Time for a change

As a military spouse, I am constantly making changes and maintaining a certain degree of flexibility.  It’s impossible to stay at a job for longer than 3 years and my career intentions fluctuate with the ebb and flow of the tides.  However, as I reflect back on the past decade, there is a common theme in my pursuits: helping others achieve something great.  Whether it be helping a 6-year old learn to read or getting a client to the finish line of a marathon.  I know that my natural skill is teaching.  I am good at it and have become even better over the years.

I have dabbled in many different areas of education.  In college,  I started off as an intern for the Bureau of Land Management working at a science center teaching environmental science to elementary students in Alaska’s natural habitat.  I quickly moved into a paid position.  I somehow convinced my academic advisor, Rusty Myers (an avid runner who recently passed away), to grant me a senior project that involved designing and implementing a shark curriculum for 6th graders even though I had no knowledge of curriculum design or any classroom teaching experience.  However, the classroom teacher was extremely helpful in this whole process.  I have continued to use an updated version of the curriculum and it is one of my favorite subjects to teach.

Next I was off to actually learn more about sharks in the Bahamas and upon my return to Alaska I dipped into the social-emotional issues of teenagers.  The following year I packed up a car load of belongings and headed down to San Diego.  I immediately signed up to volunteer as a docent at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps and found joy in sharing my knowledge of the tidepool creatures found in the touch tank.  I did need to get paid so I searched the area for an opportunity that would fit me like a glove.  I drove out to Fiesta Island and walked right into a facility with a sign that read “SEACAMP.”  I remember walking back to the shark touch tank with the owner and telling him I had recently worked with sharks in the Bahamas in hopes of getting his attention.  Not sure if it was that or my natural ability to navigate through an interview, but he hired me and the next thing I know I was teaching marine biology to middle school students.  Not only was I teaching marine biology, but I was snorkeling, seine netting, boogie boarding, making visits to the aquarium and Sea World and setting up massive bonfires to roast marshmallows and tell spooky stories (okay, I really wasn’t good at telling spooky stories).

My love for the ocean somehow translated to seeking out the Coast Guard.  Not sure what happened there, but it was quite the adventure with many ups and downs (and rolling from side to side because that tends to happen a lot on a ship in the Bering Sea).  I learned a lot about what not to do as a leader and had to put together pieces I collected along the way in order to determine the qualities of a great leader.  I’m still collecting those pieces to fill in the puzzle, but I have a much better idea of what it is supposed to look like.

There was a time during my Coast Guard training when someone said to me that I acted more like an elementary school teacher than a platoon leader (I took it as an insult back then, but a few years later I finally agreed).  As soon as my military obligation ended I stepped foot into a Kindergarten classroom for the first time.  It was immediately scary and overwhelming (and there was lots of snot and drooling), but I managed to get hooked up with the most remarkable mentor teacher ever… and her name was also Heidi.  And wouldn’t it be my lucky year that as soon as I finished student teaching in her classroom she decided to retire and hand over the keys.  The first year in the classroom was rough, but the support from my colleagues was unprecedented and I made it through unscathed and ready for more.

Eventually, I gave birth to child number 2 and decided to wing it at home for a bit while supporting my former colleagues as their go-to substitute.  I couldn’t just stay home and take care of 2 children, though.  I had to stay busy so I worked on my Master’s Degree in Science Education.  Since my husband was still in the military, it was only a matter of time before we moved to Florida.  That is where my confidence in my teaching abilities was put to the test.  I miserably taught a rough 4th grade class for a few months. The discipline issues were too much and the scripted curriculum only added to the struggle.  There was no freedom outside of teaching to the test.  I backed down and returned my focus to finishing my Master’s degree even though I felt less confident about whether or not I would ever use it.  I still spent time in the classroom at my daughter’s elementary school and continued to search for the right path.

Well, the path took me down a road less traveled.  It sure was bumpy and I often felt unsure about which turns to take.  All it took was my Master’s degree in Science Education written on my resume.  They really didn’t ask many questions.  I should’ve been asking the questions.  I also should have had a degree in Special Education.  Let’s just say that teaching science (with limited resources) to middle and high school students who can not function in the public school system due to behavioral, social and emotional reasons was the most challenging job I ever took on.    On top of that, I never had any breaks during the day (we had to eat in the lunch room with all of the students) and I had to design my own curriculum for six different classes.  I often reflect back on that time because I don’t know where I had the energy to work full-time in the classroom, spend extra time working at home, train for the Goofy Challenge and raise 3 kids (with my husband deployed).  This time I was actually saved by a military move.

