Three weeks ago I purchased a 1 inch slackline made by a local juggling shop in Guadalajara. I had just finished reading the book Eat and Run by Scott Jurek and he wrote about how the slackline can help to improve running technique and strengthen the core. I had seen teenagers playing on slacklines before but I always considered it something for young adults with too much free-time. I never considered it as something that a world class ultrarunner would use for training.
Despite my initial doubts I was hooked from the start. I remember as I unrolled the webbing and strung it across the 30 foot gap between a post and a palm tree in our garden area I felt young again. I felt that genuine smile of little kid glee as I maneuvered my body in search of balance while suspended two inches off the grass. The new challenge was exactly what I needed to get my mind off work and start enjoying life more.
Of course during the first two weeks I could barely stand on one foot without getting bucked off on both sides. My legs quivered and jostled back and forth as I slowly learned to breath, tighten the core, and focus my eyes on the trunk of the palm tree. The photo below shows how far I’ve come in three weeks. My legs are stable, my hands move slowly, my eyes remain fixed on the post, and my core has become notably stronger. All these skills combine to make slacklining super fun and addicting!
So I have four more days until Spring Break is over and then I’m back to work. So far the break has been a mix of everything: fun in the mountains, running in the mornings, listening to podcasts, but mostly just taking care of my two boys and my wife who injured her back muscles while lifting our youngest. I’m not sure what is more difficult, working 10 hour days with a never ending list of tasks and problems or taking care of a four year old and a one year old at home. It’s a toss up.
Anyhow… this post is not about work or spring break. It’s about the new book I’m reading titled, “Power, Speed, Endurance” by Brian MacKenzie. The first section is dedicated entirely to correct running technique and the idea that runners don’t need to injure themselves in order to run faster and longer. The author talks about CrossFit and how the best athletes are well rounded individuals who could perform well in almost any physical challenge with a little practice. I’m a complete newbie when it comes to CrossFit. Sure I’ve heard the term and seen conversations on Twitter about CrossFit challenges. But now that I’m immersed in this book and really considering the potential benefits of a holistic approach to training it all seems to fit nicely into the research and knowledge I’ve been reading for the past few years.
To begin, I’m making it a point to learn how to use gravity to my advantage when running in a race and practice tilting my whole body forward in order to increase speed. This morning I went for a run and took my jump rope along so I could practice the tilt. It wasn’t nearly as easy as I had hoped and it was obvious that I’m not tilting my body enough when I run. I tend to overextend my leg in front to reduce the feeling of falling on my face and that places extra strain on my legs and joints.
These children run naturally with the correct forward lean. We just need to remember how we learned to run as kids.
“The essence of leadership is being aware of your fear and seeing it in the people you wish to lead. Awareness is the key to making progress.” – Seth Godin, Tribes
Many times leadership requires me to push in a direction that still has unanswered questions. I’ve been given advice from other leaders who say that you must lead from your experience and if you haven’t walked the road yourself then you can’t expect others to follow. In some cases I agree but in most cases I would say that isn’t possible. I would say most of the time leadership is stepping in a new direction with unanswered questions. The change we need requires the whole team to move in the same direction at the same time. I can do my best to learn from other teams who have made similar changes but I can’t accurately predict how our team and each member of our team will react to the change. For this reason I think it’s enough to identify the needed change and then move ahead with the best available strategy. Then along the way I can listen to the team and either make small adjustments to the plan or accept that the plan is not going to work and start again from the beginning.
I am currently working with our team of high school teachers and students to practice grade level consensus meetings in which topics are generated from students and teachers and each member’s opinion is given equal importance. I’m convinced of our need for this change but my fear of the unknown makes me doubt that we will have success. The change requires a considerable amount of patience and flexibility since the meetings are scheduled for one hour and on average only two topics are addressed during the hour. These two skills, patience and flexibility, are exceedingly difficult for me to do in my personal life and even more difficult in my professional life. I take pride in my getting things done work flow and disconnecting for an hour interrupts my fast paced day. Although I’m confident that these meetings are key to building a positive school culture, I fear the loss of time and slow progression towards change. I also fear the increased workload that will come when I need to make deep changes to our traditional school practice.
Despite these fears I cannot stand still and do nothing. Now that I’m aware of our need for student voice I must move in that direction.
“Daddy that’s a cool skateboard. Can we try it?” questioned my four-year old son as we walked down the toy aisle. I pulled down a blue skateboard from the third shelf and held his hands while he rolled back and forth testing out the smooth shiny warehouse floors. I checked the specs on the tag and I was impressed by the wheel bearing quality (abec 5′s) so we put it in the cart and headed for the checkout. That same day we went down to the skate park to start practicing.
With a determined tone I insisted, “Lean hard, push down with your toes and turn right, now push with your heels and turn left.” It wasn’t working. The skateboard continued straight ahead. Disappointed we stopped rolling and began observing the other skateboarders as they swerved in and out.
I said, “Ok let me try your skateboard and see if I can show you how to do it.” I stepped on the board, pushed off three times and leaned in hard to make a right turn, but instead of turning gracefully the skateboard went straight ahead and I went stumbling off to the side in surprise. I snatched up the board and sauntered back to my boy nodding and saying, “It wasn’t your fault. It’s because the skateboard trucks are too stiff and they won’t turn for me either.”
