Distributed learning: the exit

Fiona took some online Grade 10 courses this semester: PE and Personal & Career Planning. She took them partly because she wanted these required credits out of the way so that she can focus next year on the academic courses that she’s excited to dive into. But we also figured they would be a good introduction to course-like structure, assignments, quizzes, working directly with a teacher, getting grading and dealing with “writing to task.”

We like it when our DL program doesn’t cramp our style. Benign neglect it good to a point. But there’s a basic difference between a child-centred, parent-facilitated individualized learning program at home that is benignly overseen by a DL teacher, and an online course delivered by the DL program where assignments are submitted directly to the teacher. In this case Fiona was submitting things and getting nothing back: no feedback, no grading, not even any acknowledgement that things had been received.

Screenshot 2016-07-04 16.39.57A week ago we received Fiona’s report card. Her grades in her online courses were based on course records like the one on the left. Marks are shown in the third numerical column: only four assignments show up as having been graded. These assignments were done in the first couple of weeks of the semester and were graded in April a few days before a meeting that I requested on Fiona’s behalf to check in. By the end of the year nothing more had been marked. The other course has no grades showing at all. And yet Fiona submitted every last assignment.

As it got close to year-end, I had stepped in again and nudged the teacher, reminding her that Fiona had submitted lots, courses were completed, and asking whether she needed anything further. No, the teacher replied, she was reviewing all Fiona’s blog submissions and the assignments in the online courses, and everything looked great.

When her report card came, her grades for her two online courses showed up as “100%” and “Incomplete” respectively. When I questioned the Incomplete, the teacher took a look again in the online course, presumably noticed the other 19 assignments and quickly changed it to an A with “Well done” in the written comments section.

In what world is this considered an appropriate amount of feedback for a lifelong unschooler submitting her first-ever written assignments for the express purpose of gauging her readiness for a heavy academic program the following year? The government paid our school district $800 to administer each of those clunky courses. Is this really the kind of educational value for money that the taxpayer (or student!) expects?

I expect this was a one-off situation. Certainly our experience in other DL programs, and in this DL program during different years and with different teachers, has been much more positive, much more diligent, responsive, supportive. The School District superintendent, whom I’ve written to, was as appalled as I was about the oversights and I’m sure nothing like this will happen to anyone else. Not least because the teacher in question is leaving. But it sure wasn’t a great way to go out.

Web Development

Screenshot 2016-07-02 23.10.25 Screenshot 2016-07-02 23.09.46I’ve been working on a couple of Udemy courses for the past month or so. I signed up for one in April but I didn’t really dig in for a while. Once I did I decided I needed more so I’m working through both in parallel.

The Bootcamp course is the better of the two. It has more emphasis on the concepts underlying the code, and the increments and exercises are more carefully and sensibly laid out. But the Complete course has some interesting exercises and some additional content areas. Doing the two together is helping reinforce the learning and allowing me to make connections that I might not otherwise get.

When I was in high school there were no computers. The year after I graduated they began offering a course that used Fortran on a university mainframe. In the summer of 1987 I bought myself a Commodore 64 and did a ton of programming in Basic. In 1992 I did a university distance education course in TurboPascal on my first PC.  I first got into building websites in about 1995. I worked from scratch in a text editor and got pretty good with HTML3. I could edit little bits of javascript to do mouseOver effects and could build framesets (ew, remember those?) and nice layouts with tables. But when CSS came into vogue and browsers began getting more powerful, I had moved onto blogging platforms for my day to day web work, and I no longer stayed current on the scripting side. I could hack my way through php installations of bulletin board scripts and got fairly good with WordPress plugins. But there was so much beneath the admin interface that I didn’t have a clue about.

Because I manage the Valhalla Fine Arts website I decided I should get a more robust understanding how it really works. Sooner or later something will break or need a major overhaul, and I’d like to be able to upgrade it with something more customized and up-to-date when the time comes. It is currently based on a root Wordpress installation, with a php-based registration module that was installed by someone else which I don’t have a clue about.

