There are three things in this world guaranteed to make me cry: musicals, parades and lining up before the starting gun goes off at a big race.
I’ve been a runner off and on since I was a teen. I prefer trails to roads and long, steady distances to short bursts.
I love that while running can be competitive, it’s less about competing with others than competing against your own best time and performance.
And I love having a race to look forward to. It’s putting a flag in the ground, making a commitment to training for a certain distance, pace and type of course. There’s a prescription for how to get there—train smart and committed and you’ll generally have a satisfying race.
When my kids were small, my husband would bring them to the races to cheer me on. If it was a long, looping course, they might be able to find me several times throughout the race. If it was a shorter distance, they’d hang out closer to the finish line watching for me and cheering on the throngs of people kicking into the sprint to the finish line.
As the kids got older, they started participating in walkathons and running fundraisers for their school, and we would go and cheer them on. They took their roles as racers very seriously, really pushing and doing their best. One year they each ran the longest distance of any of the kids in their respective grades.
It was right around then that running fever began to take hold of us collectively.
These days, we race as a family. We share our preparation ritual—carbo-loading the night before, waking early, affixing race numbers to each others’ shirts, and timing chips to our shoes.
For big races, we take public transportation and love how with each stop of the train more and more people in running shoes and gear get on board, nodding to each other or talking excitedly.
Like music fans going to a concert or sports fans going to a game, we are all part of the same club.
Arriving at the starting line, usually freezing in the early morning hours—because you’re dressed to run, not stand, you chat with others about the weather, the course, this year’s event shirt… Sometimes you dance to corny music to get your blood pumping.
Suddenly that ridiculous YMCA song becomes an anthem when a thousand other people are making the arm motions together.
Somehow, no matter how many times we’ve done it before, there are always butterflies in all of our stomachs. The right amount of nervousness gets the adrenaline going, providing an edge. We have found that dialing in appropriate preparation in the form of training, gear and route familiarity helps keep anxiety in check—and us out of the repeat line for the porta potty!
Once the gun goes off, all of the anticipation dissipates as we begin moving.
In those moments before the race and along the course, there is this feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself.
It is a big sea of moving humanity, an enormous happy, healthy, exercise party.
In our family, we don’t all run at the same pace so we don’t stick together through the course. And because we’re such different runners we don’t compete with each other, only asking ourselves and each other how this race’s time compares to the last—commiserating over frustrating setbacks and celebrating incremental improvements.
Regardless of how we have run the race, in the end, we all share the same gratifying end result: we did it!
Running teaches so many of the right lessons: for one, the more you do it, the better you get. And studies show it helps you improve cognitive performance, manage stress, sleep more fitfully and push you beyond what you have accomplished before. It is about the journey and the destination.
Running races together creates memories. It allows us to be healthy role models in action. Besides, what other way could you get the family to voluntarily all wear the same shirt for a photograph?!
As parents, there are many things we do in our quest to do our best. How many of our efforts will continue to land with the kids as they become adults remains to be seen.
But, running together is one thing we can look at right now and say, as parents and people, we are doing something right.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel
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