Ready to Taper

T minus ten days to the marathon. Because the training schedule I’m using has a short taper, and I further offset it by two days to fit my weekly schedule, I still technically have one more tempo run to do. But I’m going to scale back the intensity on it. Basically the hard work is done, and I mostly did the program as prescribed.

I re-installed Rubitrack on my MacBook to get some pretty graphs. The bars below show my weekly mileage (I’m only half done this week, so the right-hand bar will be bigger by Sunday). You can see my calf-strain break in the second week of March. The biggest week was 94 km, with most of my recent weeks ending up somewhere around 75 km. That’s not a huge amount of mileage for a marathon, partly because this plan included only four runs longer than 20 km. But what you can see very clearly from the colours is how much of my running is being done at higher intensities: yellow, orange, tomato and red. Those colours are all faster than my target race pace. The greens and blues are slower than my target race pace. Once you factor in that my warm-ups and cool-downs all lie in the blue/green range, it’s clear that there isn’t that much easy mileage in the meat of this training program.

Screenshot 2016-04-20 19.24.16

That’s the flip-side of not doing a ton of long runs: mid-length runs are often higher intensity runs, and they aren’t flanked by rest days. Here’s a typical three-day stretch: a 12k set of strength intervals, followed by a slower (bluer) 9k, and then right onto a 16k tempo run the next day.

Screenshot 2016-04-20 19.32.03

The logic here is that while I’m not doing long runs very often, the mid-length higher-intensity runs stack right up against each other without recovery time. This means that from a training standpoint my 16k on the third day works very much like a the second half of a long run. The principle is that cumulative fatigue thing that I mentioned before. It means you go out running, and hard, when your legs are still grumbling about what you did to them yesterday and the day before.

Reinstalling Rubitrack has let me look back on my training from 2012, when I ran the same marathon. It was a more conventional approach: it had weekly high-mileage runs, most over 26k, and only occasional faster workouts. So you see very little orange in these bars. And look at how long the taper was! It was only supposed to be two weeks, but I got bored and tired of the training and I gave up 3 weeks before race day.

Screenshot 2016-04-20 19.52.22

Who knows whether this will translate to results on race day. Anything could happen: I could get sick, or I could under- or over-hydrate, or have digestive issues, or the weather could be way too hot, or I could cramp up or get nasty blisters. But I would be happy, now four years older and well on the far side of 50, if I could better my 4:22 time from 2012. I think that’s definitely possible, and if all goes well I could cut quite a bit off. But I’m in it for the experience more than anything.

Accomplishments

Over the past few years the focus of my blog (well, it’s arguable whether it has any focus at all) has moved away from the specifics of what my children are up to. That’s been the natural result of them growing up and becoming their own people, and my feeling that I want to honour their independence and autonomy by not broadcasting details of their daily lives.

But this week I feel like I need to post an update, if only for the extended family. My kids … they’re just doing so well! So many awesome things are happening!

Screenshot 2016-04-15 16.17.04 Fiona played beautifully at the music festival. She’s shown such incredible growth this year on the violin. She loves what her new teacher has helped her learn. She’s practicing much more regularly and her musicianship is really beginning to blossom. She will be performing ‘Aus der Heimat’ by Smetana tomorrow on the big stage at the Highlights Concert and has been selected for the Provincial Festival.

She also rocked her way through her first couple of Grade 10 academic courses. She finished Math 10 (Foundations and PreCalculus) half a year early with a nice solid A grade. She’s poised to finish Science 10 soon with similar grades and has another couple of online courses that she aims to complete before June. So she’ll enter a split Grade 10/11 program in the fall. We’re waiting on acceptance of her transfer into the big-ish high school in Nelson and course selection, hopefully within the next few days. She has grown into a young person with so much confidence and maturity that I think she’ll easily fit in with classes containing students 2-3 years older; I’ll be surprised if any of them will suspect she’s only 13.

