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May 22, 2007

Little Champions

Last Saturday morning found my family at the Heart & Sole 5K/10K races in Salinas. The races are a fundraiser for my employer, so I usually have this compulsion to participate that I don’t normally feel for local 5Ks. (Let’s just say job security is a nice thing.)

The Heart & Sole also hosted several children’s races: a 1-mile run for 8-12 year olds, a half-mile run for 5-8 year olds, and toddler trots with separate heats for each age from 1 through 4.

The three-year-old race featured the much anticipated (on this blog, anyway) matchup of my daughter against two of my training partner Mike’s grandchildren. My daughter was the reigning champ from last year’s two-year-old race, but Mike’s grandkids came in talking a bit of trash. Or, as he explained it on race morning …

Mike: [His grandson] told me last night, “I’m going to win.” I told him that everybody who participates is a winner, and it doesn’t matter who goes fastest.

Me: What did he say to that?

Mike: He said, “Nah … I’m going to win.”

So instead of reporting on the day in chronological order, I’ll save you the suspense of reading through 1000 words before happily reporting that my daughter went completely Michael Johnson on the field at the three-year-old toddler trot, and successfully defended her title.

I’m not exaggerating – it wasn’t even close. My girl shot off the line, and never looked back while making a beeline to the finish. I mean … does it make sense to call a 3-year-old a “gamer”? Because when she was hopping on and off the curb, twirling circles on the sidewalk, or dancing in the bushes before the race, you’d never have guessed that she was a force to be reckoned with. But put her on the start line, and she’s completely in the zone.

Perhaps you can tell, I’m a little bit proud of her - but that wasn’t even the highlight of my weekend. Which brings us to the rest of the race report.

My 8-year-old son decided to run the 5K again this year (last year was his first time), which in itself is somewhat newsworthy, given his general ambivalence about running over the past several months.

Last spring, I wrote a lot of posts about his preparation for his first 5K race, which was held on the same day as the Big Sur Marathon. He did the Big Sur 5K, then the Heart & Sole 5K three weeks later. Those races, and his training that preceded them, seemed like a foundation that he’d build upon in the months and years to follow.

Unfortunately - as often happens with kids - his interests led him to other activities, and he never really caught the running bug this year. And since I’m paranoid about influencing his decisions to suit my own preferences, I didn’t push the issue. Big Sur came and went without his participation, and he didn’t appear bothered in the least.

I asked him if he wanted to do the 5K mainly as a courtesy, because I knew that I’d be taking both of my daughters there to do the children’s races. Then to my surprise, he said yes.

So one full year since his last race, the two of us stood again at the start line of the 5K. Obviously, I had no idea what to expect – so I just helped him lace his shoes tightly, made sure he hit the porta-potty before the race this year, and told him to run however fast he wanted to. I figured I’d just stay beside him and see how things went.

For the most part, he did fairly well. He ran the entire first mile, then took a couple of walking breaks during miles 2 and 3. Each mile was slightly slower than the one before, his form was gradually falling apart, and I could tell he was really struggling with about three quarters of a mile to go.

I wavered between letting him take it easy and walk it in, or encouraging him to battle his difficulties and keep working all the way to the finish. Eventually, I opted for the latter.

I told him it was normal to feel uncomfortable in the last mile of a race, but that he would feel better once he was finished. I told him he was doing great, and that the finish line would be here pretty soon. I told him if he kept going, he'd probably pass a couple of those kids ahead of us (I know, I know ... but I couldn't help it. Have I mentioned that I'm a little competitive sometimes?).

Finally, we got there. When all was said and done, we crossed the finish line in 34:30, which was two and a half minutes faster than he ran the same course last year. We walked over to get a bagel and some strawberries, and he seemed satisfied with the way his race went.

In light of what happened after last year’s race, I’m not sure what lessons he’ll take from this 5K. Maybe he now thinks that you can take a full year off of training, and still take over 2 minutes off your PR. (Um … maybe that’s not the best lesson.)

