Sun and Mud and a Spring Day and Just Having Fun

At last! After long winter months of running in school hallways. After endless hurdle drills on linoleum and cement. After dreary, dark training runs on icy roads—Spring had sprung. We were finally the recipients of a beautiful, sunny Spring day, and, track coach that I am, it was time to rejoice. Although it was partly snow-covered, 200 meters of our outdoor track had melted.

With that familiar spring smell of fresh air and melting dog-doo in our nostrils, we were finally ready to do some serious damage in track practice. To begin the deadly serious business of winning city, regional and provincial championships… and who knows—maybe even qualifying for the Olympic trials later in the summer.

It was a Saturday sprinters’ practice and our racehorses were ready to tear up the track, unfettered by the threat of looming hallway walls and locker-door collisions.

But surprisingly, two of our distance runners also showed up for practice. I was surprised because their Saturday workout was just an optional, easy distance run. These two girls, 14 and 15 years old, were elite cross-country skiers who enjoy running in the summer time.

“We’ll just go for a run,” they said as they left the track at a slow jog. I assumed they would head down the road where the footing was safe.

Our stadium is in a beautiful setting: surrounded by rocky hills that are criss-crossed with skiing and jogging trails. Although these trails are popular in mid-winter and summer, in the Spring they’re a no-man’s land of mud, ice, partially melted snow and leafless trees. It was part way through our workout that I realized the girls had headed onto these trails. My first clue came 20 minutes before they actually jogged back into view—a fanfare of giggles and screams and laughter echoing sharp and clear off the hills.

One of my sprinters looked at me and asked, “Where in the heck are they—out on the trails? They’ve got to be nuts!”

Another fast 200m for our sprinters, then another. I kept peeking up into the hills, waiting for the source of the laughter to appear.  And then I saw them. Both girls, wearing only T-shirts, shorts and shoes, sliding down a snowy slope on their butts. And laughing like crazy. Landing at the bottom, they ran back up the hill and slid down standing up—cross country skiing without their skis.

Their “run” completed, they jogged back to the track, climbed our timers’ stand and lay on their backs,  their muddy feet flopped onto a handrail. Contented, they just lay there, soaking up the sun and the warmth and the fresh air.

For the girls, it had been a great afternoon. No video games, no high-tech toys, no television, no organized team competitions—just a muddy trail, a pair of shoes, a sunny day and a friend to enjoy them with.

One of my older girls remarked, “Teenagers really are annoying at that age. All they do is giggle.” I didn’t say anything, but I had to disagree—I left that practice feeling happy, and carefree, and very young.

It had occurred to me as I watched them sliding down that hill—and I can still hear their laughter echoing off the hills as I write this article—that this is what sports, and fitness, and the professions of coaching and physical education are really all about.

Winning and excellence and personal improvement are admirable goals. But in it’s essence, sport is really just play. Necessary play. And the joy that comes with movement, and being fit and interacting in a physical way with nature. And being young…and (for us older folks) realizing that by being able to play, we can experience the joy and innocence of youth all of our lives.

I hope the girls always remember that day. And I hope I will too. Especially on those occasions when I take the achievement aspect of sport a little too seriously. I hope the memory of their laughter ringing off those hills will give me a subtle slap on the face and the reminder, ”Hey, it’s only play after all. This is supposed to be fun!”


Dick Moss, Editor,

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[tags]physical education,track,running,fitness fun,youth sports,youth fitness[/tags]

PaceTrek Program Gets Students Moving

Paul Staso Running Through Alaska

If you’re looking for a way to motivate your students to walk or run on a regular basis, check out the website.  Founder Paul Staso has developed a series of events in which he takes students on a virtual walking or running adventure. As he performs ultra-endurance runs across different countries, states and geographical areas,  students are invited to watch his progress on his website, and log enough combined miles so they match the distance he’s run.

Students log in miles in school gyms and playgrounds, to keep Paul company. They read his online journal and watch the videos that he films as he runs.  His daily journal provides information about the place he has just run through in addition to a tip about fitness and health. It’s a great way to teach students about other places, while developing a fitness habit.

You can see some of his videos at:

The next journey begins on April 14, 2011. It’s a 506-mile solo run across the Mojave Desert. School teams can sign up for free at

Paul and his wife, Vicki. began the P.A.C.E. Fitness Foundation (P.A.C.E. stands for Promoting  Active Children Everywhere) in 2006, when he ran 3260 miles across America to keep a promise to 97elementary school students in his hometown of Missoula, Montana. Since then, he’s run across Alaska, Montana and Germany.

The foundation also provides information for the Safe Routes to School program. This program enourages community leaders, schools and parents to improve safety and encourage more children to safely walk and bicycle to school.


Dick Moss, Editor,

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[tags]P.A.C.E. Foundation, PACETrek, fitness ideas, running programs, walking programs[/tags]

Why Are There No Timeouts in Endurance Sports?

I watched a basketball game this weekend, in which play was stopped over and over again for timeouts. There were so many timeouts that the final 30 seconds of the game took five minutes to complete.

Typical comments from commentators included: “That was a good timeout. You could see the team needed a breather.”
“That timeout was perfectly called. Coach needed to change tactics. What a momentum-change that provided.”

