Sunday, October 18, 2009

We did it!


Come in SF.

Can you hear me?


We did it!

Yesterday I ran 37 miles to work, and over the past 4 months, we raised enough money to fund another Teach for America teacher in the Bay!  That's over $5,000.  Thank you for all the donations and support!

The run was crazy and amazing.    A recap and lessons learned:

Sometimes it takes a little crazy (This one is dedicated to my sister Amy)

I'll admit, you have to be a little crazy to run 37 miles, but I think a little crazy is a good thing.  Most things that mean anything take a little crazy.  There are some problems that are so big, you can only tackle them with ideas that, at first, seem crazy.  Some problems are caused by the current "sane" way of thinking.  Most of the important ones actually.

Where the hell am I?

So, I've been busy lately, and I didn't really have a chance to review the map in detail before the run.  It was mostly a straight shot down 82, so I thought I would be fine anyway.  Literally the route was 20 miles on El Camino and then a left on Broadway.  What I hadn't accounted for was how common a street name Broadway is!  I spent a good ten minutes arguing with a homeless man over how far it was from Burlingame to Mountain View before I figured it out in fact :P 

But that's OK.  The first time you do anything you get a little lost at times.  Its part of the fun I think.

Things get a little messy

They say everybody poops, and sometimes you have to do what you have to do.  I think that's probably enough said about this one.

A nice stroll through the park

I admit it.  I walked a little.  Sometimes you just need a break.  They say walking a little actually gets you there faster in the end.  I guess the the old Bugs Bunny cartoons were right!

The end?

I finished at 8:40.  6 hours and 10 minutes after I started.  It was just me, just like it had been all morning.  But that was OK too.  I think it reminded me that every end has a start.  It was instantly a new beginning.  Another step towards "One day ..."  So please, if you read this, get out and get involved!  It take a nation of millions.  Whether its to hold us back or move us forward is up to you.

Thanks for listening everyone.  It's been fun.  Pictures coming soon!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Big Day

It's almost here!  Finger's crossed, I'll be running this Friday.  I turned my ankle last weekend, but I think it should be all healed by weeks end.  The bod's a little soft after a few days off, but I think I'm just gonna go for it.  I want this thing done!

So, now I need your help.  Many of you have offered to run portions of the race, ride along etc.  Let me know if you're still in, and we can figure out the logistics this week.  Also, if you haven't donated yet, please do.  We are really close to the goal.  Counting donations and pledges we've raised ~$4800 so far, and your donation could make the difference.  I'll even sweeten the deal.  Continuing the theme of Cincy love, the person's donation that puts us over the hump will get a free pint of the world's best ice cream, Graeter's (flavor of your choice).  I'm ordering some for the finish line :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, the places you'll go!

Twin Peaks, SF

Ocean Beach, SF

Lands End, SF

Huddart Park, CA

Wunderlich Park, CA

Beantown, MA

Charleston Slough, Mountain View, CA

Alta Trail, Marin, CA

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Law of Undulations

"and if only the will to walk is really there, He is please even with their stumbles."

-- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape letters

As much as my mother would like me to be, I am not a Christian man.  I am however a man of faith.  I'm agnostic, but in a sense of that word that I find is not often used.  I find that all religions that I have encountered hold many fundamental and powerful truths.  In the end, I am unable to place one over the other.

Let me also apologize if the blog has felt a little too much like a weekly sermon lately.  I assure you I am not always this earnest.  I've just been incredibly busy lately, and I've been using the blog as a weekly pep talk to myself.

With those qualifications out of the way, let me get back to the point.  This week was full of stumbles.  I missed two work outs and I've fallen behind at work as well.  It was a bad week.  It happens to everyone sometimes.  In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis calls it the "Law of Undulations."  We all have ups and downs.  That realization, the universality of the experience, helps me get past the first of the two dangers Lewis associates with undulations, despair.  We're all in this together.  You are not alone.  For some reason it reminds me that this too shall pass. 

The trickier part for me, is the second danger, complacency.  Accepting the lows as part of life is helpful, but it doesn't mean you should stop struggling against them, reaching for higher things, passionately pursuing your life.

So, I'm back at it this weekend.  I ran a long one yesterday, and I'll run a long one again today.  I caught up on some work yesterday, and I'll do some more today.  I'm a little behind on fundraising, but I'll just have to spend some more time fundraising today too.  I have the will to walk, to be better tomorrow.  Stumble, stumble, stumble :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


When I'm not running, I like to read. Currently, I'm reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's amazing. You should read it.

