It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Distance running is hard. There are lots of t-shirts highlighting this fact. “No time outs. No half-times. No substitutions. It must be the only true sport.” “My sport is what your sport does for punishment.” “Real athletes run, all others just play games.”
Have you ever run a 5-K? I’ve completed only one, July 2008. My husband was a cross-country runner in high school. Our son followed in his footsteps. I’ve witnessed many races. My admiration for runners grew to the point where I had to test myself. I trained. I ignored my bad hip. I got stronger and increased distance. My times dropped little by little.
I was excited and nervous on race day. Despite the warnings, I made a classic rookie mistake. I went out WAY too hard. A personal best! For the first mile. The second mile was much harder. I noticed the heat rising off the pavement. I started to feel like an imposter. The “real” racers were far ahead or at the finish. Doubts about my strength and stamina burdened each stride. I reached mile marker two cursing to myself, where is that damned finish line?
The last mile was a test of will. I regretted my first mile pace. My legs suffered and my split time was terrible. I was forced to walk more than once. Walking during a race is embarrassing. I was frustrated, but my body needed the slower pace in order to endure. My husband ran beside me the whole way. He encouraged me. Along the route spectators applaud as you pass. It’s seems natural for the race leaders to be cheered, but it’s the runners who have no shot at winning who benefit most from the encouragement. After my kids finished, they walked back to meet me. We ran the final stretch as a family.
Running a race embodies so many parallels to learning. Students start the term with big plans and high expectations. They go out hard. Then we reach the 2-mile mark. They regret poor choices, doubt their ability, and consider quitting. I see fatigue in my students’ faces. Attendance is down. Illness is up. The semester feels very long and the finish seems far away. What can I do to help my students finish the term strong?
Encourage. It sounds corny, but enthusiasm and encouragement help. Remind students how much they’ve already accomplished. Build anticipation about what’s yet to come. Refer to course goals. Highlight accomplishments. Make it relevant and valuable and worth pursuing to the end of the course.
Slow the pace. Consider cutting out some content. Reduce the number of assignments or extend a few deadlines. What’s nice to know v. necessary? Prioritize remaining content to focus on deep learning instead of wide but thin “coverage.”
Run with them. This is the time to increase office hours. Add review sessions. Seek student input about ways to help them push through to the end of the term. Explicitly recommit to partnering with them in learning.
I’ll close with my two favorite quotes from Pre (legendary runner Steve Prefontaine) as a reminder that learning is hard and college is more like a marathon than a sprint.
To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.
Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.