Monday Runday: On Being a Family of Runners

James is doing a running challenge with me, in which we’re running 26.2 miles over the next 8 weeks. It’s been astounding how dedicated he’s been to this task.

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Thanks to Facebook memories, I’m recalling that three years ago, I took the girls through Couch to 5K, two years after going through it myself. Since then, each girl has participated in Girls on the Run and assorted races here and there.

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Robert also runs, although he’s currently sidelined with a cranky Achilles.

Somehow, over time, we became a family of runners. 

I’m tempted sometimes to enroll my kids in club running activities–recreational track or cross country or somesuch. It’s startling how easily that thought jumps into my head. My kids enjoy this, therefore they should do it in an organized way. It’s what we do as parents. A kid’s interested in the guitar? We get them private lessons. They like to do art? Sign them up for pottery camp. They want to learn tennis? We find a league to join. At least where I live, that’s an implicit or explicit responsibility of a parent. We nurture through providing opportunities. And as the mother of a kid on the swim team told me a few years ago, it’s never too early to think about a child’s college application. (Her kids were in elementary school.)

Certainly there are benefits to team sports–a good coach can be one of those inspiring childhood influences that impacts a person’s whole life. And while running is an activity that we most of us learn to do naturally as children, there’s always stuff to learn. Still, I’m trying to resist the impulse to formalize this interest of theirs. Kids today are continually evaluated, graded, scantronned, judged and compared. Not with this. This is our limit.

Part of that comes down to money and time–there’s only so many enrollment fees we can handle, and only so much carting around we’re willing to do. (I have a friend who calls this phase of parenting “Carpool.”) But on a broader level, I want my kids to have something they can do purely for the joy of it. They can set goals, or not. They can strive to improve, or not. It’s entirely up to them.

And they’re teaching me a lot. I realize, as I continue to claw my way back from last fall’s injury, how easily I’d fallen into a mode of improvement and incessant goal-setting. This is painful to admit about myself, though will surprise nobody who knows me. (My friend J took a personality inventory that suggested she stop thinking about life as one big self-improvement project, and she was incredulous: “What else would it be???” Oh, my sister.)

And so, this is a new touchstone for me:

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My hopes and dreams are to be able to run for my entire life, to stay healthy and injury-free, to get an occasional PR through smart training, and to have a spirit of adventure in what I do.

When James runs, he says, “Look how fast I am!!!” I suspect if he joined a kids’ running team he would discover that, comparatively speaking, he isn’t fast. That’s the McKibben/Dana genetic lottery at work, and there’s only so much you can do to overcome that.

But at the end of our runs together, when the house is in sight, he turns to me, waiting for the signal. I say, “Now, James, turn on the gas!” and he does, leaving his mother in the dust… busting through whatever 8-year-old hopes and dreams he has, scattering them like leaves in the wind.

4 thoughts on “Monday Runday: On Being a Family of Runners

  1. Mamala

    I went to Politics and Prose last night to hear Anna Quindlen talk about her most recent book. She’s a favorite of mine and I listen to what she says, both in her prose and her talks. I think she took me aback, along with the crowd gathered, when she said that kids needed more time that was not scheduled. Even back when you and your sibs were kids, I thought you needed to be enrolled and joined. But Anna reinforced the idea of having that space between the ‘enrolled and joined’ grow a little wider so that kids could dream, could imagine, could envision, could create. Good for you that you are resisting the urge to “Fairfax County the heck out of” your 3 Amigos.

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  2. Ted Chadeayne

    It sounds like you’re doing some excellent improv with your running! I doubt that a normal recovery program would include taking a running challenge with someone who has much different goals, experience level, etc. But you’ve said “Yes, and..” and then you’ve made it work! Like you said in your book proposal: “Improv becomes a process of mutual discovery. Neither person is in control, but nor are they passive. Improv is an active, intuitive process.” That sounds exactly like what you and James are doing! In improv, you don’t talk about mistakes, and isn’t that just what we say to children with all that evaluating and grading? But you’ve made running an opportunity for him. Improv at its finest!

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