U8Coyl9PSophie has already got her graduation diploma but is knocking off a extra few courses and exams to round out her high school career. She got accepted into her Engineering program of choice, complete with a glowing hand-written letter of welcome. I’m not sure if they do that with all offers, but this letter was very specific in referring to her unique background and exceptional personal strengths, and she was, after all, invited to the “future leaders in engineering” reception with the Dean and Other People Who Matter when she attended the open house there last November. So she’ll be in Vancouver in the fall, will have plenty of friends (and a sibling) nearby and is already connecting with people in the program. And the icing on the cake is that she has already had a couple of years of experience with many of the less tangible challenges of transitioning to university life. Having lived in Nelson largely unsupervised during the past two years, she already knows how to manage her own travel, cooking, social life, study schedule, shopping, relationship boundaries, self-advocacy with teachers, paperwork and so on without support or structure from her parents.

footer-siat-1 Noah is in his 2nd year at Simon Fraser University and has won his way through the tough slog of the monster second-year Design course and the nasty computer-oriented math course. He is now enjoying digging deeper into the more specialized computer-oriented learning and electronic design. This semester he designed an electronic glove that could be used to translate American Sign Language into written or spoken language and earned 100% on the project. He is looking at co-op education opportunities, has a healthy social life and an ongoing obsessive love for his chosen field, so he’s in a really good place I think.

75989_300Erin spent the latter half of February on an audition tour for grad school programs. She then returned to Montreal to finish out her last semester and wait for offers. She was accepted at a few great schools. It came right down to the wire for her with rumours on Decision Day of a possible last-minute offer from Yale. New England Conservatory was her first choice and she had received a nice big scholarship offer as well as an assured spot with a teacher she liked, but Yale, where she was wait-listed, was a close second and would be much more affordable. But the deadline loomed and in the end NEC won out. So, hey… Boston! Not too shabby!

Circus

IMG_2925 (1)Both Fiona and Sophie are doing aerial silks at the new circus arts school in Nelson. They’re in different classes and I haven’t had a chance to see Sophie in action yet. She’s been at it for just over three months; the instructor moved her up from beginner to Level 1 after the first session and she’s really enjoying it.

Fiona did an introductory combined class in acro-yoga and aerial silks for homeschoolers first. Because of the size and maturity range of the class, she was more interested in and challenged by the silks. So she has re-enrolled specifically in that. And her teacher sent this photo! So cool!

Fitting the miles in (Week 15/18)

IMG_2950This week is proving very difficult to fit my training in. I’ve had to give up cross-training on the bike because I’m out of town. But a combination of meetings, symphony rehearsals, performances, driving across the province and the impending onslaught of Music Festival is making it impossible to fit in everything I had scheduled.

IMG_2951Maybe it’s not a big deal. I’m breaking in some new [road] shoes, and I’ve got a niggle in my knee that I don’t want to annoy. If after I get through this week I can get in a solid 10 days of training before I start tapering for the marathon, I’ll be fine.

Yesterday and today I ran the asphalt rail trail in Cranbrook. I’m a trail runner at heart, but heading into a road race. This paved trail is a great compromise: flat, scenic, and still suitable for my shoes and good preparation for the race.

I’ve managed to fit 67km into this week which isn’t bad: it’s within 10k of what I had planned. I have no idea how I’ll fit next week’s Long Run in, but we’ll see what happens. And I am still setting PRs on my tempo runs. This week:

Screenshot 2016-04-09 18.11.15 Screenshot 2016-04-09 18.09.33Clearly I’m running too fast for these training runs. I need more practice running at 5:30-5:35/km effort, which is what I’ll be shooting for on race day. But it’s hard to do that, since all the terrain I run is so rolling.

My trail runners from last winter have almost 1000k on them, and have a far more aggressive tread than I need for a road run. The new shoes are by a company called On. I had never heard of them, the but the model I got, the Cloud, is an ultra-light road shoe with a “transitional” (i.e. somewhat minimalist but not quite) amount of cushioning, which is what I was looking for for this longer race. They’re white: I look like I just arrived from a tennis match. Not what I would have chosen if I’d had any choice, but hey, they’ll be dirty soon enough.

PRs

Screenshot 2016-03-19 17.05.34 Ah, I was right. I’m getting faster! My weekend run was a 14.5k tempo run. It was sunny and I was feeling good, running at a moderate exertion level. About 5k into it I checked my Garmin and noticed that my average pace was putting me on track for a 10k Personal Record. So I kept the heat on enough to do that. What I didn’t realize was that I’d already broken my 5k record, and had enough juice to also PR at 15k and 10 mile distances. Yay me!