We arrived in Colorado and I said “that’s it, I’m done with this teaching stuff.”  I gave away most of my teaching supplies and resources and turned my attention to health and fitness.  In one weekend, my soon-to-be new boss interviewed a few dozen candidates.  I got the job.  Not only did I get the job, but I got paid what I was worth.  Not only did I get paid what I was worth, but it was part-time and I basically had the flexibility to choose my hours so we never paid for daycare.  At the fitness center, I did everything except teach the classes, but I watched, listened and participated.  With less time to spend working, I spent more time on my family and myself.  I trained hard and achieved many athletic feats during our time in Colorado.   It was the perfect balance of work, family and self.  I even received my run coach certification and started my own coaching business.  Then it was time to move and I left the state kicking and screaming.

Then we entered Virginia and for some reason I took a look at teaching employment opportunities.  One job description spoke to me right away and I said “the heck with it, I will just apply to this one and see what happens.”  The job was mine.  The past two years have been a mix of joy and terror.  Yet, I saw something I hadn’t seen before: my potential.  I became confident in my teaching and was able to navigate successfully through the terror and absorb the joyful moments.  However, maintaining the balance was a struggle.  It worked well for the first year and then I began to lose sight of my own needs.  My running motivation hit a wall and I found myself trapped on the treadmill.   I became tired and my health started to deteriorate.  At one point, I had a cold that lasted for two months.  The worst was when I lost partial hearing in my right ear and that compensated with a constant static noise.  I doubt I will ever see (or hear) any improvement.  My confidence in leadership waned once again and I began to feel like I was on a staircase with no railing.  On days I went home to complain, my husband repeated his mantra: “you just need to work for yourself.”

As the end of the school year approached I made my decision to move on.  I turned my attention back to fitness and decided I would put my personal trainer certification to good use.  I also decided to bring back my coaching business and I am currently working on putting all of the pieces back together.  As people ask me if I am going to teach somewhere else, I reply “Yes, I am going to teach, but it will be a different kind of teaching.”  I suppose I was always meant to guide others.  Even though the military moves have caused me to go back and forth in my endeavors, I am fortunate to have so many unique experiences.

Run Club

At my recent school I organized and coached a run club. These students finished a 5K! I found great joy in doing this.

Now it’s time for the next challenge!  It’s new and scary, but that’s pretty much all I’ve ever known.  On Sunday, for the first time in a very long time, I finally let my alarm go off at 6:00 AM so I could hop in the car and drive to the beach.  I ran outside.  It was tough and hot, sticky and buggy, but it was also exhilarating.  I ran past the swamp, up the tiny hills, over the roots, through the mud and greeted all of my fellow runners who were doing the same thing I was.

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Running is Never Boring

Most of the time I only only competing with myself.  In this case, I used all of the remaining energy I had to pass the guy right behind me.  In response to whatever he said that annoyed me, I activated my fast twitch fibers and showed him.

Most of the time I am only competing with myself. In this case, I used all of the remaining energy I had to pass the guy right behind me. In response to whatever he said that annoyed me, I activated my fast twitch fibers and showed him.

There is always a new challenge waiting around the corner.  I know most people would assume that you just go out and run and there isn’t much more to it.  Well, those people are obviously not runners.

Do you remember when you took that first step after you decided to find out what running was all about?  It was an accomplishment to run one mile without walking.  Then you moved on up to the ranks of the 3-mile runners.  And hey, if you could make it 3 miles, then why not sign up for your first 5K?  It becomes almost addictive once you have been at it for a while.  At first glance, it might seem like these runners posses more Type-A personality traits, but just because you might not be hard-core competitive doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the new challenges that running brings.  I encounter many runners who are in it for the fun and social aspect.  They team up with a buddy or a group and find new routes to tackle or new races to finish.  Running is a sport that is well suited for all personality types.

The challenge might be to find a race that offers the most swag or maybe a race that is in a desired destination.  Whatever keeps you running, right?  Why not keep running fun by finding races that allow you to do a bit of wine tasting at the finish line or have zombies chasing you down the street?  Sure, these challenges don’t suit everyone’s desires, but those runners who love the entertainment are definitely not bored.

