Friday, April 16, 2010

Well we've certainly got some catching up to do, don't we? Where to begin? . . .

Let's talk school first. Last week, our main focus in 2nd grade was finalizing our preparations for our presentation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to our school. Everything seemed to be going very smoothly each time we practiced so I had pretty high hopes that it was going to be an easy, low-key experience for all of us. But I should know by now that nothing is ever as simple as it seems in the education world. There is always a curve ball. In this case, that curve ball came in the form of 3 of my students not showing up to school that day. Now, I tried planning for this by giving the most important parts (of course, EVERY part is equally important . . .) to my boys that have great attendance so there would be a smaller chance of them not being there on our performance day. As it turned out, all 3 of these boys had a sort of leadership role in the play. Therefore, we had to do some last minute switching of parts so that, during our actual performance, I had 3 boys playing 2 roles, one of which was a part had never practiced before. All things considered, however, I thought the boys handled the last-minute changes very well and the play still went fairly smoothly. Most importantly, the boys all seemed really excited about what they had just done when we were finished, so in the end we still accomplished our primary goal which was to have fun.

The very next day, last Thursday, I was on a plane to Jordan for my ultra marathon. I had felt really good all week with my limited amount of running (I only ran about 10 miles all week to keep my legs fresh), so I was very excited to see how that would translate to my race. Part of me was a little nervous that my greatly-reduced mileage the previous 3 weeks would leave me feeling a little out of shape for the 31-mile race, but I figured the worst that would happen is that I would get really tired and have to run really slow or walk to finish the race.

On the morning of the race, they had a bus going from my hotel (our hotel was a race sponsor so a lot of people staying there were doing the race) to the meeting point. First of all, the bus was 30 minutes late. Then, when we got to the meeting point (a city park), there were literally thousands of people shouting and pushing each other around, trying to figure out which bus they were supposed to get on to take them to their starting point. You see, there were actually 4 distances being run that day--a 50 km, 42 km (marathon distance), 21 km (half marathon), and 10 km--and each one had a different starting point so that they all ended at the same place. Unfortunately, and not to my surprise, none of the buses at the park were marked with which starting point they were taking runners to. As a result, everybody was pushing each other to get on the buses, many times only to find out that that was not the bus they needed to be on. While I was a little nervous that I might miss the bus to take us to the 50 km starting point, I just sat back (a little amused I must admit) and kept my cool, waiting for someone to say in English that such-and-such bus was the one I needed to be on. After about 20 minutes of chaos, I finally heard word that somebody figured out which bus the 50 km runners needed to be on, so I followed a couple people and got on the bus without any sort of confrontation.

The race was supposed to start at 7:00 am, and our bus got us to the starting point at 6:45. It wasn't an ideal amount of time for a quick warm-up jog and a last-minute trip to the bathroom before the race, but in comparison to what I had just experienced, I figured the situation could have been much worse. With about 2 minutes to spare, I was all ready for the race to begin when an official announced that the race start would be postponed for about 10 minutes (it was actually closer to 25) due to technical difficulties with the computer system. So at 7:25 in the morning, my race began. I ran with some guys that had a good pace going for the first 10 or 12 miles, but feeling nice and relaxed up to that point, I decided to make a but of a push. Nobody really answered my challenge and so for the next 10 or 12 miles, it was just my iPod and the natural beauty of the Jordanian countryside (and the occasional marathon runner that I was passing up) that kept me company. With about 5 miles to go, I came upon hordes of people who were finishing the marathon and 1/2 marathon, and hundreds of teenagers walking the 10 km. In a way, I was kind of annoyed by all these people I was having to run through, but at a point in the race when my body was really starting to break down and cramp up, I also kind of felt like I had an audience that I didn't want to give up in front of. I struggled through the last 5 miles or so, and finished in a time of 3 hours, 47 minutes, which was 13 minutes faster than my goal time. I was really happy about that and decided to go celebrate at the beach party they had set up for all the participants. I finagled my way to the Amstel Lite tent and gulped down a few free beers, which was probably the only time all day that I felt good. Then I went and got some food, which included a Snickers bar, a banana, a bag of popcorn, and an ice cream cone. And then another Snickers bar. For the rest of the day, I just lazed about in the city of Amman.

This past week all kind of seemed like a hangover from the previous one. I didn't do any running (not that I didn't feel like going for a run on a couple of occasions) because I promised myself I wouldn't until my body felt 100% recovered from my race. I felt a bit sick all week with a sore throat and some coughing, but I feel like I'm on the mend now.

Well, I think that's all for now. Until next time,


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Didn't really get up to much last week so didn't feel it was worthy of a post. But I have plenty to write about this week.

