“I don’t want to go.” Taylor told me. It was early Saturday morning and she was pouting at the kitchen table about the Girls on the Run 5K she was scheduled to run that afternoon in Lincoln, a venue roughly an hour from our house.
“You signed up, see it through.” I told her simply. “You’ve been training all year and all your friends will be there.”
She dropped her head and sighed loudly. I knew that she wasn’t excited for the race or the circumstances. Further deepening her disinterest was that I wouldn’t be in attendance, I’d be coaching her sister’s soccer game instead. “I’m sorry I won’t be there.” I told her sincerely. She answered with silence. It broke my heart I wouldn’t see her cross that finish line. Her ride showed up and I kissed her goodbye and wished her luck.
Shortly after the event started, I got a text from my mom who was on-hand for the event . She told me that Taylor was nervous and running with a girl from her class who was known to be fast and who wanted to break her time from the previous year. Taylor wasn’t sure she could keep up. Payton, her running buddy, was fast. Her pace would be around 8 min/mile, an impressive time for a ten-year-old girl. While not categorically lazy, Taylor had not quite embraced road running completely. Like most ten-year-olds, she bored easily and even a short three miles represented to her an empty 30 minutes of doing practically nothing, except for being short of breath. Needless to say, she was less than enthusiastic at the start line.
When the race began, she shot out ahead of the pack with her friend at a rapid pace, too rapid, and by mile one her friend had moved ahead of her and left her to the daunting task of finishing the final 2.1 on her own. My mom sent me a picture of her passing by her at mile one. The picture of her is a startling one. Eyes teary and overwhelmed, she was struggling immensely. My mom was worried how she would manage the rest of the race. I could do nothing but wait it out. This wasn’t my race to run she was on her own.
Unknown to me at the time, it was at this point, when that picture was taken that she made a choice. She assessed the situation. The majority of her friends lay behind her and her start partner, Payton, was uncatchable. I was once told by a marathoner that in tough moments of a race when you want to slow down, you need to speed up first and not give into the urge, rather defy it entirely. I had shared that with Taylor the night before as I tucked her into bed. Later, she would tell me that those words would echo in her ears as she forged ahead. Instead of slowing up but without going into an unmanageable sprint, Taylor pushed forward alone and she pushed hard. With no one by her side, she crossed the finish line at a fast clip destroying her previous 5K time by over 7 minutes.
When she finished, out of breath and red in the face, she was angry and she was emotional. It was the fastest 3.1 miles she’d ever run and the gravity of what she’d just experienced physically overwhelmed her. She wanted to be alone to process. Twenty minutes later she emerged (with a banana in her belly) and when given her time, the realization of what she had done began to sink in and the scowl she held was replaced by a small, quiet, smile. Seven minute PR. Her first PR. More than two minutes a mile faster than her last attempt.
By the time she arrived home to me, she was happy, bubbly, and proud. She wanted to tell me the whole story. We sat at the kitchen table and wrote out the date and her first PR time across the top. I held her hand as she told me about the race, a lifetime she had lived in the microcosm of 30 minute race.
I asked her about mile one, the picture of her face – so terrified, so unhappy and what she was thinking about. She was quiet, reflective, and thought for a moment before responding. “I knew,” she started, “that stopping would feel worse than my legs burning or being out of breath.” She raised her eyes to meet mine and finished, “Part of me wanted to quit, but a bigger part of me knew better. I just wasn’t ready to give up.”
Her next 5K is July 8th. My birthday, actually. We’re running this one together.