If I’d stayed on the crest of the wave of web development back in the early 2000s I would have been fine. But a decade and half of neglect has left me in a deep hole. I’m not sure how long it will take me to climb out, but I’m going to keep trying. I’m wrapping up my learning about front-end javascript right now. While I don’t find programming easy to learn, I do enjoy the satisfaction of cracking a problem and getting my code to run so it’s good stuff.

Conventional wisdom and unschooled teens

DSC07934All four of my children grew up unschooling through their primary-school-aged years. Their learning was wide open, uncoerced, simultaneously lagging in some areas and massively precocious in others. It was typically highly efficient, mastery-oriented and interest-led.

And then they all chose to attend school starting sometime between age 12 and 14. In some cases, at times, they attended part time. But even Sophie, who has attended consistently full-time, has continued to work away at academic areas in unschooled ways outside of school. So I don’t think it was that they felt home-based learning had failed them. They all speak fondly of their years at home and it’s clear that they attach a lot of value to their quirkiness and unconventional upbringing. Around adolescence though, they all began to feel that, at least given our rural location and the resources at our disposal, school would best fulfill their evolving needs.

DL programs and homeschooling parents often struggle with adapting to the changing needs of adolescents. This year has been complicated and at times frustrating for Fiona and me, trying to find a way to serve her needs and satisfy her goals while interfacing with two different DL programs, a bricks-and-mortar school and the Ministry of Education. In this province in particular there’s a stark administrative line that runs between Grades 9 and 10, and that compounds many of the transitional issues. I’ve had a lot of conversations with various people about how DL programs can better serve the needs of young teens over the course of these transitional years. But while it can be tempting to fall back on common wisdom about the changing needs of adolescents, I’ve noticed that common wisdom doesn’t necessarily apply to unschoolers.

Since my kids have had unconventional childhoods, I’ve become skeptical of all sorts of conventional wisdom. For instance, the much respected Gesell Institute, experts in developmental ages and stages, talks about a period of tenseness, defiance and negativity between ages 5.5 and 6.5. Now, for my kids it was quite the opposite: it was a simply golden stage of curiosity, optimism and helpfulness. So perhaps it’s the commencement of academic schooling, and not age and development, that causes the disequilibrium that the Gesell folk think of as normal and typical. As another example, I certainly trust the statistics that associate spending more than 2 hours a day sitting in front of screens with an increased risk of childhood obesity, but those statistics will not have any predictive value for unschooled kids who are not also spending several hours a day sitting in school. An unschooled child who sits in front of a screen for 4 hours a day still has 10 to 12 waking hours available for creativity, running around burning energy, exploring, imagining, conversing, interacting with the real world, and playing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but maybe conventional wisdom knows nothing at all about unschooled kids. Maybe social scientists who tell us what kids are typically like are doing the equivalent of drawing conclusions about the behaviour of lions by studying only the lions in zoos.

IMG_2312So back to adolescents. When I think back to my own 14th year, I remember feeling a strong push towards individuation, autonomy and freedom. I was questioning the values I’d been raised with, I was trying on new (and sometimes risky) interests and behaviours in an attempt to define myself as different and separate from my parents, I was desperate for more control over my own life, I wanted opportunities to stretch my wings and cast off the rules and constraints of childhood. I pushed hard for these things; it was a time conflict and testing of boundaries. I think my experience of adolescence was pretty typical; it certainly fits with what conventional wisdom says about the teenage years.

And so, unsurprisingly, parents and teachers expect adolescents to start wanting more freedom and autonomy. We start gingerly handing over a little more control to them including in the educational realm. Teachers in high schools might no longer check homework every day. Assignments might be more open-ended, allowing choice over the subject matter and presentation format.  All of which is great. It’s high time!

But maybe this move to greater freedom and autonomy only makes sense for the lions in the zoo.

What if you have a savannah lion, a kid whose education has always been based entirely on what his interests are and how he learns? What if he has been celebrated and supported as he’s learned in his own particular way even when that path has been asynchronous and non-conforming? It would not be surprising if a kid like this felt less need to start pushing to “become his own person” at age 13; after all, he’s freely been his own person all day every day, meaning that much of the work of individuation has already been done. He may not arrive at adolescence with a burning desire for alternative, creative, experiential opportunities in his schooling because he’s had that flexibility all along. Since he has not had his world restricted and tightly controlled, since everything has been as freely available to him as possible, he probably won’t constantly want to push against limits.

