As soon as I start to get all the loneliness-of-the-long-distance-runner (or, more accurately, of-the 4-mile-runner), I suddenly have opportunities beyond lightly treading through my ‘hood route I now know better than the words to “Brown Bear, Brown Bear.”

Since I’ve been force feeding my kids workbooks–“Don’t you want to write your name, Ben?” “Don’t you want to do a crossword puzzle, Amelia?”– recently in order to get them back into the academic mindset, I gotta play fair. So two assignments I’m taking on in August:

First up: 10 Miles in Leadville

I ran 7 miles with Katie this morning, a woman I met a few months ago when I did a reading with the Colorado Columbines, and Jean, her friend. Katie has three kids–ages 14 to 8-9ish (going into 3rd grade)–and is running the Leadville 100 this year. She’s had Leadville simmering in her brain for 8 years, ever since she read an account by Jean, a two-time finisher, in the Columbine newsletter. (Jean, the mother to a 6 + 3 year old, is taking it on for the first time, post-kids, this year.)

Katie and me. In three weeks, she’ll run 100 miles. I’ll run 10 of ’em with her–and so psyched I get to.

What inspires me about Katie? Believe it or not, it’s not the distance. Not that 100 miles isn’t impressive–it certainly is–but what gets me is that she’s a really smart, talented runner interested in pushing herself to a point beyond comfortable. She’s the kind of runner who, I’m pretty sure, could rip off a marathon without training (and do it faster than me, even if I had focused on it for 6 months), so she’s seeking new limits. Not just a random, race, but a barrier that she’s had in a blurry focus, amid the trials of raising three kids, for eight.whole.years, a time span beyond inspiring to my flighty, what’s-next, hard-to-commit brain.

Speaking of gray matter, she knows her biggest hurdle going into Leadville is her mind. “I realized this weekend that there is absolutely nothing I can do that will make this race easy,” she wrote one e-mail to me, “I can train my butt off–as I have been–but it’s going to be rough. I’m going to be an emotional wreck.”

Assignment 2: 5k at the Skirt Chaser

I’m fortunate enough to be a part of an inaugural test program, started by Skirt Sports, called Kickstart, which focuses on 20 or so women who have barriers (lifestyle, financial, health) that would prohibit them from committing to running regularly. Kickstart provides them with a training plan, an entry into the Skirt Chaser 5k, a super cute skirt and top to race in and a mentor, which is where I come in.

I was paired with Pip, an Australian-native who has two young kids and is running her 5th or so 5k. (I’m not great with details if I don’t write them down: sorry, Pip, if you’re reading.) I spoke with her the other morning, and she was having a time: her daughter was up too many times in the night; swimming lessons times were switched to an earlier hour; she was trying to get back her rhythm after being on a family vacation; and her son, turning 5 that day, was a bit amped. I felt her pain on so many levels, but tried to play the mentor part: I encouraged her to drag herself out of bed, because, I said, you’re going tobe tired no matter what. Taking 30 minutes for yourself, to realign your body, feel your sweat, clear your head, might just give you the boost you need to get through the day. Kinda preachy, but it was the best I could do.

Pip and I chatting about our upcoming 5k: she’s got a PR in her future, whether she believes it or not.

Pip as equally as inspiring to me as Katie is. Despite feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, she’s getting it done. I got a facebook message on Saturday morning that said she nailed two miles (and two loads of laundry) and it wasn’t even 10 a.m. yet. It made me smile.

5k, marathon, 100 miles. Pip’s 5k is my NYC marathon is Katie’s Leadville. In the end, it’s not the distance; it’s the discipline of getting up morning after morning (or shoving out, evening after evening), of valuing and scheduling me time despite all the other forces in your life conspiring against you. It’s pushing just a few steps beyond what you–and your quads, and brain, and spirit–think is possible. It’s being bold enough to set a goal–and brave enough to ask for help.

Pip might regret asking for help. I’ve mentioned a (doable, but slightly ambitious) time goal for her that she’s balking at, but I know her legs are capable. Her mind doesn’t believe it, but dang it if I’m not going to do my best to get her across that line a few minutes faster than she thinks she can.

Sorry Pip. We’re going for your PR. It’s an assignment I simply can’t refuse.

What homework do you have in August?