Friday, June 1, 2007

Distracted from the goal

T-25 was a week of distractions. It started Friday evening with a training run along the run course of the Philadelphia Triathlon: a 10K (6.21 mile) route along Martin Luther King Drive. My wife and son were on bikes to accompany me.

My goal in this run was to do a hard/fast run along the route, to build a mental image of completing the run feeling strong and fast. Last year, in my first Olympic distance triathlon, 10K was a LONG run for me, and I ended up walking for about five minutes, chewing up valuable time and watching many, many people run past me. Even though I'm in much better shape heading into this year's Philly Tri, and a 10K run is a short workout, I wanted to see and feel myself cover the ground with speed.

But my wife and son had a different agenda. They were out for a leisurely bike ride along the scenic drive. They followed scores of geese and geeslings (what? goslings?) through the lawn to the river. They raced up and down the drive ahead of and behind me. Nancy even found a $50 bill. It's not the first time she's found a $50, so don't get excited.

This was all quite distracting. I had pictured all of us moving along at my running race pace, talking and enjoying the evening together. I wondered where they were. I got annoyed that they were too far ahead, or too far behind. I was disappointed that my vision of "our" training run wasn't theirs.

Then Sunday we went sailing with friends. A great day, but no training. Although I did swim in open water for about 100 yards with son-Ben, who wants to do youth triathlons but has a hard time dealing with water he can't see through. I definitely relate.

Wednesday, I had planned to do a quick 16-mile bike ride to the art museum and back. But work called in the morning, and then an event for a key legislator in the evening, which involved wine, and I didn't work out in the evening, either. I managed to slip out of the office a bit early Thursday for a great 20-mile ride, looping to Gladwyne and back. And then Friday, I had hoped to do a 6-mile run while Ben rode his bike, but he had PSP and DVR in mind, and after a busy week I couldn't blame him, and with Nancy away for the weekend, we took it easy around the house.

So I got in about half the training I had planned for the week. Family distractions, work distractions, and my own self-imposed distractions took away from my plan and goals. I'm lucky in the distractions I face in my training.

MCC students face much more serious and persistent distractions on their path to self-sufficiency. I have met students whose family members constantly try to keep them from going to training, from getting a job, from getting ahead. I have met students who change into work-appropriate clothes after they get to MCC, because their families and neighbors deride them for dressing in slacks and ties, or in business skirts. I have met students who are afraid to tell people they are trying to get into a better job. I know circumstances where family members physically bar students from going to class, erase voice mails, neglect to pass on messages...all to keep the student from moving out of the comfort zone.

Add: fear of safety for walking down the street, especially in today's homocide-heavy climate in many neighborhoods; substance abuse and dependency; domestic voilence; co-dependency; lack of formal education; many prior job failures; mental illness, especially depression; distrust of a system that has allowed many people to churn through a succession of programs without real results; and the lure of a system that guarantees income for one's children...and the distractions from training and seeking a good job can seem overwhelming.

Overwhelming is a big thing. So big that some people, no matter how motivated and sincere, succumb again and again to the distractions to their training and their goals. MCC's instructors and support staff are here to help overwhelming become merely distracting, and to help our students keep external distractions from derailing them.

For me, a day or two of distractions from training means one of two things. I can train with more intensity during my "on" days. Or I can just finish the marathon a few minutes later as a cumulative result of days I was distracted from training. In the big picture, my life, my livelihood, and my health, safety, and security are not jeopardized by distractions to my training.

For many MCC students, distractions can very well mean delayed livelihood, health, safety, and security. Only you and me, working together, can reduce the impact of our students' distractions, and speed their path to self-sufficiency.

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