Her First Race

In 2009, I finished my master’s and was looking for a new challenge. So I decided to take my running more seriously and attempt a marathon. Shin splints curtailed that dream, so I dropped down to run the Seattle half marathon instead. 

I’m someone who tends to bite off more than they can chew. After my failed full marathon, I told my friend, let’s run a half marathon in every state before we turn fifty. And in 2010, I ran six half marathons. I had hoped to run more, but on New Year’s Eve, I met the woman who would become my wife. Thus, time commitments had to be reassessed. 

Fast forward to 2013, my wife and I learned that we’d be expected our first daughter. More time commitments needed shifting, and I had already registered for the Chicago marathon to try to redeem my earlier failure. In the process of training, I chalked up two more half marathons in a crazy weekend of back-to-back half marathons in Wyoming and Montana. All went according to plan, and by the time my daughter was born, I felt pretty good about my running goals, but family obligations and graduate school turned my short break from running into a two year hiatus.

Fast forward to Father’s Day 2016, I ran a 5K fun run. I texted my friend of my feat and how I hoped to find a fall half marathon to add another state. But, I was ignoring the fact that another daughter was due in July, so another two year hiatus went into effect.

In those two years I focused on supporting my children in their athletic pursuits of soccer, gymnastics, swimming, and whatever hair-brained idea came to our adventurous minds. Still, the itch never went away and in 2018, I tried finding my running legs again.

In May, I ran a 5K with coworkers for a charity event. Then, for Father’s Day, I ran a 10K at the same event from 2016. Two races within a month! I was getting my running legs back! Sure, most, if not all, of my mileage came on our treadmill. Let’s be honest, two mobile children doesn’t equate to having much time for longer runs, so we bought a treadmill so I could get my mileage down while they slept upstairs.

I texted my friend from the start line. “About to start a 10K… slowly getting back into this!”

He texted back, “Excellent! Knock down those miles!”

* * *

Mile 1 went well. Maybe a tad too fast at an 8:30 pace, so I slowed it a bit for Mile 2. 

Mile 2 went not-so-well because a ten-year-old passed me, and the 90+ degree heat finally arrived. Running along Lake Michigan is supposed to mean cool breezes. Many Chicagoans proclaim that “it is cooler by the lake.” Sadly, Mile 2 brought no such luck. I found myself walking through the water station at Mile 2.5. My ego took a hit.

Mile 3 went a bit better. I had settled into a slower pace (10 minute miles) that I could handle and I threw my ego out with a water cup at the second water station.

Mile 4 found a friend to pace. A middle-aged woman, who matched my stride and sense of redemption. But then another kid passed me. He was at least a middle-schooler, maybe even a high schooler. My ego was nowhere to be found.

Mile 5 found me finally passing people. These were the walkers from the 5K course, but still, the exhilaration of passing people gave me a bit more energy to push on toward the finish.

Mile 6 was my vindication as I pushed through the last .2 miles to cross the finish line in just over one hour. My ego crawled back a bit!

When I finished, my legs ached, my body screamed for water, and I could feel blisters forming on my toes. I’ve run hundreds of miles, and never have I experienced blisters from a 10K run.

* * *

As I found a shady spot to stretch, eat some bananas and granola bars, I let my ego off the hook. I finished a 10K in 90+ degree heat! I walked a bit, ran a bit more, and felt much better than I expected. Then, my phone vibrated. My wife was one of those 5K walkers, and she was pushing a double-stroller with our girls in it. Those two girls, 2 and 4.5 years old, were itching to get out and run the kid’s half mile race. 

“You done? Can you take a picture of us crossing the finish line?” She asked.

“I’ve got blisters, and I’m exhausted.” I replied.

Silence was returned to me.

“Yeah, I’m ready.” I corrected.

“Good. We’ll be there in a couple minutes. Get your camera ready.” 

* * *

The girls climbed out of the stroller to run across the finish line with my wife. They were laughing. They were having a blast and showed no signs of feeling the heat.

“Daddy, you ready for the kids run?” My 4.5 year old asked.

It wasn’t that I forgot it was going to happen, but in the cool shade, my body had decided sitting was better.

I looked at the eager eyes of my daughter and said, “Yes!”

Other kids began lining up and pushing for position. We took a spot on the edge, letting the ego-driven eight, nine, and ten years olds show their stuff.

The announcer gave a five-minute warning.

I reached down to give her a high-five, but she grabbed my hand and pulled me down to eye level.

“Daddy, remember this is just for fun. If I need to walk, I’m just going to walk.” She smiled at me, then turned and stared down the street.

Before I could react, the horn went off, and she sprinted ahead amidst a horde of other tiny runners with other parents thrown in the mix.

My blisters be damned; I ran after my daughter as she laughed her way through the half mile. She ended up walking some, but running much more. She saw friends from pre-school and our neighbors. She didn’t come anywhere near the front of the pack, but she didn’t care. She was running her race.

* * *

As we crossed the finish line, a tiny voice called out that I still had forty states to complete in about twelve years if I was going to achieve my goal. A slight feeling of exhaustion crept back with that realization, but knowing I have this budding runner to keep me going pushed it aside. If I get the half marathons in before I turn fifty, I’ll be happy. If I need to walk a bit and focus on other demands again, I’ll just aim for sixty instead.

The important thing is that my daughter will probably join me for some of those and run them a lot faster than I ever could. And I hope that we’ll both be laughing as we cross the finish line.