Lessons About Running From My 3-Year-Old Coach

My daughter completed her first marathon this past weekend in Oklahoma City.  

She's three.

Every year, Oklahoma City hosts a race called "Run to Remember" in honor of the victims who were killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing.  This year had the highest participation ever, with over 25,000 runners completing either a 5k, half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, or kids' marathon.

All of the other races are self-explanatory; you show up on race day and run the distance that you signed up to do. {Hopefully you've trained.}  

In the kids' marathon, the idea is for little runners to run 25 miles in the days leading up to the race.  Then, they complete the final 1.2 miles of a marathon on race day for a grand total of 26.2 miles over a period of a few weeks. Some kids just show up and run 1.2 miles on race day, and that's totally fine.

Piper did the whole thing.

I'm so proud of her, and I'm also grateful for the many lessons that she unknowingly taught me along the way.  I've run just about every distance of the OKC race at some point, but "training" with her for this particular event was probably more satisfying than crossing the finish line after a grueling 26.2 miles a couple of years ago.  Running with my daughter changed me.

Through this process, I learned just how much my child watches everything I do and tries to pattern her life after me.  That is both terrifying and humbling.  Before every run, she asks if she can wear her Nike running shorts "like you're wearing Nike running shorts, Mom!"  She wanted to complete a marathon because I have.  Because of these things, I have been hyper-aware of my attitudes toward running, racing, and my body over the last few weeks.  I want her to have a healthy perspective, which means that I should model it for her.  

I needed a three-year-old to speak truth to me, because sometimes kids just seem to "get it" more than their parents do.  Piper reminded me of some practical lessons, such as pacing yourself and looking up instead of at your dang shoes so you don't trip.  But she also coached me in some other equally important areas.

Winning isn't just about being the first person to cross the finish line.  Of the 25,000+ people who ran the race, only five people actually won (one for each event), if you define winning in terms of finishing first.  As Piper was running her race, she looked over at me several times and asked, "Mom, am I winning?"  Of course you are, baby.  Why?  Because she's three and she's persevering and she's completing a marathon.

Speed doesn't matter.  Piper's good friend, Nora, ran the race, also.  At the beginning, Piper was excited about running with her and tried to keep up for a quarter mile or so.  However, it quickly became evident that Nora is a faster runner than Piper.  Piper let her run ahead and quit worrying about whatever Nora was doing to focus on her own run.  Novel idea.  

One of the goals of running is to still like running at the end of a race.  Sometimes I train so hard that I burn myself out.  Piper ran because she thought it was fun.  If at any point it stopped being fun for her, I would have let her stop.  I don't often give myself this grace, though, and maybe I should.

Walking during a run or missing a training run entirely is not the end of the world.  There were some days in the past few weeks when I had planned to run with Piper, but we decided to take the night off due to weather, a long day, or not feeling 100%.  Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.  Also, sometimes while we were out in the neighborhood, Piper's legs would get tired...or she would spot a dandelion that she just had to pick, and we would walk for a minute or two.  Again, Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.

Running solo is great, but running with people is, too.  Some of my favorite runs in the past few weeks have been the ones that I did with my daughter.  She's in preschool, so it's not like we were having deep conversations, but our runs gave me an opportunity to encourage her and to hear about her day.  Sometimes I love the idea of clearing my mind so much during a run that I isolate myself from running with people, which causes me to miss out on some really uplifting community.

"Exercise is not a punishment for what your body is, but a celebration of what it can do."  I heard this quote within the last week, and I wish I could remember where.  Isn't is amazing to have legs that obey your mind?  When you really step back for a second and think about how much blood your heart has to pump and how many times your lungs have to breathe in order to move even a few feet, aren't you stunned?  Watching my daughter complete this marathon as a three-year-old with short legs reminded me that the body can do truly incredible things.  I don't have a "perfect" body, but God has given me the ability to use it in a variety of awesome ways.  I should celebrate that instead of beating myself up over the insignificant imperfections I see in the mirror.

Piper is already talking about running the kids' marathon again next year, and about recruiting some of her friends to participate with her.  I hope she does, and I hope they do, because so many people would benefit from a three-year-old marathoner's mindset.  Thank you, sweet girl, for letting me be one of them.