Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pushing It, or Why Running is Like Steno

First off, a correction from yesterday's post: I can't add. My actual total as of today is $475 and not $485. Of course, you are all most welcome to donate more $$ to bring that up!!!

Today's post will have more to do with school than with running. For those who don't know, and really, why would you know, I have returned to school full-time after 13+ years as a professional stage manager to pursue a second career as a court reporter. Yes, I'm learning how to learn that little machine that spits out long ribbons of paper. It's very challenging and I really, really like it. I would say about half the school is also there to pursue a second career, the other half is attending college (2 year) for the first time. Returning to school is a hallucinatory experience; the last day of the first class I took, the teacher comes in and says, "Okay, along with the grade on your test I'm also giving you your final grade for the class." We were all so nervous we busted out laughing -- half because it was their first college grade, half because we were remembering how we felt getting our first college grade. It's wild.

On the other hand, knowing I'm there for a specific reason makes it much easier to focus and get the work done. I did go at night for a while, but I wasn't getting as much out of it as I did during the day, when you're working on your steno every day instead of only two evenings. As I mentioned in a previous post, my brother graduated law school last weekend. He went as an evening student, to NY Law, graduated summa cum laude, by the way, in case you wondered where all the brains in the family went. He has always been one for the books, but being able to get through law school at night, with a full-time job and a family, that takes focus. I don't know how anyone can get through any kind of night school program. That takes determination.

For steno, learning the basic theory only takes about 4 months. After that, it's really "how fast can you get fast?" To graduate from school, you need to be at a steno speed of 225 words per minute, with a 96% accuracy rate. That's also the national certification standard. 225 isn't as fast as you might think -- it's like your friend from NY who talks too fast, but most normal speaking has a lot of starts and stops. When testing, it's non-stop talking.

After you learn the theory, you begin speed testing, starting at 30 wpm. Most people go from 30 - 60 very quickly and then start hitting roadblocks as the speed increases. The way you test is, the teacher dictates to you for 5 minutes. Then you have an hour to take your notes and transcribe them back into English. You'd be surprised how difficult that is. You've got misstrokes (misspelled steno) that you have to figure out what you meant to type, and quite frankly, steno is so weird-looking that even if you did type it correctly you might not have a clue what you did (What the hell is STHARBGT?) (that actually means "Is that correct." S = is, THA = that, RBGT = correct, the BG is how one writes the letter K. Don't ask.) The average length of time it takes to go from 30 to 225 is two years, with the halfway point being around 110, 120. I am currently at 110, and I've been there for a month.

Here's the thing: I haven't sat at a speed for more than two weeks. 30 - 60, banged them out. 70, two tries to get that speed. 80 - first time (PS: you test at least once a week, sometimes more. Ever been to a school where students begged to be tested?) I had to take two months off at the beginning of the winter semester -- went to Florida to SM a show. I practiced when I was away, and when I returned, I went from 90 - 110 in five weeks. And since the beginning of May, I've been testing for 120 and cannot crack it. To make matters worse, at the end of the semester, the school starts testing every day, to give people extra chances to move up (and maybe out.) Eleven tests in ten days - one class someone had already received that dictation as a test, so we got a second test. And I didn't get any of them. And since the new semester began, three more tests, and still nothing.

Honestly, if we didn't have so many tests so close together I wouldn't be as bananas. But to have so many chances and to whiff them all, it just sucks. And it's making me so determined to crack the speed by the end of the month that this past week I was practicing 6 hours a day -- 2 hour before school and 4 more after school, and that's not counting the 3 hours in class.

After whiffing my test, I started complaining, "After all this, blah blah," and the teacher started yelling at me, "Relax! You're the kind of student that drives me crazy! You can't push the speed like that. You're pushing too hard. If you're not patient you'll never get through this school. You're going to hurt yourself. The speed will come when it comes."

I'm frustrated because I've never felt stuck before. When I returned to school after my time away I was in the evening speed class and there were students who had been in that class for a YEAR. That scares me. I enjoy school but that's a bit much.

I know that I am setting arbitrary deadlines for myself to get to a place I may not be ready to get to. I need to be patient, and work hard, and the speed will come when it comes, just like it did for all the other speeds. But when I peek into the other classrooms and see some of the people I started with 20-30 wpm ahead of me, my competitive streak comes out. It doesn't matter that most of the people I started with are 20-30 wpm BELOW me, I just focus on those few above me.

To tie it back to running, since this is a running blog, it's like seeing Larry the Lighthouse or someone who couldn't POSSIBLY be faster than I am, and yet there they are, ahead of me. It doesn't matter how many people I have passed, or how much better I was doing or feeling compared to past runs. The only thing that matters is THAT person is BEATING me and THAT CAN'T HAPPEN!

But today, after taking the night off from both practice and running, I realize that running and steno speedbuilding are very much alike. Everyone progresses differently, be it in running speedwork or steno speedwork. Some people have a natural gift for it, and some have to struggle to progress even in a small way. Some have the speed but not the stamina, some are slow and accurate but can't master speed. If you push yourself too fast in both, you will hurt yourself. And both running and steno speedbuilding have a finish line, and no matter when you cross it, you still finish. That's one of the great things about running -- it's a competitive sport, but everyone wins. We don't win at the same time, but we all win. Steno is the same way. If we plug away at it, we will all hit the top speed. We may not get there at the same time, but as long as we persevere, we will get there. In running we call this "running your own race." I need to learn how to run my own steno race.

That all being said, it's a beautiful day out, and before it gets too hot, I need to hit the Park for a leisurely 6-miler.


dkuznick said...

This sounds a lot like guitar playing. The whole key to being fast is to relax and only use as much effort/muscle as necessary and NO MORE. In Guitar Craft (my guitar "school" - founded by Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame), there's a saying: "If we can do nothing for half an hour, perhaps we can do something for half an hour". So we practice doing nothing every day; we have a morning sitting where we *actively* do nothing, and observe our bodies doing nothing (by mentally "visiting" every part of our bodies - especially our hands - and feeling what it feels like), so we can really learn to feel what it is to be relaxed; that way when you are doing something, you can more easily notice when you are not relaxed. It's similar to "Active Resting" in Alexander Technique though not quite the same (AT is also used a lot in Guitar Craft - you might want to look into that. It might also help your running).

About me? Well of course it's about me, it's my blog. said...

I know a little bit about Alexander Technique, we learned the basics in Movement Class in school. Also, when I was in physical therapy for my back we used some of the AT to help with my posture, but I never heard about "active resting." Anything with the word "resting" sounds intriguing! But yes, it could help with running, because even though you are moving, you also need to be relaxed so you don't tense up and hurt yourself. When running, I have to "check in" every so often to make sure I am doing everything properly. Taking the time beforehand to really know what proper form feels like is a good idea. Thanks, David!

dkuznick said...

Sure. It's also (maybe more commonly) known as Alexander Technique Lie-Down.