My fifteen year-old son, C, and I completed our first 10k run two weekends ago; just us and about 14,000 other dashing Canadians. With a time of 55 minutes, I felt exhilarated and proud as I ran across the finish line despite the fact that the ribbon was long shredded. I am grateful to be in good enough shape to have completed the course and thankful that my teenage kid inspired me to revisit an activity that makes me feel powerful and free.
I loved sprinting as a child. It was the only athletic discipline at which I was any good. When I ran, the wind in my ears made me feel mighty, as if I was creating the weather. My speed provided the illusion that I could always race away from trouble.
I stopped running as a teenager. Teenagers lope and swagger; running is decidedly uncool. An adolescent must never appear to be in a hurry even if exiting a burning building.
In my early thirties, I began jogging because physical fitness was gaining in popularity. I hoped it was just a passing fad, but in the meantime, I thought I might benefit from some exercise. I was an unapologetic smoker and after jogging for 45 minutes every day, I lit up a cigarette while doing leg stretches, daring snarky comments from passers-by. At thirty-two, I was regrettably still too immature to realize that having a body able to meet physical challenges was worthy of both joy and care.
Fast forward two decades and I have evolved in to a clean-living woman except for the wine (which is really part of every healthy mother’s nutritional manifesto). I quit smoking sixteen years ago; I began eating organic broccoli sprouts and working out daily. I didn’t run, though. Not really. Thirty minute stints on the treadmill left me underwhelmed. Running nowhere quickly is possibly one of the most uninspiring activities humans have ever embraced. I tried sprinting for a couple of minutes during outdoor power-walks, but once I hurt my knee and could only limp for six weeks. After that fiasco, I decided that if I wanted speed there was a plethora of motorized vehicles from which to choose.
Until this past March break.
My family traveled to Siesta Key, Florida for a week and on our first morning, I announced that I was going for a walk on the beach. C told me he was going for a run on the street. Energized by the sunny sky and fresh, citrusy air, I asked if I could go with him. C jumped on the idea even when I warned him that I might not be able to keep up. We ran three kilometres that morning, all in a row! While this was no great feat for a seasoned runner, to me it was like climbing Olympus. Not only was I moving fast, I was doing it with my son. We talked the whole way; C spoke of personal concerns, we discussed running. I realized that I had found a fresh activity to enjoy with my son. I did not care if I broke my knees though I was mindful of their protestations. It was too important to cultivate this new connection to one of the most important people in my life.
Back in Toronto, I casually suggested that we continue running and C agreed although he preferred side streets; he didn’t want anyone he knew to see him jogging with his mom. It makes me smile to know that my kid is embarrassed about the exact thing that makes me proud. I predict our perceptions will merge, some day. A friend told me about the Sporting Life 10k Run in support of Camp Oochigeas, a summer camp for kids fighting cancer, and when I asked C if he wanted to do it with me I received an emphatic “sure”.
The morning of the run dawned cloudy and cold, a disquieting climate. The previous night, I had an anxiety dream in which we couldn’t find the starting gate. C dreamt that our house was infested with cow-sized cockroaches. In reality, there were no stalking insects and the event was so well organized, it was impossible to become lost. Our biggest concern was to avoid tripping over others, but as the run progressed, people spread out and manoeuvring became easier. Friendly, Canadian spectators yelled encouragement, though we wanted to annihilate the guy at the three block mark who called out, “Great job! You’re almost there!”
As we ran, I talked and C coughed – his spring allergies acting up. I pointed out that this was one of the only times in our lives when we could run through red lights in front of police officers and not be fined. Also, at the drink stations along the route, littering was legal, even expected, runners downing Gatorade and water before tossing their paper cups to the ground. For almost one hour, we were unpunished law-breakers and I felt a frisson of pleasure.
By the eighth kilometre, my running partner became ornery; his allergies causing so much distress that he had trouble breathing and felt sick. C scowled at me when I offered a tissue and when I mentioned stopping, he tore my head off. Apparently, thankfully, my kid is no quitter. While I appreciated his perseverance and sympathized with his discomfort, the cantankerous rejoinders sucked the air out of my run. I stopped talking and concentrated on the finish line. Soon, I was there.
One minute later, C came through and found me waiting for him on the sidelines. He asked me for a Kleenex. “I’m sorry I yelled, Mom”, he said. “I just couldn’t breathe and it pissed me off.”
Not being able to breathe is annoying, I agreed and C smiled. We medium-fived each other and immediately made a pact to run together, faster, next year. Despite grass allergies and sore knee joints, we have found our secret handshake.