Just over a week ago, my son ran his first road race. Leo is only three years and five months old but has been a spectator at dozens of races so far in his young life. With two endurance athletes as parents, he's often dragged to triathlons and marathons across the province. He's familiar with our sports of choice and now recognizes what racing means. When I was reminded that my community was hosting a free kid's 1k race this summer, I jumped at the opportunity to sign up my little man. He already had the gear (I gave him a leftover extra small triathlon suit), and we had the strong desire as type "A" parents to expose him to this experience. Since the race, I've been asked many times if Leo enjoyed it. My answers have been half-assed as I was looking forward to writing what you are about to read.
Leo's 1 kilometre of pseudo-running was, for him, almost the exact same experience as an adult running a marathon. If you have ever run a marathon, or indeed any distance of road race in general, you'll understand the humour in the comparison. The nerves, the panic, the doubt, the joy, the anger, the tears, the hunger...he went through all of it. Let me recap and explain.
8:00am - PRE-RACE - "the panic": We fiddled with Leo's triathlon suit tirelessly once he got out of the car. We adjusted it here, pulled it there. We took off his bandana, put it back on, took it off again - he was uncertain if he'd need it. He asked 100 questions as we were walking to the start line. "Who is that guy?", "where did she come from?", "where's the water?". We, runners, tend to scope the field, nitpick at our choices and start a mild state of panic. "I get it, buddy, I do.," I thought. His nerves were settling in.
8:15am - STARTING AREA - "the warm-up": Leo wanted to warm up (his choice, really). He saw the other kids running and probably thought, "shit, I should warm up." So, he jumped into a drained swimming pool in the park and started crushing some laps. As he was running, he was yelling loudly, "I AM THE FASTEST," probably to psyche the other kids out. We were proud parents.
8:25am - STARTING CORAL - "the remorse": We sauntered over 20 feet to the starting line with 300 other kids, and Leo proceeded to sit down. "Saving your energy, smart.", I thought. When I told him to get up because the race was starting, he yelled. "I don't want to run!". I understood the feeling well. I feel that way at the start of any marathon. The panic really sets in. I regret my choices. A nap and a cold one might have been a better idea. I understand his mental state well.
8:32AM - THE FIRST 100 METRES - "super-heroism": As we crossed the start line, Leo took off. Like really took off. We struggled (legitimately) to keep up. That kid can dart and weave like a champion, and we unexpectedly caught a glimpse of athleticism which he has so frequently failed to display before (its an ongoing joke). Leo crushed 100 metres at top speed. He was feeling good. We were elated. If only the race ended there.
8:34am - SETTLING IN - "the mental game": At about 100 metres in Leo stopped dead in his tracks. He was tired. He was thirsty. His quitting game was strong. We urged him forward and encouraged him to slow down, maybe walk a few minutes. After a minute or two of stillness, he began a slow jog for the next few hundred metres. He was back on track.
8:35am - HALF WAY - "the delirium": Suddenly Leo started to sway. He zigzagged left, he zigzagged right. He took out four or five kids, and we apologized profusely to less than impressed parents. We decided to walk around the turn around point together. We knew with this much fatigue for those first few gruelling 500 metres that his spacial sense and bodily awareness was quickly diminishing.
8:37am - THE LAST QUARTER - "the second wind": Shortly after Leo spent a minute up on my shoulders recovering from his delirium we convinced him to run to the finish line on his own. He bounced down to the ground and took off like a rocket once more. With the incentive of cake at the finish line and hunger pains wearing him down, this kid wanted to finish. He zoomed forward with a bystander shouting, "those are some fast shoes!". I shook my head and thought, "its not the light up Spiderman shoes, lady, its his innate skill and thick quads." The quad part is true.
8:39am - THE LAST 20 METRES - "the struggle": With less than 20 metres to go, Leo's speedy descent to the finish line came to a sudden stop as he was clotheslined by a mother and daughter holding hands. He stopped, burst into tears, turned around and ran back to us (no! don't go backward!) and cried. "I can't do it!". "Yes, you can!" we shouted back. "I'm too thirsty he said!", "There's water at the finish," we exclaimed. After some more negotiation, we agreed that we'd help him over the finish line and would escort him to cake immediately afterward. Leo accepted this was a fair compromise as he had worked so hard already.
8:40am - THE FINISH - "the reward": Seconds after crossing the finish line Leo darted to the water station, shot back a cup of water like a 16 year old at a frat party, slammed his cup down, wiped his face and demanded cake. We were done. In ten minutes and three seconds, this little lion had complete his first one kilometre, but it felt like a full 42.2...for almost everyone.
So, congratulations, Leo on the successful completion of your first road race. Albeit the short distance, we are super proud of you and your whole family at Iron North salutes your perseverance and tenacity despite the gruelling odds.
Now, 355 more days of training to shave time his for next year, right?