It’s likely, in fact, that he’ll want to do the opposite.

As he’s preparing himself to take up an independent place in the wider world, several of the things his schooled peers are rebelling against will make perfect sense to him. It’s likely he will want some guidance from experts instead of continuing to self-teach. He may want to set goals instead of leaving things loose. If so, he will want to structure his progress towards those goals, setting up commitment devices and a system of external accountability. And having had years and years already when he’s been able to flit from interest to interest and follow rabbit trails wherever they lead, he’ll likely become much more focused on the pathway he wants to pursue, choosing to constrain his learning for a while in service of that specific goal and focus.

Everyone is different, of course. Some unschooled adolescents are no doubt thrilled to continue to learn organically, led by whims and serendipity, without setting goals and with minimal input from experts. But a lot seem to become more focused and driven at this age. Because their upbringing has been so different from that of their schooled peers, that focus and drive doesn’t end up turned against authority and academic structure; instead it turns towards those things.

rsz_photo-1432131578171-252835d174b4In light of this, it doesn’t seem all that strange that at an age when schooled teens are questioning authority and bucking against the system, a lot of unschooled teens are enthusiastically giving themselves over to the system and asking for the guidance of teachers and mentors. They want more structure than they’ve had in the past, not less. Because they’re savannah cats.

Upgrading the trail

I began working on a connecting trail from our property to the linear park below almost three years ago. I hacked in a goat-path of sorts: narrow and full of switchbacks. It changed my life, in that it made one of my favourite running trails a mere 3-minute scrabble from my door.

Yeller McLeod, my birthday present to myself. He's a combination of tamper, rake and hoe.
Yeller McLeod, my birthday present to myself. He’s a combination of a tamper, rake and hoe.

But it wasn’t a great trail, technically speaking. Parts had a grade of more than 15%, it was narrow, there were a couple of places that were subject to erosion and the tight switchbacks meant that you couldn’t ride a mountain bike on it.

Last summer I did an IMBA trail-building workshop and learned more about how to lay out ride-able, sustainable trails. Armed with this knowledge and my new McLeod rake, I set out to improve my trail. I laid out a new route at the top, eliminating three of the most problematic tight turns. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks working on that portion, about 75 metres in length.

Now I’m dealing with one of the three remaining switchbacks that can’t be edited out. Ideally it should be a loopy turn with a loop diameter of about 25 feet. The problem, of course, is how one creates a relatively level 7-metre-wide platter of earth on the side of a mountain with a grade of 30-40 degrees, made of clay, roots and rock, with nothing more than a mattock and my trusty fire rake. I’m figuring high-speed flowy bike turns will have to be compromised in the name of preserving my sanity. I’m shooting for a 4-metre radius, something that will require  and even that is going to require a herculean effort. I thIMG_3082ink I’ll be able to snake my way through that at lower speed without falling over. I’m about a quarter of the way through my first such turn, and have spent probably 10 hours at it. So … yeah … this trail may end up being a lifetime’s work.

Still, I am having fun riding my bike up and down the piddly first 150 metres.

Distributed Learning: The Final Episode

We are now nearing the end of what will be our last year of home-based learning. And the last part of the ride has been a bit bumpy.

We started the year with Fiona (12 at the time, and officially “in Grade 9”) enrolled with SelfDesign, a DL program we’d had some experience with but hadn’t been part of for several years. We had left SelfDesign in 2010 to throw our enrolment weight behind the upstart local DL program, not out of any sense of dissatisfaction. In the intervening years they had created SelfDesign High, a Grades 10-12 program sufficiently aligned with the provincial high school graduation program to allow for the awarding of a government graduation diploma. Because they were now actively helping their pre-high-school students prepare for a structured high school expereince, we enrolled Fiona in their Grade 9 program, hoping that what they provided would be creative, flexible and proactive. Fiona was more than ready for high school type structure and we had always been pleased with SelfDesign’s willingness to look beyond grade levels and support learners over a range of levels.