Much of it deals with passion. Through out the book there's an ongoing argument about whether you should follow your passions or you should choose your passions. Well that's not quite fair. It's really more of an argument over whether its best to allow people to pursue their own interests as freely as possible, or whether there's something more important than individual self-interest.

Really, Wallace says it better than I ever could:

"This I was saying: this is why choosing is everything. When I say to you choose with great care in loving and you make ridicule it is why I look and say: can I believe this man is saying this thing of ridicule?....These facts of situation, which speak so loudly of your Bureau's fear of this samizdat: now is what has happened when a people choose nothing over themselves to love, each one. A U.S.A. that would die - and let its children die, each one - for the so-called perfect Entertainment, this film. Who would die for this chance to be fed this death of pleasure with spoons, in their warm homes, alone, unmoving: Hugh Steeply, in complete seriousness as a citizen of your neighbor I say to you: forget for a moment the Entertainment, and think instead about a U.S.A. where such a thing could be possible enough for your Office to fear: can such a U.S.A. hope to survive for much longer time? To survive as a nation of peoples? To much less exercise dominion over other nations of other peoples? If these are other peoples who still know what it is to choose? who will die for something larger? who will sacrifice the warm home, the loved woman at home, their legs, their life even, for something more than their own wishes of sentiment? who would choose not to die for pleasure, alone?....Us, we will force nothing on U.S.A persons in their warm homes. We will make only available. Entertainment. There will be then some choosing, to partake or choose not to. How will U.S.A.s choose? Who has taught them to choose with care? How will your Offices and Agencies protect them, your people?....This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose - this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death. What you call the death, the collapsing - this will be the formality only....Someone or some people among your own history sometime killed your U.S.A. nation already, Hugh. Someone who had authority, or should have had authority and did not exercise authority. I do not know. But someone sometime let you forget how to choose, and what. Someone let your peoples forget it was the only thing of importance, choosing. So completely forgetting that when I say choose to you you make expressions with your face such as "Herrrrrrre we are going." Someone taught that temples are for fanatics only and took away temples and promised there was no need for temples. And now there is no shelter. And no map for finding the shelter of a temple. And you all stumble about in the dark, this confusion of permissions. The without-end pursuit of a happiness of which someone let you forget the old things which made happiness possible. How is it you say: "Anything is going"?....For your walled up country, always to shout, Freedom! Freedom!" as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it is not so simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A selves what they must do. It is this meaning only, this freedom from constraint and forced duress. But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child's greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose? The rich father who can afford the cost of candy as well as food for this children: but if he cries out "Freedom!" and allows his child to choose only what is sweet, eating only candy, not pea soup and bread and eggs, so his child becomes weak and sick: is the rich man who cries "Freedom!" the good father?"

-- David Foster Wallace

I firmly believe that you should love something greater than yourself. That's why I joined Teach for America, and that's why I'm trying to raise money for them now. I believe closing the education gap is more important than me and I'm willing to sacrifice for it.

What do you all think? Which side are you on?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Corporate matching

Thanks to everyone that has donated, or pledged to Teach for America on my behalf!  If you're employer matches charitable donations, please consider submitting your donation for consideration.  In most cases its very little work, and it will help make your donation go twice as far!

Breaking the barrier

'Nuff said.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Donor Profile #2

Meet Jenny Ramaswamy! Another fabulous supporter of More than a Marathon.

Favorite Bay Area spot: Marin Headlands

Describe the Bay Area in one word: Fantabulous

Graduate University and Degree: University of Chicago, Masters of Social Science with an emphasis in Cultural Psychology

Current Employer: Google

Current Occupation/Title: Marketing Manager

Furthest you've ever run: 26.2 miles (not more than a marathon)

Favorite quote: A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. - Emerson

Current favorite song:

Please describe a significant moment in your education and how it impacted you:

This is a tough one. I am not sure I have one significant moment. I come from a family of teachers. My mother's parents both made their careers and education and all three of their daughters made careers in the local school district. A commitment to education surrounded me and constantly reminded me of how important it was.

