I still remember my first “race day” experience – I was ten years old. As the theme song from “Rocky” blasted across the entire house, I stumbled into the kitchen rubbing my eyes to find my dad doing his best Rocky Balboa impersonation as he threw his fists filled with victory into the air.
After lacing up our shoes, my brother and I reluctantly got in the car with our dad. With the windows rolled down and the sunroof open, he blared “Eye of the Tiger” as we drove downtown for the Azalea Trail Run 10K.
It was the longest race of my life. I thought it would never end! But just before the finish line, I finally spotted my dad and got the energy boost I needed.
I’ve never jumped so high or cheered so loud. I was so proud to be standing on the sidelines with my brother as my dad crossed the finish line.
After the 10K was over, my dad headed back to the start line with his two best training partners – my brother and me. We waited in anticipation for the start of the Azalea Trail Fun Run as my dad reviewed proper running etiquette for race day.
POW! The shotgun start signaled my feet to leap forward and leave the ground as we took off for the mile-long run. As a boy sped past us, my dad leaned over and said, “You see that kid? He started off too quickly. He’ll burn out before the finish. You have to pace yourself, no matter the distance of your run.”
With my dad in the middle and my brother and I at each side, the three of us weaved in and out of the crowded course. As we crossed the finish line, my dad grabbed our hands and threw our arms into the air. There was magic in that mile, and in every fun run with my dad in the years that followed.
Fast-forward 20 years later to another early Saturday morning with an alarm blaring just enough motivation to make me to crawl out of bed. As I got ready for the Super Hero for St. Jude’s 5K, Emma Claire stumbled out of bed rubbing her eyes.
Her voice was still timid from a night filled with dreams as she said, “Where are you going, Mommy?”
I explained that I was going to run in a race and asked if she would be waiting for me at the finish line.
“Yes, I will. And when you’re done with the race, I want to run with you,” she said proudly.
I made it to the race site just before they cut off registration. As I pinned my bib on my shirt, I heard someone ask about the kids run. “It is a one mile fun run open to kids of all ages,” the volunteer at the registration table explained.
My mind flashed back 20 years, bringing a smile to my face. EC said she wanted to run with me, so I signed her up!
As I neared the finish line of the 5K, I spotted Chris and EC in the crowd. Standing on a brick wall, she was ringing a giant bell in one hand and frantically waving the other.
“MOMMY!!!” she shouted at the top of her lungs.
I certainly didn’t mind adding a few extra seconds to my time as I ran over to her for a kiss.
Once the 5K was over, they announced it was time for the kids’ fun run. I finished pinning her bib on and walked her to the start line. At the sound of the air horn we were off!
As kids swarmed around us, EC quickly grabbed my hand for reassurance. She was by far the tiniest competitor. But it only took 100 meters before she was pulling her hand away, ready to experience freedom and the joy of running. After another 200 meters she started running “intervals.”
“I just need to walk for a minute, Mommy. But I’m gonna finish this run,” she said while trying to catch her breath.
Just before we hit the turn, I cranked up the Frozen soundtrack on my phone, and naturally EC burst into song. As we neared the final 100-meter stretch, EC spotted her daddy in the crowd, slowing down just long enough to wave to him.
The last 100 meters of the course were lined with people cheering on the pint-sized runners; and with no other kid around EC, the roar of the crowd was all for her. She grabbed my hand and ran full speed ahead to the finish line, completing the one-mile fun run in just 16 minutes.
As a mommy, a runner, and an advocate for living a healthy lifestyle, my heart was BURSTING with pride for what my daughter had just accomplished. She didn’t let her size, age or fears hold her back. Those two little legs ran faster than many adults ever could.
Being there for EC’s first race brought back so many memories of running with my dad when I was a kid and how free it made me feel. Do you remember what it felt like to run as a child? There is something magical about it. To kids, running is about freedom and fun; but for most adults, running is about fitness, health and stress relief.
Watching EC run that day reminded me how running is supposed to feel and helped me reconnect with the bliss that comes when both feet leave the ground.