NOTE: This post is not about “running”, but it is… And it’s something I wanted to share. This is going to be a big post. A blogopotamus, even…
Some things in life come naturally to me. Some things take a bit more work. And then there are those things that I really struggle with.
Of all the things that I have struggled with in my life, one of the things that I think I am worst at is being a dad…
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children more than anything and would gladly jump in front of a truck to save them if need be. I would never hurt them and have seldom raised anything more than my voice against them. But I have just never been comfortable in the “dad shoes”. I don’t play with my kids enough. I feel like all I do is follow them around and bark at them for doing things they shouldn’t. I want to help and care and teach and play… but sometimes I feel like I just don’t know how. Even after almost 10 years of trying…
My son, especially, has always been somewhat of an enigma to me. My one time dream of being the baseball coach/soccer coach/scout master/etc. was dashed early on when he showed little to no interest in sports. I kind of felt like I had lost my connection at that point. Instead, he doesn’t even like to watch sports, doesn’t like to go outside because that’s where the bugs are, and obsesses about things like video games and Pokemon. While I have tried to learn about and show interest in the things in his world, I’m just not a gamer. He also “hates” exercise.
I have been increasingly worried about him. He has gained a substantial amount of weight because of his sedentary existence and I know that he has my genes. If he doesn’t learn how to control his weight and find something to do for exercise, he will fight an uphill battle for the rest of his life with his health. He also does not eat as well as I would hope. I know he is 9 and he has the tastes of a 9 year old. At this point he prefers hot dogs to steak, which is wrong on so many levels. But he does not eat enough of the right things and eats too much of the bad stuff. But how do I get through to him… How can I make a connection…?
Surprisingly enough, the answer came from him. One day at dinner he said that he wanted to try… of all things… running. I nearly choked on my food. I didn’t know what to say. My wife gave me that “SAY SOMETHING” look and I think I mumbled something encouraging and asked when he wanted to start. Again, surprisingly, he said “today”.
I guess he had seen me losing weight and feeling better by running and, although it had taken him a year to process, he had decided to give it a try. My mind was a mix of excitement and the natural fatherly doubt. I had gotten lip service before about bicycling, etc. so I had my doubts. But I was certainly willing to do anything to help him, so off we went.
Immediately my coaching instincts kicked in. Children (he’s so smart that sometimes it is hard to remember that he IS just a little boy) must train carefully for sports like distance running. Little muscles don’t develop the same way pre vs. post pubescence. Doing things like intervals, fartelks, long runs and speed work are out of the question, especially if the child is overweight. Too much stress on little joints can cause horrific problems later. Not to mention that these types of workouts are HARD… even for adults.
The balancing act for me is not to dive so far into “coach” that I forget to be “dad” and “running buddy”. If I wanted to have any hope that this would work, it needed to be two things… Fun, and “comfortably” uncomfortable. In other words, other than pointing out some simple form mistakes (he pumps his arms too much and needs to relax his upper body), we would just run AND we would run when he said to (at MY pace, he wants to go too fast, which is typical of any new runner) and walk when he said to.
We set a goal of exercising for 30 minutes and headed to a park with an easy trail. Our only rules were 1.) Listen to your body and tell me what you feel, and, 2.) No whining! Our objective was to try to get around the park trail (1.25 miles) in 30 minutes.
The first night, we walked most of the way with a little jogging. We goofed around a bit and talked about runner’s etiquette (stay on your side of the trail, hold your line through turns, etc.) and form. I pointed out when I could hear him breathing hard and told him that was his body telling him to slow it down. We made it around in 28 minutes.
You never know when you do an activity like that if that will be the first, last and only time, so you hold your breath when you ask again, but when I asked him if he wanted to go again I got an enthusiastic “yes!”. For me, this was one of the most exciting answers in our relationship.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of every run, but we have been running together now about 3-4 days a week for 3 weeks. Milestones he has achieved so far include running 1/4 mile without stopping, running more than half of the park trail and setting a new PR of 18:54 for the trail last night. He was especially thrilled when I told him that the first time I ran the same route, just over a year ago, I did it in just under 15:00 and that if he kept it up, he could beat that soon.
I think there is a spark there, and I hope to keep fanning it until it flames up. Even if it means that I run my mileage in the morning and then run with him at night. The extra mile or two won’t hurt me and it may make all the difference in the world for him. He is giving himself genuine self compliments, and well deserved. I haven’t seen this much from him. He is curious about going farther and faster. We talked about running shoes, what happens when it gets cold, how to drink on the run, etc. I even planted the seed of running a 5K in the spring. At first, he balked at the idea. Then, later, he asked me how far a 5K was in miles. I told him just over 3 and reminded him that he can already do over a mile. At this point he paused and then said… “I could probably do that… If you think you could keep up with me…”
Look, I will never drag my children into anything they don’t want to do. I’ve seen too many “Soccer Moms” and “Coach Dads” that ruin the experience for their children completely by being way to overzealous. And I may not be the best at playing dollies or Pokemon. But if I can encourage an interest and “create a monster” in running for him, I’ll walk over a thousand miles of broken glass barefoot to do it. For now, I remain cautiously optimistic and simply try to be as encouraging as supportive as possible. But deep down inside… I REEEEEALLY want this to work…
…and I’m really proud of him…