Just one mile.
One mile to show my kids what it looks like to push yourself.
One mile to motivate them.
One mile because I could.
It had been over a year since I’d run. Well except for chasing little feet who refuse to otherwise listen. And that year-ago “run” was a corporate 5K I hadn’t bothered to train for. I’d done three miles then – what was one mile now?
My kids were wrapping up the Healthy Kids Running Series. Each kiddo (even the two-year-old) raced in an age-appropriate event every Sunday. To cultivate a love for running. To discover what hard work and accomplishment feel like. To improve their personal bests.
As you can imagine, the majority of the kids at such events are parented by runners. Who else would drag their kids out week after week to run 50 yards or a half mile? Only runners.
And me. Because I like to over-schedule my kids. Every opportunity seems “neat” and I haven’t learned the art of no-ing such neatness.
After the kids ran their final race of the season, they would receive a participation medal. I didn’t cringe this time around because I saw how each earned them through face-plants, sweat, and tears. In this case, participation was medal-worthy.
Once the kids’ races were complete, parents were invited to do the one mile race.
The required waiver should have been my red flag. It literally small-printed “I have trained for this event,” to which I thought, “Who trains for one mile?”
Clearly I’d forgotten I was the sort of “in shape” which allowed me to injure my foot by squatting down in sandals. True story.
As the parents began lining up, I realized I was a fish out of water. The women knew each other (likely from run camp, a club I could never possibly survive) and wore tanks with cutesy running phrases on them. Their running shoes had likely pounded actual pavement instead of filling up a “probably should sell because I never use” box. They did basic stretches while talking. Meanwhile, I squeezed my eyeballs against my brain, hoping to remember what my middle school PE teacher taught us about which arm to hold which foot with so as to not twist your knee into oblivion.
Typically when people set out to compete in any sort of event, there is a small tinge of hope they could win. Even if they are the underdog. They wouldn’t be competing if they didn’t think they had at least a shot. But in this moment, I knew there was no shot. There was no competing. There was no tiny hope of an underdog win. The only unknown was if I would twist an ankle or burst a lung.
There would be no glory.
I was staring down the world’s longest mile.
A mark, a set, and a go and we were off. It wasn’t long before my body completely misbehaved. Somewhere around mile 0.15 – where I expected a water station – I passed the first group of cheerleaders, playground kids. “Go strangers! Go strangers! Go strangers!” A clever bunch of kiddos. Up ahead, I passed my personal cheering section.
Then my kid who had already given it all in his half-mile race, jumped in with me. “I’ll run a bit with you, Mom.”
He filled the next hundred yards with every running tip he’d ever heard. Finally, he said, “put your arms above your head if something hurts. Does something hurt, Mom?”
Yes, every piece of my I’ll-start-working-out-tomorrow body hurts.
“Here’s the plan, Mom. We’re going to stay this pace until we get to the half mile mark. Then, we’re going to go full speed til that curve. Then we can pace ourselves a bit. Then we’ll go hard into the finish.”
I’m sure it was a fantastic plan. But, I had zero intention of following it, a fact I didn’t think was worth mentioning. When we hit the half mile mark, Jack kept hinting it was time. After my pace dropped enough to dash hopes of cooperation, he finally backed down. I’m sure he noticed my face achieving new levels of red.
“It’s okay, Mom. You’ve got this. Just pick one person ahead of you and pass them.”
You mean that former Super Bowl MVP in front of me? Him? You want me to pass him?!
Jack sped ahead and yelled something about meeting me for the home stretch. Soon he reconsidered and returrned. He probably wasn’t sure I would make it that far. Instead, he grabbed my hand and ran me to the finish, spouting encouragements every step of the way.
Not every race in life is in my wheelhouse. Some don’t even have victory as an option. Some just have to be run because it’s part of the deal.
But even such a race can be full of surprises. Perhaps a voice is ready to pass back encourage they’ve received. Perhaps some legs who’ve already run their race will circle back (tripling their distance) for the sake of pushing you along. Perhaps a hand will reach for you when they aren’t sure you’ll otherwise make it.
Some races have to be run, like it or not.
I hope your path this week brings along a cheerleader, a teammate, or a coach to keep you in the race. May someone be that running buddy for you. And may you be it for someone, too.
But if you are looking for an actual running buddy, it’s now my off-season.