Running On

Okay, so I had a little come apart in the Miami marathon in February. Stuff happens. And maybe I should have known better. In retrospect, I guess the clues were fairly abundant. The pasty-looking guy sprawled on the asphalt at Mile 11 might have said something had he not been surrounded by paramedics. Had he been able to speak, perhaps he would have mentioned that 87° and high humidity are not optimum conditions for hurling oneself into the void that is 26.2 miles. There was a rumor that 5000 of the people who had signed up for the "fool" marathon did come to appreciate that discretion is the better part of valor and walked--or perhaps, limped--off the course at the half.

Still and all, the professional staff in the medical tent could not have been nicer or more competent. Six bags of ice, one physical therapist on each leg, a bit of psychotic screaming, and one IV glucose bag later, I was up and about, limping toward my loving wife, a hot shower, and a handful of Advil. Apparently, "Barack Obama" was the correct answer to the doctor's inquiry regarding my cognitive capability because I was allowed to leave without being subsequently scheduled for a complete psych eval.

Maybe people weren't meant to run that far comfortably. I don't know. I do know that I can contrast my finishing time of "minor medical emergency" in Miami with The Marathon of the Potomac two weeks ago in which, at mile eight, the following events occurred almost simultaneously:

1) I met a new Best Friend Forever with whom I shared racing stories and life stories over the course of several hours, both of us knowing that we would likely never see or speak to one another again. Melissa has two children--a nine and a three year old--and works for the National Park Service, a lovely person running her fourth marathon.

2) I felt like I could keep running indefinitely. The weather in Northern Virginia was ideal and idyllic, low 50s with a light breeze coming off the river and a shaded course with no traffic. I felt like I had found my "forever pace" and that, as the mellifluous phrase implies, I could run without stopping until the ends of the earth. It is hard to exaggerate or even describe what it is like, at 57 years of age, to feel like you can put your body on cruise control and run for days on end.

Which is not to say that I was unhappy upon reaching the end of the event.

Some people like to go camping with their kids because, after a week on the bumpy ground in the heat, clean sheets and air conditioning are intensely appreciated. The contrast between the experiences heightens the appreciation. Or as Shakespeare put it, “If all the year were playing holidays; To sport would be as tedious as to work.”

Both running and camping are reasons why--in case there was any possible doubt--that a birthday party for a six-year-old that includes multiple bounce houses, a train, pony rides, costumed characters performing "Evita", a photo booth, a limo, Margaritas, a pastry chef, and a Keno table are desperately contraindicated. What will the unfortunate child have to look forward to in the future? What can she hope to earn, accomplish, or appreciate if she has been bludgeoned with every conceivable luxury since she started elementary school?

On a recent visit to a residential treatment center, I noticed a half pipe, basketball court, and swimming pool; a music studio with full drum set, guitars, and a professional quality mixing board; and kids creating smoothies with fresh fruit. Students who are making progress in the program were discussing upcoming hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking trips. Students who were not making progress mentioned that in treatment "there is nothing to do here."

None of which is to suggest that loving parents should ignore the needs of children, only that what is meaningful is more likely to be earned rather than given. Hiking a few hours up a rocky trail to a 200-foot waterfall affords a better view then being driven to the same spot. Heck, I could have driven the marathon course but then I wouldn't have met Missy.

Attending to our children's every need while overlooking their wants remains a good plan. Allowing our kids to look forward to achieving and accomplishing on their own is another. Ignoring your own needs--impressing your friends with an over-the-top birthday celebration for a little one, for example--might be the most important gift of all.

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