Why are you supporting More than a Marathon:

Not everyone is born into a family of educators and unfortunately not everyone in the US has access to high quality education. My husband and I live in SF and are expecting our first child in January. We've already been told that we shouldn't plan to send our children to public schools here. That just isn't acceptable to me. What about the children in this city that don't have the luxury to consider alternatives? We have the ability to bring high quality education to all of our youth - its a matter or prioritizing this above other resource needs. I think what Matt is doing to raise awareness for this issue is admirable. I also appreciate that 100% of my $111.00 donation will go to Teach for America. I look forward to watching Matt cross the finish line and seeing more people in our area take an interest in making education better for everyone in our community.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Learning something new every day

For the past few weeks, I've been running in various clubs and events around the city to keep myself from getting too bored. As some of you may recall from an earlier post, I started out my group runs with the Golden Gate Tri Club on the Dipsea trail. And what a start it was. That run let me know that I had a long way to go.

A couple of weeks back I did a training run with with a group preparing for the Nike Womens Marathon
. My roommate's girlfriend had told me that a lot of men came to the runs, so I tried it out. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly depending on how you look at it, there were quite a few fellas there, and a number of strong runners, both men and women. I ended up running with John and Metha. John had won the coveted Western States buckle, and Metha runs with the Impala racing team and has a record 6:35 marathon pace. Needless to say, it was a good, fast run. It was also a lot of fun. John and Metha kept me distracted and entertained for the whole run. This was the way to do it.

I still felt a little weird showing up for training runs for the Nike Womens marathon though, so this past weekend I decided to try out the San Francisco Road Runners Club, and I think I may have found my niche. The group was great. The pace was right, and, best of all, I learned a thing or two.

See, the coolest thing about the road runners was the class after the run. After we finished, their coaches taught a class on proper long distance training. Up till then, I had just been running whatever my training schedule called for as fast as I could. Boy, you should have seen the look on the coaches faces when I said that! Hilarious. It was basically the facial equivalent of one of my mother's favorite phrases from when I was younger, "You're cruising for a bruising, mister!"

In the class, they explained to me that there are really three different types of training runs. The first are your long slow distance runs. These are the runs that everyone thinks of when they think about long distance training. 16, 18, 20 mile runs to build endurance in you muscles and joints.

But there are two other important types of runs that the uninitiated don't know about: speed workouts and pace runs. It may seem counter intuitive, but speed training is actually quite important when training for longer distances. Pushing you body close to its limits over short distances helps to increase its ability to process oxygen, which makes your muscles more efficient during both short and longer runs.

As you might guess, pace runs are runs where you training at your target pace. They're middle distance runs -- never more than half your goal distance. These runs make your body more efficient at processing lactic acid and push the point where your muscles lock, further and further out.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Donor profile

Today is another first for the blog. In addition to featuring corps members and the great work they're doing, I'd also like to feature my supporters. They're making a huge contribution to education in the bay as well, and I want to make sure to give credit where its due. They're also pretty awesome people generally, so I hope you enjoy meeting them!

Name: Charlie Love

Favorite Bay Area spot: The Coastal Trail

Describe the Bay Area in one word: Mirage

University and Degree: BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Employer: A leading medical software company

Occupation: Web designer

Furthest you've ever run: 26.2

Favorite quote:

"Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love." - Charlie Brown

Current favorite song:

Please describe a significant moment in your education and how it impacted you:

It has been so long since college, that I'm not sure if I can recall a specific moment that changed me. I do remember that I always excelled in school when the coursework was subjective, which is why I do what I do today.

Why are you supporting More than a Marathon:

I've had several close friends participate in the Teach for America program. It's a good cause.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Route

Last week I finally had a chance to check out my proposed route to Mountain View. To minimize pavement pounding, I've been planning to run along the east bay. SF2G recently discovered a route in the east bay right along the water: 37 miles total distance, 17 on trails, almost all of it directly on the bay. One section even runs along a retaining wall. For a good while, you're practically in the middle of the bay. It was a beautiful ride, and I highly encourage everyone to check it out.

I'm starting to think that it might not be the route for me though. First, its not really running to work, now is it? The ride starts in San Leandro, and I live in San Francisco. Second, It leaves me stuck in the east bay for most of the run. A few different people have suggested having people run different sections of the commute, but that can't really happen if I'm on the wrong side a huge body of water. Now I'm thinking I'll probably just run the original SF2G route pioneered by Joe Gross.

