Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Morning Track Sessions

There are 19,000 students in Naperville District 203 (west of Chicago). In 1999, the eighth grade class of Naperville, along with over 200,000 students from around the world, took the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study exam). They finished 6th in math and 1st in the WORLD in SCIENCE. The average American high school scored 18th in science and 19th in math that year. Why did Naperville score so high? Why does Naperville consistently rank high in its test scores and graduation rates? According to Dr. John Ratey, in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, it is primarily due to Naperville's revolutionary approach to PE. Here is a snipit of info from the book.

At 7:10am, Naperville begins its day with Zero Hour. The kids run. They wear heart rate monitors. They are graded on how long they keep their heart rate above a target. The kids don't have to be fast, but they have to put in a good effort. They run every day. Then they go to their most important classes, like math and reading and science. In essence, they flood their brain's with Miracle Grow for the brain, a protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which is produced during strenuous exercise. The role of BDNF is to strengthen synaptic pathways, so that information learned may be retained. In essence, the students at Naperville are smarter because they exercise before school.

I run every week on the track of a local high school, alongside high school PE students who truly depress me. Two weeks ago I spoke with the PE teachers and suggested they read the book Spark. They both acknowledged the research, the data on the positive benefits of exercise and the brain that has flooded neuroscience in the last few years. They say their school administration knows of this research as do their staff and board. And yet, this year, they cut PE from 3 times per week to 2. The students running on the track are truly pathetic. There are only a handful who can complete a mile, let alone run it under 10 minutes. Most of them, in my opinion, are overweight. Maybe I'm a bit too critical. They certainly are not fit.

These days, Alex runs a 1/4 mile as his warmup. I take him and Izzy to the track before school, mostly because if I don't, they turn my house upside down doing laps around the kitchen island. I prefer to have them run freely in the open space of the track. Alex loves to yell out as he finishes his first lap, "I'm running so well, Mamma!" If there are any spectators, and especially if one of them makes a comment, like "nice running", Alex turns up the juice and picks up the pace, clapping for himself the whole way. Izzy prances like a foal, effortlessly moving through space. They inspire me, and their smiles make us all happy. Hopefully, when they go to school and work on reading and block building and colors, their BDNF will be working its magic. Running is clearly working its own magic on their self esteem.

I wonder how hard it would be for a school to open its doors an hour earlier, to offer the locker rooms for showers, breakfast in the cafeteria, and a volunteer staff person or two to monitor the exercise. The program might begin voluntarily. Kids who want to run sign up. They might be graded for PE. Or, they might be recognized at the annual awards banquet. Maybe as their classmates witness changes in the runners' appearances, their increased self-confidence, their higher test scores, and their bonds of friendship that only form over hard labor, the inactive ones would sign up and the attendance rate would grow. It seems like it would be worth trying. Isn't that the single responsibility of a school system, to give their students the best opportunity possible to grow, physically and cognitively--in essence to create the opportunity to run? It almost seems negligent to do anything less.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thank You Perez Hilton

For those of you who follow Perez Hilton, The Baby Alex Foundation is his featured Cause of the Day at When you get to his website, just search for The Baby Alex Foundation, and you will find information on us! Thank you, Perez Hilton, for some very much needed and appreciated marketing.

The Baby Alex Foundation launched its newly designed website last week. We will email our donor newsletter tomorrow (on Alex's 3rd birthday), so if you haven't signed up for our newsletter yet, please visit the site and sign up. The newsletter is also posted on the site.

The Foundation is well into its fall fundraising drive, which includes a reception in NYC on November 11th. To donate, get more information on the fundraiser or how you might help us market the Foundation and raise money for our 2011 pediatric brain injury grants, please visit our website:

Thank you, thank you Perez!

Friday, September 17, 2010


For reasons entirely of convenience, we signed Izzy up for karate, along with Alex, who is now taking his second session. The sign-up says the class is for children 2 1/2-5 years old. Izzy is only 20 months old. I did not have high expectations for her participation, but I thought she could at least watch, and that would be more beneficial than trying to find a babysitter for her for the class or forcing her into the child care across the hall. To my great surprise and relief, she jumped right in and loves it. She needs me to stand next to her, and to run with her through the obstacle course, but that is only to provide moral support.

