at the races “I held out my hand, which he took, and we ran hand-in-hand.”...

“I held out my hand, which he took, and we ran hand-in-hand.” Racing with my 9-year-old son

Photo credit: YYZEvents

As a mom and a runner, it’s been a pipe-dream to experience a race with my children. The aim is to teach them to understand the importance of training, having fun and not fixate on winning. It’s also about living in the moment as you step up to the start line, and feeling the exhilaration at the finish line.

Nevertheless, I questioned my decision to register my oldest child on the morning of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. “How can I race, the sun isn’t even up yet?”, was Jack’s response as I woke him up at 5am. Thankfully the preparation for the race started the evening before, because getting out the door felt rushed as we left to make the 6:45am baggage drop time slot. The knot in my stomach intensified as we stepped off the shuttle bus at the 5K start and he repeated his desire to NOT RACE. It was dark, cold and the crowd was growing bigger as participants disembarked from buses and descended upon Ontario Place.

I hadn’t counted on the start line being situated so far from the Enercare Centre. The temperature was 1C and the plan was to wait indoors until closer to the start. It was 75 minutes before the start time and I knew this skinny kid, with seemingly next-to-zero body fat wasn’t going to last the wait in the cold. Thankfully a Canada Running Series employee directed us to the Ontario Place indoor pedestrian bridge for us to wait until the start of the race. It was a popular wait location to watch the sun rise in the horizon and the warm-up lead by the Jock Yoga crew.

At 10 minutes to start, we made our way to the start line, along the way, we saw announcer and race fixture Too Tall Tony for a pre-race high-5. At this point it dawned on Jack that he won’t be running with only kids his age like he did in cross-country or the kids race on Toronto Centre Island, but a mixture of kids and adults. It was the largest race, to date, that he would participate in, and he seemed to have mixed feelings about it.

We started in the purple corral for runners aiming for sub-30 minutes. Two club members from Longboat Roadrunners were in the same corral and we chatted to past the time. We listened for the countdown and then the horn went off. Shortly after the start I removed my jacket. I asked Jack if he wanted to also remove his jacket, and he promptly said, “No, I’m still cold.” I looked at my watch at the first kilometre, it said, “5:31/K,” and he seemed pretty comfortable with the pace. Coming up to Bathurst Street you could hear the voices of the volunteers offering Gatorade and water at the hydration station, this was the 2K mark and our pace was, 5:26/K. Jack didn’t need his inhaler that morning and it was still cold at the start, but he wasn’t breathing hard and declined any form of hydration.

As we came up to the Roger’s Centre, crossing on the ramp, I told Jack to look left as it was the area close to “daddy’s work.” At 3K, our pace was 5:45/K. Along the stretch of Lakeshore Boulevard underneath the Gardiner Expressway, two red arches emerged into sight. It was the ‘fork in the road’ for the half-marathon/5K runners and the full marathon runners to split. Jack asked if that was the finish and looked deflated when I told him no. At this point he started having difficulty. We had trained for this distance leading up to the race as a family and, on occasion, would stop to wait for his brother two years his junior. Perhaps he didn’t anticipate the ‘no-stopping’ aspect of the 5K race. Nor did he have his friends to run with on this course as he did during cross-country practice. Now a scowl appeared on his face. I asked about any discomfort, and it seemed like he could not articulate the issue. I slowed the pace but didn’t stop, thinking he needed to catch his breath in order to speak. I told him we had less than 2 kilometres to go until the finish. Anticipating he might be too hot, I told him to unzip his jacket, but he still refused to depart with it. We hit the 4K mark at 6:20/K.

I gulped, and thought we went out too fast and I should have ran slower for the first few kilometres

North on Bay Street we went, and as we exited the tunnel, I saw him wipe away a tear, and at this point a lump in my throat got bigger. I asked him if he wanted to stop. He retorted, “No,” without looking at me in the face. ‘Ok, let’s go’, was my reaction, and I held out my hand, which he took and we ran hand-in-hand. We continued, and here the spectator support started to get thick. That’s when Jack noticed, “Is that the clock tower you meant?” Prior to the race I had reviewed the route with Jack and pointed out landmarks that would be along the course. I answered, “Yes, when we get to the tower, you will see the finish line and you can just go!” He let go of my hand and pushed. Then he recognized the flying feather on the back of a shirt and said, “That’s your friend mummy, let’s catch up to her!” Surprised by the sudden change in mood, we surged and caught up to ‘mummy’s friend.’ I offered words of encouragement to her, before pushing onward and forward. We came up to Queen Street and I pointed to the left, “There is the finish line…” and as the words left my mouth, Jack bolted, weaving his way through the crowd as little agile bodies can do with such ease.

There was so much excitement at the finish line, people were cheering, cowbells ringing, and Jack’s name was announced as he crossed the line with a time of 28:52.  Then he got a high-5 from a finish line volunteer, and as I directed him towards the medals, he exclaimed, “We get a medal?!” Jack rode the post-race euphoria as he received his food kit, got his photo taken at the Endurance Tap booth, then got to tell his brother, family and friends, “We got to run on the road!”  Lesson learned, despite the parental angst and with a bit of tough love, my child experienced that running can be hard, but if you just keep at it, there are rewards that are relevant to their own head space.