So we went home and parked the skateboard outside the front door. Then today, one month later, we decided to try something new with that stiff blue skateboard. We took the trucks off my old skateboard and switched them with the little blue skateboard. We thought, if the trucks are the problem then let’s put some good trucks on and see what happens.
After half an hour of loosening and tightening screws we were ready. My old skateboard trucks were fastened to his little blue board. I grasped his hands, he stepped onto the board, and with delight in his eyes we rolled down the driveway and leaned in for the first turn. But just as before the skateboard continued straight ahead. Nothing had changed. With a disappointed look I said, “Oh well I guess we need to learn more about how skateboards turn. We’ll figure it out a different day.”
Even though it didn’t work we had a great time learning to loosen, tighten, and adjust bolts while getting more and more excited about our new idea. So why not think outside the box even if the outcome is disappointing?
With hesitation in her voice she leaned back in her chair and said, “I want to be a generation leader, but what does it mean?”
I responded with a warm smile and said, “I’m so excited for you. You’re going to love it! Being a generation leader means that you will gather ideas and concerns from students in your grade level and then prioritize those topics in preparation for a forum style meeting. During these meetings, you and your student co-leader will facilitate and guide the group towards expressing, processing, and sometimes resolving important concerns. And when conflicts or problems arise that can’t be remedied you will communicate those problems to either the student council or the school administration and ask for support.”
I told her that the beauty of being a generation leader is promoting balanced and productive conversations about things that matter to her and her classmates.
She sat forward in her chair and smiled responding, “Ok that sounds good mister, but what if my classmates laugh and make fun of me?” Nodding I answered, “In the beginning it will take time for students to understand how a forum works, and they may be nervous about the unknown. Your teachers will be there to support you, and soon the laughing will disappear.”
I continued, “When you are not used to expressing your own concerns and being heard, it might feel unnatural at first. But, why not give it a shot and see what positive results will come?”
A few weeks ago I went with my wife and two sons to visit friends from our old neighborhood. It had been almost a year since I had stopped in for lunch with them and I enjoyed the time catching up and remembering our time in that busy area of town. As we sat down to eat I was reminded of their family traditions and I remembered how we used to attend church with them each Sunday morning. It has been almost 4 years now that I haven’t attended church except for a few special occasions here and there. After moving away from that neighborhood I questioned the reasons for rushing to church in the morning and then stressing about the convicting messages preached from the stage. I quickly replaced those tense Sunday gatherings with peaceful walks in the park investigating bugs and chasing squirrels with my two year old boy. For me the slow time spent with family in the park is more important than dressing up for church.
As we sat down to eat lunch the comforting traditions and habits reminded me that our friends hadn’t changed in the same way I had over the past four years. We obediently waited to be served, clasped our hands together, and then bowed our heads in prayer. Although these motions and habits came naturally I noticed something new. I opened my eyes momentarily and wondered what this setting would look like if we all raised our heads, opened our eyes, and spoke the same words of gratitude face to face. In my opinion, learning to lead a prayer isn’t much different from learning the basics of public speaking. I asked myself, “Why don’t we give these words of gratitude directly to those gathered around the table? Why not gaze into the eyes of our visitors and express our gratitude for their friendship? I feel like we could all use more practice giving sincere compliments to each other.
In order to test this new curiosity our family has started giving compliments to each other before eating dinner. We practice looking each other in the eye and finding one thing that we love or appreciate about each other. It’s been fascinating so far to watch our four year old son struggle to express himself and verbalize his feelings. We hope to make this a new family habit.
I’ve been a runner since the 9th grade when I joined my high school’s track team. I wasn’t the most talented nor the fastest, but I was the one who enjoyed the practice more than the competitions. My track coach taught me how to run “correctly” with powerful knee drive, open stride, and rolling heel strike. But my chronic shin splints continued to hold me back. I remember stepping into the cold icy whirlpool each day after practice. The attention from the athletic trainer made me feel important even though I rarely scored points for the team.
I clearly remember icing my legs with little ice cubes that I made by putting water in dixie cups. I watched TV while icing and bragged to my older sister about how hard I was training. Each time my legs felt a little better I returned to the track and focused on my stride trying to perfect the roll from heel to toe. I remember thinking I was so tough because I was back on the track running again despite the pain.
Then came the Nike Shox running shoe which I knew would be the answer to my running pain. I was convinced that having four sturdy shocks under each heel would save my shins from the relentless pounding. Unfortunately, the pain continued even after switching to the Nike Shox, but I continued to faithfullly purchase the shoe year after year.
Then in 2010 a teacher friend told me his knees were hurting too much when he ran, and he was learning to run on his forefoot instead of his heel. I thought to myself, “he just needs a pair of Nike Shox like me.” But he insisted that I read the book “Born to Run.” So I began listening to the audiobook during my runs, and I started to wonder if my favorite running shoes were indeed forcing my foot to strike the ground with a damaging impact. The idea that less cushion could prevent my impact injuries didn’t seem logical. How could running on concrete with only 5 mm of rubber between my bones and the street prevent my knees and shins from crying in pain?
But here I am two years later injury free, running farther than I was, and in a pair of shoes that weigh about the same as my flip flops. My running style has transformed, and although I look like an old man shuffling along, I now run farther and faster than my days on the high school track team.
So why not get rid of the extra cushion in your running shoes? I believe the extra cushion is causing the injuries instead of preventing them.