Although the holidays are over, I am still posting special blog posts chronicling 12 of my favorite running races from 2012 and the somewhat funny lessons, or gifts you could say, that came from them (well…they’re funny now; at the time not so much). After all, the new year is ahead ready to take new challenges on.
On the 9th day of running, running gave to me: a 9-year-old perspective.
I’ve run several races that have a Fun Run option for kids, but I’d never had a kid to make run before. Until Matthew.
Matthew is not my kid. He is Jason’s little brother, although when they are together, he looks like Jason’s kid. This is probably because Jason is 30 and Matthew is 9.
If you’re smart and good at math, you’re probably thinking something like, “Oops!” If you’re like me and not good at the math, you’re still counting your fingers and scrunching your face up but eventually you too will come up with the answer, “Oops!”
Well, Matthew is not an Oops, and it’s really cool when you’re older to have a much younger sibling because you have a reason to re-enjoy kid things you are way too old for and you much smarter when it comes to harassing them (like when I told Matthew strawberry milk comes from pink cows or when tricking kids into helping you with housework).
So we brought Matthew to the Monster Dash 5K in October held at the River Market at night. Several people dress in costume for the contest, especially the kids. They were freakin’ adorable and if you’re going to watch any race, this is the one. It is so hilarious to see the various costumes.
Costume shout outs to one of the race directors dressed as Captain America (he LOOKED LIKE him with his tall muscular frame, blonde hair, and charming face; later we saw him as Buddy the Elf for the Santa Run), the group who dressed as a 6-pack of Bud Light bottles complete with their own 6 people-sized carton, the 3 Blind Mice (see how they run!), and the Lady with the Incredibly Long Blonde Hair and Very Pink Dress who actually was a guy (props to you for making your fake boobs look more real than half the celebrities out there). I didn’t know you were a guy at first until I saw your wife dressed as a guy. Ha ha.
The best was this 6-year-old ninja who decided to a pick a fight with Matthew. He was acting all tough and bragging about how fast he was going to be. He was jumping around fake punching everything.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way” he taunted Matthew. I immediately jumped in.
“Matthew, this is when you say, ‘I invented the hard way.’ ” Matthew thought this was hilarious. This shut the ninja kid up for a bit. But their verbal banter continued later at the starting line. It was a riot.
As an English major, I believe it’s never too early to teach your young the art of witty batter and to instill in them the virtue of being a smart ass.
But later I realized their competitive spirit and verbal sparring wasn’t much different than what we do when we’re older. Jason and I have always had a friendly competition going. Some of the fun of the run is having someone to beat (because I don’t even know where the first place person is after 3 minutes) and coming up with friendly trash talk. We’re never mean about it but use it as encouragement, and it’s fun to see how far the jokes can go. Jason reminds me how generous he’s being letting me out of the kitchen for a few hours, and I tease him about needing some “catch-up” with my dust (ok, he came up with that one too).
It’s great if you have a running partner or friend you joke around with like this. Just make sure it doesn’t go too far. Because I wanted really badly to beat Jason and pass him in his Batman shirt with an actual cape billowing behind, and he sped up every time he heard me coming, I pushed myself that race and ended up getting second in my age group, which meant a medal. I really appreciate him for that and consider half the medal to be his (although I keep it safe in my drawer).
I also loved both kids’ confidence. The ninja, although younger than Matthew and much shorter, wasn’t phased by the odds at all. He thought he was a BAMF and acted like it. He didn’t worry about age group, experience, nothing. He just knew he wanted to run, and he was going to take names while he was at it!
Matthew was this way too – he was convinced he was going to win although he’d never done a fun run before. But then when his group ran down the block and back, he was behind. Like the last bunch of the group to finish. He was disheartened. We distracted him with the candy bag all the kids got, but he still had this look on his face – this genuine disappointment that he wasn’t as fast as he thought he was.
He was in awe of my medal. We tried to explain that I’d be running a long time – that training will make you faster. That also some people aren’t fast over short distances, some of us are better at outpacing people by going slower but lasting longer.
We’re trying to teach him it takes time to become good at a skill but he’s still pretty young. We tried taking him on a longer run but he would sprint for awhile, stop, then talk about a side cramp, repeat. It’s hard when you’re that young to see the big picture – understand the discipline of practice and how much experience adds to your strategy.
It made me realize how far I’ve come in running. Going from slumming it in practice and complaining about being forced to do coach’s seemingly tortuous workouts to now having to run on my own and plan a training program. Deciding to make myself run up that hill one extra time. Going from eating a croissant salami sandwich and a cookie for lunch to thinking about healthy options and properly carb loading for a race.
But then again – I miss the simplicity. The fun of showing up for a race just for the joy of running. I hated competing in high school – I wasn’t the slowest, but I never saw the point in pushing so hard I felt like I was dying. I just enjoyed running. I enjoyed cheering my teammates on. I enjoyed all the food the parents brought us to eat after our meets. It wasn’t all that complicated.
I like the improvements I made in my running – becoming a smarter runner, competing on my terms against Jason or my PR instead of what coach told me to, feeling healthy from a balanced diet, and enjoying my strength from weight-lifting and cross training. But I’d like to keep the simplicity in mind too – to some days just enjoy the run. To have a race where I run it with a friend or just run at my pace instead of staring at my Garmin the whole time.
Matthew’s done 2 more Kid Runs since – the Santa Fun Run and the Kids’ Ruckus Run (obstacle run). He’s enjoyed both – getting a cool shirt and finisher medal. He still has ambitions to be faster, and once he has it in his mind he wants to train, I’m sure we’ll have no problems teaching him how to pace. It comes down to wanting it – I used to back to middle of the pack, got sore easily because I didn’t train much, but once I started wanting to to do better, I got better. I started doing off-season practice, reading what competitive runners do, and kept building from there.
It often takes kids to make us reflect on these things – to see how far we’ve come since we were younger and to remember to just enjoy life’s experiences, meeting them head on with unwavering confidence.