Smiling the Whole Way

There is something about a personal achievement, about seeing a goal and reaching it. There are so many elements involved: a dream, the resolve, planning and execution; the goal is birthed, the course is set, and the effort undertaken to bring about the desired effect. It really is something to be celebrated, but there is something sweeter–passing it on.

Last fall, I ran a marathon. It was a great personal achievement. It was the sum total of months of effort from conception to execution. You can imagine my satisfaction to see that all pay off in front of my family as they were able to watch me ran faster than I had ever run previously, turning in a 3 hour 34 minute time over a 26.2 mile course.

During my training, my son Joseph ran one of my 10 mile workouts with me. He had never run farther than 3 miles prior to that day. During the session, he suggested that he could join me for the race. He had run 10 miles, he thought, what was 16.2 more?

As an experienced marathoner, I refused to enter him into the run that fall, especially at 13 years of age, but I hung on to the idea of tackling a distance event with him in the future. Nevertheless, I wanted him to be fully prepared and I wanted to be able to run with him. Thanks to a quick recovery after my race, all of our wishes were going to come true.

During the expo of my fall marathon, I had received a card about the Bentonville Half Marathon to be held on March 28, 2015. As the post-marathon soreness wore off, and I began running again, I began to get Joseph interested in running those 13.1 miles with me. In January, I asked him point blank, are you ready to do this? His” yes” was followed by a quick registration and enrollment in training. We were “go” for launch.

But that was where things got a bit complicated. Before, I had trained alone. The only person I had to motivate was myself, the only complaints to quell, those of my own aching muscles. All of a sudden, there was a voice outside of my head to contend with.

First, there was the time of our runs. Joseph’s school day starts at 6:30. There was no way we were going to be able to get out of the house, get in our training, and get him off to school with breakfast in his belly before that. So our training would have to happen in the evening, a big adjustment for this morning runner. 

Then, there was the location of our runs. Joseph had struggled in the past with asthma which seemed to be exacerbated by the cold. So many of our runs would have to be logged indoors, on the treadmill, another huge adjustment.

Even with these adjustments, there were the good and bad days that we both experienced. Sometimes, it was just hard to get into sync with one another. As the training stretched on and the workouts became more challenging, we had moments when we questioned the wisdom of our goal, wondering if we had bitten off more that we could chew.

Still, we pressed on. Through the ups and downs, we persevered and arrived at the starting line. The night before brought plenty of anxiety: the temperature was forecasted to be near freezing. Joseph wondered aloud if he would be able to breathe during the race. I reassured him, “We’ll take it in stages.” I said, “We’ll walk if we have to.”

The next day, race day dawned warmer than the forecast, but there was still concern. Joseph had not slept well. I prayed at breakfast and put the race in God’s hands. After our coffee, a pre-race ritual I was happy to share, we toed the starting line. We were hopeful, but it would take more than hope for us to finish those 13.1 miles in front of us.

The starting gun was fired, and we moved off with the pack, walking then jogging as the way became less crowded. Finally, at about the first mile marker we had begun to run at our goal pace. We were set to finish the course in two hours time. Joseph complained of a bit of soreness, but, so far, all systems were go–no breathing problems.

We reached the two mile mark and the first water stop in good shape. In fact, contrary to what we had originally planned, Joseph said, “I don’t need to walk; let’s keep running.” So run we did, each mile successively faster than the last.

Before long, the concern had vanished from both of our faces. It had been replaced by the exuberance that we felt of sharing in this moment together. We began to enjoy ourselves–we hammed it up for the camera, we chatted non-stop, and took in all of the sights and sounds of race together.

Finally, it dawned on Joseph, “I’ve been smiling the whole race!” He really had! Still, I think that my satisfaction was even greater. As we struggled over the final hill and on through the final mile, I took his hand, something I had done over thirteen years before with my twin brother as he helped me finish my first marathon. Arms raised in victory, we crossed the finish line. Joseph had run his first half marathon, farther than he had ever gone before, and I had been there to help make it happen. I was a part of this moment of exuberance.

After we crossed the finish line, got our medals, and greeted Kelly and Jonathan, who had encouraged us at various points along the route, there was talk of our time. We had finished in 1 hour 48 minutes and 20 seconds, a full 12 minutes faster than we had hoped. Even better, we found out that Joseph’s time was good enough to put him in second place for his age group, an unexpected honor. 

In case you were wondering, no, there were no awards for me. My time was only good enough for 24th place among my peers. Still, I had a prize many of them could not claim. I had been able to take a personal achievement and pass it on. My son had followed in my footsteps, had gained from my coaching and encouragement, and stood now recognized as a success. I’ll take that, and I’ll cherish that for a long time to come.