Running As A Family Affair

As the mother of an eight-year-old boy, I fear that we don't always have a lot in common. Yes, we both love pizza, ice cream, farts, and silly jokes. However, I don't love or even care about a lot of his interests. I've never watched Star Wars. I have no interest in Minecraft or Pokemon. Any attempts at Lego building are quickly shut down when Liam realizes I have no clue how to fit those little plastic bricks into anything resembling the picture on the box. "Maybe we should wait for Dad," he usually says. After my initial hurt, I realize that he is correct.

But last year, Liam and I began taking classes together at the same gym, one which offers ninja-style sessions similar to American Ninja Warrior. A shared interest in working out and getting strong became “our thing”. As a mother, there was no better moment than when Liam would run to me to share that he had accomplished something that previously alluded him. We decided to run an obstacle course race together.

Over the next few months, Liam and I began running together. I let him set the pace, and we established a goal of running one mile. Some runs are better than others, but Liam is learning about perseverance and setting goals. When he struggles to get through a run that includes longer running intervals, longer distance, or even humid weather, Liam learns that pushing through mentally is usually the most difficult aspect of a workout. This perseverance carries into other parts of his life, such a borrowing during subtraction in math class.  

This summer, Liam has been joining me during sessions of Beginning Runner's Group and November Project. Liam loves NP sessions. He does as much as he can, goes to get a drink when I remind him to, and cheers and high-fives everyone he passes.  But the first BRG session was humbling for Liam. During our one-minute running intervals, he pushed himself to the front of the group, only coming back to get water.

"You don't need to lead the pack," I told him, "We still have a lot of running left."

"I'm going to go lead the pack!" he called as he ran off.

Because we turn around halfway through the workout, I knew I needed to speed up a bit, so he wasn't behind me for the second half of the workout when we turn around to run back to our starting point. Almost immediately after the double whistle signaled the turnaround, Liam crashed. His breathing was heavy and he claimed that his stomach hurt.  

"I can't finish," he panted.

"We need to keep going, Buddy. Just try your best."

“They don’t need to wait for me.”
 “It’s what we do. We leave no runner behind.”

At the end of each run, members of BRG wait for every runner to finish, cheering them on as they join the group. "There are thirty people waiting for us. We need to finish." I convinced him to try to jog in to the end. We did a walk/jog mix and joined a group of awesome people cheering for us at the end of the path.

After stretching, we headed to the car, where Liam burst into tears.

"I'm so embarrassed! I can't go back!"

“Liam, running is not about winning the race. It’s about trying your best.”

“But I was leading the pack.”

“That’s not what this is about. It’s about doing things you didn’t think you could accomplish. You know what? I’m never going to win a race. But I know I am going to get stronger.”

“But I’m so embarrassed.”

“So? People were checking on you because they care about you. They want you to succeed. That’s what runners do.”

“I’m not going back! I’m too embarrassed!”

Not wanting to end his running experience on a negative note, I said, “Liam, you need to try it again. You can’t let that be your last running club experience. Take what you’ve learned, and move on.”

Next Monday, we headed back to BRG. By the end of this session, Liam was addicted to the camaraderie of running and group workouts. He had learned thatt running is not about winning the race or being the fastest. Liam said, “There’s no need to lead” so many times that I’ve thought about putting it on a shirt for him. He even gave pep talks to a few new faces, regurgitating our conversation like he had been running for years. "It's not about being first; you just need to try your best... It's okay to slow down if you need to... You're almost finished. . . keep going!"

"You're doing great!" he yelled to each runner he passed, regardless of whether or not they were part of our group.

Now, when we walk our black lab around the neighborhood, Liam cheers on every runner we pass.

And I believe that cheering on others makes him a better runner.

Because even at his young age, Liam realizes that running is not just about getting yourself to the finish line.

Instilling these values into my son reminds me why running is so much more than PRs and finish lines. While I am a much slower runner when I run with Liam, I am confident I am a better runner-- and a better mom.  After years of half-heartedly listening to one-sided conversations about iron swords and stormtroopers, Liam and I have an activity that is indeed ours. He is learning crucial lessons about supporting others, trying his best, and persevering when things get difficult. In return, I am learning how much I love running by sharing this passion with my son.  As I prepare for my second half-marathon, running with Liam reminds me that running is not just about me. Running is more than knocking five minutes off of my previous race time; running is about doing things I never imagined I could do, like running thirteen miles in a row. It’s about supporting friends who have become some of the most important people in my life. If I can instill a few of these lessons onto Liam, bond over a shared passion, and teach him to cheer for others while challenging himself, then that is another amazing benefit!

Kerri Day is a teacher and mother of an eight-year-old son. She lives in Rhode Island and maintains her blog