I've been told its not the prettiest, but its the most direct route from SF2G.  So, if any of you care to join me for a leg, let me know in the comments.  I'd love the company :)

And, now, without further ado, you song of the post.

Cut Copy - Far Away

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Corps member guest post

This post is the first in what will hopefully be a series of guest posts by current TFA corps members. I wanted to highlight real examples of the challenges in some of our local schools and the great work corps members are doing to overcome them. Today's post is by Rob Strain. Rob is a 1st grade teacher at Charles Drew Elementary School in San Francisco, and he's pulled together a great story on the importance of goals. So without further ado, here it is!

My magic mountain
Rob Strain

Let’s not mince words: your first year with Teach For America is tough. The mental, emotional and physical toll of those first few months is not unlike training for your first marathon—full of ups and downs and draining in ways you didn’t think were possible. But somewhere along that bumpy, uphill trek, you realize that you’ve reached a turning point that places you and your kids on the path to success. For me, that moment was the day I put a hastily constructed paper mountain on the back wall of my classroom.

Let me back up for just a second and introduce myself. This past June I completed my first year as a Teach For America corps member, teaching first grade in the Bayview district of San Francisco. I’ve been following Matt’s extremely noble (and just a tinge crazy) plan to help support disadvantaged students in the Bay. What has struck me the most in his blog entries are the numerous parallels between training for a 37 mile run and teaching in a low-income school. The one that keeps coming back to me is the incredible power of having a clear, ambitious goal. It's true of runners, it's true of teachers and, surprisingly to some, it's even true for 6 and 7 year olds.

A year ago, I set the goal for my students to grow 1.5 years in reading. To put that in perspective, one would typically hope to have all students reading and writing basic sentences upon entering first grade. Many of my kids were still figuring out what sounds went with what letters. As a result, for many of them, succeeding in this goal would mean tripling the growth they had made in previous years. I knew in my heart that achieving this goal was of paramount importance. As someone in the Bayview community had once put it, there were two places for our kids: college or jail. This was only a mild exaggeration and underlined the significance of putting them on an early path to success.

The trick was finding a way to communicate the importance of this goal to six and seven year olds. How was I going to get kids who still had bathroom accidents to invest themselves in a goal that had decimals in it? The first week of school I revealed the “Big Goal” in front of twenty blank stares. I tried to punch it up a bit by mentioning that we would likely have a huge party when we achieved it, but they weren’t sold. We trudged along for the first couple of weeks with me focused on maintaining general order and the students focused primarily on testing the boundaries set for them. To say that it was mayhem would be an overstatement…but it was far from ideal.

Then came one October morning. I was pacing around my classroom at 6:00AM trying to figure out what needed to change. Was it the seating arrangement? Had I not been clear about the class rules? Then I looked over to the front wall where it stated our Big Goal in block letters: “We will grow 1.5 years in reading…” That was it! The kids had no idea what that meant and certainly no idea why it was so crucial. The running equivalent would be training to go some undetermined distance sometime in the fall. It doesn’t exactly instill a huge sense or urgency or drive.

I ran down to the supply room, ripped off a big chunk of brown construction paper, bunched it up a bit and stapled it to the wall in the shape of a mountain. That morning, the students colored little pictures of hikers with their names on them. Then, one by one, each student pinned his or her hiker to the bottom (“base camp,” if you will) of the mountain. I explained that by the end of the year, all of those hikers would be at the summit of the mountain, but that this could never happen without tremendous amounts of work and dedication.

The result of this stunt still amazes me. Every morning the students eyed their place on the mountain. Their faces beamed when they moved their hikers up to the next level. Every so often, they would break into spontaneous “Big Goal!” cheers to celebrate their success and spur on their peers. I could deescalate many behavior problems simply by drawing their attention to the mountain. And for me, there was no greater incentive to constantly work harder than seeing a gaggle of hikers still struggling to ascend to the top.

At the end of the year, a TFA staff member stopped by to visit my classroom. Like with most new visitors, the students clamored for the chance to show off the Reading Mountain. Ja’Den and Amir finished their work first, asked our guest to close her eyes, and escorted her, hand in hand to the mountain. They counted to three and screamed, “Open!” In front of her was a scattering of hikers all hovered around the top of the mountain. I am proud to say that the Superstar Scholars of Room 206 did not only meet their Big Goal—they surpassed it, averaging 1.7 years in reading growth. Again, to put that in perspective, it means students like Crishay went from not writing a full sentence to creating elaborate narratives and Alayzia went from being a non-reader to browsing Roald Dahl books. Though it may seem silly, I attribute a huge amount of their success to that makeshift mountain. The simple act of having that clear, tangible goal and being able to watch their progress toward it made all the difference for my kids.

