The thing about kids is that everything just is what it is. They don’t care about times or finishing places, wicking fabrics or fancy watches that can tell you your pace, distance, heart rate and color of your underwear. They’re not concerned with race strategy, weather conditions, or the type of course they’re on. They just run for (dare I say it?) fun. And you can see it by the ear to ear grin on their precious little faces.
My daughter, after cheering me on at a number of races, had been BEGGING me to run one herself. Now she’d done a few tot trots in the past, and even the one mile fun run with the family on Thanksgiving in Detroit a couple of times, which is fast becoming somewhat of a family tradition. But this was different. This was the first time SHE asked to do a race as opposed to me entering her on my own, then convincing her there was fun to be had by running it. This was HER race.
So, I got her some real running shoes, pink and sparkly, (she needed a new pair of sneakers anyway, so why not make them conducive to running?) and a little running outfit. And last week, we even went and practiced at her request (as if the child needed to practice something she pretty much does all day everyday even when we don’t go outside and it’s only in circles around our living room). Saturday was the big race. The Wood Duck Dash 1/2 Mile Fun Run. Her 5 year old cousin would be running too.
And let me tell you, it’s amazing the things these kiddos picked up on from their running parents, without ever anybody really discussing it with them. Over at my nephew’s house, his biggest concerns on race day were that he didn’t have a fuel belt and his shoes would be to heavy or not right for running, so he brought a couple of pairs just in case. While at my house, my daughter opened the refrigerator looking for noodles for breakfast because “that’s what runners eat before they run.” (She doesn’t get up at 4:30AM to see what I actually eat before I run, so her best guess is what I eat the night before). I hadn’t prepped any noodles for breakfast, so I told her eggs had protein, berries antioxidants, and bananas potassium, all things runners needed to run fast. She didn’t know what any of those words were, but it sounded big, grown up and fancy enough to completely satisfy her. She happily ate every bite.
The race was scheduled to start at 9AM (which I knew because I checked AGAIN the night before on the registration form to be sure AND that is also exactly what it said on the big giant sign outside of the park. 9AM. Really. I have witnesses.) So we had planned on being there at 8:30 to get her bib, and let her warm up a little.
But apparently by 9AM start, they meant 8:40 AM because obviously when you set a start time for an event, as everyone knows, you actually mean for it begin 20 minutes earlier which is certainly not a problem at all for an event which involves getting kids ready and all that entails. No. Not all. (Is your computer screen dripping with sarcasm yet?)
So as we neared the park, I get a frantic phone call from my mom. “They are starting in 10 minutes!” A little back up at the park entrance, followed by weaving through the park to get to the right area, and I soon found myself booking to the starting line with my 4 year old right past the announcer who was now down to giving us a 3 minute warning. Honestly, if I had had a little more time and no bib to put on her, I probably would have given that dude an earful about NOT changing the time the day of with no warning on an event for little kids who had their hearts set on running it. But priority one was getting her in that race, no time for a side conversation.
As fast as I could, I pinned that sucker onto my daughter, as the director started lining up the kids to go. (Any idea how difficult it is to pin a bib on a 4 year old under pressure? I would have skipped the bib entirely, but that would NOT have flown with my daughter who knows better and whom I was trying desperately not to stick with a pin and thus scar from racing, bibs, or even just safety pins for the rest of her life.)
“EXCUSE ME SIR?!” she yelled to the man organizing the kids, “I JUST NEED TO GET ONE MORE PIN ON PLEASE.” So polite. We made due with the two pins I managed to get on and stepped up to the starting line still a little out of breath from the run to get there, but we had made it. Just in time.
It wasn’t a long race. In fact, the whole thing was done in less than 5 minutes (I seriously doubt it was actually a 1/2 mile for those of you impressed with my 4 year old’s sub 10 minute per mile pace.) But in those 5 minutes, this is what my daughter taught me or at the very least reminded me about running:
1. It’s fun to run fast. Really. When’s the last time you ran as fast as you could? Try it. It’s ok. Go ahead. If you’re nervous, find a place where no one can see you.
2. When you need a rest, take one. There’s no shame in walking if you need to so you can finish or run really really fast again.
3. Acknowledge your fans. I think my daughter yelled just as loudly when she saw her sister as her sister did for her. And why not? The people who come to cheer you on put their life on hold for a little bit to support you and some of them (my 2 year old being one) do not even quite understand why. Why not give them a little cheer, or at least a nod or a wave back to let them know you appreciate their support.
4. Sometimes taking a drink will make you run faster. There is no scientific reason why. It just will.
5. It’s ok if people run faster than you. There’s someone faster than them out there too.
6. It’s ok if your cousin beats you. At about the 1/2 way point, my nephew took the lead so I tried to encourage my daughter to run up and catch him. “It’s ok Mommy. I talked to him about this yesterday and I told him it’s ok if he beats me.” Running is an individual sport. Yes, there’s other people out there to race against. But really, the only person that matters is you. Can you do better than your previous best?
7. When you cross the finish line you win. My nephew, my daughter and some poor little boy who sobbed the entire way as his father dragged him along were the last three finishers in that order. Pretty far behind the rest of the kids too. “I won!” My nephew shouted excitedly when he crossed the finish with nobody in sight. A few seconds behind, my daughter shouted “I won too!” She’s right. Everybody who crosses the finish line wins. After all, it’s rarely ever the race that’s the big accomplishment, it’s everything you go through to get there that makes you a winner.
8. Post race snacks are almost as cool as the medal. Depending on the race and the snacks of course.
9. Celebrate your accomplishment. Ice cream and juice boxes for our winners.
10. Wear your medal proudly. You’ve earned it. And my girlie wore hers nearly all day.
But ultimately, what she reminded me of is that in the grand scheme of things, finishing times don’t matter. Sometimes, it’s more important to just put the watch away and be thankful I even CAN run. Savor every step. That’s what I watched my daughter do out there Saturday. Run for the sake of running. And in many ways, I sincerely hope she never ever loses that.
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