Learning to Run Again

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Maria A. is a superstar kindergarten teacher at a great public school in Williamsburg. She’s also a superstar at finding a way to be a runner in the midst of an incredibly demanding daily work and family life, especially now that she is fighting her way back from an injury that forced her to put running aside for almost a year. This week we’re pleased to talk with Maria and find out out how she balances it all—and what juggling tips she might have for us mere mortals.

Maria, thanks so much for talking with us.

It is my pleasure.

Having been a parent chaperone on a few school field trips, I know what a mental and physical workout it is to just look after the four kids assigned to me for the day. At least one of them always seems to be running off or spacing out or having a tizzy. How you do it with 20-plus kids five days a week blows the mind—especially because you’re not just standing up there in class everyday shouting orders at the kids like a drill sergeant. You’re looking after them without raising your voice. You’re basically a kid whisperer.

“Kid whisperer” I like that! Teaching has always been my passion and kindergarten children are especially delightful.

How physically demanding is the life of a teacher of younger elementary school age kids?

As rewarding as it is, it is also physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. As a teacher I am always “on,” trying to keep children engaged and enthusiastic about work that may not come easily to them. I push children to the edge of their comfort zone to help them learn; however trying to get to each of my 23 students’ zones of proximal development can be taxing at times.

Ha! And running certainly is all about pushing yourself out of your own comfort zone! Has running helped you build stamina for work?

Whenever I am able to run before work, I am happy. I enjoy running with a partner because it gives me a chance to catch up with a great friend and a cathartic release as we speak about our daily challenges and successes as mothers, wives, friends, sisters, daughters, you get the idea.  🙂  I find that because I take time for myself and know that I’m making a great choice for my health, I become motivated to keep moving throughout the day. However, running before work means waking up at 3:45, hopping in the car by 4 to meet my friend in Carroll Gardens for a 5 AM run over the Brooklyn Bridge. After our run I’m able to shower at my brother’s house and head to work knowing that I’ve taken care of my needs for that day. Oddly enough, I have more energy on my 3:45 wake-up-and-run-days than on my 5 AM wake-up-and-commute days.

Whenever I am able to run before work, I am happy. I find that because I take time for myself and know that I’m making a great choice for my health, I become motivated to keep moving throughout the day.

So how old is your little one and what are the logistics of your daily preschool duties for your own kid and your commute to and from school?

My husband and I have custody of my 15-year-old stepson and together we have a 7-year-old son. Since I live on Long Island and work in Williamsburg, I do not have the opportunity to bring either one to school. All of our interactions take place in the evening, as I’m often out of the house by 5:45 AM to beat the morning rush. Getting to work an hour and a half early allows me to take care of everything student/teacher-related by dismissal so that I can leave early enough to avoid traffic, on most days. Leaving later than 4:30 guarantees a 2-hour commute home, so I try to get out of Dodge when I can.

Okay, so you have all that on your plate, and then on top of that you were injured in a car accident last year, right as you were tapering down in your training for the Brooklyn Half. What happened?

It is frustrating to think about because my running partner and I had just gotten ourselves back into a groove after my move to the Island in October 2013. We started running together after our March Parent-Teacher conferences and finally worked ourselves up to running 3 times a week, 7 miles each morning. On the weekends I was able to run my 8, 9, and 10-mile runs without issue. Then, a week before what would have been my second Brooklyn Half, I was rear-ended on my way to work. My knee and shoulder were tweaked, my back was hurt (herniated discs) and my doctor told me that I was in no condition to complete my half. Devastated is an understatement as to how I felt. I was finally getting myself back into my routine, finally getting my running life in order and then it came to a screeching halt.

So what sort of running and therapy are you doing to work your way back from injury?

I have to take it at a snail’s pace. I’ve been in physical therapy since the accident and have recently tried to build my stamina. My first run, if you can call it that, took me a whopping .85 miles before I gave up to knee pain. After a few days and serious stretching I tried it again and was able to get over the 1-mile hump. I was able to run three miles one afternoon, but that is as much as I could handle.

Recovery from injury is never strictly linear in terms of fighting your way back—progress is often followed by setbacks. It’s got to be so frustrating for you, when all you want to do is head out for an hour’s jog.

I guess I have to keep working at it slowly to avoid further injury. I was working hard at the running over spring vacation last month but for now, I am taking a break and am going to try again in the summer when my life slows down for a bit. The end of the school year means there are many deadlines to meet, meetings to attend, celebrations to practice, and DVDs of kids’ portfolios to burn. Since I’m out of the house for up to 12 hours each day, I need to spend time with the boys and can’t deal with the guilt I feel for carving out time to run while they’re awake.

There are all sorts of ways to overdo it as a runner and neglecting other aspects of your life is certainly one of them. Ironically, sometimes the best way to develop your running life . . . is not to run. 

You said it. I’m looking forward to resuming my life as a runner as my body heals. This spring, I’ll continue to watch runners with envy, hoping that one day, I’ll be able to join in the fun again!