What Matt is doing is a perfect embodiment of this phenomenon. His run has a clear beginning and a very clear, albeit extraordinarily ambitious endpoint. Having that goal and that commitment drives him to push his limits with his focus constantly on that ultimate 37-mile trek. Please take a moment to support Matt in his journey up that proverbial mountain, and in doing so, help students like mine achieve their own big goals and tackle their own mountains.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who's with me?!

I have to say, things feel a little lonely on this here blog. There hasn't been a single comment yet! The three and half hour runs are more than enough alone time people ;)

Maybe it's my fault though. The blog has a good and growing follower count (Thanks everyone!) but I haven't really given you all any good chances to participate other than through donating.

Allow me to rectify the situation. I'd like to invite you to be involved. For those of you who are runners in the Bay Area, come run with me! From now on, I'll tweet my runs 24 hours ahead of time. Just follow @gherinm or search twitter for #>amarathon and feel free to join me. And, if you're interested in joining for the climactic ultra, just let me know. The more the merrier :)

For those of you who aren't runners or aren't in the bay area, I invite you to find your own "marathon" to push beyond. Maybe it's physical, a weight to bench press or a number of pull-ups. Maybe it's professional, an ambitious project you want to accomplish or a promotion you're gunning for, or maybe it's just something personal, learning a language or reading a daunting book you've always wanted to read (I'm currently tackling Infinite Jest, myself). Whatever it is, set an audacious goal and start today!

Tell us about your goals in the comments too. As we all know for earlier posts, commitment can be an excellent motivator :) Also, if this thing is going to succeed, its got to be a team effort. As a teacher, I got by with a little help from my friends. Teach for America alumni mentored me. Local college students volunteered as tutors. My sister helped build study packets (Thanks again Amy!). I'm hoping this run will be the same way!

Oh, and as promised here is your "Song of the Post"

Friendly Fires - Paris (Aeroplane Remix)

I'm going with a European capitals theme ;)

As for pictures from the runs, you'll have to wait until next time. I forgot the camera again last week. I did finally charge the battery, so I should be prepared this week at least. It should be a good one too. I think I'm going to run the SF marathon!

Monday, July 13, 2009

All for Ones

This is all to raise money for education in the bay area, so I wanted to write a quick post on donations.

First of all, please donate! I can think of few greater injustices in the US than the achievement gap between white and minority students, and the current economic crisis only threatens to make things worse. Furthermore, Contributing to Teach for America is not only one of the most effective and direct ways address the problem, it is also money well spent on an organization know for producing results efficiently and effectively.

Second, I've received a number of questions, so I've compiled quick FAQ. See below for the answers, and let me know if you have any further question to add. I hope this helps, and I hope you'll consider supporting the effort.

Finally, I wanted to lighten things up a little and start letting you all in on some the amazing sites and sounds that I'm coming across during all this training. Take you along for the ride, so to speak. So I've decided to start posting pictures from my runs and songs from my playlist. I keep forgetting to take my camera on the runs though, so I'm kicking things off with the song Rome by Phoenix. For some reason, I particularly like the part of this song where he sings, "I thought I couldn't do this without you." I think it reminds me I can. Hope you like it as much as I do :)

Phoenix - Rome

Donation FAQ

1. How much should I donate?

I'm glad you asked! My suggested donation is $3/mi. If I complete the run that comes out to $111 total. I suggest this donation for a number of reasons.

a. Its relatively small compared to the enormity of the problem.
b. Its a nice round number.
c. It makes for a catchy blogpost title (Subtitle: $111 for 1 more teach in the bay!), etc.

2. How do I make sure More than a Marathon receives credit for my donation?

The donation link is tagged so that all donations are credited to More than a Marathon. There is no need to place any special information in the donation form. To direct your donation to the bay area, simply select that option under "Program."

