Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Do Something

Do you ever get to the start of a new school year and think, where did the summer GO?!  I wanted this summer to be memorable; I wanted to actually do something with the time I had with my kids.  I wasn't worried that they'd be bored this summer-with eleven chickens, three ducks, a kitten, a puppy, a bunny, and a big garden, I knew there would be plenty to keep them occupied.  But all of those things are just a part of our daily life.  I want them to someday look back and say, "Remember THAT summer?"

Growing up, I remember family trips, weddings, when special people came to visit.  I remember my first bee sting and falling off my bike.  I remember swinging so high on my swing set that I thought I'd flip right over the top.  I remember sweating through softball games and going out for ice cream afterwards.  I remember when I was finally old enough to ride my bike to town and have lunch at the A&W with my friends.  As parents, it's up to us to help create childhood memories for  our children.

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My kids have tried a lot of sports: basketball, baseball, golf, swimming, cheerleading, football, gymnastics, volleyball, baton twirling.  Most of the time, they make it through the season and then decide that sport just isn't for them.  I've told my kids that if they haven't chosen a sport by the time they get to seventh grade, they'll be joining the cross-country team.  After all, with proper training, any healthy twelve year old can run-no special skills needed!  When I informed Owen that he'd be joining the cross-country team in the fall, he didn't protest.  Rather than throw him into running blindly, I decided I would guide him through some training. I had heard good things about a running program called Couch to 5k.  This program takes complete non-runners on an eight week training program and has them complete a 5k race at the end.  I looked through the program and decided it would be very doable, and there was a local 5k race that matched up with the end of the training.  Owen was excited to try it.  And, surprisingly, Emerson also showed interest.  I told her she could join us, but she either had to participate in every scheduled run with us, or quit the program.  She looked a little wary, but agreed to join us.

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If you're not from Michigan, let me give you a little information: this summer was a hot one.  Actually, hot doesn't really do it justice-it was steamy.  Our options for running came down to mornings, before the extreme heat kicked in, or evenings, as the sun was going down.  The program started out slowly, with initially more walking than running.  I never told the kids the details of their next run until the day of.  Too much thinking about it would surely wear on their minds.  I documented all of our runs on Instagram, and we had fun deciding what we would do for our post-run selfie pictures.  As the walking portions decreased and the running portions increased, I knew I'd have to turn on my coach mode.  Just running wasn't going to do it for these two kids.  So, I started talking.  I'm not a big talker, and I'm especially not a small-talker, but I had to step up to the plate this time.  I had to do something to take their minds of the hot and humid runs!

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We talked about everything.  What's everything, you ask?  Everything is anything that popped into my head.  We talked about farming and cows and horses and chickens.  We talked about eggs and where do they come from?  And will there be baby chicks?  There was the night I had an upset stomach and we ended up singing the diarrhea song the entire time and making up our own verses.  There was the night we paused slightly to find a tiny kitten meowing in the ditch.  That kitten followed us home over a mile away and now is a temporary fixture at our house.

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After week four, I had promised them an ice cream store visit as a halfway point reward.  That night, our run included me telling them of their birth stories, which led to a very detailed birds and bees conversation.  As a side note, let me tell you that everything is easier to talk about over ice cream.

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On the C25k App, it gives you little insprational quotes every day to motivate you.  After week four, there was a big CONGRATS!  And then it said that most people who make it to the halfway point also end up finishing the entire program.  I shared that information with my kids and while Owen was ready to conquer it, Emerson had a little bit of doubt in her eye as to whether she'd actually be able to go the distance.

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I'd have to say those second four weeks seemed to fly by.  Our days were busy and hot, but we planned out three days every week to get our runs in.  By week five, there was no more walking.  We built up from a twenty minute run to a twenty-two minute run and all the way up to a thirty minute run.  Miraculously, the longer we ran, the less complaining there was.  And I learned how to talk for thirty minutes straight.  I talked about races I had run, and movies I had seen, and whatever else came to mind.  Owen started slowing his pace because he didn't want to miss out on my stories!  In the middle of week seven, Emerson lost her focus for a split second and ended up falling and skinning her knee pretty good.  We had to call Dad to come pick her up, but she was right back at it for our next scheduled run.

