While I usually run alone, on Sunday I ran the Fool’s Five with my favorite running partner: my daughter.
Starting my count at 7th grade cross country, I’ve been a runner for 23 years. After high school, running became a mostly solitary adventure.
I like that about running. I don’t need a team to play. I just go out and do it. A few times a year, though, I like to stand on a starting line with hundreds or thousands of other people, run in a race, and collect a new t-shirt.
I have to admit, standing on a starting line often gets me choked up. It feels like checking in with the world. Days and years can blur together like a string of run-on sentences. Races, though, are like little exclamation points in life.
On the starting line, I wear a race number that often has my age printed on it for identification. Sometimes seeing my age in print surprises me because I seldom think about the number. Here I am: 34, female.
Seeing the number printed out often leads me tally up the rest of my life, too: eight zip codes, four kids, eleven years since college. It’s an easy way to mark time.
As for the Fool’s Five, it’s been sixteen years since I stood on the starting line in Lewiston. Sixteen years ago, I wore my Fool’s Five t-shirt to my last month of classes at RCTC, then wore that shirt a few months later in the dorms at Montana State.
Seven years ago at this time, I was nowhere near the Fool’s Five, but I was running. I still lived in Montana, about 950 miles west of Lewiston, MN. I had a brand new running stroller and a brand new two-month old baby girl to put in it for our very first run together. I dressed her in her “running suit” from a baby shower, teeny sunglasses and tiny baseball cap. I tucked her in with a cushioned head support and wrapped her in what is now her favorite blankie.
On the first quarter-mile, I walked the stroller cautiously over the big, jagged rocks of the gravel road where we lived. I was pretty sure bouncing over rocks that size would give her a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome. After waiting a long time for a baby, oh man, I certainly wasn’t going to turn her brain to mush by bouncing her stroller over those big rocks.
Once we reached the county line, the gravel ended, and I took off running on the smooth hard-packed dirt, just me and my new little running partner offspring. She rolled along napping in the sunshine and not even once did she careen over an embankment, despite my fears.
Freedom to run AND a happy baby? It was a little slice of heaven on a dirt road in Big Sky Country. I wondered back then if taking her running as a baby would influence her as she got older.
And now, this year, I had that same little girl pestering me to go online and register us for the Fool’s Five. We decided to do the one-mile together. It would be her very first race, and she was too excited to sleep the night before the run.
For whatever reason, the opening title sequence of Chariots of Fire came to mind, so I played the scene for her online. We watched the guys gloriously running barefooted on the beach in white t-shirts and shorts with THAT song playing in the background. I told her we were going to run just like they said in the movie, “with hope in our hearts, and wings on our heels.” Yep, we were running for the pure joy of being able to run.
We arrived at the race a little later than planned after bottle-feeding our new lamb. In addition to the wings on her heels, my daughter ran with some butterflies in her stomach, nervous that she’d miss the race. Hand in hand we weaved through the crowd, collected our race numbers after a computer glitch, and ran to the starting line.
When we showed up at the starting line, the front runners were already off and running, and I lifted her up high over my head to give her a quick view of the massive crowd of people all running together. Look at all those people! Cool, Mom!
Normally, I’d run for time in a race. This race, though, was all about a little girl running her first mile. We held hands for about half of the race, partly for security to weave through the crowds of people, and partly because it was just nice to be together, just the two of us.
We suffered a little setback early-on when we had a “Collision with Greatness.” After not running this race in years, I forgot that we needed to watch out for the lead runners heading back to the finish. Skirting too close to the right side of the street, my daughter got a hard elbow smack by the second or third place runner on his final sprint to the finish.
I take responsibility for that one. On his part, I know it was purely accidental. He probably didn’t even seen her. I understand when you’re running full speed, kicking in to the finish, you get tunnel vision. She got tears in her eyes and we walked for a minute or two, then she took off running again. Good to go.
The rest of the mile, she ran like a champ, and I don’t know who was more proud at the finish line, her or me.
I have no idea what our time was, and I don’t care. We had a blast. We ran, weaved around people, she got clocked by a fast guy, and she finished the race with a tired, thirsty body and a big sense of accomplishment.
“Mom, I want to wear my race shirt to school tomorrow. I can’t wait to tell my gym teacher. Do you think the people watching could see that I was running really hard at the finish?” Yes, I definitely do.