Marathon Training Week 12

Oh boy this past couple of weeks has been tough. First I pulled part of the soleus muscle in my right calf. And then within hours I got sick. It’s all good now, but it’s been a heck of a couple of weeks.

When I strained my calf, I babied it for a few days. I ran only short distances at an easy pace on the treadmill and put in the rest of the time on my bike trainer. Dang, the thing did not get any better! So I took three days off completely. Blew my streak of more than two months of daily workouts. Skipped a tempo workout that I normally would have considered crucial. Missed my weekly mileage goal by a lot. I iced my calf, rolled it, stretched it, rested it. I was sick too. Coughing through the night. Coughing all day. So tired. I guess it was good that this happened during the week I had to take time off anyway.

And miraculously the strain healed. My simple injuries never seem to behave simply, but this one did. I went back to the treadmill & bike combination and everything felt normal. Hit the pavement again the next day and seemed to be free and clear.

Two thirds of the way to the summit. Just beginning to snow.

Two thirds of the way to the summit. Just beginning to snow.

While still coughing all night I managed to pull off a 26k long run. Twenty-six kilometres is as long as the Long Runs get in the Hansons program, and there are just three of them, so I didn’t want to shortchange this one. I put on my winter tights and a light jacket and went up the pass, which made for almost 700 metres of climbing. Met winter up there. Hello, blizzard. Wished I’d brought gloves.

Came home, feeling like I still had gas in the tank, putting in a couple of 5:20-pace kilometres on the flat section at the bottom, so it felt like a pretty successful run. Part of that might be that I took water and food with me. I’ve been pretty lazy about this; when the weather is cool I don’t really need to hydrate for runs of under 10-12k. But now a lot of my workouts are 16k+ and I really should be carrying water and SportBeans or something. I ate and drank a bit along my 26k run, and it made a big difference in how I felt during the last 5-10k.

I woke up with an inflamed Achilles tendon the morning after the long run to the summit. Crap. Having just taken a week to heal the soleus muscle I was darned if I was going to take a week to rest the gastroc/Achilles. But I think it must have just been the punishing downhill from the summit the day before … it got better as I continued to do normal daily runs.

Today was strength workout #2. Having got 6 uninterrupted hours of sleep last night I felt almost human, and my legs are entirely back to normal. I had a great run. It was supposed to be 2.4km at 5:30/km pace, with an 800 metre recovery jog, repeated four times. I did the 2.4 km at 5:02/km, nice and consistently. Felt strong. Sun was out.

Something I realized. My best recorded 5k pace is 5:05, but today I ran a Grade-Adjusted Pace of about 4:50 for two 2.4km segments, (and around 4:57 for the other two) and I felt like I didn’t need the 800 metre recovery interval. So I’m pretty sure I could set a new 5k Personal Best if I wanted, likely breaking the 25-minute barrier. I’m definitely wired for endurance more than speed, so a sub-25-minute 5k isn’t that impressive in comparison with most other runners, but it would represent a significant milestone for me. I might try for that in a couple of weeks if I’m still feeling good.

Marathon Training: Week 10

This week:

First truly long run (23k) done.
Fifth and final set of speed intervals done.
These were big mental hurdles for me, especially the speed intervals.

The speed interval training I’m doing reminds me of the Couch-to-5k program I used six years ago to get started running. Back then it was “jog a short time, then walk a short time” which progressed gradually to “jog a longer time, then walk a short time.” In other words, the easy slow intervals became gradually less frequent over the course of training. In the case of the C25k program, they eventually disappeared altogether, so that you were able to run the entire 5k.

This time around the slow intervals are a jog, and the fast intervals are run at a pace just barely below the anaerobic threshold. For me right now that’s about 4:55 per kilometre (7:55 per mile, 12.2 km/h). The total distance run at this faster speed is about 5 km every week, but the first time that was split up into 12 separate short sections. Week by week the fast chunks got larger. Because I love graphs, here’s what the progression looked like:

Graph1

 

 

Graph2

 

Graph3

Because the fast intervals are done so close to threshold, one isn’t aiming to get rid of the recovery intervals entirely. That would be a good approach if training for a 5k race, but for marathon training the idea here is simply to nudge that threshold upwards a tiny bit while improving the form and efficiency of the running muscles.