3. I would like to donate if you complete your run/per mile completed. Is that possible?

Unfortunately, the Teach for America system does not allow conditional or per mile donations. However, I have created a form to allow pledges of support in either form. Simply fill out the information below, and I will follow-up with you after the run to collect the appropriate donation.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Less is more

I love that saying, "Less is more." It says so much with just three words, and it's true in so many ways. A former co-worker of mine once opened a document review by telling his manager that he had taken the "less is more" approach. His boss just told him that he liked "is more." but I almost always lean the opposite way. I'm almost always a fan of less.

For example, I always keep the Easterlin Paradox -- basically the scientific proof that more money does not bring happiness -- in mind when choosing jobs and I'm a huge fan of Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice. But really, and this will sound odd, my leanings go back to the Cold War. Well, not really to the Cold War itself, but to a discussion of the Cold War I had in graduate school. Interestingly, mutually assured destruction, despite the arms race it created, is actually a great example of why" less is more."

Let's say you're President of the United States, and you're pretty worried that Russia might shoot a ballistic missile at the US. Naturally you want to know what to do if something does come to pass, so you sit down with your top advisers and hash it out. At the end of the day, you boil it down to two real options: retaliate or let it slide.

At first glance, retaliate seems the obvious way to go. I mean, you can't just let your people get nuked! But, then you get to thinking about it, and you realize, "Hey, what if Russia did the same thing. We'd just keep retaliating until we're all dead."

So then, you start thinking maybe you should just let it slide, keep losses to a minimum. But, then you think,"Man, if Russia knew I was just going to let it slide, they could bomb us whenever they wanted!"

At this point, the dorky economist in the corner, raises his hand and says, "Uh, Mr. President, uh, I think I may have a solution. What if we set the controls so that we have to retaliate."

"We just said retaliating won't work! Weren't you listening!"

"Well, uh, I didn't say we were going to retaliate. I just said we'd set it up so we'd retaliate if they fired a missle at us. That way, they'd never fire one. If they did, it would just be assuring their own destruction."

"You mean that by forcing myself to retaliate, even if I don't really want to, I can actually prevent an attack? That's brillant! Get me the Pentagon!"

In game theory, they call that making a "commitment." By committing to retaliating, you prevent an attack. And, that's the insight. By commiting to a course of action -- sometimes even one that in the moment might be tough -- you can sometimes reach a better outcome.

Now say your a recent college graduate and you're thinking of teaching in a challenging under-resourced school. You know its the most rewarding thing you could do, but you also know that the first year of teaching can be tough. You're a little worried that after a year your friends cushy, higher paying jobs might be tempting. You know the money won't make you happier (see above), but you want to make sure you stick to your principals and see it through.

Here's where one of the many small brillances of Teach for America steps in. You make a public two-year commitment. So whenever its been a long day, or whenever you're tired of being underpayed and overworked, you have that extra support. You remember that, "I said I was going to teach for two years, and I'm going to see if through." And, what do you know, at the end of two years 6 out of 10 of corps members stay in the classroom. They got over the hump and they're off to great careers in education.

Now say you're a guy who's thinking about running 37 miles to raise money for a charity, and you're worried you might get sick on your first long run in the cold, foggy San Francisco weather. Well, let's just say I'm glad I made a commitment :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Doubling down

"... the No. 1 most predictive trait [of success as a teacher] is perseverance, or what we would call internal locus of control. People who in the context of a challenge — you can’t see it unless you’re in the context of a challenge — have the instinct to figure out what they can control, and to own it, rather than to blame everyone else in the system."

-- Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive of Teach for America
Full interview in the New York Times

I just finished my first weekend of real running, and in a stroke of serendipity I also came across an interview with Wendy Kopp in the New York Times this Sunday. The above quote really stuck with me. After this weekend, I get the feeling perseverance might be the No.1 predictor of my success as well.

The theme of the weekend was doubling. Today, I ran my regular route, Golden Gate Park from tip to tale, twice. Adding in a couple of loops around Stow Lake, I'm hoping that I made my 18 miles because, if not, I'm a little bit intimidated. By the end, even my insoles ached.

Friday was the real test though. I ran the Dipsea trail, and keeping with the theme of the weekend, we doubled it. So they say that fools rush in ... and in this case I definitely played the fool. A friend, Daniel, organizes runs for the Golden Gate Tri Club, and he suggested I join the crew for the run. 13 or 14 miles, it sounded pretty innocuous.