I know I don’t fall in that category because I am pretty certain I have some Type-A personality traits in my blood. I enjoy a bit of competition and it is usually with myself (or the woman in my age group who I am trying to catch up to and pass).  My first few races were all about the fun and socializing, but then I started to challenge myself with new personal records.  I ran my fastest 5K, 8K, 15K and half marathon.  I could always run faster if I trained hard enough.  Yet, before I got bored with the fast goals, I decided to focus on more variety.  I started participating in triathlons.  My love of running only blossomed as I realized that I could swim a mile, ride my bike 56 miles and still finish a half marathon (not in record time, but pretty darn close).

Then it was back to a focus on running.  I had my eye on achieving my fastest marathon.  I stayed the course and was able to move beyond my goal and achieve a time that I never thought possible.  And why not run another marathon 3 weeks later… this one with a 2,000 foot climb.  It was that marathon that brought me to where I am now: enjoying nature and all of its beauty.  Might as well throw in the challenge of running up endless hills to the tops of peaks.  I thought about the trails in my own backyard.  I’m here, in Colorado, so why not take advantage of what nature has to offer?

My next challenge does have something to do with speed.  A much slower speed up and down hills, over rocks, through forests, in snow and over ice.  Yet, slow would not be a new and exciting challenge all by itself.  It needs to be combined with distance.  So, my next goal is to run an ultramarathon… 50 miles to be exact.

At this rate, I don’t think I will ever get bored with running.  There are so many new routes to try, new races to travel to, new distances to explore, faster speeds to tackle and many more new running buddies to acquire along the way.

Running and Wildlife

The loop around Table Top Mountain

The loop around Table Top Mountain

My biggest concern about running here in Colorado is encountering a rattlesnake.  Even though I freeze my rear off in the winter and have to deal with running on snow and ice, I am happy about the fact that I don’t have to worry about snakes.  They are asleep in places that I can not see (and I try not to visualize treading on their homes and waking them up).  I enjoy running on Table Top Mountain during the winter because I refuse to run on it during the summer.  I have heard stories about people jumping over rattlesnakes.  You might as well call it “Rattlesnake Mountain.”  No thanks.  I will stick to the sidewalks before I set foot on “Rattlesnake Mountain.”

Today I was kind of enjoying (okay, not really) a run around Table Mountain.  The trail was packed with hard snow and ice and, in areas where there was no snow or ice, there was mud.  I made every effort not to twist my foot, get stuck in a footprint hole or trip over a rock.  And it was not a level effort.  There were the ups and downs.  Some of the ups were so steep that I just couldn’t catch my breath.

So, I was struggling around a corner when all of a sudden I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye.  I swear to you that my first thought was “wolf.”  But then I realized that wolves are extremely rare in Colorado.  Then I thought it had to be someone’s dog. The dogs around here bark when you come to close.  No, it didn’t look domestic.  I swear it looked like a wolf.  It was the size of a wolf.  Whatever it was, it was heading in my direction.  Fortunately, there was a barbed wire fence between me and the wild dog.  Yet, I still felt my heartbeat speed up as it trotted towards me.  This wild dog had a mission: to get through the fence.  I didn’t want to be around when that happened so I continued forward on the trail. I didn’t want to turn around because there were no houses back where I had come from… only vast open fields.

I tried to tell myself that it must be a coyote.  There are thousands of coyotes in this area.  We hear coyotes howling at night and my husband has seen them in our neighborhood.  For some reason I still didn’t feel any better.  It was just me and the coyote and a lonely trail.  It continued to follow me along the fence line and then I started to panic slightly.  Okay, so I did what you shouldn’t do… I ran faster, nearly tripping over my feet in the snow, ice and rocks.  I passed the area where the fence met another fence and there was no chance that the coyote could go any further without passing through a hole in the fence.  I didn’t want to take that chance so I ran faster.

I considered jumping over the fence into someone’s property and running to their house, but then I imagined myself slicing my legs on the fence or crashing down the hill that led to the houses.  It was pretty steep and rocky.  I decided to stay on the trail.  At one point I forced myself to glance back, but I didn’t see the wild dog anymore.  I wasn’t sure if I could continue at this pace all the way around the mountain.  A few minutes later I encountered a trail that went down into the neighborhood.  I figured that it was better to be safe than sorry.  There was not point running around on a mountain with a coyote.  Who knows what he was doing.  I thought they usually traveled in packs at night.  It was the middle of the day.  And I did not see one soul on that trail while I was running on it.

