I have found that one of my favorite things about running is to run with newer runners. By this, I mean those who have recently caught running fever and are on their runners' high! But there is an even greater sub-group within this group of enthusiastic newbies, and that is children!
Children bring a certain panache to the running arena. They seem to flaunt their fluid ability to move and glide, yet they do so effortlessly. I don't ever feel like this is a thing of arrogance. Even when children intend to be arrogant or competitive, they really are just showing their natural ability to move around in a way that grown ups have given up over longer lifetimes.
Take, for instance, the child exiting a car when you pull up to a playground. They will often full-sprint toward the swing set or monkey bars. This effect is amplified when they have friends awaiting them at their destination. Now think about your own running. When was the last time you ran to see your friends? Seriously. Imagine a seen at the ATM. You pull up and park your car, rummage through your wallet and find your ATM card. When you exit your vehicle, you see your best Fantasy Football buddy just leaving the bank, and a little ways off across the parking lot. Well, naturally you are excited to see your friend. You want to sprint, but you resist the urge. Instead you call out, wave, and head off at a snail's pace to the ATM machine. If you were 10 years old, you would react in a much different way!
What is the difference? Why don't we run anymore? Does it look silly? Does it make us feel awkward? I think maybe we must wait until we are clad in our neon-lined running jacket and reflective shorts, adorned with the latest and most expensive running shoes in order to take the edge off of that awkwardness. Kids don't worry about such nonsense. And why would they? Running is still fluid, easy, natural and logical. When you see your friends, sprint to them! Don't waist a second standing around or walking. Seize the moment! Who cares what you look like or if your doing it correctly?
This summer, I had the opportunity to run with my daughter, 6 years old, for her first real distance. She and I tackled the Butte to Butte's inaugural 5K. It was fitting as it was my daughter's inaugural run as well. She had trained with me, running a few times in our neighborhood per week prior to the race. The thing that I noticed most during our training runs was that I had wanted to coach her a bit on her form and footfall. I wanted to tell her to keep her elbows bent and to work on her back swing, to keep her head up but lean her torso slightly into the stride; I wanted to tell her how to do what came naturally to her. I found, as you might by now suspect, that I did not need to tell her much. Instead, I got behind her and watched her gait comparing it to my own. I took lessons from her carefree stride, how effortlessly she seemed to move along. I also took note of her excitement and of her optimism.
When race day came, we lined up with everyone else. People asked how old she was and she answered proudly "6." I was proud also. I did have an opportunity to teach her a bit about race day, which can be daunting to smaller competitors. I cautioned her to stay at the edge of the pack and in front of me, to watch for people who might be stopping and also to let me know if she needed to stop. I told her that in the beginning it can be a little scary with the many bodies all moving together in one direction and that we would stay close together. We did, too. When the gun sounded, we actually held hands for a good portion of the first half mile.
Just about 3/4 of a mile into the race, something miraculous happened that would change me as a runner. My sweet little 6 year old daughter took a spill and fell sideways along the concrete, scraping her knee and elbow. I scooped her up and she cried on my shoulder. A Course Marshall ran to us to ask if she was okay. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "It hurts but I don't want to have to stop." I looked her over and made sure she was okay. Her scrapes were superficial and not bleeding. She stood and wiggled and bounced, showing me that everything worked by running in place. Runners passed us as we examined her at the curb. Then I said "Okay, if you're okay, let's go." And she took off just like that. She didn't wait around or hesitate. She jumped right back in the race and headed on down the track. Later, after she finished the race, she had completely forgotten about the fall. She remembered the run, the finish, the thrill of the cheering crowd surrounding her as she came in, and her sense of accomplishment. Like I said before: effortless!
She continues to run with me now. We are planning a Thanksgiving run together this year and I am really looking forward to it. This time we think we will bring along her sister and papa as well. If you have not had the opportunity to run with a child, or even to watch a child run, I strongly encourage it. They remind us of where we all began and where we all can return in our form, in our enthusiasm, and in our optimism.
In the grass, hunting ladybugs