Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Mon, 18 Feb 2002 08:26:10 -0500

Teacher's Pets


In each of my running classes I adopt a favorite student. It's usually one of the slowest runners, if not the very slowest.

This time it's Erin. In the test mile that starts these classes, she ran a minute slower than anyone else.

She apologized afterward for "taking so long." Thinking I might never see her again, I told her that "slow" is in the eye of the beholder.

If this was the best she could do then, it was fast enough. She wasn't racing against anyone but herself.

Erin came back the next week and has returned for every run since then. To make sure this would happen, I enlisted additional support for her.

"There's no one better to encourage Erin than you," I told a woman named Max. She holds the record for the slowest mile ever in these classes.

Max too had grumbled at first about how slow she'd run and how far behind everyone else she'd finished. I gave her the your-best-is-good-enough lecture.

She has kept coming back, to every class I've taught. She now runs her mile more than two minutes faster than her original time.

Erin has improved even more quickly and dramatically. Her time dropped by nearly two minutes in a month. I love seeing this happen.

All but one of the current student-runners improved in this latest mile. I've never had so many do so well -- and have never before had everyone reach the midpoint of a term without an injury.

The only one who didn't improve still tied her best time. She's the perennial teacher's pet, Courtney.

Like Max, Courtney has taken all four of my classes so far. After Courtney showed pretty good speed in one of our tests, I asked if she had run on a high school team.

"No, I was a cheerleader," she said. "My mother was a fast runner, but I disappointed her by not becoming a track athlete."

The conversation worked its way around to the fact that her mother is Judy Oliver. She once was Doris Brown's teammate. They ran together in the 1969 World Cross-Country Championships, which Doris won (during her five-year winning streak).

Courtney has come to love running herself. In the mile, where her mother ran close to five minutes, the daughter tries to break 6-1/2.

She told me before the start of our latest mile that she'd talked with Mom the night before. "She asked what time we started and said she'd send good wishes then."

As Courtney finished, I called out a time that tied her best -- 6:33. She groaned.

I asked her, "Would you feel better if I told you it was 6:29?"

"No way," she said. "I have to earn it."

Her mother can be proud that she raised a true runner.

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