Hopefully, he’ll also remember that running is always there for him - even if it’s not his biggest passion - and he doesn’t have to be a dedicated athlete to return to it every now and then. On some level, he may also realize that working hard can lead to tangible improvements, and that physical exertion can sometimes be its own reward.

For taking the initiative to enter this year’s race, and for persevering through a difficult last mile, my son made me more proud of him this weekend than I was one year ago. And that still wasn’t the highlight of my weekend. The best part of all involves my middle child, who I haven’t even mentioned yet.

But I’ve taken enough of your time for today. Rest assured though, I’ll tell you all about my other girl in the next couple of posts.


Phoenix 5/22/07, 9:34 AM  

I can picture your three year old daughter smoking them in the race - what a great image!

5K is a long way for an eight year old! What a trooper - and to push through the discomfort to finish strong - a lot of adults have a hard time doing that. Give him my congratulations!

Can't wait to hear about middle daughter!

stronger 5/22/07, 10:19 AM  

Way to go Donald children! Defending title!, PR!...can't wait to hear about the third.

Laurie 5/22/07, 10:20 AM  

So cute!

I like that you are influencing your son without being pushy. He will figure out for himself if running is right for him. He might just surprise you.

Bolder 5/22/07, 10:58 AM  

ok, as you know, i am a new subscriber, and besides enjoying meeting you, stronger highly recommends you.

i'm thoroughly enjoying your posts!!



i'm holding my breath, as a form of protest, if that helps speed up the writing process!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

robb 5/22/07, 2:18 PM  

You should (gently) push him toward the Dipsea while his youth still has some headstart advantages!

(btw, relatively new lurker here; I like your blog... googled "dipsea" and found your great race report from last year)

Matt 5/22/07, 7:15 PM  

Wow, that's awesome. I don't have any kids yet so I'm extremely jealous. I can sense the pride you have in your kids oozing out. Great story.

Backofpack 5/22/07, 9:32 PM  

Um, I think his time was better than most of my 5K times. Must be in the genes! Tell all your kids congrats from backofpack. We loved our family days at the races - when all four of us would participate and cheer each other on. Keep it going Donald!

Mike 5/22/07, 9:45 PM  

"my daughter went completely Michael Johnson on the field at the three-year-old toddler trot"

Donald- great stuff there..had me laughing...I can just picture it!

Also- great descriptions of the peninsula in your last post. That is one regret of mine - that the couple years I lived there, I never ran or biked (well, a beater on my work commute doesn't count) at all.

robtherunner 5/22/07, 10:06 PM  

Sounds like your kids will be following in your footsteps, or making tracks of their own. Congratulations to the Running and Rambling household.

Thomas 5/23/07, 2:57 AM  

Of course you're a competitive guy - every sub-3 marathon runner is, especially the ones who pretend to be triathletes. But it looks like your daughter is following in your footsteps!

olga 5/23/07, 12:04 PM  

Somebody is a little competitive here...and has that influence and genetics taken up by kiddies:) I can't say I am completely against it, I'd be lying. Now they just need to loose a time or two to get humble on top of it. At least I wish it to my boxing son. Congrats to the family!

SkiRough 5/23/07, 12:10 PM  

A couple of things:

- I love the "smack talking" pre race

- it's so cute how proud you are of your son. can't wait to hear about the middle one as well.

Coach Tammy 5/23/07, 6:45 PM  

Nice! Kids are faster than you expect. I just signed up as a 'buddy' for the Girls on the Run 5k. We had a practice last night, and a few of the little brats... um, I mean children... dropped me like yesterday's news!

Nice cliffhanger. Always leave 'em wanting more.

Darrell 5/23/07, 7:35 PM  

What a great day you had and there's still more to share.

Those kids are sure blessed to have you as parents. Their competitive spirits will sure come in handy later.

angie's pink fuzzy 5/25/07, 4:28 PM  

way to go donald's son for a PR, woo hoo!!!

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