Trotting Turkeys

This is *not* what I looked like

Last week, I volunteered at my daughter’s elementary school turkey trot. All of the 400-plus students in her school participated, from Kindergarten to fifth grade. The fourth and fifth grades were expected to run a full mile, which meant they had to make four long laps around the baseball fields behind their school. Third grade ran three laps, second and first grades ran two, and the kindergarteners only had to run one.  The girls ran first, and then the boys.

I was stationed way out at the third corner of the makeshift track. My job was to motivate the students and to keep them from cheating by cutting across the baseball field backstop.

I was away from the main action, with the starting line not even within shouting distance. I wasn’t recording time or congratulating the kids as they passed the finish line. But even though I wasn’t in the thick of things, I was in the perfect position to observe. And as an observer, I noticed some interesting things.

First of all, 9- and 10-year-olds excel at making it absolutely clear when they do NOT want to do something. They thrive in situations that give them the power to do this passive-aggressively, and they (silently) rejoice when the planets align and they can passive-aggressively display their supreme disinterest while also managing to exert some level of control over the adults in their lives. And in an elementary school turkey trot, boy, do those planets align.

I called these kids the “walkers with attitude.” These were the kids who Were. Not. Running. It was enough that they condescended to stroll, slowly, and in groups. But run? Oh, no. Oh no, no, no.

Let me tell you, it is painful to stand in the corner of a field on a cold fall morning and watch a group of kids amble at a snail’s pace over a 1 mile course. Painful. After almost 20 minutes, when the slowest of the slow were still only on their second lap, I’d had enough. I started to run. I ran up to them as they approached me, and I made them run with me for about a 100 yard stretch. Then I would run up to the next group, and escort them. This strategy was actually more effective than you might expect, and I even got some smiles from kids as they approached me saying to their friends, “ok, we HAVE to run here.”

Still, there were a few who weren’t having it. And oh, the looks they gave me. I don’t envy our teachers.

Then there were the runners. These kids were impressive.  Where the other kids started off sprinting, they paced themselves. They ran consistently and intelligently and showed a level of discipline that I, who have always loved to run, didn’t understand until I was in high school. The most memorable of these students was a 5th grade girl who could teach much older, and much more experienced, runners a few things. She was so good that, out of all 6 grades, she was the only girl who had ALL the boys in her class cheering for her.

Which brings us to the helpers. The girls. The girls who danced and cheered for the boys who were running. The girls who slowed down so their friend with asthma didn’t have to walk alone. The girls who turned around when they were finished to walk with their friend with Down Syndrome, who needed someone to hold her hand.

These were the girls who brought out my feminist ambivalence. The girls who made me WANT to shout “You don’t HAVE to do this! That’s why I am
here! Run your own race! You can be fast and powerful! RUN!” But who, instead, made me feel proud and hopeful in the knowledge that the helpers of the future, the people who will keep our world together, are growing up to be exactly what we need the most.

If the walkers and the runners and the helpers are the groups who stood out the most to me, there were two individual students who I will remember above all: the smeller of roses and the cheetah.

The smeller of roses was a kindergartener who came in dead last. (Just after my own daughter, the talker, who took advantage of the situation to hold her teacher’s hand and chat. But that’s another story.) This little girl started off walking, and walked the whole way. She was totally unmoved by peer pressure. Unlike the older kids, she wasn’t walking to prove anything. She was walking because it was a nice afternoon and there were things to look at. Things like the pale pink bead she found and showed me after the race. While the other kids were taking advantage of some post-race playground time, this little girl was proudly telling me about the beautiful treasure she had found during her walk around the field.

And then there was my cheetah. My fourth-grade friend who came up to my post walking, with “attitude” written all over his face. But as he came closer, I noticed that despite the stony expression on his face, he was crying.

I asked him if I could run with him, but his response was a hard NO. No, he would not run. He hated the turkey trot. He always came in last. I tried telling him that of course he would come in last if he didn’t at least try to run. He wasn’t having it. The tears continued to stream down his face.

His anger and frustration and tears continued to his very last lap, when finally another mother and I walked with him, to encourage him to run at least the last 100 yards of the race. We tried to get him talking, to get him to focus on something positive rather than the negative feelings he was experiencing at that moment.  After a few minutes of denying interest in any topic whatsoever, he finally broke down. “I like The Wild Kratts. And I like cheetahs. When I run, I want to feel like a cheetah. But I don’t. I don’t feel like a cheetah. I’m too slow. So I don’t  run. I can’t run.”

