Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lessons from a Fun Run: The Tables have Turned

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about my then 4 year old at what was really her first race. She'd been in a few before that one, but this one was a big deal because she really knew what was going on and had actually ASKED me to be in it. It was one mile. She loved every minute of it and taught me a lot about running in the process. It's a day I'll never forget.

But Tuesday, it was my turn to return the favor and teach her a thing or two about a thing or two. My 4 year old's now 6. The run was 2 miles not 1. And with a trophy on the line, it was fun, yes, but also her first real taste of competition.

Now, we'd known about this race for quite some time. It was actually supposed to go down in the fall as the annual Turkey Trot, but because of some wicked weather, it got postponed until spring. Since then, she'd made mention of the race a few times, but I had no idea how serious she was taking it until the night before. "MOM! We've got to outside and practice for the race tomorrow," she told me about the same time I told her to get ready for bed (either that or it was a stall tactic that failed). When I stuck to my guns about bedtime, after a few "but! but!"s, she finally relented with a better idea. "Ok Mom. Tomorrow morning though, you have to wake me up REALLY early so we can train before school." I told her I'd think about it knowing full well that I'd probably be dragging her tired behind out of bed with barely enough time to get her to school anyway (because apparently, that's the way we roll now here at the end of the school year).

"I AM gonna WIN THAT TROPHY tomorrow!" She told me confidently and much to my surprise. The race was for the ENTIRE school, Kindergarten through 8th grade. Fearing she was going to be in for a major disappointment at what was supposed to be a fun event the next day I reminded her, "Now Honey, you know this race is for your WHOLE school right? A lot of those kids are going to be a LOT bigger than you."  "Yeah, I know Mom." she replied. "But I'm faster than them, I've raced the 8th graders before and won." Oh boy, I thought to myself. How not to crush her spirit and that confidence, but prep her for what was certain to be reality the next day?

"Well you know, maybe you are faster than some of them, but this race tomorrow is a very loooooong race. It's 2 miles. You've never run that before and they probably have. So they might win. But that's ok right? We're just going to do our best right?!" She agreed and then looked me square in the eye and said, "Well, that's ok Mom. Even if I don't win the whole race, I just have to be the fastest one in my class and I still get a trophy." Oy.

In the morning there wasn't exactly enough time for me to get all of my little people ready AND train for a race with The Little Miss. So she set to prepping herself, "Mom. I need you to make me that drink you make that makes you run really fast and pack it for me for lunch. And then, I need you to make some more and bring it in a little water bottle that I can drink during the race." Then to The Tiger, her 3 year old sister, "THIS is how I need you to cheer." After demonstrating, she then took off running around the house, "I gotta practice! I gotta practice!" All the while, the Tiger is enthusiastically shouting, "I run too! I run too!" and running along behind her (which would eventually turn to sobbing when Daddy and Big Sis left for school without her).

Next thing I know, The Little Miss is busy tearing through a box of gloves and hats making a terrific mess. Upon questioning, I learned she just HAD to find that special head band I sometimes wear when I run. "Special headband?" I had no clue. She found it though and with a great big "AHA!" put it on her head. It was an ear warmer head band (OH MAN! I just realized I totally should have given her my "In my dreams, I'm a Kenyan head band." I completely forgot about it though. It was, after all, supposed to be 60 DEGREES that day.). When I reminded her that it was going to be pretty warm and she probably wouldn't even need her sweatshirt, she told me it didn't matter, she'd still wear the head band. It'd make her go fast. Couldn't really argue with that logic now could I? So I out the door she went, ear warmer and all.

I met her at "the race course" later that afternoon. She really wanted me to run with her and I certainly wasn't going to say no to that. From the moment she stepped off the bus, I could tell she was literally turning herself inside out excited. "Mommy, here! Hold my drink." She had brought the leftover drink from lunch I had made her. "I need to go practice." She was gone for just a minute or two running around with a few other kids and came back to, you know, properly fuel, "Ok...I need to finish that drink now!" A little while after that the principal called all the kids together and had the 8th graders lead the school in some stretching. I figured I'd stand off to the side and snap a few pictures but that didn't last long."Mommy! Come over here we have to stretch!" The Little Miss hollered at me.

Shortly after that, we were off. I was surprised at how hard it was to keep up with her at first, not necessarily because of her blazing fast speed. I've been around the block a time or two. I talked pacing with my girl before we went. I've carried one too many kiddos through the end of a fun run in order to keep it just that, fun, when they couldn't quite cover the distance because they took off just as fast as their little legs would go at the start. But I was carrying two water bottles (the one from school and the one I was requested to bring) my car keys, a phone, and a camera which was bouncing across my chest the whole time. (Why I wore pants without pockets, I have no clue).

Right from the get go, The Little Miss had one objective, get ahead of the kids in her class so she could win that trophy. And she was doing good at first, pacing herself. When she'd get tired she'd walk and count to 60 and run again (her dad taught her that.) She'd spot a little boy or girl from her class and she'd say with heavy breaths "I have to catch him or her." When she did, she'd shout a greeting and keep going. (She's a friendly little runner).

There were two little boys ahead of her though that she had in her sights and although she was slowly making up some ground, they were still pretty far ahead. But she's an optimist at heart, "Mom! Did anybody come to cheer? I KNOW I'll run faster when people cheer me on. Then I'll catch them!" And she did have fans in the form of RunDad, RunPapa, and The Tiger (who cheered for not only her sister, but also me. Thank-you very much!). Tiny Ninja was also there too, but at 6 months she's a little too little to really offer any course support, at least not in a language, the rest of us can understand anyway.