I showed up the next morning, and found out that things weren't as they appeared. Daniel forgot to mention that the run basically the run summits Mt. Tam, twice since we doubled it! He also forgot to mention that the last time the club ran the double dipsea it took three and a half hours. My normal time for a half is 1:30. I was starting to get pretty damn nervous.

The club got me through it though. They taught me how to pace myself for long runs, walking up steep climbs, managing my heart rate for the long haul, etc. They're great guys, and I'm looking forward to running with them more in the future. Still, I hope it gets a little easier with some training.

In a lot of ways, my experience in Teach for America was similar. The mission inspired me, but I had not idea what I was getting into when I signed up. And, similarly, I made it through due to the generosity of those more experienced than myself. James Abbatiello, Sarah Usdin, Elzy Lindsey, Jinan Sumler, the list of my mentors could take up its own blog.

Teach for America teachers also double down. Each commits to teaching two years, and in a lot of ways that second year is a lot like my second trip on the Dipsea. You're know more. You're better prepared, but you also now know what you're really up against. You succeed through perseverance. Wendy said it better than I ever could in the second half of the quote above.

"In this case, there are so many people who could be blamed — kids, kids’ families, the system. And yet you’ll go into schools and you’ll see people teaching in the same hallway, and some have that mentality of, “It’s not possible to succeed here,” and others who are just prevailing against it all. And it’s so much about that mind-set and the instinct to remain optimistic in the face of a challenge."

In a lot of ways Teach for America reminds me of Malcom Gladwell's latest article for the New Yorker, How David Beats Goliath. Wendy Started Teach for America to change the rules of a game that was unfairly stacked against some students. She graduated from college and tried to become a teacher in New York only to find it overwhelming. In her words,

"That’s what led me to realize: You know what? We should recruit people to teach in low-income communities as aggressively as people were being recruited at the time to work on Wall Street."

From there, its been all hustle. Thousands of corps members working harder in classrooms across the country to make a difference. David beating Goliath, one student at a time. Its how change happens, and its an inspiration to me. I hope it is to you too.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First day of training

So, today was supposed to be my first day of training, and I blew it off. Six to ten, and I didn't run a lick. It would seem like I was off to a pretty bad start, except for the fact that I biked ~50 miles instead :)

The idea to run to work actually came out of a group that I've been biking to work with once or twice a week for about half a year now. It's called SF2G, and its one of my favorite parts of the week. I just couldn't give it up entirely, even to train for the run.

Someone from SF2G rides almost everyday, but the idea to run to work actually came to me on bike to work day. Over 100 riders made the commute from San Fran to the South bay that day, and it got me jealous. For most of those 100 riders, that commute was an experience, something special that they don't do everyday. I wanted that feeling again, so I started to think about what I could do to up the ante a little. Thus, run to work day was born.

Well, I need to get to work now, but I wanted to also point out that I've added a "Donate Now" button to the blog. Remember, all this craziness is really about improving education in the Bay Area. There will be more on that in subsequent blogposts, but, for now, please donate! It for a more than worthy cause, and every dollar goes straight to the cause.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The plan and the rationale

Hi everybody!

My name is Matt, and I'm about to do something unbelievable for the second time. OK, so its not really that unbelievable. Apparently thousands of people do it in South Africa every year. Nevertheless, whenever I mention what I'm going to do, invariably people scoff. With that said, it's probably about time I got around to telling you what I'm going to do.

I'm going to run to work.

If you don't know me and my present situation, you're probably a little incredulous right now. You may be asking yourself, "All that build up for that? People run to work everyday." You may even run daily yourself.

So, let me tell you a little more about myself. I live in San Francisco. I work in marketing for Google in Mountain View. My commute is about 37 miles. Google maps says it should take about 40 minutes by car. On a bad day, it can be more like an hour and a half, if not two hours. I expect it will take me about 7.5 hours to run.

This isn't something I do regularly either. I've never run a marathon. In fact, I actually once promised myself that I never would (luckily the extra distance involved here lets me gently side-step the cognitive dissonance that statement now holds). The furthest I've ever run is about 13 miles.

Hopefully, a few of you have started to scoff. But, I shouldn't set this up as some herculean feat. As I mentioned, thousands of people run this far (farther actually) in South Africa each year, and thousand more run "ultra-marathons" every year. In fact, I'm actually lucky enough to have a number of great friends willing to run with me. Six of them actually. All of whom you'll hopefully get to know if you follow our blog.