If you had told me after Speed Week 1 that I’d soon be able to run 1.2 km (rather than a measly 400 metres) at that fast pace I would have been very skeptical. As I recall I tried to explain that to myself and I was, in fact, deeply skeptical. I am impressed that the training seems to be working: I was able to complete Speed Week 5, and it actually felt easier than Week 1.

The next phase involves weekly strength workouts, which are longer and still faster than marathon pace, but only by a bit. These should be easier for me.

Getting ready for school

2016-02-23 15.37.50We’ve started the paperwork, the “Request for Transfer” into the bricks-and-mortar high school that Fiona wants to attend next year. Actually, she has started the paperwork; for whatever reason this kid loves filling out forms and isn’t afraid of a pen, so she has done it herself.

Really, though, this whole year has really been about getting ready to start school. We’re making an effort to formally document where she’s at so that no one can argue with requests for appropriate academic placement next year. Three years ago we laid the groundwork by accepting the offer of a double-grade-skip. This means that she is considered by the school system to be “in Grade 9″ rather than Grade 7. We have kept her enrolled in Distributed Learning to preserve that placement, to ensure that she has an ongoing school record that confirms her accelerated grade level and that there’s no room for quibbling. We want her to be able to enter Grade 10 next year in a school that doesn’t know her from Adam without leaving any room for argument.

She has areas where she needs additional acceleration. For example, she completed the Grade 9 math school curriculum two years ago. She hadn’t done any official math curriculum work since then, but we knew that Grade 10 math next fall would be entirely review and lacking in challenge. So she decided to document her mastery of Grade 10 math this year by taking it as a self-paced course, writing tests and exams and getting the high school credit entered on her transcript. She did the same with Grade 10 Science. Now the only place the school can put her in those subjects is into Grade 11 courses.

And then finally we made a couple of strategic moves in the name of efficiency. She’s taking a couple of the required-but-(in-her-case)-annoying Grade 10 courses online this year. These are the Physical Education and Career & Personal Planning courses. For some students these might be really worth doing at school, but we couldn’t see the case for that with Fiona. For example, she is a kid who really dislikes team sports, yet takes part in a fantastic array of physical activities well in excess of what is expected for a PE10 credit. She has a terrific appreciation of principles of training, healthy living and so on. Rather than subjecting her to a single semester of co-ed team sports she dislikes which would likely reduce the time and energy she had for the sports she loves (this year dance, gymnastics, indoor climbing, aerial silks), we chose to leverage the things she loves. So she’s using the things she enjoys doing, and some additional project work, to get those credits out of the way.

All of this means that she should be able to enter a combination of meaningful and appropriately challenging Grade 10 & 11 courses next year without (we hope!) any questions or arguments from the school. We are hoping that they will allow her a spare block or two so that she has the time and energy to keep up her music and dance interests while adjusting to the very different lifestyle that school will demand she keep. Like Sophie was at this stage, Fiona is theoretically far enough ahead that she could compress her Grade 10/11/12 years into two. But also like Sophie she decided that would compromise the benefits of attending this larger fuller-featured school: being able to explore learning more broadly and deeply through electives and advanced / honours options. Graduating at 16 will be plenty soon enough!

Marathon Training: Week 8

Shoes on the drying rack, perpetually

Shoes on the drying rack, almost perpetually

Eight weeks down, ten to go. Nearing the half-way point my training. That would feel like a big accomplishment, except that training is always back-heavy. The second half contains most of the hard work. Deep breath.

The weather has been crazy warm and spring-like for February. The lower-level trails are already clear of snow, which is amazing. Normally this doesn’t happen until mid-March. There’s been a fair bit of rain. My shoes are almost always sopping wet when I get home. Up on the drying rack they go.

