A tee-shirt proclaiming that, "our sport is your sport's punishment" is about as snarky as runners are likely to be. There's not a lot of trash talking within our ranks. Because the other participants aren't the enemy. We talk about competitions but not competitors. Runners are brothers in arms. In football, gladiators smack into one another; somebody wins, somebody else is at risk for traumatic brain injury. For runners, it's the course--one lap of the track or one hundred miles over the snow capped peaks--that is the opposition. Distance treats everyone the same. By chewing you up and spitting you out, but indiscriminately. The inevitability of death and taxes has nothing on an ultra course. It's the same 89 degrees for everyone. Perhaps, as a result, longer events have even more camaraderie than shorter treks. More opportunities to be dismantled. But no reason to be snippy about it. The mountain isn't listening.
Our group of masters* athletes has evolved to be even more sympathetic and supportive than the average bear. After 38 years together, some paradigms have emerged. On the long run, nobody asks, "How you doing?" or "You okay?" We treat each other as adults. We don't condescend. If somebody needs to stop and walk, they will stop and walk. If you are such an extraordinary athlete that you never need to take a break, then you're not training with us. That's okay. "Have fun storming the castle." Stated more concisely, "If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together."
In our group, whoever stops running is the same person who starts up again. No discussion in necessary. We are slogging through the humid swamp for conversation, companionship and health. If one person needs to take a break, we all take a break. None of us is an Olympic hopeful. Getting to the bagel place a few minutes later isn't going to change anyone's life.
Nor do we tell each other, "you're almost there!" or "only three miles to go!" Everyone has a watch with more computational power than the Apollo 11 crew had when they trotted around the Sea of Tranquility in 1969. We know where we are. We know how far we have to go.
Long time readers will hardly be surprised that there is an analogy coming. Raising healthy children in this unhealthy world is a marathon, not a sprint. To raise healthy children, parents have to bring their best game every day. It's more than sports platitudes. There are choices.
- What kind of parent are you? Are you the dad who is constantly yelling vacuous encouragement to the point where your kid hears only, "Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah"? Don't be the dad who cries "you can do it!" Because showing support is one thing. But being stupid is another. It may not be the case that your child can indeed do it. The fact is, that unless your child is a member of the 1927 New York Yankees, your child is going to have as many Ls as Ws. Loving your kid for who she is rather than for her finishing time is what's for dinner. You know the expression, "you can't win 'em all"? Neither can she.
- We are a social species. We thrive on narrative. Share stories with your kids. The Iliad has some good tales. So does the marathon in Miami a dozen years ago when one of my running buddies--a brilliant engineer by profession--was so compromised at Mile 24 as to be unable to do simple arithmetic. Communicate to your kids that it's okay to be stupid.
- If you are fortunate enough to be able to train with your kids, there is only one place to be. Run one half step behind. Let your kids determine the pace. What a great way to communicate trust. Your kids will find their proper training speed. The right time so discuss velocity is never. Let the kids find their proper timing.
- Whatever you do, acknowledge, embrace, and articulate that you and your kids are on the same team. You are not here to punish but to instruct; you are here to guide rather than insist. The path may seem tedious and familiar but the reality is that you pass this way only once. Teamwork is the paradigm: parents and kids against the ultramarathon course. The trek through the swamp or over the mountains may have soul-denying heat or freezing wind. But you have your connection with your kids. I know where I'm placing my bet.
- To the extent that you are able, enjoy the journey. Yes, the temperature and the humidity are unbearable. But if you look beyond the cracking and popping sounds coming from your knees, it truly is a beautifully scenic path. You and your kids are running together--metaphorically and literally. What could be more delightful?
* The masters group begins on a runner's 40th birthday, an event many of us remember from a quarter century ago.