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Executive Function Strategies Blog

What do Marathon Training and Good Study Habits Have in Common?

This is the second entry in a 3-part blog series highlighting my preparation, process, and reflection for Maria Harlow uses her executive function skills to train for the Boston Marathonthe upcoming Boston Marathon. My first entry was back in October of last year when I was nothing but sunny and optimistic in preparation for marathon training. One thing I'm discovering is that when I coach my students to develop good study habits, I'm preparing them for their own marathon of getting through their school year with confidence. 

It turns out the running isn’t the hard part of marathon training. Once I’m dressed and out the door with a plan, it’s actually the easiest part of the whole thing (well, other than carb-loading). In my last blog post, you read that I was anticipating making a plan, keeping myself accountable, and celebrating successes to be my main focus during training. It turns out the latter two fell into place pretty quickly and have not been an issue for some time. Now that I am in the thick of it, the most challenging focal points of my training have centered around maintaining a specific plan, being prepared, and using my resources. Here’s how each of those is going:

Making a Plan

As you may remember from my first blog post, I was prepared to work with the many factors in my schedule in order to fit in my marathon training. At that time, I was mostly focused on the running part and didn’t consider or even know about the other things that would be taking up my time: stretching, foam rolling, cross-training, showering multiple times per day, and getting very necessary extra sleep. Last week I ran a total of 42 miles, which took a little under 7 hours of my week. Having each of these runs planned out in my google calendar, which is shared with my husband, is the only way I was able to fit them all in. Filling my schedule with all these miles, I have definitely seen some things fall by the wayside, such as cleaning/organization of my house and car, time spent cooking, and time spent walking my dog. To combat this, I continue to use Habit List to try and stay on top of these tasks, and really try to cut out true time-wasters, such as some social media and TV time. I keep reminding myself that this is temporary and I will be able to return to these things, which is really helpful.

I can make many connections with my students during this very busy time. Like me, they may see organization of their space and belongings become less of a priority during busy school work times, such as right before exams. They may not be able to spend as much time on the important but not urgent tasks as may be necessary. Certainly, they need to think hard about how much time they are spending on social media, especially during crunch times. Using tools such as Habit List helps my students through these difficult times in the same way it is helping me. I also have been focusing on reminding my students what they are working for and that the discomfort they feel at giving up some fun distractions, too, is temporary.

Being Prepared

I have discovered that I have a lot more success on a run if I approach it with a plan. Knowing I have a run scheduled, I check the weather and plan an outfit. I plan a route, even if it is one I run regularly. I make a goal for my target pace or I plan out specific speed intervals. I plan what music I will listen to and if it is a long run I plan out what I will take to eat and drink. If I don’t do these things and just “go running”, I find that I may turn around earlier, may run slower, or may count tenths of miles on my running watch until I get to my target distance. This doesn’t allow me to settle into my run and it doesn’t make for a helpful mindset, either.

This reminds me of my students when they sit down to study. If they don’t have a specific plan of what/when/where/how to study, they are likely to encounter similar frustrations and a lack of momentum. Making a specific plan of study methods with a target time and having materials available sets my students up for success just as my preparation for a training run does.

Using My Resources

I am not an expert in marathon training and I have learned quite a bit about when I need help and when I can push through something on my own. When my calf was tight enough to stop me from running, I used my resources to find an effective sports massage that loosened it right up. When I had to run in 15º weather, I researched what to do to keep the waters in my fuel belt from freezing. When I was dreading a run, I posted on Facebook or told my family I was about to go running, knowing that I would get many responses of support. Soliciting help and support was not something that I anticipated being a central part of this, but I quickly found out I cannot do it alone. Relying on my community has made this journey much smoother.

I now carry this lesson to my coaching sessions with my students, reminding them of the many supports they have both at home and at school. With various demands and obligations, sometimes our students may forget that they cannot be expected to do it all alone. Guiding them in recognizing the many forms in which help is available contributes to stronger self-advocacy skills and a more successful school experience. And, of course, I'm living proof to my students that skills such as planning, preparing, and reaching out for support are important in adult life, as well. It turns out that good study habits are also good life habits.

Maria is running the Boston Marathon to support Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. See her personal page for her fundraising goal and other updates. 

Do you know a student who needs to develop self-advocacy skills? Download our helpful checklist of specific skills every student needs.

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