the book that I feel are significant. My first post is about the ELM Tree.

The Positive Coaching Alliance has started an effort to help coaches and teams move away from the "win-at-all-costs" or scoreboard approach to youth sports to more of a mastery and life skills approach. In Chapter 2, Thompson attempts to redefine what a Winner is. He explains that inherent in the scoreboard approach are three main focuses: the results, comparisons with others, and avoiding mistakes. When we focus on the results of the game, all that matters is who has the most points. It doesn't matter if you play poorly, as long as you win. Comparisons to the other team are easily made. We scored more points, we must be better. Following the scoreboard approach necessitates avoiding mistakes because mistakes "lead to bad results on the scoreboard" (pg. 22).

By contrast, the ELM Tree of Mastery focuses on Effort, Learning and improvement, and the way we respond to Mistakes. Sure it is great to win, but here putting forth your best effort is more important. Every time we go out and play (or run), we are learning and improving, getting better than we were before. This has always been my philosophy to running. I don't compare myself with others, I want to improve on my own race times. The third part of the ELM Tree is concerned with how we respond to making mistakes. Mistakes are not something to be feared. We learn through making mistakes. They provide opportunities for us to grow and improve. This, I feel, is especially important in sports.

I hope I can use the ELM Tree to help my kids be the best they can be and feel good about what they are doing, whether it be running or anything in life.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Race Report

The final Arizona Road Racers Summer Series race took place this morning at South Mountain Park. They said close to a thousand runners were there. It was another humid morning, though not quite as bad as the last race. The course made up for it though. It was an out-and-back course up on the mountain. To help mentally prepare me for the race a guy from West Valley Runners told me that although the first half is uphill, don't expect to be running downhill the second. An email I got from the race directors also said that the course is uphill both ways! It was definitely a tough course. It would be nice to have some hills to train on, that's for sure.

I had a pretty slow start because I wasn't able to get very close to the starting line, so I had to make my way through a lot of people. Once things were clear, I felt pretty good. Definitely felt the hill though. The quarter mile before the turnaround was the toughest of the inclines. Then there was a very noticeable downhill. I was starting to think "This doesn't feel like an uphill." And quite honestly the remainder of the course didn't either, but it didn't feel like much of a downhill.

I didn't see the first mile marker, so I don't know what my split was, but at mile 2 I was at 13 minutes, about 40 seconds slower than I wanted to be. I was able to push it the rest of the way, and still have some energy left for the final kick. That felt good to finish strong. Afterwards, Lani told me I was too fast for her to get a picture. I'll have to remember to slow down next time. I finished in a time of 20:05, about 40 seconds slower that I was hoping for.

While we were waiting for the results, we heard them announce a little kids race for all who were interested, so I brought our 3-year-old over (she also loves to run). It was a very short out-and-back. She was pretty excited. We started going, and she started smiling big. After we turned around, and mommy snapped a picture, I grabbed our 1-year old and we all ran to the finish. All the kids got cool medals and a Capri-Sun. The girls were clearly proud of themselves. Mommy and Daddy are too.

For a list of complete results for the Summer Series, click here.

Update: Raisin Bran

See original post: "Would you like some Raisins with your Bran?"

Had to put extra raisins in my bowl this morning.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Update: Coaching

See original post: "Coach Axman"

I just found out last night that the cross-country practices are scheduled to begin on the 14th of August, not after Labor Day! So, I'll start coaching sooner than expected. It's gonna be a great season!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Would you like some Bran with your Raisins?

Have you had a bowl of Raisin Bran lately? It looked like a pretty good post-run breakfast--5 grams of protein, 45 grams of carbs. I opened the box and poured myself a bowl. Whoa! The bowl was almost completely full of raisins. The first bite I took was a heaping spoonful of raisins. And I thought there were only supposed to be two scoops of raisins in the box! Well, I suppose the two scoops probably just landed on top of the bran, and the bottom of the box will be almost completely void of raisins. It all averages out, right? I've eaten Raisin Bran all my life and I don't remember this being a problem when I was a kid. What's a cereal lover supposed to do? I really like this cereal and I am sure I will buy it again. I guess I'll just have to remember to mix it up before I serve it up.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Coach Axman

Living and working in Arizona has provided a great opportunity for me. One of the things I have always wanted to do is to be a track or cross-country coach (although I recently added it to my "to do" list). This week, I accepted a job as the cross-country coach for one of the middle schools in the district where I work. I am so excited! The team will consist of boys and girls in the 6th through 8th grades. I don't really have any coaching experience, but I am ready to jump into it and have fun with the kids. The season starts after Labor Day and runs for about eight weeks. We will have six meets during that time, all of which will involve several other schools. Practices will be held Monday through Wednesday. I am very excited for this opportunity and am looking forward to working with the kids. Go Bulldogs!