Monday, September 26, 2011


I’m having difficulty concentrating this week. My head keeps drifting 75 miles south to the land of civil rights history, state government, and my “gateway drug” to distance running. In short, I am in a state of anticipation—that combination of knowing you have to wait and feeling like you can’t.

Three years ago, my favorite city in Alabama (No, I don’t know why) held its first half-marathon. Because I needed something to motivate me to run more than three miles at a time, and because the event was in my favorite Alabama city, I signed up. For this inaugural event, the route ended on Commerce Street, and I remember running past the city’s beautiful fountain (water died pink for the occasion!) and seeing the finish line. They called my name, someone put a medal around my neck, and the combination formed the lure that fostered my current love of running.

My head keeps driving down I-65 because that event, the Montgomery Half-marathon is this Saturday. This Saturday! And I cannot wait. It will be the city’s third half, and my third time to run it.

Since that October morning three years ago, I’ve run other events. I even completed my first full marathon in January, and will run my second full two weeks after Montgomery. Yet, every time Montgomery comes around, I still anticipate the day, imagine the starting line, and tell everyone, “I get to run into the Biscuits’ stadium at the end!” (My friends up north just smile and wonder why a Hardee’s menu item would have a stadium.) This is my favorite race. Maybe because it was my first. Maybe because it launched my current obsession. Maybe because it is an interesting course. Maybe because college bands are often course distractions. (Last year, ABBA tunes with a xylophone playing the lead. What’s not to like?!?) Maybe it’s the combination of a favored place with a favored activity. Or maybe it is just because the event is well organized and run. It’s probably a combination of all that.

What’s the point? Anticipation is powerful. When we have something to look forward to, it serves as a magnet, pulling on the steel of our interest, our effort, and our determination. Why do I run enough to make sure I’m in half-marathon shape come October? Because I anticipate, I am excited by, I prize the possibility of participating in this race.

What do you anticipate? What pulls you forward, making you want to put forth the work required to be a part of something? What puts you in that I-know-it’s-not-tomorrow-but-I-wish-it-were state?

If, like me, you are an educator, what do you give your students to anticipate? I’m not talking about connected-by-a-very-thin-and-questionable thread activities, like DVD Fridays. I’m talking about learning-related anticipation. Do your students know what they will be able to do by mastering the material you are teaching today? Research suggests that helping students see their own progress actually fosters intrinsic motivation for learning. To know progress, it’s helpful to anticipate something bigger at the end of it. What is pulling your students forward? What will encourage them in today’s efforts?

Elite runner Josh Cox recently wrote a post about the importance of passion. Perhaps that is my point—that we, as learning entities, need a passion and we need to pursue it. If so, Josh said it far better than I have. But the point remains, anticipation is a powerful pull.

If you’re in Montgomery, I’ll see you Saturday. I’ll be the one so excited that he can’t stand still. Never mind—that is pretty much every runner at the start. Instead, look for the guy whose face displays a mixture of joy at what’s ahead and gratefulness for what has come before.