Archive for Thursday, November 4, 2004

Teacher polishing for the Big Apple

November 4, 2004

With four days to go before running in the world's biggest marathon, Amanda Wilkins will be eating lots and running little.

It seems strange to Wilkins, but that's what her training schedule says she should do.

Wilkins, who teaches fourth-grade at Starside Elementary School, will toe-up Sunday in New York City for her first marathon. A rookie marathoner, Wilkins is following the book for training, eating and mental preparedness for the 26.2-mile jaunt.

As she learns about the race, so do her students.

"There's been a lot of teachable moments with it," Wilkins said.

In June, Wilkins began a training schedule recommended for first-timers by the New York City Marathon and kept the class posted on her progress.

"She's been training a lot, and she probably can run pretty far," student Taylor Phongsavath speculated Monday.

"She used to run, like, 11 miles a day," said another student, Liam McDaniel. "She showed us her chart."

Wilkins' schedule actually peaked with three 20-mile runs in late September and early October.

"If you can make it that far, you can probably go six more," she said, figuring the schedule writers knew what they were talking about.

As the race gets nearer, recommended miles get lower. This week, Wilkins has only done two-mile workouts every other day.

Her training diet called for high protein meals Monday through Wednesday and carbo-loading from Thursday on. A big New York City Italian dinner is definitely on the schedule for Saturday night, she said.

Wilkins used the New York race to help teach time zones and East Coast geography.

Today, her students will visit Starside's computer lab for a virtual tour of the Big Apple. Besides other landmarks, they'll map the marathon course, which winds through New York's five boroughs -- Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan -- and finishes at Tavern on the Green in Central Park.

Students also calculated how long it might take Wilkins to complete the race if she ran 10-minute miles.

Wilkins' said their finding of about 4 hours and 30 minutes was optimistic. Her first goal is to finish the race; her second goal is to finish in around five hours.

Taylor was one student who got bonus points for translating 26.2 miles to feet and back again. He couldn't remember the number off the top of his head, but the mileage translates to 138,336 feet -- a daunting distance, Wilkins said.

Finishing such a long race can be as much mental as physical, she said.

Just like in training, Wilkins said she was counting on grit, adrenaline and mental games to pass the time to get her through the race. During long workouts at home, Wilkins choreographed many a routine for the De Soto High School Diamonds dance team she coaches.

Wilkins said she read that many first-time runners "hit the wall" -- marathon terminology for pooping out -- and can't finish because they got too excited and ran too fast too early.

Although she isn't sure what hitting the wall feels like, Wilkins hopes it won't stop her from completing her first marathon.

"That's my goal with this first one, is just to finish," she said. "I'll know that I'll have a lot of people at home counting on me when I feel like I want to quit."

Thanks to newfangled race technology -- each runner will wear a tiny computer chip on one of their shoes -- fans can enter Wilkins' number and track their teacher throughout the race on the Internet.

Some students they planned to do that, and others said they'd try to catch the race on television.

With 34,729 finishers, last year's New York City Marathon was the largest in the world in 2003 and the second-largest of all time, according to Time-to-Run, an online running magazine. The 1996 Boston Marathon had 35,868 finishers.

Wilkins, who lives in Overland Park, began running to stay in shape about 5 years ago. When a friend convinced her last spring to try a marathon, the two decided to shoot for the moon.

"The New York race is a big deal," Wilkins said. "I can't believe it's my first marathon."

Runners normally must qualify for the New York race at another, sanctioned marathon. Although her friend didn't get in, Wilkins was one of a small number of runners allowed to enter the race through a lottery instead.

Wilkins said her parents and boyfriend would be among the 1 million-plus streetside spectators Sunday in New York.

Fourth-grader Nick Hall, who said he would try to watch the race on TV instead, had great confidence in his teacher.

"I think she'll do awesome," he said.

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