Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

I am a quitter. I failed, I blew up, but I am just a learner.

Bitmoji ImageThis one is going to be a hard post. I don’t know where to start because I am still struggling with the right words. We talked about earlier how I quit on my original race plan to re-adjust and change my goals. Well, my new goal race was this past Sunday and…for the first time, I did not finish. I quit. 

I was very prepared for this race–I almost over-prepared. I knew this because I had done two time trials earlier and knew I was perfectly on pace and ready to take on this half and achieve my goal. My coach had timed me for my time trials and he also had detailed notes proving that my goal pace was going to feel easy and very doable. It was perfect. I was tapered, ready to go to run a goal half time of 1:29…or so I thought.

Saturday evening I was feeling a little off, but I couldn’t figure it out exactly. At about 2:30am on Sunday morning, I woke up in excruciating pain. It was that time of the month. For me, I have a condition that leads to extreme pain, vomiting and cramps. Don’t worry, I have an operation scheduled for Dec 20 to help with this condition and it is being dealt with medically, but for now, it typically lasts about 36 hours. As any runner typically does, I knew I was just going to run through the pain and try to suck it up. Sunday morning rolled in and I consumed the maximum amount of Advil and Tylenol that I could consume. I knew I was just going to have to be a fighter that morning and this was going to be an epic “fight through the moment” day.

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Turns out, 2km in, I completely shut down. I vomited twice and had to go to the washroom. I thought I was going to power through and just run a slower day, even if I didn’t hit my goal but by 3km I threw up a third time and had just had enough of dealing with the smell of bodily fluids, the pain of my body and the intense winds of the day. At 3km, I just cried and stopped. I couldn’t do it. I thought, let’s sit down and let the pain subside and start back up again. I sat. I sat for 10 minutes. The pain did not go away. I needed assistance to stand. I promise, it wasn’t my legs, I was training for a marathon, 3km was NOT going to knock me out. I needed assistance to stand up. I knew this was the end. I had to accept it, I had to quit and call it a day. I did not qualify for my goal marathon (for 2020). I cried my eyes out and called my other half. He was on his way to pick me up.

No. 1 fan

This was hard. After re-arranging my goals and training through a brutally hot summer, I really wanted this race to pan out. I had done two time trials throughout September and October and knew that this race was going to be a realistic and achievable goal. I was so excited to show my progress. I was so disappointed to fail. Bitmoji Image

My coach e-mailed me. He told me not to dwell on the race as I had, “progressed amazingly well” this year and that “I would lose nothing” from walking away. He’s right, I know, but it’s hard to swallow. I had been training for this one race and I just walked away, I quit. I had so many doubts. Was I really in that much pain? Was it really THAT bad? Could I have pushed through? Why didn’t I push through? Am I mentally not strong?

My coach told me to focus on the 2020 season and that I would hit all my goals and qualify for the marathon in 2021. He reminded me that I had lost no fitness and that I was walking into my next season stronger and even better than the last season. It’s still hard. I have never ended a season feeling like such a failure. I was a mess. I am still a mess.

I often talk about my grade 10 science classes, but I also teach grade 12 Biology. My grade 12s asked me today, “Ms. Lu, didn’t you have a race this weekend? Did you qualify?! Did you make it?!” I looked down at my feet and sighed. They asked, “why are you so sad?”. I explained the exact same situation I explained to you all. Then everyone started shouting at me:

  • That’s okay Miss, we still love you!
  • Ya Miss, you’re still so cool, plus, you’re actually still such an awesome teacher
  • Miss, you’re honestly still so inspiring–it’s pretty legit yo
  • Miss, you’re still crazy

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Hah. After all that, I am still the same old teacher who gets excited about molecules and is crazy?! I always talk to my students about failing and being okay with it, that people won’t change their opinions of you for messing up one thing. It’s interesting how I am so hard on myself for failing but always encouraging my students to fail. Am I a hypocrite? 

I know I have a second chance. I know it’s not over and I know I have a chance in 2020 to do this all over again; just instead of trying to qualify for the 2020 marathon, it would be the 2021. Okay–that’s doable, I mean, I used to laugh at the idea of running the Boston Marathon, and now I’ve done it–twice. In talking myself up mentally a grade 12 student blurted, “When are you going to try again? When’s the next one? Where is it? Can we come watch? CAN WE MAKE BIG SIGNS FOR YOU?!”

