One of the things that gets my daughter’s attention is when she sees other girls doing something. And so it was that, for much of her elementary school career, she watched from afar as, each year, a crop of girls took to the pavement to prepare for Girls on the Run, a program of mentorship and running that culminates in a 5K in our local downtown.
When she reached fourth grade, she decided to enter her school’s lottery to run the race herself. Lo and behold, she got in.
This opened up a question in our family: namely, who would run with her? This Girls on the Run organization strongly recommends that an adult run with each child, so my wife and I talked over a range of different options, from relatives to friends. We decided, in the end, that the best fit was someone from our immediate family: either my wife, or me.
Now, I’m not a runner … at least, not in the sense that I live to run. Unlike Mumbling Mommy’s Katie, I don’t really enjoy running and I certainly don’t run for fun. I do enjoy hiking and camping and other outdoor activities, but the idea of running competitively is pretty low on my interest scale.
But I do know how to run. I was a high school athlete who actually thought about (and read about) things like conditioning, sports nutrition and sports medicine. I’d even run a 5K competitively once before, years ago on a whim, and even somehow won my age bracket in the process, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with the process.
So I set out to train.
Preparing for the 5K came down to two big logistics: my own physical situation and the equipment question.
Physically, I wasn’t in the worst possible place. I was a 40-year-old father in generally good health. My weight, muscles, and joints were all in good shape. There was no physical reason, at least that I could see, why I couldn’t get up to speed for this thing.
Also to my advantage: this wasn’t your typical competitive run, which would have carried the normal physical risks of pushing my body to its maximum speed. I was, instead, shadowing a 9-year-old. The goals, instead, were to
- Stay healthy and injury free during training
- Make sure I could keep up with the kid during race day
That meant that my training regiment was probably definitely more conservative and careful than a competitive run training would have been. I wasn’t out to exceed what I thought my body was capable of. I was out to be a good sidekick.
In the case of gear … well, I had pretty much nothing. They say that running is a poor man’s sport, but this was going to cost some money, at least to do it right. At the outset, my biggest purchases were a decent pair of running shoes—I settled on a pair of Nikes after trying on nearly everything at a shoe store—as well as some basic running clothes and an activity tracker. The last of these was something I thought a lot about; I went back and forth over whether I should use a tracker or if I should use my phone to try and track my time and distance. In the end, I went with a tracker that at least had the benefit of doubling as a good watch.
As the temperature went south, I also had to add a pair of thermals. Once outdoor temperatures starting dropping into the 40s, and later the 30s, I realized shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt weren’t cutting it anymore.
The morning of the race we got up bright and early at 5:30 a.m. – no big deal to me since that’s when I get up for work, but a different matter for the rest of the family. The four of us – me, my wife, my 9-year-old, and my 6-year-old – were on the local public transit train by 6:30 a.m., riding downtown to a station just south of the local professional hockey arena.
We had left from home early due to warnings about long ride times, but it turned out we didn’t need to – by the time we got there we had an hour and a half to spare. That was a blessing in disguise: it let my daughter, and her sister, soak in the racing village with its various vendor tents and their many freebies. By the time the girls emerged from the village they had colored hair, sparkles on their faces, and enough swag to stuff a backpack with. I’m not much of a sparkles-and-glitter guy, but I will admit that those were some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
The forecast had been all over the map in the week leading up to the race, with initial predictions in the 30s. The final forecast was low 60s with a chance of thunderstorms.
It was 60 degrees and windy, with mostly cloudy skies staring down on the cordoned-off streets, as my daughter and I followed the masses to the starting line. My most vivid memory is cresting a short hill, looking down, and seeing a sea of purple and green filling the wide street. My daughter managed a simple “wow,” and I answered, “I know.”
My daughter finished her 5K in 34:44. I was right there beside her.
The Ride Home
It did storm that day, but not until after the race was over and we were on our way home. As the wind slapped the raindrops against the transit train during our return trip, I had some time to think about the day. It had been a good day. Not only had it been a chance to do something together with my daughter, but it had also been a unique family experience. The daughters had enjoyed the festivities perhaps more than the race itself. Just the experience of getting to go downtown, something we don’t have reason to do very often, made for a special day for them.
As for me? When I’d started my training regiment months earlier, I’d had friends who had told me, “you’ll get hooked!” or “running is addicting!” That didn’t happen. It was good to see that I was intellectually and physically capable of getting back up to running speed, and it was meaningful to put my understanding of myself and how the body works to get myself up to speed in a way mostly free of injury. It’s probably also valuable for me to have a sense about the strengths and limits of my body as it enters its 40s.
But I wasn’t hooked. I didn’t love getting up early Saturday morning to run for 30-45 minutes in 30 degree weather, or coming home after work to turn around and squeeze in a run under sweltering 90 degree conditions. (Because I live in the Midwest, both of those things happened.) Running, for me, was a means to an end, which was to help my daughter do something she really wanted to do. I had no remorse about leaving running behind to return to a lifestyle of walking and hiking, activities I enjoy as ends in themselves.
Running, though, is probably not yet done with me. My daughter has already told me that she plans to run the 5K again next year, when she is in 5th grade. My running shoes are packed away for when I need them again.
To learn more about a Girls on the Run chapter near you, visit Girls on the Run’s official page.
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