Learning all the “wrong” lessons — in running and in life.
Most of us have enjoyed enough fickle oscillations of athletic karma to know that training, racing, and athletic competition don’t always happen quite the way they ought to.
To review: sometimes, you train intelligently, taper diligently, eat correctly, get enough sleep, get to the race on time, and then proceed to conduct yourself through your absolute worst performance in recent memory. (Lesson learned: “I just wasted months and months being a goody-two-shoes with all of this training and none of it works. Forget this.”)
Other times, you bumble through a fragmented cycle of training, nourish yourself on a steady diet of Nutella and cookies, stay up until 2am the night before your event drinking mystery juice, wake up the next morning with a raging case of Spanish influenza, arrive to the race site seconds before the gun goes off, and PR by 47 seconds. (Lessons learned: “I don’t need to train nearly as much as I think I do!” and “Cookies have the carbohydrate-protein-fat ratio to put me on the podium!” and “A bit of partying the night before a race might dull the pain!”)
And honestly? That’s a common theme in non-athlete life too, isn’t it?
You’re supposed to learn one thing, but what you actually take away from the experience is entirely something else.
Let’s look to a few of my experiences as a naive schoolchild for some more examples.
3rd Grade: I was supposed to learn that nature is riveting and wonderful.
In third grade, our teacher decided we would have a class plant, which would supposedly give us an appreciation for the small miracles of life on earth.
Oh… my god.
ALL we did in third grade was monitor that awful plant. We had to measure how tall it was every day, and then sit around and talk about it all the darn time. The plant grew approximately 0.003 millimeters per day. All my 8-year-old mind learned from this insufferable plant monitoring project was that plants were boring as hell.
4th Grade: I was supposed to learn that obedience, courtesy, and ritual are important.
You know those clickers that people use to train their dogs with? Yeah. One of my fourth grade teachers was notorious for using it on her students. We were a regimented army of fourth graders; when she clicked, we stood up. When she clicked again, we pushed in our chairs. When she clicked again, we lined our butts up at the door, and so on, every day of our tormented fourth grade lives. This was presumably to teach us the importance of ritual and obedience, but all we learned was that some adults are simply crazy.
5th Grade: I was supposed to learn that you’re rewarded for good behavior.
In fifth grade, you received “star dollars” as a reward for being a good kid. Grounds for receiving a star dollar might be helping a friend clean up after she spills the contents of her trapper keeper all over the floor, or finding your mortal enemy’s Tamagotchi in the bathroom and returning it to the main office instead of spitefully flushing it down the toilet.
On the other hand, when you were mean, rude, or disrespectful, teachers could take star dollars away from you.
Well, one day one of our fifth grade teachers was blathering on about math or something. No one seemed to be listening. I made some sassy comment under my breath, and the teacher was offended. She thought that the girl next to me had been the one to sass her, and so demanded a star dollar in retribution.
“But, but, Cathleen said it, not me!” the other girl sputtered.
The teacher looked at me, and I quickly arranged my face to reflect bewildered, innocent surprise.
“Don’t blame it on somebody else!” the teacher yelled, and snatched a star dollar off of the other girl’s desk.
I breathed a sigh of relief and beamed.
Now I look back on that incident and cringe at my brattiness.
8th Grade: I was supposed to learn that gambling is bad.
Welcome to Life Skills class, a mandatory course for 8th graders that acted as a catchall for random critical skills like folding napkins, sewing tie-dyed pencil cases, and not getting pregnant.
The topic of the day was gambling and how bad it is. We suffered through a 45 minute anti-gambling video filled with boring anecdotes about things we didn’t understand. After the video ended, our teacher hit STOP and fiddled around with the VCR to retrieve the tape. As she wrestled with the VCR (perhaps technology should be included in next year’s Life Skills curriculum?), a commercial came on the television.
A commercial we all knew by heart.
A commercial for FOXWOODS! (FOX. WOODS!), one of New England’s dearly beloved local casinos.
As the dulcet strains of the Foxwoods jingle filled our ears, and we all stood up to sing along:
“Take a chance! Make it happen! Pop the cork, fingers snappin’ ! Spin the wheel, round and round we goooooo!”
The teacher looked up at us, horrified —
“Life is good, life is sweet, grab yourself a front row seat–“
“No!” She yelled.
“LET’S MEET, AND HAVE A BALLLLL!” We screamed in unison, “YEAH LET’S LIVE -“
“FOR THE WONDERRRRRR!! OF IT ALLL!! Meet me at Foxwoods (FOXWOODS)!”
Ruddy-cheeked and out of breath, imaginary balloons and confetti littering the floor, we all high-fived and congratulated one another for pulling off such an outstanding impromptu musical number, complete with one of the boys spraying his water bottle all over the room to mimic the champagne on the commercial.
Our teacher was entirely crestfallen. Her 45-minutes of anti-gambling bilge had been erased by spectacular advertising. We learned that day that the effectively-engineered musical jingle is a powerful thing.
Okay, so none of those examples really have anything to do with the beginning part of the post. Oh well.
Can you remember any hilarious “education fails” from school in which you learned something entirely different from what the teacher intended?
Are there any running lessons you’ve learned that go against the grain of popular racing and training advice?
As a child, were you a sneaky, conniving little brat like I was?