Alas, there turned out to be a new and unexpectedly firm grade-level boundary between Grades 9 & 10 within the SelfDesign program, the result of complicated aspects of governmental funding. This hadn’t been the case in previous years, but within a couple of weeks of enrolling we received notice that Grade 9 learners could no longer be enrolled in Grade 10 SelfDesign courses. Fiona had already completed Grade 9 math and science curricula more than a year before, so we were forced to cross-enrol her in those subjects in our local school to allow her to move ahead to the next grade level.

While we loved the teacher we were working directly with at SelfDesign, the transitional “Gateways” program turned out to be a real disappointment. Not only was Fiona excluded from their real-life offerings due to her young-for-grade age, but the online workshops and get-togethers were far below her academic and maturity level and thus entirely unappealing. I tried hard to nudge some more enticing possibilities along and my voice was definitely welcomed by those in charge of Gateways, but two things became apparent: change was going to be too slow in coming to benefit my kid, and anything new was going to come on a software platform that she couldn’t access because of her age. (I’ll spare you the complicated explanation about user agreements, school liability insurance, international software platforms and integrated IDs.) Suffice it to say that there was nothing in the Gateways pipeline for an academically precocious 12-year-old wanting meaningful online interactive learning through a DL community.

When she finished her cross-enrolled Math 10 course by early winter, the grade-level boundary turned out to be even more problematic. SelfDesign would not allow her to pick up any additional Grade 10 courses to fill out her second semester. Again, it seemed it was mostly due to fear over how the government would react to the funding intricacies. She could take more Grade 9 courses with SelfDesign, but could only take two Grade 10 courses by going elsewhere, and now that she had finished those up in half the allotted time with high A’s, she couldn’t take more.

So we switched back to our local DL program. They were not bound by the supposed impenetrability of the Grade 9/10 boundary. They were perfectly willing to allow her to sign up for additional Grade 10 courses to round out the latter half of her year. So in December we settled on a DL subject roster that looked like this:

  • Social Studies 9
  • English 9
  • Music 9
  • Foods 9
  • PE 9 (completed)
  • PE 10 (online)
  • Planning 10 (online)

In addition, in the classroom at the local school she was taking

  • Math 10 (completed)
  • Science 10 (nearly completed)

The Grade 9 level stuff was to be unschooled, and reported on anecdotally, for which we set up a blog where Fiona would write occasional entries. Grade 10 was organized through structured courses, whether online or in the classroom. This all fit with Fiona’s goal for the year, which was to document her current learning level on her school record so that next year, when she enrols in a high school in a district that doesn’t know her at all, there is no argument about placing her in appropriate classes. It all looked good.

Hoop-jumping entries on her blog
Hoop-jumping entries on her blog

The wrinkle was that Grade 9 DL students in our local program were expected to work with a liaison teacher in another community on a day of the week when we couldn’t get there. We had assumed Fiona would be able to stay with the same local teacher she’d worked with for years, who was already supervising her STEM classroom and administering her math course at the local school, but for various administrative reasons that was not possible. So the principal of the DL program (who is also the principal of the local school) offered to step in and be Fiona’s liaison teacher. It was an accommodation we really appreciated.

But there are cracks as wide as floorboards in this arrangement. We are getting nothing other than a paper trail from it. We’ve had almost no contact with the principal. Fiona is a tiny post-script to a job that is already kind of an afterthought for this person. The online courses have been abysmal and full of busy-work. They’re plagued by broken links, meaningless assignments, missing forums and inappropriate (corporate-sponsored) content. Fiona has met briefly once in the past five months with the principal (and that was at my request) to touch base about her course submissions which had not been acknowledged or graded. It’s now a month later: three out of 30+ assignments have been graded and there has been no other feedback. We’ve received no newsletters, no invitations to DL parent meetings, no notification of school-based events that we’re supposed to be welcome at and had specifically requested we be informed of, no communication whatsoever except occasional replies when Fiona emails about a course-related problem. There has been no learning resource funding, no provision of materials, no support at all, other than access keys to two ancient online courses. A report card turned up in the mail a couple of weeks ago saying things like “Fiona has begun working through the Planning 10 course.”  Grade: A.

