fitness,  instruction

why long run hosting is like lesson planning

As a member of the Cambridge Running Club, I periodically host Saturday long runs from my place. Recently, a runner who hosted put out a call for tips for making better long run maps after he experienced the frustrations of translating MapMyRun into usable maps. That inspired me to write about how teaching translates to long run hosting.

Runners (students) don’t necessarily need the flashiest long runs (lessons) to do well. I used to think that my long run routes had to go past the prettiest scenery, but this required more water stops and time-consuming mapping. After helping me host my first long run that went all over the City of Boston, my fiance commented that CRCers didn’t need an exciting route; the act of training with friends was the most important part. I took that to heart for my next one, picking an out-and-back on the Minuteman Trail that was familiar to CRC and offered mileage up to 20 miles. Fewer turns makes it much easier for a runner to focus on his/her running rather than worry about getting lost.

Similarly, I used to think that I needed a Dan Meyer-style lesson every day for my math classes and spent more time googling exciting activities than I did trying to set my objective for the day and design activities that were easy to implement while allowing me to assess whether students were learning. I used to think that all worksheets were boring and that I needed to have PowerPoint presentations every day. However, I now realize that investing my effort into well-designed problems (rather than fancy PowerPoint animations) would pay huge dividends even if they were presented on paper or on the board.

Less is more. I used to make multiple maps, often ending up with 3 or 4 different ones for the various mileage requested by runners. As a teacher, I used to attempt differentiation of instruction by making three different versions of a lesson, but that is not sustainable. Now I look for opportunities within the lesson for advanced students to take on challenges or help their peers as well as opportunities for having struggling students focus on the fundamentals. I learned that a class isn’t about “getting through” a certain number of problems–it’s about time on task.

Similarly, I now make one two-sided map that all runners can take. However, the simple map requires much more prep work. I figure out the minimum, motst common (aka “what’s the mileage prescribed by our coach for Boston or the club’s fall marathon”), and maximum mileage and then figure out a route that allows for differentiation from the most common that minimizes the number of required water stops and the distance required by the water stop dropper to travel. For example, with my most recent long run, I compiled the responses and found that the majority of runners were running 12-16 miles with a few running 8 miles and a few running 18-20 miles. Knowing this also helped my fiance figure out when to pick up water stops and how much to place at each stop. … which leads me to: ask for help. Having a water stop helper makes hosting infinitely easier in the way that talking through your lesson with someone to make sure it makes sense can save you tons of time and classroom management frustration.

Put yourself in your runner’s (student’s) shoes. As someone who gets lost easily, I design maps that tell runners where to go in the way that I want to be told how to go. I anticipate the trickiest parts of the route, e.g., ones with lots of turns or that require maneuvering, then create zoomed-in pictures of those parts so that I can give detailed directions for them. I include left- and right-hand turn cues such as “L Pine St” so that runners can anticipate where to turn rather than deciphering where a street might be on the map. I also indicate intersections where water will be placed. “Water at Mile 4” might not help if a runner doesn’t have a Garmin or if it’s at Mile 3.8 or 4.2, but “at the corner of Pine St and Elm St behind the mailbox” does. I also include my address and phone number in case runners get stranded and need to call to be picked up.

I like my classroom handouts to be so clear that the student won’t second guess themselves and can follow directions without me having to clarify, and I like my long run maps to do the same for my fellow CRCers. Check out the differenceS between a 2009 long run, a 2010 long run, and a 2013 long run below.


This is the front of an 8.5 mile route.

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 10.19.36 PM

This is the back of the route map. There is a mistake in directions (I did not proofread), and there are way too many turns. The two-sidedness also makes the runner constantly flip back and forth to figure out where to go.

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 10.19.50 PM


This is a little better. It incorporates three routes and directions into the same side of one map, but the map itself is so small it’s almost useless. The URL for the route doesn’t need to be there, the water stops aren’t described or marked in context. And this will only be meaningful to Boston-area runners: I put a water stop at the top of one of the steepest hills in the area. Many runners probably skipped it out of frustration!

Screen shot 2013-04-07 at 10.17.53 PM2013: LongRunAfter

Now my question is…did the long run hosting help me become a better teacher, or vice-versa?

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