I ran down to a road and couldn’t decide whether to turn left or right.  If I turned right then I would have a very long ways to go around the mountain back to my car.  If I went left I would pass by the area where I had seen the coyote, but I would be further down and next to the houses.  I wasn’t sure if it was smart, but I headed back in the direction of the sighting.  I figured I could run up to someone’s house if I saw the coyote coming down to the road.  When I got close to the area, I stopped and looked really hard.  I couldn’t see any signs of movement.  I continued on and ended up running an extra 3 miles just so I could stay on roads within the neighborhoods.

By the time I got back to my car I realized that I had probably overreacted.  When I googled “coyote encounters” the Humane Society’s website stated that issues between humans and coyotes is extremely rare.  And the encounters usually only occur when another animal is present (like the family dog).  Funny enough, the website emphasized that you had a greater chance of being killed by a flying champagne cork.  Lastly, it mentioned that you should stop and make yourself big in order to scare it away or slowly walk backwards until you are out of sight.  You should NOT turn your back to it and run.

What was I thinking about when my adrenaline spiked?  Making sure I turned my Garmin back on as I started running.  Okay, maybe that has just become a subconscious habit.  I thought about what the teachers would think if I didn’t pick up my girls on time.  I also thought about the knife on my running belt.  I was suddenly thankful for that little device.  It’s funny because just the other day some members of my running club were asking me about it.  I am not sure what they were thinking, but I told them that you never know when you might need one.  They just gave me an odd look.  Unpredictable wildlife is one good reason to carry a knife.  Unpredictable humans is the other reason.

Hello Golden, Colorado!

Well, it has been awhile since my last blog entry but I think I have a pretty good excuse.  I have been moving my family across the country from Jacksonville, FL to Golden, CO.  We are still not completely settled, but there has been a lot of excitement surrounding our inquiry of the new area and all that it offers.  Let me tell you, it offers a whole lot!

However, as a runner in Golden, CO I kind of feel out of place.  I have been on an 8-mile run that afforded me the pleasure of encountering about 5 other runners.  That may seem like a lot, but I must admit that about 50 of my human encounters involved people on bikes.  I quickly learned that Golden is a biking town.  Oh, they are friendly enough and will often wave or nod, but I get the feeling that they might think I am some kind of nut.  I mean, who runs up these insane hills when you can bike up them and then sail faster than the cars as you glide down them?  As a runner, it takes work going up the hill and, whether or not you believe me, it actually takes some work going down them.  Then again, I would only fear for my life if I were on a bike.  I have yet to attempt that because I am still mustering the courage.  I just nod back and silently call those cyclists “crazy.”  Yet, everywhere you look in the quaint little downtown you see a bike rack (and oddly enough, they are actually shaped like bikes).

So, here is runner me gasping for air at 1.2 miles above sea level (yep folks, Golden is higher than Denver… and my neighbor just had to warn me about the fact that we get double the amount of snow during the winter).  Let me remind you that I just moved from flat, sea level Florida.  Granted, the sweltering heat and humidity totally SUCKED, but I am thinking that this altitude really STINKS.  Not to mention the fact that an onion I purchased at the store today nearly jumped out of the back of my SUV which was slanted at 45 degrees in our driveway.  If I wouldn’t have caught the darn thing then it would have literally rolled all the way to the end of our road and then down to the bottom of the valley.  What does an onion have to do with anything?  Well, my point being that we live on a freakishly hilly hill (if you think there is no such thing then I cordially invite you to visit my home). When the training plan says “rest day” I can pretty much throw that to the wind because no day is a “rest day” when you have to climb 200 feet up a hill.  Unless I can run down the hellish thing and persuade my husband to pick me up at the bottom.

Well, it has obviously been an adventure.  The adventure lies in finding a flat place to run, but I have yet to find any such place around here.  Since I should just consider myself screwed, my plan is to run like crazy here (I don’t even have to leave the boundaries of my neighborhood) and then make a trip to a lower, flatter location and run like nobody’s business.  I am sure I will make some kind of world record.  It’s all about making a positive out of a negative, right?