Just call me ‘coach mom’

jack_runningA week or so ago, Jack texted me during the day:

I want to run a half marathon.

Not today, honey, I texted back. Put your phone away in class.

But he was serious.

Jack’s been involved in a triathlon training club at our local Y for about a year, not because he necessarily wants to be in a triathlon, but because he’s tired of swim team. Tri-Club gives him variety, and it’s about the most laid back athletic team or club there is from a parental standpoint. No schlepping raffle tickets, or chocolate bars to raise money, no team parties or uniforms, no trophies, no need to sit through a six hour referee clinic, don goofy pads and a mask and steel myself to be yelled at by parents. No cajoling or bribing anyone to wear an athletic cup.

We’re not pushy with Jack about sports. We did soccer for the better part of a decade, then basketball. Jack, more into the social scene, was as content sitting with his friends on the bench as he was playing.

Since most kids give up sports altogether by the time they hit puberty, I’m bound to be happy with almost anything that gets him away from a screen.

So Jack has been running a couple miles a couple times a week, mixing in cycling and swimming as well, and enjoying himself while staying fit.

I thought briefly about suggesting a less strenuous first event than a half marathon. Maybe a 5k, so he doesn’t flame out while training.

I see that look. Stop it. I’m sure I can practice a little moderation with the goal setting … Not right at this moment, but I’m sure if the situation warranted…

Anyway, if Jack truly wanted to do a half, he needed to fit in some longer distances with his weekly routine. We planned a Saturday run together. We could head out late morning, so he could sleep in and get a reasonable breakfast an hour or two before we ran. 

First mistake – trying to wake Jack on a Saturday.

A dog could wake Jack by jumping on him with enough force to crack the sternum of a grown man, licking him in the face and all but peeing on him in glee, and the kid will get up with a smile.

I, on the other hand, could enter with a twelve-course breakfast that includes bacon and biscuits and gravy, served by a harem of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models and still get a snarl.

The dog wouldn’t help me. So the morning started with considerable snarling, after which Jack got up, ate a bowl of cereal and settled down in front of the Xbox, telling me he’d changed his mind about running.

I decided to be patient (I can do patience too. Will you stop with the looks?). I looked up local half marathons we could run together that would fit in with my training schedule, maybe one in June.

On Sunday, Jack did join me on a run. The secret is to wait until afternoon.

We talked about starting out slow. Today was about distance, not speed. We talked about how a person could outrun a horse, given enough distance.

I may have made that up. I think I heard it somewhere. Jack didn’t ask for my source.

He must have taken the horse reference the wrong way, and took off like a colt from a barn, leaping over puddles, and giving a couple of martial arts kicks for good measure.

The trick for me in this coaching thing is to squelch the bossiness (again, shush). I took a deep breath and didn’t suggest he save energy on the karate kicks, or try to run less on his toes.

An early indoctrination attempt. It didn't take.
An early indoctrination attempt. It didn’t take.

We ran five minute intervals, interspersed with a minute of walking. One mile, two. He ran with big, stompie feet and reminded me of when he was a toddler. It began to rain. My Garmin died, so I was guessing at the distance.

We came to the place in the path where there’s a big cottonwood tree by the river, home to dozens of cormorants and blue herons. I’m not a bird person. I only know cormorants because I Googled “bird that sounds like an old man grouching about kids in his yard.”

The birds were roosting now, silent. Jack was less enthusiastic than I about the opportunity to observe them. I realized I’d inadvertently added an extra half mile to our run.

While we ran back, he talked to me about the book he was in the middle of, about the music he was listening to while he ran (I politely pointed out to him he was yelling over the volume in his ear buds).

I didn’t have to remind myself not to be bossy. He was having fun. I was having fun.

The rain started really coming down and we walked longer intervals. He was pooping out. I was freezing. Next time I’ll dress as though I’m not going to be sweating my guts out the whole time. I envied his stocking cap.

When I noted we were less than a half mile to the parking lot, Jack broke into a sprint. Again, like a horse, this time closing in on the barn.

My kid, all arms and legs and a mess of blonde hair, kicked my butt on the last few yards to the car.


You don’t even have to get up off your butt to keep hearing stories about Jack’s journey (maybe) to his first half marathon. But, you know, no pressure (I’m not bossing you). A vote as often as once a day keeps me writing. Thank you.


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