The first race I ever trained for was a marathon. I was twenty years old and had never run more than a mile in my life. I simply needed an outlet—and a goal to make progress toward. Running became my conduit for stress relief. At the time, my uncle was an active runner and marathon coach with Team in Training. His wisdom helped guide me through many novice mistakes. We charted schedules, tracked nutrition, and navigated minor injuries together.
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t make it to the finish line of that first marathon. Somewhere around mile eighteen of my first twenty-mile training run, a piercing pain in my right knee stopped me in my tracks. After a few doctor visits, physical therapy, and lessons in patience I didn’t appreciate at the time, I made it back on the road just in time to rearrange my registration for the half-marathon instead. I didn’t get the glory of finishing a marathon that year, but I ran the first of many half-marathons and began a hobby that has lasted twenty years now. Today, I love to run.
I still remember my uncle’s best advice: “The first mile is the hardest. Start out slower than you think you need to run, and I promise you’ll pass other runners who are burning out at the end.” (He was right, by the way.)
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve applied the metaphor of training for a long-distance race to various aspects of my life—fighting sin, mission work, raising kids. There’s certainly a reason that Paul talks about “running” and “training” as a Christian!
Today I’m reflecting on the past year of focused reading lessons with my struggling learner. I can’t shake the sense that we’re training for a long-distance race. We are somewhere in the middle of mile fifteen on a long Saturday training run. We’re not ready for race day yet, but we’re making steady progress.
As my son shuffled through his phonics flashcards this morning, I was mindful of how much easier it is for him now than when I took over his reading instruction a year ago. He raced through the sounds with confidence today because he knew he could do it. He had already done it—countless times. That’s not to discount the effort it takes to move forward in new reading lessons each day, and that’s not to say that he’s “arrived” as a reader and doesn’t need repetition anymore. It doesn’t mean there won’t be inexplicable days when the information just won’t come to his mind, when the mental exercise is an exhausting slog instead of an invigorating workout. And it doesn’t mean that we should stop devoting so much time to our reading rituals. It simply means that, today, somewhere in the middle of mile fifteen of our marathon training, I’m celebrating. Fifteen miles is so much farther than the first step.
The Marathon Runner
A marathon is 26.2 miles, but no one makes it that far who can’t run a solid fifteen first. The training schedule for a long-distance race is just that—long. It takes tremendous time, commitment, and effort. Some days the sun is shining and a gentle breeze christens a beautiful jog that leaves you feeling exhilarated. Other days, you drag your limbs around a familiar loop, wondering why your normal route has suddenly become so hard. Over time, both kinds of days lead to the stamina that carries a runner across the finish line.
Today isn’t our day to cross the finish line, but fifteen miles is worthy of celebration. Smiling star stickers adorn our progress chart like shining gold medals on a podium. We have seen many hard days alongside the beautiful ones. Lord willing, this time next year we’ll have made even more progress. We’re in this race toward reading fluency because it’s worthwhile. It’s a commitment worth making. I hope that when my child finishes this race, he will have gained a habit—maybe even a hobby—that he will treasure for years to come.
Sara Osborne is an adjunct instructor at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, the sometimes-homeschooling mother of four classically educated children, and a frequent writer for The Classical Thistle. She is an active parent at School of the Ozarks, where she has also enjoyed leading conference workshops on classical education and special needs. More than twenty years after her first jog, she still loves to run.