And Alex...he has completely come out of his shell. He was timid and shy during the spring session, but is now the first one to raise his hand for anything. He is completely focused on the instructor and the tasks at hand and no longer needs me to help him through the obstacle course. What impresses me the most is how his balance is improving. He was barely able to raise either of his feet off the ground to kick during the first session, but now can raise both of them equally well. This is partly due to his age, I'm sure, but also due to the fact that he has been practicing for his karate class. He is also challenged to kick higher and balance longer in class than he would have been at home.

Before we read about the benefits of karate to children with neurological issues, it never crossed my mind to practice punches, sticky palms, blocks and kicks to front, side and back. These movements really help Alex's balance. He is also learning when it is okay to punch and kick (in class, in self-defense) and when it isn't (at your sister or the dog). It helps to have a children-savvy instructor. Alex's instructor is excellent. He allows the children to be children to a point, and then reigns them in and asks them to focus so they may perform. He compliments them on their natural abilities and occasionally shows off his skills, which are impressive and demand respect.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pacticing Finishes

Although I have thought and talked about goals I achieved while training for this latest Ironman, I didn't think about how my racing might affect the kids, except to worry over whether I was spending enough time with them and giving them enough energy when I was exhausted. I didn't really see other positive effects of my racing until we got home from Louisville.

I was standing in the kitchen contemplating my missed spot in Kona, wondering if I should enter IM Florida a few weeks away to give my race another shot, while Alex and Izzy were playing around me. Then Alex said, "Mommy, hey Mommy, watch me. I'm crossing the finish line." He then ran around the kitchen island with Izzy trailing behind and he threw up his hands as he crashed into the couch yelling, "Go, Alex. Way to go, Alex. You finished!! Yay!!!" He jumped up and down and waved his hands. "I finished my race, Mommy, did you see?"

I read in the NY Times this week that child obesity is on the rise in NYC, despite efforts to lower it. I have no idea the percentage of unhealthy children who have unhealthy parents, but I would bet it was pretty high. If Alex and Izzy are active because their parents are active, then we aren't only doing something for ourselves by being athletes, we are influencing the long-term health of our children.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Sleep

Sleep seems to be the cure for much suffering. It heals the body and mind, physiologically and chemically. It can also be a marker as to how much you are stressing your mind and body. If you need more sleep, you are working harder than your previous normal.

Over a week now after the Ironman, and I hardly need to sleep at all. For 4-5 days, all I could think of was sleeping, but once my body recovered, it became an energized shell of my former self. Training has pushed me into another zone of productivity, and now that I am not training with the same intensity, I am able to be more productive in my office, with my kids, in my writing, etc, on less sleep. I am back to my old routine, up at 4:30am, in my office to write until the kids wake up, then working on The Baby Alex Foundation during nap times (I used to nap with them when I was training), and then again in the evenings I back in the office to work or read after the kids have gone to bed. I am still training, gearing up for a 50K in October and a 50 miler next March, but neither of them takes the same effort as a multisport event done well.

I learn much about sleep from watching my children. On Mondays, they nap for a good 3 hours. They are exhausted from new weekend experiences, playing with friends, staying up a little too late. And when they are sick, my children nap and nap and nap. And they recover, quickly usually, unlike I did when I was training and not getting enough sleep. Night time is a bad time to teach them something new--they need a good sleep to process the days' experiences and before they can learn something new.

The one element most new long distance athletes forget to factor into their life is sleep. They can plan their day around work and training, but they forget to plan sleep into their schedule. Often, it just isn't possible, especially if there are children involved. But somehow, the body manages to adapt. I know that my health high will wear off over time and I will be back to needing 8 hours of sleep a night and not being as productive as I want to be during the day. I'll know then it's time to train for another Ironman.