This summer I tried to get Big E to train for a one-mile fun run. She liked the idea of the two of us running in a race together, but our training sessions were not as productive as I'd have hoped. We'd lace up our sneakers, fill our water bottles, and head to the track. After about a quarter of a lap, she'd stop dead, put her hands on her hips and glare, snarling, "You just want to make me run."
Pretty much, yeah...but I get it. Running is good, forced running not so good.
I don't shy from exercise. My evening gym sessions are my Prozac and a jog through the park on a fall afternoon is a treat I look forward to all day, but a race is quite another story. Recently, I tried to explain this to my husband, who delights in the organized competition of his weekly soccer games.
"I think it all goes back to high school," I told him. "There was the gun shot and then you're running through the woods and someone's right behind you, trying to catch you. I think that memory scarred me."
He cocked his head at me with incredulity and a trace of horror, "That happened to you?"
"Well," I explained, "That's basically how a cross country meet goes."
His eye roll told me that perhaps I had overstated my case, but something bad did happen to me in high school and it involved running ...and my mother.
When I was a sophomore, I was in the best shape of my life. I was in my second year of running cross country and had yet to discover the boys or starvation diets that would mar subsequent seasons. My mother, who had been a runner for as long as I could remember, asked me to join her in the Tufts 10K in Boston. Since 6.4 miles was no big feat to me at that point, and (more to the point) since the few times I'd run with her since starting my cross country training I'd bounded off and left her safely in my dust, I agreed.
At the midway point of the race there was a turnaround that allowed those who were on the return leg the satisfaction of seeing the faces of all of those who could not keep up as they chugged on behind. I can still see the flood of surprise and, I was sure at the time, elation that crossed my mother's face when she saw me plodding along the first leg as she made the return.
At the time, it filled my legs with cement and my head with excuses (untied shoelaces, crowded water stations...and on top of that I just wasn't in the mood). Insult to injury came as I tried to redeem myself with a big finish. I heard cheers from the crowd as I took off in a glamorous sprint. And then I saw the inspiration for all those cheers: not 15-year-old me, but the sprightly octogenarian who finished just ahead of me.
And in October, I'm going to do it again. Maybe I'll have a triumphant day and redeem myself; though it's entirely possible, to my mother's immense credit, that she will beat me. More importantly I'll prove to myself that if I keep my breath even and put foot in front of foot, I can get through it --and 20 years later, I hope I'll be old enough to appreciate the value in that.
Besides, I know I could so beat my 6-year-old in that fun run...if only she'd let me.