I ran the worst timed 5K of my life Sunday afternoon and had the best time doing it.
This fall, my 9-year-old daughter joined Girls on the Run. If you’re not familiar, it’s an after-school program centered on getting girls together to hang out and have fun while exploring ideals like confidence and fitness. The culmination is participating in a real 5K – in this case, held in conjunction with the Nike Heartland Regional high school cross country meet. Same day, same soccer complex, same grass course – mounds, hay bails and all.
The participants are required during the race to pair up with a coach, a friend or a parent. Boom – finally a role I can handle without feeling anxious or awkward or inadequate.
The whole thing was fantastic. I’ll try to keep the gushing to minimum.
First, my daughter asked me to run with her. And it fit into my weird work schedule.
Second, it gave me an opportunity to talk about goals, a topic that’s important to me as a parent, but often hard to implement. I mean, my daughter isn’t big on say, getting better about hanging up their coat when they get home from school as a way to learn responsibility and cleanliness. But she was all about discussing her goals for the race. Turns out she wanted to run the whole thing, having walked at least a couple of times in the other 5Ks that she’s done. (This was her fourth, believe it or not. I didn’t do any until age 30.)
So that was my main focus during the race – to encourage her as much as she wanted to be encouraged. And I did. And it worked; she ran the whole thing and in the range of 39 minutes. She was really proud of herself and admitted that a couple of times she wanted to ask if she could walk, but found a way to push through it even though her side hurt and even though she nearly fell going up the first of four 8-foot mounds.
We communicated as well during those 39 minutes as we have maybe ever. I doubt we were alone in that.
The event was packed with kids and moms and dads and siblings and coaches. There were race volunteers and fans. Some of the high school runners hung around to lend moral support, probably reminiscing about their first races. There was a DJ dressed like Heisenberg.
People wore matching shirts and scarves. They wore winter hats and gloves. (I bought thigh-high black soccer socks to keep my legs covered. You know, because it would be weird to wear actual running tights.) Before the start, we did a group cheer and took some pictures. During the race, we played word games to pass the time – it gave me reason to teach her about former Maryland basketball player Exree Hipp – and cheered on others. I found myself daydreaming about how the kids might benefit from the experience.
When it was over, we collected her medal, snapped more pictures, drank Gatorade and went out for frozen yogurt and ice cream. Just the two of us.
Will those two hours change my daughter’s life for the better? Strengthen our relationship forever? Probably not. But maybe. At the least, it was an unforgettable experience made possible by a worthwhile program. And that’s more than enough.