So the other mom and I each took one of his hands, and instead of running like cheetahs, we ran like turkeys. And all three of us crossed the finish line running.

It Got Done By Me

Or, Stories From Before the Finish Line

My last post was my pre-race post, and now I’m returning from the other side of the finish line. I took on the Baltimore Half Marathon, and I won.

At least, that’s what I told my daughter who, when she saw my medal, said, “Mommy!!! You got a prize! Did you WIN?” So I said, “Well, sort of. Aren’t you proud of me for running so far? I ran a really, really long time, but I could do it because I worked super hard.” And then she said, “Well…I’m proud of you if you won, mommy.”

So of course, I said, “Heck yeah I won!” Finishing the race is winning the race, at least in my book.

This is how my race day went:

5:00 am – 10:04: OH MY GOD CAN WE JUST GET THIS THING STARTED ALREADY?!

10:05: CRAP, it’s actually starting!

10:06: I think I need to go to the bathroom.

Mile 2: I’m passing people! This is awesome! People are being passed by me! I am so FAST. If I were a Pony, I’d be Rainbow Dash. What I mean is, I basically have wings on my back.

Mile 3: I’m really concerned about this whole bathroom thing. What if I really have to go? What if I pee myself? What if I get trampled trying to cross to the side of the course where the porta-potties are?

Mile 4: Ha! Look at that sign! It says, “Smile if you peed a little!” That’s so funny! Wait — I was smiling but that doesn’t mean anything. IT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING!

Mile 4.5: I love Baltimore so much! Yeah, we may be running through streets I’d be kind of scared to walk through during the daytime, but where else does the homeless population come out to cheer on their city’s runners? You guys ROOOCK!

Mile 5: Oh, a hill. This isn’t so bad. I don’t know what people were talking about when they said there were some bad hills in this course.

Miles 5.5 – 7: OH GOD IN HEAVEN WHY? WHY DID YOU CREATE HILLS? IT’S BECAUSE YOU HATE ME, ISN’T IT? Admit it, the earth isn’t one continuous flat surface because YOU HATE ME!

Mile 7: Ok, that wasn’t so bad.

Mile 8: We’ve been running on a flat course for awhile now. It’s kind of boring. I like a little elevational variety in my runs. Variety is a good thing.

Mile 9: Seriously brain, did you just say you like “elevational variety.” I HATE you.

Mile 10: Am I still running? I think I may have just fallen asleep. Maybe I was in the zone? Can I go back? Things are starting to hurt.

Mile 11: I thought it was all supposed to be downhill after mile 7. This is NOT downhill.

Mile 11.5: Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running…

Mile 12: Oh look! A woman is handing out water! Or is it Gatorade? I don’t know what it is but I should definitely drink it… Wait a second, is this beer? It is! It’s Natty Boh! I love Baltimore. Oh wait… it’s BEER. I can’t drink beer. I have celiac disease…

Mile 12.5: If my intestines explode before the finish line because I just drank a cup of liquid gluten I am going to HURT somebody.

Mile 13: Where’s the finish like? Why can’t I see the finish line? Why are people WALKING this close to the end? Seriously people, I’m not stopping if I knock you down.

Mile 13.1: I DID IT. I ACTUALLY DID IT! THE WHOLE WORLD IS WONDERFUL! I LOVE LIFE! I LOVE HILLS! I LOVE EVERYTHING! Now give me some water and my medal before I collapse.

Me and my medal

Like my glowing green goddess shirt? I do!

T-23 Hours

It’s 10:00 am on Friday, October 11. By this time tomorrow, I will be 15 minutes into my first half-marathon race.

I have spent the last five months preparing for this event at the Baltimore Running Festival and now my training is officially over. I ran my practice 13.1 miles three weeks ago, and I did it with minimal suffering. Two weeks ago, I set a long-distance personal record in a 9.3 mile race, and then I did it again in my final training run.

I’ve spent the last few days stuffing myself with carbs and protein. I’m hydrated to the point where I have had to bring up the savant-like mental map of local public restrooms that I developed during my pregnancies. My iTunes playlist is almost complete.

I have my race bib, my energy drink coupons and freebies, and my all-important (neon green) race tee shirt.

And yesterday afternoon, I completed my final prerace workout, a gentle, core-stretching and -strengthening session of Pilates. Oddly enough, after 5 months of some pretty challenging runs, it was this last, non-running workout that served as the best reminder of my most necessary race-day accessory: a strong, focused mind.