When I ran my marathon in 2012 I remember how momentous the Sunday long runs felt. They increased relentlessly by 2k per week from 10k all the way up to 32k. The final phase, when every Sunday meant a run of more than 20k, wore me down. By the last month I started cheating. I was burnt out. I completely skipped one long run and starting cutting corners all over the place. My taper started 4 weeks out, instead of 10 days. Gah. I was just so ready to be done.

So it was interesting today to look back at where my mileage was at this stage when I ran my first marathon. In 2012 I had run 481 kilometres by February 24. Really? That seems nuts. This time around I’ll have done a measly 360 kilometres. I wouldn’t have guessed it was so much less. It feels to me like I am running lots. Like really lots. I haven’t taken a day off in more than 6 weeks. Most of my runs take about an hour now and that “cumulative fatigue” thing is real; I feel it in my leaden legs the day after an SOS workout. I wonder if I’ll feel as burnt out by the beginning of April as I did in 2012.

I hope that because the long runs aren’t as long this program won’t leave me feeling as burnt out. My longest runs this spring will peak at 26k; there will be just three of them, and they’ll be spaced two weeks apart. I think I can do this.

I’m surviving the speed workouts. They’re still the hardest, but there are only two more to do. They’re progressive, so on paper they’re getting more challenging, but they’re not feeling any tougher, so I must be improving. With these I notice what a huge difference tension makes. Efficiency of form is so important when running fast. After the speed workouts are done I switch to intermediate-paced longer-interval strength runs. For me I think these will be easier.

Avalanche run

As soon as I left home I could hear them: shells exploding, dropped by a helicopter as part of avalanche control efforts along the highway. So I wasn’t surprised to see a line of cars waiting to be given the all-clear to head up the pass. I had to turn back and do a couple of back-and-forth kilometres, killing time until the road opened.IMG_2886

Fortunately it didn’t take too long before we got waved through. It was a lovely sunny day, so I didn’t mind the delay anyway.

IMG_2888There was a little avalanche that had come down the chute at Nature Boy. I actually smelled it before I saw it … the scent of mud and fresh spruce and pine. This is where we had a big avalanche about seven years ago that closed the road for several days. Today’s was just a tiny thing that didn’t even reach the road.

Marathon Training: Week 6

Screenshot 2016-02-07 16.27.19I’m proud of my 28 black boxes. They mean I have done some sort of aerobic workout (running, biking or both) every day for the past 28 days.  My total time spent exercising is going up by about an hour a week, with most of that increase due to running (the green bars).

This was the first week of SOS workouts. My first speed workout was really tough. My first tempo workout was fine; even with rolling hills I undercut my target pace by about 10 seconds per kilometre. The “long” run this week wasn’t really any longer than I’m used to (13k), so it hardly counts as long.

Next week will hold fairly steady for duration, intensity and distance. There will be another nasty speed workout, fewer intervals but slightly longer ones. The rest will be the same, which is nice, because it’s a Symphony weekend. I’ll probably even ditch one day on the bike trainer.

Something of Substance

Pace (grey) and Heart Rate (red) over twelve intervals

Pace (grey) and Heart Rate (red) over twelve intervals

This is where I really start training. It’s no longer about just building mileage through daily runs.

SOS stands for “something of substance” and it refers to runs that have a particular training focus. There will be three of these every week from now on. One will focus on speed (or later strength), one will be a tempo run at my goal marathon pace, and one will be the Long Run to extend my physical and mental stamina.

Speed is where I struggle. My legs probably have about six fast-twitch muscle fibres between them. I’m a slow-twitch gal through and through; that’s why I can add mileage so easily. So the speed interval workouts over the next five weeks are really going to challenge me. Based on my longer-distance performance, I “should” be able to run speed intervals at a pace of 4:53 per kilometer. I did it today, but even though the intervals were short, it was hard. I’m not at all sure I’ll be able to maintain that pace as the intervals get longer. Today’s only lasted 2 minutes: eventually they’ll last 6! Because today’s were short I had to run twelve of the damn things… and I lost count in the middle (on the graph that’s where I stopped and my heart rate dropped) and realized I had to do two more than I had briefly thought.

Tempo runs and long runs will probably be fine. I accidentally ran a 10k at almost tempo pace earlier this week and it felt pretty easy. And I know I can do long. Speed, though, speed kills.