Hilary, one of my cross-country runners, takes exception to timeouts in team sports.  In Hilary’s words, “If they can take timeouts in basketball because they’re tired, why not in cross-country?”

Good point. I’d love to be able to call a timeout when my cross-country racers are dropping off the pace and need a break. Or in a middle distance track race, when my runners are boxed-in on the curb. It would make a big difference if I could jump onto the track with my hands in the traditional time-out signal and get the officials to whistle the race to a stop. A 30-second conference  with my athlete with instructions such as:

“I told you to stay off the curb, Joe. Now get back in there and move out of that box!”

And off to the races again, with Joe nicely moving out of his boxed-in position and ready for a kick to the finish.

Alas, I fear this is never to be.  All is not fair in love and war…or, apparently, sport!


Dick Moss, Editor,

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[tags]sports humor, sports humour,physical education,timeouts in sport[/tags]

Running While You Study – Not As Crazy As it Sounds

A TrekDesk Work Station
A TrekDesk Work Station

I once coached a student-athlete who had the most peculiar study habits.

Like many students, she often found herself falling asleep shortly after opening her books. Her solution to this problem was unique. She began studying during exercise sessions. She would prop a book on her elliptical trainer or treadmill and read while pounding out the miles.

Soon, hitting the books became synonymous with hitting the gym. It became common to see her with a handful of notes while doing laps on her neighborhood indoor track. She once ran 100 laps while doing a review for exams.

When she began this routine, she could hardly be called an athlete. In fact,  this study-exercise combination helped her to drop 30 pounds and elevate herself from a recreational jogger into a second-team All-Canadian runner over the course of several years.

Having seen her attempt to study on a number of road trips (10 minutes-and-asleep), I always thought that her study strategy was pretty smart. In fact, it made sense, since she was using her brain while it was in a highly oxygenated and receptive state.

However, I must admit that I considered her study habits…unusual.

But no more. A company is now selling treadmills specifically for studying and working. Trumpeting the advantages of combining physical with mental exercise, TrekDesk now makes complete workstations that fit over any treadmill and allow you to walk while you work.

Apparently and unknowingly, my student was on the cutting-edge of exercise innovation.

I have absolutely no connection to TrekDesk, but you can take a look at their website at the following link:  TrekDesk

And my student-athlete who could only study while on the run? She’ll be finishing law school this Spring and will be articling with a firm she has worked with for the past two summers. They love her.

I just hope they have a treadmill in their law library.


Dick Moss, Editor,

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[tags]fitness,exercise,studying while exercising[/tags]

Women’s Teams, Bus Travel and Chick Flicks


Laurentian University, where I coach the women’s track and cross-country teams, is four hours north of Toronto, and most of our competition venues are at least that far away. (I also coach a track club, but that’s for other blog posts).

So we  do a lot of driving. In the past, we travelled in vans, but this year our fortunes changed dramatically. We now use a 30 passenger coach,  It’s heaven! The difference in stress levels after a bus-trip versus a van trip is astronomical. In fact, I’m typing this blog while sipping tea in the front seat of the bus. We’re flying down the highway and I can see the fall colors flashing past, and rivers and lakes and other spectacular views. The bus has a bathroom, luggage compartment,  reclining seats and a professional driver.

It has one other feature that sounds wonderful, but is a double-edged sword – a DVD player with five screens and speaker system. Movies! What a great way to wile away the hours!

Or so I thought. On our first trip in the bus, I made a fatal mistake. Continue reading Women’s Teams, Bus Travel and Chick Flicks

Sports Injuries Often Occur Off the Field


An event during this year’s cross-country running season reinforced the point of an article I wrote several years ago called “Injuries- Check Outside Activities.” (PE Update members can find it using the search bar).

The point of the article was, if your athletes sustain an injury – especially a chronic injury – make sure you know what their outside activities involve. And make sure you know what kind of shoes they use for casual-wear.

What reminded me of that article was one of my female runners who complained of foot pain back in the Fall. A week of non-impact training in the swimming pool didn’t help at all – the pain kept getting worse.

It wasn’t until we saw her mosey into practice one afternoon that we realized what was going on. She was wearing ballet-type slippers. Our campus is hilly with a 15-minute walk on paved streets between some classes. She was wearing the slippers because they were “comfy.”

After advising her to wear better shoes, there was still no improvement for a couple of days. We then thought to ask what she was wearing instead of the slippers. Flip flops. Not much better. She explained that they went with her nail polish (this was in late October in a northern climate). Needless to say, we advised another change in footwear.

A week after exchanging her ballet slippers and flip-flops for regular running shoes, her foot pain was gone. A miracle!!

This is a great example of an injury whose origin wasn’t sport-related. The moral is, be careful when you encounter one of your own athlete’s ailments – they may not have occurred on the playing field at all. And athletes often don’t realize how their non-sport activities can affect their injury status – as a result they may fail to mention such activities to you. You must often be very pointed in your questioning when trying to determine the cause of your athletes’ injuries.


Dick Moss, Editor,

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[tags]sports,sport,injuries,sports medicine, coach,coaching[/tags]