I am not a runner. I wish I was one of those people who loves getting out on the roads for a jog, but I've never been able to get past the "wow, this hurts" thoughts along the way. I am a big fan of walking, and I can run if something else is involved... chasing a ball on the basketball court, for example, or running down an insane kid or an escaped beagle.
I've had stretches of life when I tried to become a runner. The last one ended shortly after college when I developed a stress fracture in one foot. Since then, I've stayed in relatively decent shape with walking and biking, but no running besides a few home soccer and basketball contests with my two boys.
When one of my favorite neighbors and bus stop parents told me about a 5K run she had helped organize to raise money for cancer research, and invited me and my kids to sign up, I said sure... but never thought I'd actually run. I figured my older son Tommy, who didn't have a baseball game scheduled at the same time of the race, could walk it at a decently quick pace with me. We'd talk sports and music, get a little exercise and bond.
Tommy, age 11, agreed to do it (I'm not sure if it was my explanation of the good cause, the promise of doughnuts afterward or some sort of combination of the two). So off we went early on Saturday morning, entry numbers 260 and 261, each talking a bit of trash by threatening to jump ahead right at the finish line and beat the other.
At the starting line, the excitement of the crowd of people must have gotten to Tommy, because he took off running. That made me take off running too. I wanted to keep him in my sight so he wouldn't accidentally detour onto the 8K course, although quickly I realized that was going to be a tall order given my lack of training. Tommy at least had the benefit of those timed mile runs in gym class at school, not to mention youth, and he was flying along. Eventually he slipped out of sight, but yet I was still running. Somehow, it wasn't quite as painful as I'd remembered.
I couldn't come close to running the full course, of course. Eventually, my lungs were screaming. I had to alternate patches of fast walking with jogging, and even then I must have looked mighty tired at the end of the course because one of the race organizers started yelling, "Come on #260! Don't give up now! You're almost there!" None of the other runners around me got the same attention.
At the finish line, I found #261 sprawled on his back, sweaty, wiped out and inexplicably mad at me. "MOMMY!" he yelled. "I thought you said we were going to walk it! Now I'm really tired!" It was a little different from the vision of him cheering for me that I'd had around mile 2. I reminded him that he was the one who had dusted me at the starting line. "Oh yeah," he said. "Well, I'm just really hungry, OK?"
So we went over to get some free pizza. Tommy by then had recovered enough energy to thoroughly inspect each piece and find the one with the most pepperoni per square inch. As he ate, his mood kept improving. He said he'd had fun. He didn't care how well he'd run compared to other people; he just felt good inside. He'd met someone who'd survived cancer. He thought it was really cool that we'd both finished, and way below the goal time of 45 minutes that we'd set for our walking plan (he was 34:05, I was 37:08). We were by no means fast, but we were happy.
I couldn't believe it, but I was thinking that I wanted to do another race. One that I actually prepared for, at least a little. And with one of my sons ahead of me, pacing me and pushing me.
That's one of the best things about kids. They get you into situations that you'd never be in without them, and then they make the experience different from how you'd ever imagined. They inspire you and change you.
I did learn a few lessons that I will apply when signing up for my next race, likely to be done with my younger son Sammy: 1) do not run a race and then go sit out in the hot sun for two hours at a baseball game immediately afterward, 2) be sure to stretch out and cool down before flopping on the ground and eating pizza, 3) try not schedule a run the same weekend as a visit from one's mother, who one loves dearly but who talks non-stop and can add to one's exhaustion by late afternoon.
But despite a little stomach upset and fatigue, my first 5K is a great memory. Hopefully Tommy's first 5K will always be a great memory for him, too, because I owe my memory to him. Thanks, 261. Love, 260.