Red lining and being over the “tired teacher” tropes

This image found its way into my Twitter timeline this week and it actually made me really angry. I am so over the tired “teacher as martyr” trope where it’s expected that teachers work until collapse. It’s just part of the story we tell ourselves as teachers and it’s not ok.

Like any athlete, I often turn to sports metaphors in times of trouble. If you don’t love a good sports metaphor maybe stop reading now. No judgment.

Let’s start by acknowledging the fact that I am an exceedingly average age-group athlete. Middle-of-the-pack finish? Totally elated. Really…

Last year about this time I signed up for an early-season triathlon and an end-of-season duathlon. Training, as winter training often does, didn’t happen the way it should have. I arrived at the spring start line in decent shape run/bike wise but totally undertrained in the swim and zero open-water miles for the season. “Screw it,” I said. “I’ll be fine.” I pulled on the wet suit and toed the line. When the gun went off I concentrated on process goals: face in the water, arms turning over. That’s it. I thought I was ok. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a panic attack at the turn around buoy. Stabbing between my shoulder blades, chest pain, can’t breathe… I wasn’t scared, though. I flipped onto my back and floated and breathed. In the middle of a race. Picture that.

About that time I became aware of another athlete struggling near me and that’s when I got scared… wanting to help but afraid of being pulled under. I helped her flag a kayak, grabbed on myself for a minute, and then let go… the paddler asked, “Are you ok?” and I nodded that I was. I flipped onto my back and flutter kicked in. Flutter kicked.

That early-in-the-race panic session cost me the rest of the day. Heart rate blown, fuel used up… yadda, yadda.

So the thing is, the same thing happened to me after a day of teaching the other day… back spasm, head ache, sore tummy… I didn’t think I was actually under an undue amount of stress but it turns out I have a pretty solid ability to work through periods of high stress. Endurance sports teach us to “run the mile you’re in” and so I do… in running and in life… head down, don’t run the whole race, run one mile… until the whole world shrinks down to enduring one mile at a time and forgetting the amazing feeling of sunshine on shoulders and joy in the process.

So here’s what I learned on race day that I can apply to life:

1. Call the kayak

It’s ok to call the race done for you. It doesn’t mean the season is over. When you call for rescue it’s because your life needs saving. This is not hyperbole.

2. Red line vs. endurance pace

Endurance athletes know most training is actually done at endurance pace (a manageable pace that can be held over the entire distance) and the red line is reserved for all-out efforts. It’s for passing, and finish lines, and setting PRs. And it feels. so. good. But it’s not sustainable over the long course. Slow down. Hard feels good but not at the cost of being sustainable. Slow down. Then slow down some more.

3. Train your weakness race your strength

You have a strength. And you have a weakness. Work on the weaknesses until they are less of a weakness. Race the strengths for all they’re worth.

4. People won’t get it. Those aren’t your people.

I told an acquaintance after the race about my day and shared my final time. She said, “you could have walked it faster”. The people who don’t get it aren’t the people you should be sharing with. Not everyone will get it. Walk away from the people who don’t. I’m lucky to have people in my corner who support me, who know when I need a hug or a pep talk, who know when I just need a kick in the butt, and who respect when I need to stop.

When I checked my email this morning, my activity tracker had emailed me my month-end stats:

… and that, right there, is how I got to a panic attack… way too much red lining; too much working, and studying, and projects, yadda, yadda… Not enough taking care of myself. My March goal is to move more. Every day, in fact. I know that’s the place where I’m happiest. Also, I plan on taking my own advice. Call the rescue kayaks, float, refuel. Flutter kick if you must. But keep. moving. forward.

I PRed the end-of-season race, BTW. So… train your weakness, race your strength. I told you I love a good sports metaphor.

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