This past weekend (April 2 and 3), we had our dragon boat regatta in Dubai. Our first race was at 8:30 in the morning, so we met in Abu Dhabi at 6:00 to catch our charter bus (which means I had to get up before 5--blugh). I think pretty much everybody slept on the bus ride there. Having never been in a dragon boating competition before, I didn't really know what to expect, but I figured our 2 days of racing would be pretty intense. Having been in the UAE for 8 months now, however, I DID expect things to be pretty unorganized. Turns out I was right on both accounts.

Basically, we had 3 races throughout the day on Friday (2 preliminaries and a semi-final), a mixer at a really nice hotel club Friday night so that people from the different teams could get to know each other, and 4 races throughout the day on Saturday (1 preliminary, 1 semi-final, and 2 finals). Between the really strenuous rowing, being out in the sun for 2 days straight, and the late Friday night, the weekend was really exhausting! Even still, it was also a lot of fun and now I plan on participating on the team for the remainder of my time in Abu Dhabi.

School Update: School has been going pretty smoothly the past few weeks. For English, we have focused on basic vocabulary for much of the year with phonics and reading preparation taking the backburner (figured building vocabulary to actually communicate with them was a priority). But lately we've flip-flopped so that we have spent a larger proportion of our time focusing on building reading skills and decoding words they haven't seen before. For math, we've turned our attention to addition and subtraction skills pretty intensively. My first graders can all add and most of them can subtract, so we're working on memorizing and quickly solving the basic facts for better efficiency. My 2nd graders are now adding and subtracting 2-digit numbers with mixed results, which is good progress from where we were at at the beginning of the year--learning how to count from 1 to 10 for the first 3 weeks. We have our big presentation coming up this next Wednesday, and all my students are getting pretty excited for that (and me too)!

Running Update: With my big 50k coming up next weekend, I started my taper 2 weeks ago. 2 weeks ago, I brought my mileage down to 40 and I felt like crap for most of them. This past week, I brought it down to 30 and did shorter, higher-intensity runs. By the end of the week, I was feeling pretty good. The plan is to take it easy this next week and mostly just focus on keeping my legs nice and fresh!

Happy Easter everybody! I hope you all enjoy time spent with family and friends!

Until next time,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

For some reason this past week seemed very busy, like one of those weeks when you always feel like you're one step behind. Thing is, I really didn't do anything this week. Go figure.

High of the week: My 1st and 2nd grade classes are currently working on a theatrical production of the story The Very Hungry Caterpillar (it's a very short play). On Wednesday, we spent a good portion our school day making props and designing our "costumes" for the play. I thought managing 30 boys working on different little projects simultaneously going to be kind of chaotic and stressful, but it was actually a lot of fun getting down on the floor with them and getting our hands dirty with markers and paint and glue.

Runner up: The beer garden we went to on Thursday night had a mechanical bull, and since I am from the midwest and apparently all people from the midwest should be awesome at riding mechanical bulls, everybody expected me to put on a big show. In actuality, I've only been on one once before so I was actually kinda nervous that I was going to be really bad. Turns out I was actually better than anybody else there (I got plenty of challenges), so maybe there is some truth to the midwest--mechanical bull connection.

Low of the week: I honestly can't think of a low for this past week at the moment. Maybe only getting 6.5 hours of sleep on Wednesday night and feeling a bit groggy on Thursday morning? Guess this week was alright.

School update: In addition to working on our play, I feel like my kids have made a lot of strides academically this week, especially in math. My 2nd graders are multiplying numbers left and right, and my 1st graders are really starting to get a good grasp on addition and subtraction. Hopefully the trend continues through the rest of the year!

Running update: Had a pretty good week this week, despite the rising temperatures (temps in the high 80s or even 90s just about every time I ran). I ended up totaling 65 miles, capping off the week with a tough 23 miler on a hot, 93-degree day (heat index was close to 100). With my big spring race approaching, I figure I'll start tapering my training this week.

Until next week,


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rejuvenation Week

Though I began the week feeling quite sick, I felt like this week was a bit rejuvenating in a way. I felt a little extra motivated to work on school stuff each afternoon, I made some progress towards my summer plans, the weather was nice every day, and life in general seemed to be just a little bit better than my previous few weeks.

Speaking of progress towards summer plans, I was able to set some specific dates and make some definite travel arrangements for my travels to Ethiopia this summer! I will be there from August 9-28, and most of my time there will be spent at a running camp, training with one of the national distance running coaches while living and interacting with some of the country's top up-and-coming distance runners. Hopefully, I'll manage to pull myself away from there for a few days to do a bit of sight-seeing and exploring as well.