Here in BC we have the option to enrol through a DL program or to register as legal homeschoolers. Registering is simple, hands-off and provides complete educational freedom. The DL option necessitates a certain amount of reporting, and comes with the expectation that the student’s learning will be measured against the prescribed provincial curriculum (even though it really doesn’t matter, at least prior to Grade 10, whether that measurement is favourable or accurate).

We’ve been with DL programs for a lot of our homeschooling years, and we have got two really worthwhile things from our enrolment: financial and resource support, and positive meaningful relationships between the kids and their liaison teachers. Last year with staffing changes necessitated by a teacher’s sabbatical year we didn’t get the second part. This year we’re getting not getting the first part either.

So why are we still there? Sometimes I wonder! Basically we’re being left alone, which isn’t necessarily a problem for us since as a family we have a lot of experience and confidence not only with home-based learning but with kids entering public high school. Yet Fiona is still having to play by the rules of DL reporting and to toe the busywork line for the online Grade 10 courses she’s taking. The only reason we continue is because this is the simplest way to ensure she gets what she wants for next year: course placement in appropriately challenging Grade 10 and 11 courses at a new school. And so we grin and bear the hoop-jumping and lack of meaningful contact with the program. One month to go.

Brahms Concerto

IMG_2987Fiona and I made a whirlwind trip to Vancouver. For me it was the second in as many weekends.

Erin had pulled up her roots in Montreal, and was making a stop in the Vancouver area before heading home to the Kootenays. She had a date to perform the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Richmond Symphony.

We left Friday evening after Fiona’s last dance class of the week. We drove about halfway before grabbing a cheap motel room. The next day we finished the trip by noon, had lunch, spent some time downtown at the waterfront, met up with Noah, took him out to dinner and then all headed to Erin’s concert.

She was fantastic. So confident and charismatic as a performer, and solid as anything with such maturity. My sister still tells the story of asking her teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music when she was in college if she could learn the Brahms, and being told not yet, because she “hadn’t suffered enough” to do it justice. So perhaps it’s a testament to the awfulness of Erin’s life growing up that at 22 she can dig deep and come up with the passion and emotion that the Brahms needs. Whatever. We’ll take it. It was a great concert.

So now we’re back in the Kootenays. Erin is going to try her hand at finding work in Nelson. Fiona is in the thick of dress rehearsals for the Dance Showcase performances. Sophie is finishing school, as well as travelling and performing with Corazón and fitting in a trip to UBC. Noah is staying put on the coast, doing a summer semester. It’s crazy summer-like outside, and time to get busy organizing the Suzuki Institute.


Hurting @ mile 25

The stars aligned, and I had a really good race. In my last post I said “I would be happy, now four years older and well on the far side of 50, if I could better my 4:24 time from 2012. I think that’s definitely possible, and if all goes well I could cut quite a bit off.” I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t knocked ten minutes off. So 4:14 was my primary goal.

My secret goal was sub-4:00, partly because it’s a round number just begging to be cracked, but partly because for my gender and age-group, it’s the Boston Marathon Qualifying Standard (BQ). When I slotted myself into the Hansons Marathon Method, I picked the training paces that targeted a 4:00 marathon. I completed all the training according to plan, so if the Hanson brothers were right, I knew I had what I needed to beat four hours. If things went well on the day.

And they did. I’d been sick with a sinus cold for almost a week beforehand but I woke up Sunday feeling better. The weather was forecast hot but the breeze off the ocean kept the heat from being too much. I hydrated adequately but not too much; I didn’t have to use the porta-potties along the way. I wore the right clothes. My new shoes didn’t give me blisters. The double-salted licorice Fiona had given me for my birthday replaced the salt that began caking my cheekbones and shoulders as I sweated.

Screenshot 2016-05-03 19.59.43
So I ended up with a net time of 3:51:13, cutting 33 minutes off my previous time, and qualifying handily for Boston. When people started asking me if I would be going to Boston, I said no, having never even considered it. I had really just wanted the accomplishment of knowing I had reached that standard.

img_796608_1001_0024But then I remembered that Erin had qualified for Boston on violin and would therefore be living there, potentially saving me a $400/night hotel room. And Fiona and I had already been talking about how we really wanted to go and visit her in order to see the city. So … maybe…

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 4:24 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.


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!


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.


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:







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.