In all honesty, 37 miles pales in comparison to the first unbelievable thing I did, and the ultimate motivation for this stunt. When I graduated from college, I joined Teach for America and taught 7th grade math and science in an under-resources school in New Orleans, LA.

Again, many of you are probably incredulous. Hundreds of thousands of people become teachers each year. Many of them in under-resourced schools like the one in which I taught. So, possibly I misrepresented this story somewhat. Becoming a teacher was probably not all that unbelievable. What was unbelievable was the situation that drove me to become a teacher.

In fact, I would argue that unbelievable is really the only way to describe the education achievement gap between rich and poor in the US. We live in the richest country in the world, yet children from the bottom socioeconomic quintile are still 7 times less likely to attend college as their peers in the top quintile. In a country that prides itself on equal opportunities for all and the dream of rising from rags to riches thats seems simply unexceptable to me.

So I joined Teach for America and became a teacher. It was the most rewarding two years of my life. No ad campaign I've ever worked on has compared to helping a child learn to read. None.

That said, it wasn't for me. My talents were better suited to the world of business, and I moved on. I've always wanted to stay involved, and this run is my latest attempt to do so.

This year, Teach for America will place 4,100 teachers in schools around the country. Combined with existing corps members, they'll reach over 400,000 students, and research indicates they'll have a significant positive impact on those students academic achievements.

That's an enormous accomplishment, and I think it deserves an enormous tribute. And, that's why I'm running to work. I wanted to raise awareness of Teach for America and help raise the money it takes to accomplish all of this. My goal is to raise enough money to fund one teacher in the bay area. $5000.

So, if any of this has inspired you, made you angry or even just made you laugh, please take the time to make a donation. All funds will go directly to sponsoring a teacher in the bay. Unlike some other fund raising runs, none of the money will be used for flights to exotic race locals. After all, I'm just trying to get to work ;)

I plan to make the run on October 16th, and, of course, your donations will only be taken if I complete the commute -- and work a full day ;) Over the next four months, I'll be training and updating this blog, so please come back often to follow all the fun. I've included my training schedule below to give you some idea of what's to come.

In honor of my silicon valley location and profession, I'll also be including a few special pre-release alpha and beta version of the commute. Versions 0.1 and o.5, if you will. I'll let you know more as they approach. That's all for now. I need to start training! I hope you enjoy the blog, and I hope you'll support the cause.

Training Schedule

Week M T W TH F S SU
Rest 6-10 miles, including 4x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 7-9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 90-minute run 3-hour run (or about 18 miles)
Rest 6-10 Miles, including 4x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 7-9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 90-minute run 3-hour run
Rest 6-10 miles, including 2x2 miles at HMP Easy 5-mile jog 7-9 miles, middle 3 at MP (5:00) Rest 2-hour run 3.5-hour run (or about 20 miles)
Rest 5-8 miles, including 3x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 6 miles, middle 2 at MP Rest 1.5-hour run 2-hour run
Rest 9 miles, including 6x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 3.5- to 4-hour run (or about 20-24 miles) 3-hour run
Rest 9 miles, including 6x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 3.5- to 4-hour run 3-hour run
Rest 9 miles, including 6x1 mile at HMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 3.5- to 4-hour run 3-hour run, last hour at MP
Rest 9 miles, including 3x2 miles at HMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 2-hour run 2.5-hour run
Rest 9 miles, including 6x1 miles at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 4-hour run 3.5-hour run, last hour at MP
Rest 9 miles, including 6x1 miles at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 4-hour run 3.5-hour run, last hour at MP
Rest 9 miles, including 3x2 miles at HMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 2.5-hour run 3-hour run
Rest 9 miles, including 6x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 4-hour run 5-hour run (or about 27-29 miles)
Rest 9 miles, including 6x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 4-hour run 5-hour run
Rest 9 miles, including 4x1 mile at TMP Easy 5-mile jog 9 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 2-hour run 2-hour run
Rest 7 miles, including 3x1 mile at MP Easy 5-mile jog 7 miles, middle 3 at MP Rest 1.5-hour run Easy 1-hour jog
Rest 6 miles, middle 3 at HMP Easy 5-mile jog Rest: Stay off your feetRun to Work!
Rest. (Duh.)