Over the course of my running career, I’ve been passed up in races by grandmas, tweens and parents with children in strollers. I have mad respect for those people – especially the mom who zooms by me while pushing 50 pounds of twins ahead of her. So when I found myself at the start line with a 5-year old beside me and a rickety stroller in my hands, I figured I’d better at least try not to look ridiculous.
Awhile back, my niece asked me to run a 5k to fund programs at her elementary school. I agreed, but pretty much forgot about it up until the week of the race when my sister asked if I was still planning on running. I figured, even if with my awful lack of training, I would just run it with my niece and have a good time. My sister registered my 5-year-old nephew as well, but my brother-in-law would be running, so we could each take one kid.
It morning of the race was gorgeous. So nice, in fact, that my nephew and I decided to walk to the school, which is about a half-mile from my sister’s house. I figured if he tired out early in the race, I’d push him in the stroller. Somewhere along the way, I lost my bib. It didn’t matter because I’m pretty sure the race wasn’t meticulously timed.
After a detour at a garage sale, we ended up at Thornwilde Elementary with a whole host of people wearing the race shirt. My niece and brother-in-law showed up just in time for us to meander toward the start. Despite efforts to tell racers to line up according to speed – runners then walkers then strollers – it was pretty much what you’d expect from a 5k with about 14,000 elementary school-aged participants: utter chaos.
The race began, and we hadn’t run 100 yards before stopping to tie a shoe. My nephew wanted to run at the beginning, which was a really, really long downhill, so we let him. He was running his little legs off because we were pacing around 10:30 miles, I think. Since my niece and nephew were running at different paces, they ended up splitting right before the one-mile marker – my nephew with me and my niece with my brother-in-law.
Right at one mile, my nephew asked to get in the stroller. He’d run the whole thing so far on his own, so I told him I was proud of him and to hop in. We pulled away from our other family members, but I felt like the stroller was going to fall apart at any minute. I kept the pace pretty low.
My sister’s neighborhood is hilly, but I found it was easier to push the stroller up the hills than to go down them. I was about a foot too tall to push it comfortably, so I hunched over while I ran along flat sections. Around the halfway point, my nephew asked me to stop. I instantly feared the worst – that he was finished with this whole thing and wanted to go home. But to my surprise, he only wanted to get out so he could run some more. And, God bless him, he got out at the bottom of a hill. I tried to convince him to wait until we got until the top, but he pumped his little fists and ran hard up the hill toward a group of people who cheered him on. I think he really dug the fact that people were clapping and yelling for him because he got a little smile on his face. We continued for about another half mile before we stopped for some water.
He jumped back in the stroller and we retraced our steps toward the start line – taking a detour through a paved path that runs along a creek and back to the school. The stroller, surely on its last wheel, was teetering and bouncing its way down a hill when I accidentally stepped on a back wheel and sent my nephew flying through the air and onto the pavement. The little guy got right back up – scraped knees and all – and hopped back in his seat, ready to finish this thing. Not one tear was shed.
The long, steepish hill we bounded down at the start of the race now loomed ahead of us. I slowly pushed him up the hill, passing people like they were standing still (I think he got a kick out of this as well). One lady was ordering her kids out of their stroller halfway up the hill. I gave her an understanding nod that communicated that I felt her pain. At the top of the hill, with the finish line in sight, my nephew jumped out and ran to the end, where we were greeted by a barrage of silly string and One Direction’s greatest hits.
We watched my brother-in-law and niece finish a few minutes later and made our way to the shaved ice truck to claim a sugary reward. The race was just one part of an event that included bouncy castles, games and a silent auction organized by my sister. As we were eating our treat, the awards ceremony began. When they announced the boys’ eight-and-under awards, we were surprised to hear my nephew placed second. He got a medal after all!
Who knows? Maybe we have a little Scott Jurek on our hands.
Until next time, keep running, friends.