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Before we knew it, it was race week-just three more runs until the actual 5k race!  Our final scheduled run was a thirty minute run, which the kids chose to run on the train tracks near our cabin.  Fifteen minutes out, and fifteen minutes back-we were ready!  On this day, I talked race strategy.  I talked about how some runners like to start slow and build speed, and how some like to start fast and go hard as long as they can, and how some runners like to maintain a steady pace the entire time.  I told them that, no matter what, their ultimate goal was to finish the race.  Keep your eye on the prize. It was so humid, and we were drenched with sweat, but we did it!  We had completed the entire program and our race was just two days away!  The kids were so proud of themselves and I think they were surprised that they had actually done it.

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Race day greeted us with torrential rain.  It hadn't rained in weeks!  Before we stepped out the door that Saturday morning, I found us each a baseball hat to wear.  I told the kids that I always liked running in the rain-it made running a little more adventurous for me!  Plus, we'd get to tell our friends that we ran our first race despite the rain and bad weather makes everything seem a little more badass.

We had originally planned to race in our hometown, but ended up opting for a race in Northern Michigan to coincide with a mini-vacation to the cabin.  The only difference?  This 5k was a trail run.  We had trained on dirt roads and train tracks, but never on trails.  I gave a few pointers on watching out for roots and being careful on the downhill portions because everything was so muddy from the rain.  We sat in our car until the very last moment, aiming to stay as dry as possible for as long as possible.  We were commenting on other runners scrambling around to get ready and Emerson said, "I'm nervous. My tummy feels funny."  I assured her that was a normal pre-race feeling and that it would subside as soon as we crossed the start line.  And then I said, "Why is everyone looking at us in our car?"  Owen's response?  "They're looking at champions."  Well-said, Owen.

At 8:27am, we bolted from the car to the start line and were greeted by my mom, brother, and the rest of my kids.  They were ready to cheer us on, even in the pouring rain! We listened to the National Anthem and Owen turned to us and said, "I'm going to beat you guys."  And then we were off.  Owen went ahead of us and worked his way through the pack.  I stuck with Emerson, as she had requested, and we tackled the course together.  A lot of the roots were marked, but there were still quite a few that weren't and I reminded her often to keep her focus and to lift her feet off the ground.  Her pace was about a minute faster than she had gone in training runs and she was pleasantly surprised that she felt good at that pace.  The rain and the trails made me think of the Barkley Marathons and I told her the story of that race.  If you haven't heard of it, look it up on Netflix-it's a true adventure.  At the halfway point there was a water break and we stopped for just a few seconds to catch our breath and take a few sips. And then, we headed for the finish.  The farther we ran, the heavier the rain came down, but we didn't care.  We were soaked and having a blast.  At the three mile mark, you could hear people at the finish line cheering.  I let Emerson take the lead and she picked up the pace for the final few turns and crossed the finish line with a giant smile on her face.  Owen had finished a minute or so ahead of us and was still beaming from the excitement of his race.

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I was so damn proud of my kids.  We were dripping wet and covered in mud and we had all had a blast on the course.  We spent eight weeks together laughing and talking and sharing this epic adventure.  There was sweat and blood and tears and I don't think any of us would've changed a thing.   As for their running futures?  Well, Owen starts cross-country practice on Monday.  He may not be the fastest kid on the team, but he knows he can do it, and he knows that every run is a chance to better himself.  And Emerson?  She's ready to take a nice long break from running.  I'm okay with that.  She worked hard and didn't love it, but she stuck with it until the end.  As for next summer, the kids want to do the program again, but with as many of their friends along for the ride as they can get. Friends and running?  That sounds like a perfect summer to me.

Whether they turn into lifelong runners or not, they'll always have this summer to look back on and say that they actually did something.

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