Last weekend my 3 year old daughter O and I ran our first race together. It was a one mile family fun run held in our tiny town of Carlisle.
O has been running with me since she was 8 weeks young. By 6 months of age she was strapped into a fancy Chariot Cougar cruising on 4 mile runs with a smile on her face. As she got older, she enjoyed reading books while I ran. Occasionally she would fall asleep and snooze through the entire run.
I always imagined there would be a day when O would be able to run along side me. I just didn’t expect that day to come in June 2015! After all, O only turned 3 at the end of April. But in mid-June I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me if she could run a race with me. I signed us up thinking it might be too much for her; even though she is very athletic and always running laps around our spacious yard, she technically had never run even a quarter mile with me. As the big day approached, I talked it up but I genuinely think she had no idea what it was really all about. And then…it was race day.
Saturday morning we got up earlier than usual and got our race gear on. We had breakfast and drove to town. The 5 mile race was just finishing up, and O got to see runners crossing the finish line. She was excited but she still didn’t quite “get” it. I brought her over to the sign-in table and it was there that the reality that she was about to run a race really hit me: O was number 1! She was the youngest participant so her bib number was number 1!
We lined up with all the other runners. I held O’s hand as the starting gun sounded. And we were off! It became clear almost immediately that O truly had no idea what running a mile meant. She was excited and dramatic but had no grasp of pace. Of course! She’s 3! So I guided her with my voice, offering her supportive words about breathing and looking where she was going. I held her hand and we watched as more and more runners passed us and rounded the first turn, disappearing out of sight. “I want to win,” she said. I tried not to laugh; I knew she felt strongly about “winning” even though she didn’t really know what winning meant in this context. “You are winning,” I told her, “everyone is. As long as you do your very best, you will win!”
About half way into the race, O had a moment of doubt. Or maybe it was boredom. She said, “I can’t do it.” And for a split second she let go of my hand and began to walk briskly. I turned around, running backward facing her and said, “You can do it! Look there’s the post office! See? You’re already almost done!” As soon as she recognized where she was, she was motivated and excited again. She immediately started running again and grabbed my hand. “You’re doing a great job O!”
And then the real fun kicked in. Suddenly there were kids and cops cheering her on. “Go number 1!” they shouted. And then we were turning left up the hill to the final stretch toward the finish line and it was amazing. People of all ages would see her and their faces would light up. They’d take two steps forward and clap, shouting “Great job number 1!” and “You can do it number 1!” and “You’re almost there number 1!” It was AMAZING. The swell of pride bursting from O was massive and beautiful. I will never forget her bright, beaming smile as we ran through the screaming crowd. It was all for her.
As we neared the end, she saw her Dad and she heard friends and neighbors shout her name and…she crossed the finish line feeling so good and so proud of herself. It was truly incredible. She was surrounded and congratulated: “You did it O!” “You ran a mile!” “Great job!” My little girl (who is always my “number 1”) got her first taste of the runner’s high; she experienced first hand the feeling of community runners who race love so much; and she gained self-confidence born out of accomplishing something bigger than herself. And as her mother, I felt happier than I could’ve imagined possible.
And that was only the beginning…I know we will have many more races- many more runs- and I am so grateful.