“Runners take your marks!”…Honk!
…And ten weeks worth of adrenaline, anticipation and excitement exploded, as thousands of elementary school kids and their families erupted past the start line at this year’s GO FAR 5K race. Yes, I cried.
GO FAR (stands for Go Out for a Run) is a program that trains children to run a 5K road race a few minutes at a time. The ten-week program starts the kids out running for 2 minutes, walking for 4 minutes and repeating this cycle for a thirty to forty-five minute period. As the weeks progress, the amount of time spent running increases as the amount of time spent walking decreases. By the tenth week, the kids are running fourteen minutes and walking just one minute!
In addition to the physical training, there is also a character-building component to the program. Each week the coaches give a small lesson focusing on different topics, such as sportsmanship, safety, setting goals, etc. Towards the end of the program, the topics might include learning the appropriate way to drink water from a water station at a race and the polite way to pass other runners.
One of the advantages of this program is that families are encouraged to train with the kids and run the race with them. This is the third GO FAR race that I have run with at least one of my kids. This year I managed to train with each of my girls – one day a week at each of their schools and alternating the third day between the two schools…in the interest of fairness 🙂 Yes, it was an exhausting ten weeks, but yes, it was worth every bead of sweat, every aching foot, every insane morning remembering to pack running clothes, snacks and water bottles…for the right kid and for me too. In GO FAR, it is ALWAYS worth it at the finish line.
The cool thing about being able to participate in this club is that I get to see these kids grow and evolve. They start out huffing and puffing after two minutes of running, and I see them grow stronger as their lungs and their hearts gradually learn to hold on longer and longer. I see these kids set goals for themselves, and I feel their pride when they reach these goals as the weeks go by. I see them encourage their friends when they are not feeling so strong, and I see them pick out buddies to run with because they think they might challenge or encourage them.
Of course, by far, the most rewarding moment is to see them all on race day…dressed for the part and with so much momentum that I think they will set fire to the track! We take group pictures, we take friends pictures, we take selfies, we line up for the race ever so proud of the colors and the schools that we represent.
Have you ever wished that you could be two mommies at once? Split yourself in two and be with two different children at the same time? Of course you have, if you are the parent of more than one child. This is exactly how I felt as we lined up, wave by wave, with 2400 other runners minutes before we were to begin the race. About half-way through our training schedule, I had to make the difficult decision of which of my babies I was going to run the race with, which school would I represent. Because I had already run two races with my older daughter Ocean Breeze, and because last year our little Sea Pony did not get to run with her own school but rather as a little sibling in her big sister’s club, I decided to run the race with my little Pony and register under her school’s team. Since Ocean Breeze had some experience running a 5K and this year’s course was very similar to last year’s, I felt she would be safe running the race with one of her friends.
Breeze’s school lined up in Wave Two, while Pony’s school lined up in Wave Three. Although we were right behind them and I could see some runners wearing the colors of her school, I could not see my own Ocean Breeze from where I stood. I longed to make eye contact with her, to wish her good luck and blow her a kiss. The honker sounded for Wave Two to begin, and I was overcome with emotion. I cried. At first, I did not understand my own tears. As I turned my face down trying to hide what I considered to be a silly display, I searched for a reason…for a label to pin to my confusion. Then I understood. This was the first time that I was not running with her…side by side…stride by stride…breath by breath. My girl would run her first race on her own, and although I had been prepared to let her grow this way, letting go of that tiny little part of her childhood wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed just enough.
The honker sounded for Wave Three, and Sea Pony took off…well…like a racehorse! For a few minutes I worried that I would not be able to keep up with her explosive pace and that I would lose her among all the runners…but then I remembered her track record. Explosive, swift and agile she is, but she is only able to sustain her powerful speed for minutes at a time…she is, after all, very young.
Before long, I spotted her and we were walking together hand in hand. She made her way through the first mile with a series of sprints followed by restful walks. Whatever she did, I was with her. By the time we began our second mile, my Pony was ready to call it a day. “I don’t like this race”, she protested, “I want to go home.” My work became to encourage a reluctant participant through two miles of ups and downs and in-betweens.
“Well, we’re almost half-way”, I replied, “Maybe if we can make it to the water station, we will feel better.” And so it went for two miles…one landmark at a time. At our hardest point, one of her little friends appeared and held her hand. She offered conversation that would take her mind off the race as well as living proof that it was acceptable to walk the last two miles of a three-mile race.
As we rounded our last turn and with the finish line in sight, I challenged them to run for the glory, to give it all they had, to finish strong…and they did. I ran behind them…supporting them, encouraging them, carrying them…and I watched my daughter’s beautiful body sail swiftly across the finish line, as her big sister cheered us in. She did it!
They did it! My Ocean Breeze had finished about twenty minutes ahead of us. She truly ran her race. She had picked a running buddy with abilities similar to hers, and together they came up with a program that had running and walking intervals that were doable for them…what a big girl. I was so proud.
I was proud of all of them, as with every GO FAR race that I have run. On Monday, they all wore their race t-shirts and their medals to school. They wore them with well-earned pride because, indeed, in ten weeks these kids had gone far.
If you ever get the chance to run GO FAR, go for it!