Actually, I suppose this reminder really came courtesy of my children, who were both home and awake when I finally got a chance to squeeze the workout in.

While my five-year-old yelled questions down to me from her bedroom upstairs, my two-year-old was busy helping me get the most out of my exercising. She started by adding extra weight to my moves — she sat on my back while I was trying to plank and on my legs when I was trying to lift them. When that got boring, she sat on my head.

Then, she must have decided I wasn’t properly accessorized for my workout because she brought a cowgirl hat for my head and a necklace for my arm. After that, she turned her efforts to ensuring I was properly entertained, hauling a bag of board books over to me and dropping each one on my chest.

Finally, she asked for an apple, which bought me a few minutes of peaceful core crunching before she climbed out of her booster seat and came over to deposit some “gis-gusting” apple skin on my face.

Through all of this, I somehow managed to keep the important part of my  brain focused on my workout. I isolated muscles and maintained (mostly) proper form. Moreover, I successfully ignored the best efforts of a two-year-old to distract me from my purpose. Talk about the eye of the tiger — I was the eye of the hurricane. Or something like that.

This is why we moms are so good at endurance events. We’ve done pregnancy. We’ve done labor. We’ve done hours of pacing with colicky newborns. We’ve done endless playing with annoying musical toys. We’ve done Barney and Caillou. We can ignore the toddler human, which is possibly the most annoying force on the planet. If we can get through all that, we can fly through a couple of hours of running.

Race day is almost here, and I’m feeling good. My body is strong; my mind is stronger. I’ve got this.

The Philosophy of Running, Butterflies, and Coporophagia

I’ve spent the last few months training for the Baltimore Running Festival Half-Marathon (that’s 13.1 miles for the non-runners out there), and this past weekend I had my longest run yet – 11 miles. It was an important marker for me; I’ve been getting over an injury and my last few runs left me feeling like the walking dead the moment I crossed the 10-mile mark.

So this weekend’s run was a big one and it required as much mental energy as physical endurance to keep me going. I started off well, reveling in the outrageously beautiful weather and in the fact that I was alone. As in, all by myself. As in, WITH NO CHILDREN. It was kind of awesome.

But by mile 8, I was starting to hurt. I could feel the strain of the run in each and every individual muscle of my legs. My stomach was cramping. My eyelid started to twitch as I repeated to myself – “you can do 3 more miles… what’s 3 miles… nothing, that’s what it is… absolutely NOTHING…. OMIGOD 3 MILES IS FOREVER AND I’M GOING TO DIE.”

I had to dig deep, but I kept going and soon I was on one of my favorite paths, a gently-sloping downhill trail surrounded by woods. The sunlight peeked through the leaves of the trees, creating dapples of light and shadow on the ground around me. I lengthened my stride; my spirits soared.

It was then that I noticed a blue-winged butterfly keeping pace with me just over my shoulder. I watched as it fluttered past me and then landed on the ground a few steps in front of me. As I passed it, I slowed down to get a closer look and I saw that it was sipping the sweet nectar of… dog droppings. Seriously, the butterfly was feasting on a pile of crap.

I had never seen a butterfly do this before and I found myself wondering if I had just been graced by a visit with the Andrew Zimmern of the Lepidoptera world. But then, I kid you not, a small, white moth came by and joined the feast.

My mind was blown. I watched my blue-winged friend flit away to the grass next to the path, maybe for a nice post-meal nap, I don’t know, and then I took a few pictures with my phone to remember him by. Then I popped my earbuds back in, cranked up my ultimate power running song – Bohemian Rhapsody – and soldiered on through the rest of my run.

But when I got home, I had to do some research. And that’s how I learned all about butterflies and coprophagia. Apparently, while butterflies enjoy the nectar of flowers, they are unable to get the nutrients they need, for reproduction especially, from these sources alone. So, they eat poop (as well as rotting carcasses), which provide nitrogen, sodium, and other minerals.

Where am I going with this? I don’t really know. The optimist in me sees an uplifting message in the fact that the butterfly, which has long been a symbol of new life, of the resurrection, of the salvation of mankind, derives its sustenance from excrement and dead things. Albeit prosaic, there is a metaphor in here for the way we use – in fact, rely upon – the crappiness of life to grow.

The pragmatist in me says that, if you happen to be running, and you see a butterfly landing on the concrete in front of you, watch your step. Chances are, you are about to step in some wild creature’s toilet.

Naptime?

Watch your step!