My oldest child is 11 years older than my daughter and 14 years older than my youngest son. This age difference has always given me a very surreal understanding of what you miss as your child ages, because I always had a stark reminder of it in the difference of my daily interactions with my three children. I think this is why I may actually hold on longer than most parents, because I know the reality of missing those things when they’re gone. I recall carrying one of my younger children on a hike at the age of 9, because they were wet and cold and WAY TOO BIG FOR ME TO BE CARRYING. But I did it anyway, because the second they asked, I thought of how much I missed the days of carrying their older brother.
(And now I’m imagining trying to carry my 23-year old adult son through the woods on my back and I can’t stop giggling at the mental image.)
(BUT I WOULD STILL DO IT IF HE ASKED!)
Yesterday I took my kids to participate in the Delano Park 12-hour run. I’ve done this race 6 years in a row now and it’s always a great day of socializing and fun as people set up for an all day event along the 1-mile gravel course through a very pretty park in Decatur, AL. I signed my kids up because – as far as I could tell – there were not state records claimed in their age groups. Meaning, if no one else their age showed up, they could set the state records by just completing 1 mile that day! Last year our family did a relay and they did 15 miles each, so I figured they could do at least that just walking periodically.
Of course, I didn’t count on other kids who looked their ages showing up. So the kids just decided to push to do at least 15 miles like last year and then added more goals as the day went on and they saw those other kids also pushing on. As the miles clicked by and the hours passed, those two warriors suffered through the highs and lows of endurance running that we all know so well.
Wes was freezing at 1.5 miles and just kept saying, “I give up. I don’t want to do this. I don’t care.” So, we held hands and played silly traveling games while we walked. We planned imaginary parties for our fake “Grandma” (a memory game that involved way more jokes about poop than I imagined) and we played the ABC sign game using only the “Tobacco Free Park” sign and cracking up at ourselves every time we feigned surprised at how we never seemed to see any other signs. But – it was the hand holding that warmed my heart as I truly felt we both needed each other’s support yesterday. I haven’t been on my feet that much in months and I was probably struggling just as much as he was, so he was giving me strength as much as I was him. We were a team, giggling about cheese puffs and joking about our fake grandma’s affinity for sunbathing in a bikini.
I got Wesley to about 15 miles and then Donnie took over getting him to 20 miles, while I went to Nyoka’s aid. She had hit 20 miles and felt done but had just met another 12-year old girl when she was walking her 21st lap and that girl was at mile 18. Nyoka called me in a panic and I told her. “If you want to still stop at 21, that’s fine, but if you want to keep going to try to keep your lead over this girl, I will help you do it.” I wasn’t sure what she would decide as she seemed spent at 21. She didn’t even hesitate, “I want to keep my lead.” And so I waited for her at the finish line and set out by her side on her mile 22. I didn’t leave for the rest of the afternoon.
Nyoka got a surge of energy for the next few miles, a phenomenon I’ve experienced dozens of times in my endurance running career. That was probably my most shocking realization, to learn that you don’t just feel worse and worse as the miles click by. You can actually feel better with these strange upturns of energy. Sometimes there are good triggers – like realizing you are 3 miles ahead of what you hope is the only other 12-year old girl on the course – but other times there’s no rhyme or reason to them.
We surged ahead for the next few miles as Nyoka felt the urge to run a few downhill segments on the course. But by the time we got to mile 26, she was started to fade again. So, we held hands and just pushed through with no running and giving ourselves 1-minute rest breaks every time we passed a bench on the course.
(There were not nearly enough benches on the course.)
My precious girl was fading fast and I kept telling her she didn’t have to keep going, but I didn’t want her to be disappointed if she lost her lead by quitting. I knew she had pushed so hard all day to keep moving, never taking more than 10-minute breaks and she only did that ONCE. She had EARNED that state record, and I didn’t want her to regret quitting. She decided she could get to 29, but no further. We might could have squeezed in 1 more for an even 30, but mathematically speaking we did not think the other 12-year old girl could catch up to us in the time life so we did not think it was necessary.
SIDENOTE: If you are ever doing an event like this and a 12-year old girl says she reached 29 miles? Try to avoid the “Oh, man. Not 30? She has time to do one more mile for 30!” remarks. That’s a TERRIBLE thing to say to an exhausted girl who has been walking/running all day. Every time someone made one of those comments her pride shattered a bit and I watched as she fought back exhausted tears.
I was really glad she pushed through those last 2 miserable miles though, because that 12-year old girl started running the last 45 minutes and started running more than we had seen her run in hours. She got to 27 miles with time to do 28, but we did not see her set out again so we do not think she went for that last mile. So if Nyoka’s only competition for the record was that girl, then those last two impossible miles were what kept her in the lead. And those last 2 miles were tough, we held hands and commiserated about our pain together. Blisters and cramps and stiff joints and swollen fingers and…again…we were there for each other. I would have quit when Wesley quit if she hadn’t needed me. She was pulling me those last miles as much as I was pulling her.
It was just a great day that I’ll never forget. I thought the days of hand-holding were over, but it turns out that all of us have days where we need the support of our parents. And some days, our parents need the support of us. I’d be lying if I said that yesterday was about me helping them reach their goals. It was also about them inspiring me to start dreaming again. Holding hands was as much for me as it was for them. I wanted to quit dozens of times yesterday, but their determination kept me going and reminded me how good it can feel to reach a goal you have worked hard for.
Wesley’s state record is officially pending, we still haven’t heard the official word about Nyoka’s yet because she finished so late in the event and they had to process dozens of different finishers around that time. But, I’m pretty sure the record is hers. Either way, it’s a day for the motherhood record books as I’ll carry it with me in my heart whenever I feel like I’m struggling. I’ll remember the day of the hand-holding and how two people helping each other can sometimes create superheroes out of the both of them.