And although my Little Miss did run faster when she saw her fans around a mile (and me too, since I could ditch all the stuff I was carrying) and she did for a brief moment catch up to those two little boys, those little boys were NOT havin' it. Now, I realize I am not the mother of any male children, nor have I ever been a 5 or 6 year old boy myself, and I actually didn't HEAR them say anything, so I'm basically going to entirely make this next part up as far as what was going on in their heads and what their little conversation was just based on what I saw and what I imagine it to be. And yes, I fully admit, I could have this entirely wrong, what I THINK was happening was cracking me up though, so yeah, I'm totally going to share it.

When my Little Miss caught up to these two little boys, the one little boy looked over and excitedly shouted out "HI!" to my daughter, sort of like "Oh look! There's someone else we know!" My daughter shouted hi back and they all kept running. Then, that same little boy, did a double take, and it seemed to me that at that moment it dawned on him, he was about to be passed by *GASP* a girl. There was this momentary look of horror on this little boy's face and he leaned over and whispered something to the other boy. They. Took. Off. My daughter, not about to be out run, picked up the pace to match them. I let it go on for maybe a minute. And I know, yes, I'm a big party pooper here, because a part of me really would of liked to watch that play out too, but these kids had another mile to go and rather than watch them all sprint it out til they crashed and burned and didn't get to finish at all, I just whispered to my daughter, "remember, it's a long race." She took the hint and slowed down.

But the fear of the flopping pigtails had been just the motivation those little boys needed, from that point on, the kept peeking back to see where she was and every time they saw her running, they'd run what appeared to be as hard as they could to get further ahead. At about a mile and a half, they turned a corner and were out of sight. My daughter was crushed. She stopped running and was on the verge of tears, "I guess I should just stop running now. I don't even need to finish the race. I'm not going to win the trophy. They are." She told me disappointedly.  "Now Honey, remember. Why do we run this race? Is it to do our best or is it to win a trophy." She mumbled in her most pitiful voice, "to do our best." "And is it doing our best if we stop running and just give up and don't finish the race?" I asked. "No. But I'm not even going to win!" She reasoned. "You do win when you do your best!" I reminded her, "And listen, this is a long race! You never know what could happen. What if THEY get tired and stop running?" I asked her. That picked her spirits up some and she started running again.

Not too long after, she passed a teacher at a checkpoint who shouted very enthusiastically something like she was doing a great job and that she was the first girl in her class. "Is there a trophy for the first boy AND girl in each class?" I asked her. "I don't know." She replied. "Well, I think there might be. I think that's why she said that." This thrilled the Little Miss, but she was really tired at that point and there was a little girl closing in on her. Then, she got a side cramp. "I think I'll just let her catch up to me Mom." She told me with maybe a quarter mile to go. "Then we'll just walk together and I'll beat her at the end." (HA!)

"That's not really the way it works dear." I told her. "You never know how fast somebody is. When you're racing it's a good idea to stay as far ahead as you can. That way if they end up being really fast, they don't just pass you up at the end. Now, I know you're tired and if you need to walk some you should, but I know you really REALLY wanted to win a trophy and if that's what you want, even if it feels hard right now, you should still do your best and try to run so you can stay ahead of her."

"But Mom, I could just TELL her we should walk and that she shouldn't pass me." (Brilliant I tell ya! Brilliant. I'm totally going to try that in my next race. "Hey, don't pass me. I want to win the age group award!")  "No. You are NOT going to tell her that." I informed my full of ideas daughter. "SHE is going to do her best too. So if you want to be the first girl, you are going to have to keep running."

Well, The Little Miss thought about this for a little while as we were closing in on the finish. Then there were cheers from her Daddy, Papa and her Little Sis and she looked up at me with those big eyes and started to run again, "I want you to hold my hand," she said. "Are you sure you don't want to use it to help you run faster?" I asked. "No. I just want to hold your hand." She said. So I did. (See how fast we are together! We're blurry...OR the camera was on the wrong setting...something like that ;-)

And she DID finish that race running her little heart out even though she had been tired and wanted to quit. THAT is what I'm most proud of. And as I sit here and write and reflect on that day, I realize again it's her that teaches me. When I started this post, I thought I'd be writing to you about how it was my turn to teach her about running and thus, life (perseverance, overcoming, never give up, do your best, yadda yadda) and I still hope that maybe I did teach her some of those things. But as I wrap this up with tears in my eyes, and I look at that blurry little picture of her holding my hand I realize that nope. It's again her that's teaching me the most important lessons. More important then whether she would win or not, was that she was holding my hand. Together we could do it, but just in case we didn't, it'd be ok because she had my hand. She trusts me and loves me in a way that before I had kids I never even knew was possible. What a mighty responsibilty, we've been entrusted with as parents eh? But a mighty blessing at the same time. Whenever I get wrapped up in the craziness of this life, it's she that reminds me what's really important in the most simplest of ways.

"Hold my hand." Man, I love that little girl.

'Til next time...

P.S. For those of you who are not following along on FB or Twitter and haven't heard this already, BIG giveaway coming soon. You're totally gonna LOVE it! Stay tuned...


Jan said...

Aww, what a fun post. She looks so proud! She has amazing perseverance for a little one!

Shannon @ Tales from an Average Runner said...

I LOVED this! I have a six-year-old girl too who recently ran her first two-mile race. It was a tough experience for her, though, and I don't think she's in any hurry to repeat it. She really gets her hopes up that she is going to crush runs, and there is no way to dissuade her apparently, because she gets really disappointed in herself when she doesn't. It's tough to see her go through. I love the fact that she keeps trying, though!

EmDub @ Faster In Water said...

Oh my gosh, how sweet! One of those days that you will remember forever :)

graceandme said...

A super little girl, great effort!! Love the warm up photo..