“Were you born in Texas?”

“Where’d you go to college?”

“Do you wax your eyebrows?”

These are the kinds of questions seventh-graders ask their teachers the first couple of days of school. I let them get it all out of their systems, then we can move on. But my favorite question of the week came at the end of the day Friday that first week. A couple of football players had not, shall we say, started off on the right foot in my class, and I’d had a chat with one of the coaches. He pulled them into the hall for a few minutes, and they came back pretty contrite. At the end of the period, I heard one ask another, “Does the whole team have to run hills, or just us?”

I laughed. Snorted, actually.

Not because they’d gotten in trouble and would pay for it with physical exertion (that was just a fun side effect) but because Thursdays I’ve been running four miles of hills. Voluntarily.

The last 2.5 miles of my next race–the Army Ten-Miler on October 9–climbs a gradual slope and then a sharp, steep hill before winding around to the finish line. It was the reason I missed last year’s goal by thirty seconds, so this summer I’ve been preparing for that sucker by running a similar hill every Thursday. Down/up for a mile, then reverse it and either repeat or go the other way, down/up/down/up and back.

This was easier during summer vacation. I could drive out to the middle school at the top of the hill after the sun had dropped low in the sky and run for an hour or so. It didn’t matter what time I got to bed because I didn’t have to be anywhere in the morning. But now that I’m back at work, getting home that late (when I have to wake up at 5:30) barely gives me time to inhale a sandwich before bedtime, let alone interact with my family. So I try to run earlier, but it’s August in Texas so the temperature exponentially multiplies the degree of difficulty of any workout.

And Hill Day is not my first workout of the week. On Mondays I go to Rogue’s core class then run three miles afterward, and on Tuesdays I run with my Rogue training group. I don’t get home before 8 or 8:30 those days either. On Wednesdays I do some kind of short run+core workout after I get home from work as well. Sometimes I have to call Physio Caroline Springs after practice because last year I twisted my ankle, so I can’t practice as hard as I did in the past, although they are helping me recover again.

So when I say I juggle life, work, and race training, what I really mean is I run after school, fall into bed later than I should, spend my days with adolescents not my own, then go home and do it all again. The three of us go out to dinner Friday nights–but not too late because I have a 5:45 alarm to meet my friends for our long run. At some point during the weekend I do the things I didn’t have time for during the week: laundry, basic house cleaning, all of that stuff. Occasionally I have a chance to read Sports Illustrated before the next issue arrives.

In other words, it’s less juggling and more Lucy-in-the-chocolate-factory until the next vacation comes around.

About the Author: Melissa Cooper started running in 2011 with Couch to 5K. In the summer of 2012, in what seemed like a leap, she joined Rogue Running and completed her first half-marathon–San Antonio Rock and Roll–later that year. Finishing San Antonio was supposed to be a one-time bucket list thing, but these days her half-marathon total is at double digits (and climbing). Her favorite race distance is probably the ten-miler. By day, she is a middle school teacher who juggles work and life and running—sometimes even successfully.