“Wait. I take that back. We can’t promise this. Where is your race again?”

“Yeah, I think I can only be there if it’s in Ottawa”

“Wait, will it be cold then?”

“What time of year is this going to be?”

Okay, so I appreciated the support and effort, but I would never ever expect nor think my students would come to a race to cheer me on. It amazed me at just how supportive they were. They proved my point about how one failure doesn’t define who you are. What a lesson they just proved to themselves. Their gut reaction upon hearing about my quitting was to ask when I was going to try again. I followed-up and asked them…so when are you going to try again?

That’s the thing, I am still sulking, don’t get me wrong. I need some time to get over this and feel like I am not a quitter. I need some time to bask in my emotions because I am so incredibly disappointed in myself. I am however, fully aware that I have a next time and that this isn’t over. I am fully aware that I am starting another season stronger and ready to grow more as a runner. It’s okay. I know it’ll all come together in time but the silver lining here is that hopefully I can model failing and growing to my students. It’s not over. It’s also not just beginning because I’ve already begun. I think I am in a re-group and continue phase, and that is completely okay.

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  1. Michael Moore

    Thank you so much for this post @mlu! Its funny how often we preach one thing to our students and then hold ourselves to a higher standard. Good luck in your next race – you’ll have an entire Cohort rooting for you!

  2. Garth Nichols

    I am sorry that you weren’t able to finish the race. I am grateful that you have shared this. I wish you well in getting back on your feet and getting to 2020 goals.

    You are modelling what our students go through: “That’s the thing, I am still sulking, don’t get me wrong. I need some time to get over this and feel like I am not a quitter. I need some time to bask in my emotions because I am so incredibly disappointed in myself.”

    What a powerful empathy experience – I hope that you are able to tap into this.

    On a different note, for inspiration, there is a great triathlete that I follow that broke her foot two years ago, and has mounted a comeback – she is inspirational! Check her out at @hollylawrencetri


    • maylu

      Thank you for the support! The students truly surprised me at how supportive they were to my experience and how they could relate. Some students mentioned a bad test, their stresses about university, etc. but the learning experience as a whole really showed a classroom dynamic that I didn’t realize had been created.

      I will take a look at the triathlete. That is crazy! It’s amazing how people are able to bounce back and continue to grow as people. So inspiring! Can’t wait to catch up on Saturday!

      Take care,


  3. Mary-Ellen Wilcox


    My heart broke for you as I was reading, I too know what it is like to have a big goal and for health reasons not be able to make it a reality (…yet!). I love that these moments have become part of letting the kids see you, as a person, and not just a teacher. These moments have become about relationship building and probably are much more memorable to your students than if you had completed the race, made your time and your goal. I’m sure the kids would have been excited, but not the kids are really excited to see you succeed as they feel so invested in you, as a human and not just as a dancing science teacher.

    • maylu

      Thank you for the kind words and support. It was definitely really great to see how the relationship I’ve built with the students really grow but it was a tough moment to stomach as well. So excited to see you this weekend and catch up on all the cool things you’re doing in your classroom! 🙂

      See you soon,


  4. Jess Sheppard

    I’m sorry this happened, but am glad that—at the very least—you were able to turn it into another meaningful, positive conversation with your students. I don’t think you’re a hypocrite for being hard on yourself when you fail; you’re modelling perseverance, and the fact that some things (like failure) are both necessary and difficult. It’s a good lesson, even though it might not feel that way yet.

    Now that your goal race has moved to 2020, what are the chances you’re aiming for Boston 2021? My club is hoping to send a decent crew, and it’d be pretty sweet to rep Cohort in Boston. No pressure, of course, but if we end up there, we’ll need to make it a thing! 🙂

    • maylu

      Oh that sounds awesome! 🙂 I think I am all Boston-ed out though (for now). The last two years have had some interesting weather and I think I need a small marathon break. It’s a stressful time for me school wise because I am full-time coaching and I miss a lot of school for it in April. Being away for Boston lends itself to a very crazy April and a lot of coverage teaching/planning. I am on a small marathon break, hoping only to return if NY 2021 works out. I will definitely cheer through the app though. If the weekend wasn’t insanely expensive, I’d consider coming down to race the 5km though, I’ve always wanted to try that one! Keep me in the loop for sure :).

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