High point of the week: Going out and cutting loose with friends on Thursday night. I get out and about on most weekends in Abu Dhabi, but usually I keep my evening pretty tame. So we decided to make this a change-of-pace weekend and get a little crazy. It was fun.

Low point of the week: Being miserably sick last Sunday and Monday. I had a sinus infection, so I was constantly blowing my nose and I had a really bad headache. Since I hate missing school and I knew we were probably going to be observed by somebody on one of those 2 days, I went to school anyway. But it was definitely not fun.

School update: Speaking of which, we were observed on Monday by our cluster manager (guy who serves as a liaison between the schools in our area and the Education Council). Even though I was in the midst of one of the worst lessons I've given in a while (recall my massive headache), he told me he thought everything looked like it was going very well in there. Guess I'm doin all right then . . .

Running update: Skipped out on running on Sunday and Monday due to health reasons, but was still able to get in 54 miles in 4 runs during the remainder of the week. Got a little dehydrated on my Saturday long run (probably from the night before), so I decided I would go to the store and get a hydration backpack to wear on these particular occasions (especially since the temperatures are probably going to be above 90 degrees for many of my remaining Saturdays this spring). The pack holds 3 liters of water, plus there's room in the compartment for some Gatorade or juice, food, and anything else I might need for my longer runs. Now I can run even farther!

Until next week . . .

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Long Week

This week seemed like a really long week for some reason. That doesn't mean it was a bad week though.

Something of note is that I tried a new sport called dragon boating this week. My friend Andrew had joined a week prior and thought I might enjoy it. I didn't really know what to expect for my first time, but thought it would be more like rowing. A more accurate description would be group canoeing due to the way you paddle the boat (1 oar, to the side of the boat in a canoe-like stroke). I enjoyed the new activity as well as the people who were on the boat with me, so I think I may try becoming a full member of the team (called Abu Dhabi Mar) and take part in some races in the next few months.

High point of the week: Dinner party/game night on Friday afternoon. Jeff, Danielle, Andrew, and I went over to a friend's place, ate lots of really good food and cake, and played some fun games (including a 4 hour game of Monopoly).

Low point of the week: Having to show some tough love with my 2nd graders on Thursday afternoon. I think we were all a bit tired by the end of the week, but some of them were trying my patience a bit too much and I had to put my foot down pretty hard with a few students.

School update: As mentioned, long week. But it was a fairly productive week. We are doing a unit on plants in 2nd grade so we planted some flower seeds in cups (classic activity, always fun). The students are really excited to see the plants grow, so hopefully they won't disappoint.

Running update: Had a pretty good week of running, as knee pain wasn't as noticeable throughout the week. I got in just short of 70 miles in 5 runs, capping off my week with a 30-miler on Saturday morning. Probably the toughest run I've ever been on mentally, but it felt really good to complete it. Best of all, I wasn't limping around for the rest of the day like I usually have to after a longer run.

Until next week,


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hello Again

So I know it's been a while since I've done this, and I won't make any excuses as to why I haven't. Basically I stopped feeling like it.

Now I feel like it again. But I will probably limit my postings to a brief synopsis of my week each week:

This past week was a pretty lazy week for me . Other than going to school (which I have to do anyway) and running in the afternoons, I haven't felt much like doing anything. I didn't even cook a single dinner for myself, but instead ate out every night. While this is probably just as cheap as cooking here in Abu Dhabi, I feel like it's a bad habit to get into.

High point of the week: Going out to dinner with Jeff, Danielle, and Audrey on Thursday night. We tried a new Egyptian restaurant within walking distance of our apartments. The food was pretty good (especially the felafels) and very inexpensive, and the wait staff was very friendly. Definitely a place we'll be going back to.

Low point of the week: Running through a sandstorm in 91 degree heat on Saturday afternoon. While I initially embraced the challenge that the weather conditions were providing, my lack of drinking enough water during the week quickly lead to heat exhaustion. I ended up having to walk the last 2 miles back to my apartment, where I quickly gulped down some water and passed out. Hopefully this is the last time I make that mistake.

School status: Though it was a tough week (the week before was an extremely good week, and we all know it's not possible to have 2 of those in a row), I couldn't help but feel like teaching is I should be doing with my life. I figured, If I'm having a bad week at work and I still feel like my job (and life in general) is pretty awesome, then this is probably it. But hey, who knows what I'll want to do 2 years from now, right? As they say, "The best way to make God laugh is to try to make long-term plans."

Running status: Ran 52 miles this week, taking a few days off throughout the week to rest my knee (mild tendinitis). Put more emphasis on the quality of my runs than the quantity (last week ran 78 miles, but they were all slow and easy).

Well, that's about all I have to say this week. Hopefully I'll feel like blogging next week. Haha.

Goodnight from Abu Dhabi,