Earlier this month I got to experience a race from the sidelines as I cheered on my 10-year-old and husband at the LJEF Family Turkey Trot 5K. It felt strange to be up at 6 on a Saturday morning and not going for a run myself (I got in eight miles later on that day as my last long run before the marathon the following week).
As I watched my two loved ones line up at the start, my heart rose in my throat. I get nervous before my own races, but even more so for my children’s races. I feel more vulnerable and exposed when I have no control over the outcome. If I do not do well in a race, that’s all on me. If one of my children has a bad experience, it hurts in a different way. Will this affect her self-esteem? Will she want to race again?
I had encouraged my daughter to sign up for the race, but by no means did I force her to do so. In fact, we had several discussions about how if she did not commit and follow through on the training for the 5K, I would not allow her to run it (and furthermore she would be required to work off the $20 entry fee we paid on her behalf). She assured me she wanted to run. She had done the race the year before and wanted to do it again. In the end, I can’t say she dedicated herself to the training as I dedicated myself to marathon training (what, you mean not everyone takes such joy in checking off a training run?), but my husband and I deemed her ready to put in the 3.1 miles.
In retrospect, we should have put as much work into the mental preparation for the race. Yes, it’s “only” a 5K, it’s a turkey trot, it’s for fun and fitness, it’s not life and death. But as many runners can attest, a race can be torture if you’re head isn’t in it. The mind-body connection is never more evident than in a running race. My daughter had trained enough that she was fully capable of running the whole race and beating her time from the previous year. Instead, she struggled physically and mentally. After lots of congratulations and hugs at the finish line, and after a few days passed, I talked over the race with her. Why did she think she hadn’t done as well as the year before, in spite of the fact that she trained harder this time? “Because I didn’t want to be there.” You said you wanted to run. Why didn’t you want to be there? “Because I didn’t want to keep running the whole time.” Ah. Turns out that my daughter ended up being so concerned about the possibility of being told to keep running when she wanted to walk, that she psyched herself out of running well in the first place. (Trust me, that says more about my daughter and her personality than about her dad, who certainly does not push her hard and only wants to support her). I told her I had the perfect solution for that problem. The next race, if she wanted to do one, she would run by herself without her father/pacer at her side. She can run or walk, her choice. Completely up to her. How much do you want to bet she runs the whole way?
Do you have children who participate in races? How do they (and you) handle it? My two oldest have done some 5Ks and a junior triathlon. They tell me they want to do more.