I found a great pastime to share with my boys, specifically at this point, with Jake.
Our running adventures started out innocently enough. Jake’s school has a voluntary “running club” and there are various activities the school tracks and logs for each student in addition to any athletic time spent and recorded at home. They somehow equate the number of minutes each student reports to a “mile” system, and occasionally the school gives out awards for reaching different mile markers. Last year, in 2nd grade, Jake was really bummed that many of his friends poked fun because they were well into the program at the end of the school year, while he had just barely reached the 5 mile marker. This school year he wanted to do better, and I was determined to help him. Since the beginning of the school year, I have started bringing Jake out on runs with me. I am a fairly new runner, too, so I let him dictate the pace and direction that we run we when we go together. I encourage him to start slowly with a warm up and cool down to avoid any injury. We decided to try a walk/run program called the “couch to 5K program” which was what I had used to start running this time last year. I record each run/walk we do for his running club and he receives “miles” towards his prizes. I also gave him a special designation on my “RunKeeper” app (which I use to gauge my own running progress) so that he could watch his own progress.
Initially, I thought it’d be a lot of me dragging Jake along. But it turns out that a tall, lanky 8 year old boy with tons of energy can SPRINT his way far past a short, stubby 30something mom. Go figure. Essentially, running with Jake is like a special run with sprints, and I certainly get a work out trying to keep up, even if I can out run him by miles at a slower pace. As time is passing, Jake is really keeping up well and he makes it his goal to present a challenge to me each time we go out. My overall speed and endurance has improved since he has started joining me a couple times each week. Jake is also getting really excited to keep tabs on his own progress, and we often have to run a little past our program each week so he can exceed his furthest distance on RunKeeper. There are other more academic things that Jake and I pick up from our runs. Sometimes, we sit on the computer and look at the map and talk about the geographical aspects of our runs, such as the elevation change as we head towards the river. (And why it hurts so much more to come home uphill from the river. RunKeeper tracks the route, elevations, pace, time, speed, and distance of each run. Seriously, it’s free. If you don’t already have it, give it a try.) We think of different routes to add up extra miles and talk mathematically about our pace and our speed. Other times, we talk about the historical significance of some of the points on our runs. Luckily, our city is full of very amazing historical markers here and there which keep things interesting. But mostly, we just spend extra time together.
We both look forward to our runs now. It turns out that not only are we gaining miles towards Jake’s running club, we are also reinforcing some really important life lessons. Obviously, running helps advocate keeping physically fit, which is a great message in a nation filled with childhood obesity. Running has become a bit of a social gateway for Jake as well. Over the last few months, Jake has been finding out that there are a handful of students in his class that are also runners! (Hopefully one day, we’ll get out on a group run with some of them.) Most importantly, Jake and I are finding some one on one time to talk about just about everything. Jake tells me about what his friends are doing in school. He tells me about girls beginning to catch his eye. On one particular run we talked about bullies, which lead to a very interesting conversation about the sex scandal at Penn State. And, although that was a very uncomfortable topic, it was a great opportunity for me to talk to him yet again about which behaviors from adults are inappropriate and what steps to take if we are put in an inappropriate position by any adults. I can’t imagine how this topic would’ve come up so calmly in any other setting. When you share your ideas for 45 minutes without the interruption of cellphones and video games, you can get a lot of sharing in. Additionally, last Friday, Jake came home sporting a new backpack that he was given as a prize for reaching the “25 mile” mark. He was excited to tell me that his name was called over the school’s loud speaker, and he was one of only a few students to have already reached the “75 mile” mark, in fact.
Recently, we found yet another lesson that could be achieved through running. My employer sponsored a Run/ Walk called the “Race for Light”. They offered employees a chance to run the race for free. They were even kind enough to pay the way for Jake. The “Race for Light’ is a charity Run/Walk 5k which raises funds and awareness for a local domestic abuse shelter. I told Jake of the race and that we were going to run it. We talked about the cause and how we could contribute. Essentially, we learned that you really can make a real difference in the world around. You can make a difference that is bigger than changing your profile picture on Facebook for an hour. You can run for a charity cause that you believe in, and see actual progress in something meaningful.
The “Race for Light” was the first ‘standard’ 5k either of us have ran in. (I did participate in the Warrior Dash, but that is a bit different.) At first we were both kind of nervous. It took a while to figure out how to get the bibs pinned on the shoe monitoring device on our shoes. But, we worked together and figured it out.
My supervisor and good friend was running as well, and she got us all lined up and told us how the whole route would play out. It had been cold and raining all day, but the sky cleared to a beautiful dusk as we approached the starting line. The air was chill but not frigid, and our nerves were calmed by the smiles and excitement of all the runners around us. Jake and I decided our only goal was to finish.
The starting whistle blew and Jake and I struggled to find a comfortable pace and place among the chaotic group. Eventually, the race evened out and the road widened and we hit our stride. The route took us to a beautiful waterfront park, which was very well lit for the holidays.
The lights were amazing and Jake held a great pace while we oooh’d and aaahhhh’d at each different display. They actually had real live reindeer along the way in a nearby fenced in area. There were some Christmas carolers and well wishers along the route cheering us on. Each time we passed a group of cheering people, Jake would raise his fists in the air in encouragement and smile very proud. They really pumped him up, and our pace would increase each time we passed them.
Once or twice Jake tired and so we slowed to a walk while he caught his breathe. On our final run, he was reluctant to get his feet into a running pace again. As we rounded the corner to the home stretch, I was really pushing him to keep going. I pointed up to the banner ahead, and reminded him that it was the finish line. Once that realization that we were almost finished hit him, he laid out all he had. I went from dragging him to chasing him. He broke out at his fastest sprint at the finish, leaving me far behind him in his dust. He was so proud to finish. He was more proud to beat me. He couldn’t wait to return to school and tell his friends his time was better than mine. He asked if we could keep his bib, and he still wont let me remove the electronic timer tag from his shoe.
After the race, we enjoyed some refreshments and Jake grinned, very pleased with himself the whole time. Random people at the event made their way over to thank him for helping them raise money and awareness. Like a little gentleman, Jake answered appropriately and showed enthusiasm for each aspect of our race. I think setting a goal and reaching a finish line, literally, has been a great self esteem boost for him. I think our running has taken on a new dimension, and we are both looking forward to our next race and our next cause. We hope to encourage other families to have some of the same types of amazing experiences that we are having, even if it means just walking a 5k. Overall, we are both very proud to have run our first 5k.