Some months ago, I went along to a 10K race and fun day that a friend was organising. I wasn’t running but my husband was away for the weekend, and I thought the kids would enjoy it and I would get to hang out with my running buddies (because three or fours times a week clearly isn’t enough already…). As well as the 10K, there was a kids’ race of about 3K. My seven-year-old daughter, Evie, who has always been very keen to run with me, asked if she could do it and, despite the fact that she was wearing a dress and boots, she was insistent, as only she can be. It was three laps around a field and they got a medal and a lolly at the end.
Evie did one lap, got to me, burst into tears and stopped. She’d done that typical kids thing of going flat out and thinking she would be able to keep that up for the whole way, getting tired and giving up. After consoling her, and my friend giving her a medal and a lolly anyway, I wondered how this would shape her future relationship with running.
I didn’t want this one negative experience to get stuck in her mind and put her off forever. She’d already had a bad experience at sports day last year when her shoe broke in the middle of a skipping race and she ended up coming last. She still talks about this, despite a far more positive sports day this year.
But to her credit, and my surprise, she continued to show a keen interest in running with me after this. When my running club does a takeover of parkrun she loves coming along to help out (although I think this may be more to do with the prevalence of cake than an overwhelming love of token sorting) and she really, really wants to be a runner “like you Mummy”.
She even wanted to do a parkrun, which I had promised her that we would start training for, after I did my first marathon in April. I got home that night to a note saying, “Can we do a parkrun now?”
Recently Evie and I had been going through something of a trying time in our relationship. I love that little girl (and my little boy who is three) with a ferocity that scares me sometimes; I would lay down my life for my kids. But Evie was going through a phase of really testing the old parental boundaries.
She NEVER EVER stops talking, and doesn’t listen, absolutely will not take no for an answer EVER, and always has a better idea. To be honest, part of the problem is that she is very much like her mother: persistent and kind of annoying. I start to lose the plot halfway through telling her to do something because I KNOW she’s not listening. And they have absolutely no boundaries. I can’t remember the last time I had a wee in peace without someone yelling at me for something.
I seem to spend huge amounts of my day shouting, “STOP YELLING FROM THE OTHER ROOM” from other rooms. It’s at times like this when all I can do is go into the kitchen, shut the door and scream obscenities out of earshot for a while. Or go for a run…
So I wasn’t exactly confident that Evie would be receptive to my running instruction. However, she really DID persist with the parkrun thing which, of course, is hugely flattering because it’s partly about her wanting to be like me, and wanting to spend more time with me. She craves ‘mummy time’ and I love that. So I decided that, if she was going to run with me, I would do it properly.
I spoke to Tony, my friend and coach, about how to introduce her to running in a positive way and consulted the collective wisdom of Run Mummy Run. I decided that I would just go out one weekend morning with her and follow HER lead, but with the view to following a run-walk strategy, similar to that of a couch-to-5K plan. So I set my watch for two-minute efforts with a one- minute walk break in between.
She was completely AMAZING. She easily did it. When she got a bit tired, we walked a bit more, but for the final effort she ran for five minutes. And you know what, she did 1.6 miles! But more than anything, we had such fun. We really talked and I really listened – something I realised I’m guilty of not doing with her sometimes…
What we talked about wasn’t exactly on the deep and meaningful scale – she talked me through the entire plot of an episode of Teen Titans as we walked back up the hill after the run, and we discussed what instruments my mum and her friends would play if they were in an ‘old lady rock band’ (the band would be called Sylvie and the Three-Legged Wingnuts by the way).
We talked about the waffles that a friend used to make us to eat on holiday in Wales when I was a kid, and how to make them. But, most importantly, I just let her lead the conversation and we really bonded.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me really that this was such a bonding experience. I think it’s why my running friends are some of my closest friends because, as runners who run in groups will know, there’s something about being outside pounding the pavements that bonds you with people in a really special way. But I hadn’t ever considered applying it to my own daughter. And I couldn’t be prouder of her, or the fact that she now wants to be just like Mummy and run marathons – the plural is flattering, too. I’m currently training for my second, but she totally believes in me, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
Due to my training schedule it was a couple of weeks before we got out again, but on our second outing we did two whole miles! There was a little bit more moaning, and a bit more cajoling on my part, but she did really well. The overall pace was faster than our previous jaunt as well, even though we weren’t taking it too seriously and were having a lot of fun limboing under tree branches (when a seven-year-old yells, “LIMBOOOOOOOOOOOO”, there’s no fighting it. You HAVE to limbo).
Not only am I now spending more time with my wonderful girl, but it’s reminded me that running is fun – something I often forget, particularly at this period in my marathon training. I’m so focused on getting those miles under my belt that sometimes I can forget why I’m doing it.
If she decides she doesn’t want to do it anymore, or doesn’t want to do a parkrun after all, I’m going to have to respect that. I don’t ever want to force her into running; I want exercise to be something that she chooses to do because she wants to.
At a running club party recently I proudly told some friends how Evie had gone from giving up almost instantly to run/walking two miles. We ended up talking about what an important lesson this is for her in showing her the importance of putting in hard work in order to gain results. And I think it’s really hammered that point home for me, too.
So as I go into the taper period this time, I’m feeling so much better about it than I did the first time, because I KNOW I’ve done the training and, barring injury or illness or some unforeseen meteor strike or something, I should do OK. And my little girl will be on the finish line waiting to see Mummy finish her second marathon, which will be almost as good as the medal. Because I do so love the bling.
Words: Emma Brunel Smith