Friday, October 2, 2015

Marathon Man

As any good distance runner would tell you, it’s all about the journey.

Or maybe they wouldn’t. I could’ve just plucked that out of thin air. But on the eve of The Virginia Ten Miler, which passes right by our street, my son was all set to run his own race.

The Amazing Mile is a kids race downtown. And the Amazing Quarter Mile is the grueling test of endurance that kicks it all off. When we signed our kid up a few months back, I knew I had to get serious about training. We built up his stamina, running laps around the house after bathtime under the pretense that it was an innocent game of chase.

But oh no my friend. It was all about the training. We slogged through the sessions, chasing the dogs, training on the hill in the woods behind our house, in the backyard. He took his race seriously, or once again, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just likes to run because he’s two and all. Something like that.

The rains came hard on the big day. Not that our little runner cared. He had his eye on the prize, or at least on a bag of pretzels, it’s tough to say. He wasn’t going to let a little rain dampen his spirits. , rain or no rain, he was ready to rip and run.

There was a nice turnout. Kid’s hopping all over the place. Big kids. Four and five year olds all over the place, huffing and spitting. I pulled my little guy to the side. “You okay, Champ?”

He stomped in a puddle. I took that as yes.

After some group photos—the flash of the bulbs cracking like a storm. (Well, mostly phones and tablets, but you get my drift). I could see my guy was shaken up. This was his first race, so he wasn’t used to all the media types hanging around. I knew I was going to have to get him focused.

He has this little nervous tick where he licks his lips. And he was looking like a lizard out there. The crowd was a bit overwhelming for him. I realized our mistake. We’d been training in the wilderness. Just the two of us and the dogs. I hadn’t prepared him for such a hostile environment. The crowd was getting to him. As a trainer it was my job to get my horse back on track.

“Hey, let’s take a walk.”

We ducked the crowd, heading for the little mounds near the parking lot, on the grass. The familiarity of grass and mud seemed to soothe his jumpy nerves. He laughed and smiled and took the hills. 

Then we heard the National Anthem. Go time.

He was running with Mom, a tactic I hadn’t prepped for but we were winging it now. The whole night seemed to be full of surprises. So I went and found a spot to cheer.

The race got underway and I feared he was going to be trampled. Kids pushing and kicking their way to the front. A redhead blasted by at breakneck speed. But I wasn’t worried. The ones that come out flailing usually burn out the quickest. We had a whole quarter mile marathon to run here so let him tire out.

Through the bodies I saw them. My wife and little guy chugging along. He had a look of complete determination on his cute little face, and I knew my training had done him well. I waved to them. He stopped and waved back. Mom and son pushed on, trudging through the elements in a test of endurance.

A quarter mile is a battle of wills. You have to want it, and as I saw my team round the bend and head down the home stretch, I swelled with pride.

They made it. He didn’t win. It didn’t matter. It was fun. He enjoyed himself. I picked up my champion, wet with rain, sweat, tears…that is rain on his butt, right?

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