Running Against the Wind

We’ve been running together a lot lately. She’s on the middle school cross country team this fall, and she always asks me to join her on her weekend runs. I try to contain my enthusiasm. She’s at a precarious age. Show too much encouragement, and she’ll completely give up. Not enough, and it’s all my fault and the world’s definitely going to end. The guy who walked across the Grand Canyon on a two-inch tight rope this summer? He’s got nothing on parenting a twelve year-old girl.

So whenever she offers, I shrug my shoulders, say “sure,” and lace up my shoes.

We walk the first hundred meters, lunging forward to stretch a little bit before we break into a comfortable stride. These are the roads I’ve run all my life, maybe thousands of times, and I show her what turns to take, what potholes to avoid, where the view is the most spectacular.

We don’t just run; we talk about running, too. How to tackle hills, attack negative thoughts, distinguish between cramps and a muscle strain. And I teach her how to listen to her body. That burn you feel in your thighs, sweetheart? It’s okay; it’s just your body’s way of working hard. Keep moving. Don’t stop now.

She’s not competitive, my firstborn child. That’s not what keeps her going. She doesn’t imagine targets on anyone’s back or set out to take her teammates down. She’s already accepted that it’s her against the clock. But she’s eager to learn. She’s not immune to wanting to improve.

So I give her some pointers. I tell her what workouts really matter. If her coach says words like “long run,” “race pace,” or “fartlek,” she needs to stop snickering and pay attention. Those are the days she needs to step it up. If she’s really serious, she might want to ask him for some help in setting goals.

But she’s already getting stronger. I can see it in her arms and legs. Just a few months ago, when we started these runs together, we walked more than we ran. Today we run five miles, non-stop, and she hasn’t even reached her peak. This is the first time I think I might have a hard time keeping up.

I remind her to breathe through her mouth, and I tell myself to breathe, too. Because running is not just changing her. It’s changing us. And the more miles we log together, the more I sense a shift in our relationship.

It seems like just yesterday I was pushing her along these roads in my jogging stroller. She and her baby sister trained with me all the time back then. I’d joke with her that someday she’d be pushing me. Thankfully that time hasn’t come yet, but we’re definitely a long way from those days when I buckled her in safely and tethered her to my wrist with a sturdy nylon strap.

These days are marked by more freedom now, more independence, and more drama, that’s for sure. And I’m learning how to let go. Funny how it’s a lot like running. The stretching, the burning, the breathing. All part of the deal.

She’s racing in her first official meet. And she wears the uniform I wore not too terribly long ago; at least I like to think it might be the same exact one.

There’s a bit of a headwind before she takes off, and I tell her to relax. No need to break her stride if she feels the wind blowing against her body. Just lean into it, I say, because there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Don’t fight it. Just picture yourself slicing right through it, and be glad when it’s at your back, pushing you faster, further.

Several minutes later, she’s waving to the cheering crowd. She turns to them and yells, “I feel like I’m gonna puke!” before crossing the finish line with a smile on her face. I snap a picture on my phone, my vision distorted by the tears streaming down my face, but I can see her so clearly. The past is a blur, but she’s never been more beautiful to me.

Running Against the Wind

Comments

  1. I love this! Running has so much to teach us about life. How great that you and your girl can share the love of running!

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