Clapham Christian Classical School

Clapham Journal

Marathon Misery and a New Vision for Physical Training

By Mike Barnett, Physical Education Teacher

 

A significant amount of my free time is devoted to training for what some call the silent sports: distance running, cross-country skiing, and cycling. Competition in these sports takes hours of focused endurance work. As a teenaged athlete and later as a young adult, I often saw the training time simply as a means to achieve the fastest time possible on race day. After completing the Twin Cities Marathon in 2007 my purpose for training for these sports changed.

 

I had trained hard for this marathon; I was running fast intervals twice a week and doing long runs on the weekends. Unfortunately, the marathon fell on a day where temperatures started at 90 degrees and went up from there. By the half-way point, I was several minutes off my goal pace and by the end of the 26.2 mile course, I was nearly an hour behind where I had hoped to finish. Although I did finish, which is always goal number one, I was left with an uneasy feeling as I crossed the finish line. Was it worth spending so many training hours when the result did not match the effort I had put in? My race result raised a healthy tension for me as I had to consider the value of all the hours spent training for a race that, in my mind, had ended in a complete disaster.

 

I recently read a section of Charlotte Mason’s writing where she considers the value of physical conditioning in school education. Mason observed that in her day

 

“this physical cult suffers from the want of unity and sanctity of purpose which nullifies to a considerable extent most of our educational efforts.”

 

As I reflected on my first marathon training experience, I realized that my purpose in training was solely to achieve a certain time. Anything less was failure. When I finished far behind my all-important goal many of the training miles suddenly lost their meaning. From reading Mason’s thoughts on physical conditioning, I realized that each inch of ground covered then and now has a sanctified purpose. The purpose, to borrow Mason’s words once again, is to be “available from crown to toe, for whatever behest ‘the gods’ may lay upon us.” As adults, whether parents or teachers, we must model this sentiment to children both in sport and life in order for them to develop a right relationship with physical conditioning. Mason believes that cultivating persons who are at the ready relies on two ideas: cultivating a sense of stewardship over the bodies given to us by God and developing what she calls the heroic impulse.

 

P.E Grade 1

 

Stewardship requires a change in perspective. As Mason writes “ye are not your own; the divine author of your being has given you life, and a body finely adapted for His service.” We must not let ourselves or our children lose sight of the sanctity of a body that is serviceable to our God. The tendency in this area is to err in one of two directions. The first error occurs when we teach the children under our care that the sole purpose of exercise is the result. This was the case for me in the marathon.

 

The second error is that we teach children that physical activity is in some way a release from the rigors of school. It is true that physical activity during the school day comes with a myriad of physiological benefits. However, students must see physical training as a continuation of what they learn at a school like Clapham— to engage their world for Christ and to live a life of service for Christ and His glory. We see the fruits of physical training when children engage in acts of service at whatever moment they may be called into action: we see a hero.

 

Mason recounts that, for the Greeks, physical culture produced heroes:

 

Heroes are not made in a day; therefore, the boy was trained from his infancy in heroic exercises, and the girl brought up to be the mother of heroes.”

 

 

The notion that acting as we ought cannot be impulsive, but instead is the fruit of establishing strong habits underlies much of Mason’s philosophy. Mason writes, “A habit becomes morally binding in proportion to the inspiring power of the idea which underlies it.” Paul spells out this idea in I Corinthians 9:24-27,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

 

A Godly relationship with physical training stems from the vision of a hero calling his body into action at the time of need whether in sport or more broadly. From this idea, children are willing to submit their bodies to physical conditioning so they might act as their heroes did. I lacked the breadth of this vision during my own marathon training and nearly gave up on physical training all together. My hope for our students is that they own this bigger vision of why we train physically. [1]

 


[1] All Charlotte Mason quotations are from The Original Home Schooling Series: School Education (vol. 3), “Some Unconsidered Aspects of Physical Training.” Charlotte Mason Research & Supply. 101-112.

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