The trainer

IMG_2864

The trainer in the garage

Well thank goodness. I was just getting sick. That was why I was feeling so tired. Two days and three nights of low-grade fevers, aching legs, headache and fatigue. Then … nothing. My immune system seems to have won.

So, this is my bike trainer. I got it last summer, used, for $150. It’s a CycleOps Fluid2, which attaches to my rear axle and has a flywheel with silicon-fluid resistance. It’s amazingly quiet. I can watch episodes of The Wire on my little MacBook and can easily hear everything through its wee speaker. It has a really natural feel to it. As I increase my pedalling speed, the resistance goes up, just like wind resistance would go up in real life. It is stable, and smooth, and doesn’t slip.

What I can’t do is ride on Zwift, which I had really wanted to do. It’s a virtual social riding app which plops a Virtual You into various simulated cycling courses, with the scenery whipping by you in immersive virtual reality. Sadly they don’t yet support 650C wheels, the size that I have on my slightly smaller than typical road bike. And they don’t account for the aberrant decrease in viscosity of fluid silicon as it nears the 0ºC temperature of a Canadian garage in the depth of winter. That’s a double-whammy that means is that the calculations they do in order to determine my virtual speed and virtual power err on the side of the exceedingly generous. Because of the social nature of Zwift, the result is that when I drop my avatar into the environment — as I did during my free trial — Virtual Me begins merrily whupping all the other riders on the course. Which a few of them don’t take kindly to.

I changed my username to Sorry 650C-Tire. But people still didn’t get it; a few of them still nagged at me to “fix my power settings,” which unfortunately there was no way I could do. It would require some considerable explanation about my set-up to make them understand why, not something I wanted to have to do repeatedly in a tiny chat box, during a ride. And I couldn’t ignore the comments and just enjoy myself despite the snark, because I hate having negative vibes aimed at me. Too bad, because I really really loved the app.

A $600 power meter would fix the problem. Or a $1300 smart trainer like the Wahoo Kickr. But, well, no, not happening. Someday Zwift plans to build wheel size options into their app.

Until then, it’s okay. If I was riding long hard distances five days a week in my garage I’d be desperate for it. But I do at most three short easy rides a week, and that’ll be dropping as my running mileage increases. So I watch episodes of The Wire and I’m fine.

Cumulative fatigue

It’s a good thing, supposedly. At least in this case. But I’m feeling it today!

The idea is to train your body for endurance without doing outrageously long or difficult workouts, but by simply doing them frequently enough that your body doesn’t recover completely in between. By pushing your body to do more work before it is thoroughly recovered, you are encouraging it to adapt to these new, tougher conditions.

In preparing for a marathon I need structure. This time I’m basing my structure on Hansons Marathon Method, from the book of the same name. I’m now 5 out of 18 weeks through the program. The first 5 weeks are about building a base and acclimatizing to daily running. The next phase adds speed intervals and tempo runs, as well as longer easy runs. The third phase changes speed workouts for strength-based runs, and the final 10 days are of course a taper to the race.

Having finished the first phase the meat of the program hasn’t really begun. I’m doing pretty well; I find the easy runs easy and I am not experiencing any over-use symptoms from running every day. But because I’m combining the six prescribed runs a week with three bike rides a week on my trainer, I’m starting to experience the fatigue.

IMG_2859

This is so just the beginning. (See weekly cumulative mileage in the graph along the bottom.)

IMG_2860

Some cross-training on the bike trainer. Also increasing.

There’s no doubt I’m going to have to give up the bike rides soon. The alternative would be to use them as substitutes for runs rather than additional workouts, but except for the fact that I can watch Homeland episodes on the trainer, I prefer running.

So far, haha.

Changing DL programs

Again.

For several years our family had been with the SelfDesign distributed learning (DL) program, an unschooling-friendly sort of virtual umbrella school to which we reported in various creative ways on a weekly basis in exchange for support primarily in the form of a resource allowance. Then the local school, a place full of humanity and creativity and innovation, started its own DL program partly at my urging. We switched our enrolment to them and were pretty happy there.

