It’s All Downhill

That humans live in clumps is not news. We are a social species. “Tribal” has a negative connotation, “community” a positive one. Guilds, artists collectives, professional organizations, alumni associations—all are aggregations of folks sharing a common interest or experience. Church picnics are about more than potato salad; effective development offices are about more than just raising money; food coops are not concerned only with bulk discounts on non-GMO carrots.

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My bunch of aficionados come together to plod through the swamp. Running is our ostensible purpose anyway. But can galumphing along truly be the primary attraction? Running is just so thoroughly unpleasant. Let’s face it. Running is mostly disagreeable. And it only gets worse from there. “Our sport is your sport’s punishment” looks impressive on a tee shirt. But clothing might be the only fun part.  Wouldn’t just putting a fork in my eye be more efficient? Faster? Less painful? Hobbes talked about life being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Hobbes didn't run ten miles with us in 89 degree South Florida with 90 percent humidity last Saturday. Had he done so, his view of existence wouldn’t have been so cheerily optimistic.

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So there must be something else going on. Our group can't have stuck together all these decades just because we weren't coordinated enough to learn the secret handshake for the Elk's Club. I think my running group is also about camaraderie. We’re getting together for a pot-luck this weekend. We have travelled to run marathons together in New Jersey, Utah, and California. We help one another professionally. We inspire one another to show up in the creaky pre-dawn darkness. We celebrate the milestones in the lives or our children. We attend the funerals of our loved ones. To date none of those funerals has happened as a direct consequence of running in this heat. ("You ran the Miami Marathon?" "What's the matter? Hell was booked?")

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But even more importantly than participating in milestones, we share intel. We tell each other the truth. Outside our group the following information is available: “The Saint George Marathon is all down hill. It’s a guaranteed Boston Qualifier. You will run your personal best. The weather is always perfect. There is enthusiastic crowd support every step of the way. The course is beautiful.” The reality is somewhat muted. Yes, the finish line is 2400-feet below the starting point up the mountain, but the course has some precipitous up hills as well. Mile Seven, for example, is straight up. The entire mile. Every blistering, mind numbing step. Up, up, and more up. Whereas Mile 19 is so steep going down that a runner’s quadriceps muscles can burst into flames. There are some “minor” uphill portions of the St. George Marathon the way the Gobi Desert has some "minor" sandy stretches.

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There is a disparity between the tourist brochure and the reality of the race. St. George is indeed a lovely course. It’s one of my favorite marathons. My running buddies love it too. But to show up in St. George believing “a gentle down hill” run awaits is to summon cataclysm. It would be easier to stick a fork in both eyes and a fork in each leg as well. It is desperately important to know what you’re getting into. Why would you train on hills if you didn’t think the course contained hills? Be sure to use the phrase “spitting up half a lung” in your answer. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Having the right information is critical.

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So why do we as parents frenetically and consistently prevaricate to our kids regarding almost every aspect of their development? If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again is good advice. With the notable exceptions of skydiving, “fall down seven times, get up eight” is reasonable counsel. The mistake parents make is skipping over the first half dozen failures. Suggesting that your child has been or should be born on third base can lead to problems.

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Telling a child that "this won’t hurt a bit” is a significant mistake.Because it will hurt. It will hurt a bunch. A stranger wearing a white coat is going to repeatedly jab metal into your tender five-year-old arm. Of course, it's going to hurt. Five-year-olds may not be able to read books but they sure can read emotions.

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“I’ll always be there for you” also sounds good, but is better left unsaid. Because you won’t necessarily and always is a long time. Bad things frequently happen to good people. There were 60,000 automotive deaths last year. You’re not ensconced in bubble wrap. Don't make promises you can't keep.

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Kids don’t require vacuous cliches and “dreams that can never come true.” What kids need to the contrary is reassurance and support. They need help in negotiating their reality almost as much as they require the truth. “We’ll do the best we can to figure this out together” is a better message. “Everything is going to be okay” just ain’t necessarily so. Sometimes you fail your driver’s test, lose the student council election, get picked last for softball. “Life is hard and then you die” may be a bit harsh, but “nothing is ever going to hurt” turns parents into liars. Kids have to believe their parents. Parents have to stand as authorities. Parents telling the truth--especially when the truth is unpleasant and unwelcome--allows parents to say, “I have never lied to you. Here’s the deal on reproductive biology; here are the facts about substance abuse and addiction; here’s what I know about sex and love.” Because I have never lied to you—even when lying to you would have been easy—you can believe me now. I told you the truth about little issues when you were little and I’m telling you the truth about big issues now.

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Pay me now or pay me later. Now is cheaper. “The truth shall set you free; but first it will make you miserable.” But there’s nothing wrong with a little misery—especially if we are prepared for some minor sorrow. Just ask anybody who has ever lined up for the St. George Marathon believing that the run was going to be a gentle down hill all the way.

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