I am a father. And like my father before me and his father before him, I nurture my children’s interests and lavish on them the wisdom my many years of life experience have taught me. And like me and my father before me and his father before him, it goes in one ear and out the other.
The most anticipated race of the year was last Saturday: The Tiger Run 5k. It was the third year for the race hosted by my sons’ school PTO as a fundraiser. Two years ago, I ran it with my older son, Parker. We had run one race before that together, a St. Patrick’s Day 4k with an Irish band, hidden prizes and a big chocolate kiss for each finisher – from a very nice elderly lady with too much chocolate lip gloss. The highlight was the many dogs costumed in Leprechaun outfits or green tutus leaving their little “pots of gold” along the trail. Each dog had an expression of “Please don’t tell the cat next door what you’ve seen here.” So, Parker was looking forward to doing another run. It was only five-eighths of a mile longer.
We had done some training runs and, despite my warnings to pace himself at the race, he blasted off the start line with a sonic boom! “What was that blur?” people exclaimed. “It looked like a little Doug!” Just past mile two, I saw him up ahead, sitting on the curb. An older girl was talking to him, I assume trying to encourage him to no avail. That, or he was playing the pity card to get a date. I knew it, I thought, he burned out. His little legs were used up and he could go no further. I thought, I’ll stop and sit with him and impart some wise words and then we’ll walk the rest of the way. Poor kid.
As I approached him, coming to within 30 yards or so, he saw me and took off like a jackrabbit. “Hey!” I yelled, “Wait! I’ve got wise words!” and tried to catch him. I didn’t see him again until after the finish line. He did overdo it, though, and his legs were very sore for a couple of days. I felt bad.
So, with Carson excited about doing the race his big brother had done, his first full 5k, I tried to instill in him the importance of pacing himself so that he would have a good experience. “Look, I’m your father. Listen to what I say. Don’t go out too fast or you’ll use up all your energy.”
We waited anxiously by the start line. There was a fitness instructor leading a group of people through some warm-ups, so we joined in until I heard something rip. Carson’s teacher came by to wish him luck. Then the MC told us to line up.
About a hundred of us gathered in front of the green thing you see in the picture. Behind us stood a very tall man with size 15s. Carson came up to his knee cap and I kindly asked him not to step on us.
“Now remember to pace yourself, Carson.” The countdown began “3… 2… 1…” there was no starter pistol or airhorn so we just kind of went. Carson was gone in a flash. Doggone it! I told him not to go so fast. Where is he?
I stepped up my pace try to find him, doing about double my normal cruising speed. There he is. I can see his red shirt. Just then, “Hey, Doug!” It was the president of the PTO coming up fast behind me. “Thanks for letting me catch up. Nice day, huh?” I had many questions and wanted to talk to him as I am planning a 5k for our Cub Scout pack. Keeping an eye on Carson, I fired away: “Hey Doug!” Yes, his name was Doug too, although not the same Doug who ran the half with me a week ago. We often exchange emails from confused senders. “We’ve only got three signed up for our 5k so far… (huff, huff). When did you… (huff)… get the (puff, puff) bulk of your… (huff, puff)… sign-ups? (huff, huff, puff)”
“Oh,” he said breezily. “We had about three signed up that far ahead of our race, too. Most of them come in the last few weeks. Are you ok?”
“I’ve got to slow down (huff, huff)… old football injury (puff, puff).” And I slipped out of warp speed. The rest of my questions would have to wait. Up ahead, I saw Carson also starting to slow. Yes! I caught him at the 1 mile water station and we walked together. The volunteers were a young boy and his mother who was frantically filling cups to keep up with demand, “Don’t put your fingers in the cups! You’ve got to hold them out so the people can grab them! Don’t pour it on the ants!…”
We walked for a few minutes to catch our breaths then trotted a bit further. Finally, he said, “My legs are tired.”
“I know, son. We’ll just take our time. You’re doing a great job!” We ran until he needed to walk.
We rounded a corner and a young girl came running up behind us. “Caught you!” she exclaimed. “Is Parker here?”
“He’s not running but he should be up at the next water station.” She was tired and dripping with sweat but determined not to fall behind us. Carson, having the typical aversion to girls that second grade boys do, took off running. “Whoa!” I followed. The girl (no idea who she was) followed me. When Carson stopped, she ran ahead. He was determined not to let her beat him so we leap-frogged the rest of the way.
Up ahead, we saw Parker and Gwen at the two mile water station. Carson put on some speed and swiped a cup from big brother. Trying to keep up, I swiped one too and washed my chin with it. (Hard to drink when you’re running.)
“Ok” I said as we approached the last stretch. “We’ll walk up to the corner then finish strong and run across the finish line together.” The little girl passed us yelling, “No way!” and that plan went out the window. Carson took off like his pants were on fire. I may have dropped a profanity and took off after him. Got to cross the finish line together! Just couldn’t catch up, though. The little squirt was too fast. He crossed the finish line to thundering applause as I came roaring onto the blacktop full speed ahead like a charging rhino with water flying from my chin. Someone said, “Oh my god!” The MC had the presence of mind to say, “And here come the Irbys!”
We grabbed some goodies from a table that was meant for a running team and sat down to revel in our success. PTO Doug came over and gave me a fist pump. “Congratulations!” he said. “Good job. It’s easy to go out too fast. You’ve really got to pace yourself.”
All in all, Carson had a good experience. I am very proud of him and look forward to our next race together.