Last year, though, there were some personnel changes that created a whole new learning curve in the local program, and it also became apparent that Fiona was outgrowing the cohort of kids and the target age-range of the occasional workshop offerings. So when we happened to visit SelfDesign’s Nelson location in the spring for some casual homeschooler get-togethers, we were intrigued by all the options they were offering their high school learners, and by the enthusiasm we got from staff about creating enhanced options for “Gateways Learners,” students in Grades 8 & 9. We saw all the great elective courses they offered for Grade 10+ credit that were available for motivated Grade 9 learners as well. We were told about the great camps and retreats that were offered two or three times a year. With Fiona heading into Grade 9, looking for more independence, challenge and social connections, SelfDesign looked like the place to be.

So we switched, and started the year by reconnecting with our fabulous Learning Consultant (i.e. liaison teacher) from back in the day. Fiona decided to take self-paced Math and Science at the Grade 10 level at the local school through cross-enrolment, and that was all great too.

But then it turned out that there actually wasn’t a Gateways program this year. They were going to be working on a few ideas that they could hopefully roll out later. But nothing for now, just the same routine of home-based learning and reporting as used during the K-7 years.

The first learner retreat was to take place in late October, open to students from Grades 8-12. We got Fiona all signed up and enthusiastic. But then they decided the age-range was too wide and decided to restrict it (and all future camps/retreats for learners) to those aged 14 and up.

The next frustration came when they began rolling out their exciting new opportunities for Gateways learners. These turned out to be real-time video-based online meet-ups that, while they might have been interesting to learners who were entirely new to social media, missed the mark horribly for Fiona. Online pretend play with adult facilitators over glitchy software? She took one look, muttered something derisive and sarcastic and that was that. For a kid who had been rocking Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for years, this was meaningless and laughable.

I started advocating for something more meaningful. I heard from other parents that their tweens and teens were looking for more opportunities within the program. I began writing long messages to SelfDesign personnel and having Skype sessions with key people to discuss my ideas. They seemed interested.

Sadly, what began slowly rolling out continued to miss the mark and to suffer from logistical problems. The online clubhouse was basically just a message board system oriented around topics like Arts & Crafts with well-meaning adult facilitators but no structure. Furthermore, because it was built within GooglePlus integrated with SelfDesign’s site, Fiona was too young to get permission to participate. (Google requires social media account users to be at least 13. Fibbing wasn’t an option because her birthdate was determined by her school registration.) Similarly they began offering workshops as Google Hangouts; again, Fiona was too young for access. And the initial workshop topics (Reflecting on Your Learning, and Learning to Write a Weekly Report on Your Learning) were things Fiona had been doing for years and didn’t want any help with. And they were live workshops, always scheduled at times that conflicted with other activities that she’d committed to in September.

And then the kicker. Because she was working through Math and Science 10 quickly, she was going to finish them long before the end of the school year. She had hit all the learning outcomes for many of the Grade 9 “subjects” by November. And so she was keen to add more Grade 10 courses in order to stay challenged. But SelfDesign was unable to let her take any Grade 10 courses at all within their system due to governmental funding hassles. And furthermore they wouldn’t let her cross-enrol in more than 2 courses in a different school because, in essence, they feared it would “look bad” to the government to have her doing so much of her learning in a different program.

All of which we understood, but it was just so frustrating. As it turned out our wonderful LC was feeling hugely over-extended with her student roster, so when we told her we were jumping ship and going back to our local DL program it was a blessing for her.

Sure, our local DL program will never offer a meaningful social group or workshop activities for home-learners that will meet Fiona’s social and intellectual needs. But because it’s a public-school-based program rather than an independent program like SelfDesign, the rules are much simpler. We don’t have to report every week. It’s no longer impossible to combine learning at the Grade 9 and 10 levels. And the program is so small that they are happy to build what she wants.

So she’s doing half Grade 9 and half Grade 10 and she does a couple of courses online and a couple in the classroom (actually now just Science, since she wrote the Math 10 final exam last week) and the rest of her learning is capricious, self-led and self-reported in a basic blog that she makes an effort to post to once or twice a term. And life’s good.

The plan is for enrolment at the high school in Nelson next year. Documenting her academic level through some advanced courses this year should ensure appropriate placement without any hassles.