What Teachers Can Learn from Marathon Runners

Recently I have contemplated training to run a marathon.  And when I say “contemplated” I mean the concept barely crossed my mind for a fleeting moment one time. Anyways, I eventually took the idea a step further and did some online research about how best to prepare for such a challenge. I was surprised to note that the training philosophy in long-distance running could so nicely transfer to the classroom. 

Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) suggests this model to follow when preparing oneself for the challenges of a marathon:

  • Base mileage. Build your weekly mileage over time, running three-to-five times per week.
  • The long run. Do a long run every 7–10 days so your body can adjust gradually to long distances.
  • Speed work. Practice intervals and tempo runs to increase your cardio capacity.
  • Rest and recovery. Adequate rest helps prevent injuries and mental burnout.


Notice how the runner does not begin marathon training by running a marathon. 

Instead, the novice marathoner begins with small chunks of running, building up in distance over a period of time. During this build up process, the learner stretches themselves through the addition of a scheduled longer run. 

Apart from running, the vital components of running, such as heart capacity, are also targeted for special attention to ensure all elements necessary for success are geared up and working together. 

And finally, wellness is built in to the training to prevent the likelihood of burnout. The REI website even provides recovery advice for immediately following the race and during the weeks afterwards.

Wow, what a nice process! Even the latter portion of marathon training alone is valuable information for educators. Imagine if we provided students with ways to handle the stress that can accompany higher expectations and higher stakes. We could provide training in meditation or other stress-reduction tools. And, most importantly, we could provide the time to practice these mindfulness tools. Time is the key element here as nothing undermines the importance of a concept more so than sharing the idea, but not providing adequate time for practicing it.  

The other elements of marathon training outlined by REI are also worthy of note – especially the gradual build up of endurance. The Reading and Writing Project of Columbia University’s Teachers College recommends that students write “at least four days a week for 45 minutes or longer each day.” Elementary teachers reflect this through a daily focus on writing as they build young writers up from letters to words to sentences to paragraphs, up to the basic five-paragraph essay. Sometimes though, at other levels, things can get a little wonky. In middle school and high school, writing can sometimes become reduced to nothing more than a once-in-a-while, high-stakes assessment tool. 

Rather than preparing students for X by giving them occasional doses of X, teachers might want to look around to see how other disciplines gear participants up for big challenges. 

Ed X!

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