Saturday, December 18, 2010

Barefoot and blind

It has been a tumultuous week: evaluation conversations, renewal of courses, paperwork for a new course, finals, finals, more finals, lots of grading, Christmas tree, Christmas cards, and some thoughts about Christmas presents (not done yet). Stress bordering insanity.
Best therapy: a long run.
Even better therapy: a long run, barefoot, on the beach.
Approaching zen: running barefoot, on the beach sand, early in the morning, with eyes closed.
I could write a treaty about running barefoot on sand. After reading Born to Run almost a year ago, I decided to give a try to barefoot running and thought the beach would be perfect. The first time, I chose running on the sand close to the ocean (packed and hard). I tried to run my usual time. At some point I realized it was going to hurt. When finished, my calves and Achilles tendons were in flames. I walked in pain for a week afterward.
Chastised, I started again, but on the freshly raked, soft sand. Much better. In the following months, I experimented with different sand textures: the soft one would work mainly on the thighs, the harder one worked the calves and ankles.
For me, running is much more than just exercise. It is one of the few ways I can manage to empty my mind. The amount of stimuli bombarding me lately has been significant, part of which is self-inflicted due to social media dependency.
It is hard to describe the feeling of running on sand barefoot with your eyes closed. As a very visual person (and visual learner for all that matters), shutting down that source of information had an immediate relaxing effect. I felt submerged in a soft cocoon as my Central Pattern Generators kept my legs moving. It was blissful.
If you wonder: yes I did run into a heap of kelp once. To avoid disasters I would open my eyes regularly to check for obstacles.  
The next experience was the awakening of the other senses. After a while I could tell if I was going away from the trail by sensing the difference in the consistency of the sand. The sound of the waves become a point of reference instead of a background lull.
And one more insight- as soon as I closed my eyes, I slowed down. Without the immediate correction of the eye and relying on my less developed senses, I had to slow down and establish a reliable steady movement.
For the last 10 minutes I wandered down to the packed wet sand by the water, and let go. Empty as the beach was, and with a steadier pace on a more supportive foundation, I could run fast, a true endorphin rush, legs pounding, heart racing, and yes, eyes still closed. 

How often, in our hurry to cover a predetermined material in a pre-established schedule, we push our students through the basics instead of allowing them time and space to acquire a secure footing and a steady pace? How often do we (I) believe that by bombarding them with cool and cooler information, tools, and materials they will learn better? 
As time goes I tend to take longer and longer time on the basics, and try to overcome the temptation to move forward too soon. My morning run showed me once more how essential is to establish a solid foundation, without the need for instant correction and feedback, before trying to accomplish more complex tasks. Especially important in the lab: one of the areas I need to improve training in organization and discipline. 
Going slow, taking time to establish a community in class, allowing students to use different approaches to learn, and encourage them not to do shortcuts in their thinking process. Plenty of formative assessments without the stress of grading. Room for brainstorms, creativity, and play.
It was a good run :)

1 comment:

  1. This piece reminds me of St. Exupery's "Night Flight", only it's a "Day's Run in the Dark." I loved it.