Learning How to Run

I set out to write a Father’s Day post about how I get my kids to run with me, how we head out to the trails and how I impart my endless wisdom through tough lessons learned through struggle, overcoming obstacles, and sometimes even pushing through limits. I had a list of How to Get Your Kids to Love Running in Ten Easy Steps. Those lists are bullshit.

Relationships are complicated. I don’t know how to get my kids to love running as much as I do, just as I don’t know how to get them to love the taste of pickled garlic as much as I do. Sometimes I’ll play them a song that I love. We usually blast some music after dinner, and you know how you have a history with a song, maybe it was the one you played when you drove home from your first real love’s house at 1 AM, heart ready to burst, and lips sore from making out for hours, and the windows rolled down because you wanted everyone to hear how much this song meant to you. You play that song now and all those emotions come back, and at the end of the song you want the people that you are playing it for to share those feelings, that excitement and thrill of young love, and then they look at you and say something like, it was nice, but the lyrics were kind of stupid, I mean did she really just say “I want to hold the hand inside you?”

Running has woven itself through my life, it connects me to my wife, to friends who have helped through some tough emotional times, and it has helped me drop a couple bad habits. My kids don’t run often. I don’t force it on them. They all have their current passions. My youngest is a soccer player and at this point she is probably logging more miles on the pitch than I am on the trails. I love to watch her play. She is small, but she is relentless, and she gets pushed around a lot by bigger girls, but she never ever gives up. I love watching the fight in her.

She just got a pair of light blue shoes from New Balance. Her favorite color. We run an aid station at the San Diego 100 Mile Race, and my kids come and help every year. Our aid station is at mile 43 of the race, after the toughest climb during the hottest part of the day. This year was especially hot, and people came into our aid station looking like they had experienced every level of hell. My youngest was in charge of the ice baths and as the runners stumbled in, heat-drunk, she offered to sponge down their heads and necks with ice water, and she soaked their hats and bandanas into the ice bath. She was tired and muddy after eight hours of being on ice bath duty. Her hands were bright red, and her new baby blue shoes were now brown, and even after a few washes, they are more a lighter shade of brown than blue. I think she likes them that way.

I can’t wait to get new running shoes dirty. The dirt tells stories, and there is nothing as boring, yet full of promise as a new shoe. The stories aren’t all good. There are plenty of bland, boring stories, dirt from the same trail run over and over, the layers stacking on top of each other. But someday, your shoe may be wet and cold after a stream crossing in the French Alps and those stories wash away the layers of local dust.

My son is always moving. I ran a 5K with him last year, and he spent as much time off the route exploring boulders that made perfect launching pads, just the right height to do a 360, than he spent on the trail. People would pass us, kids his age, and I looked for that competitive spirit in him, the feeling that I have, that competitive drive that will not let that person pass me, or that pushes me to catch that guy in front of me with all the expensive gear. I have to do it. My son doesn’t give a shit. Which is good.

His current passion is skateboarding. If you’ve ever spent some time at a skatepark, and if you can filter out the language and the occasional scent of weed in the air, you will see a bunch of kids and adults rooting for each other, supporting each other, looking out for each other, and teaching each other. There is a bond between skateboarders. It’s an outsider sport with a high degree of risk and skill. They fall a lot. They pretend to not be hurt a lot, and they bleed a lot. There is a bond of shared pain, and also knowing how many times it takes to practice a trick before you land it. There isn’t a lot of cheering, but the looks speak volumes, the head nod acknowledging how hard that last one was, or banging the board against the wood a couple times when they are really impressed. My son has been practicing a kickflip for months. He goes through a pair of shoes nearly every month, always worn out in the same spot, the top of the front left shoe right above the pinky toe. That part drags over the velcro and spins the board as the back foot pushes down and launches the tail into the air.

After the last mass shooting, my son and I took our dog for a walk. I felt the darkness around me and I knew that if I turned on the TV or went on social media, I would be crushed by the hatred and speculation and blame and sadness. We got back from our walk and I couldn’t go inside. I asked him if he wanted to play catch, and he grabbed our gloves and we threw the ball back and forth, not saying much, just listening to that perfect sound, the repetitive snap of the ball hitting that spot in the back of the glove. On that day, being outside and together, that was enough.

If relationships are complicated, a father’s relationship with his teen daughter is complicated like walking through a minefield while blindfolded and being chased by a pack of wilds dogs. I have learned that there are things that you just can’t say, and I have also learned that I have no idea what those things are.

I recently read an article about the two types of fun, type one fun and type two fun. Type one fun is intrinsically fun. You are actually having fun when doing the activity. Type two fun is a struggle, it’s painful, and the fun usually comes after the experience when you reminisce with your friends about how you made it through, how you suffered together, and what a great feeling it was to accomplish whatever it was you set out to do. It’s easy dealing with kids when they are young. They are full of love and adventure, and they look up to you and they run to give you a hug when you pick them up from school. Some relationships are more difficult. I’m lucky, my relationship with my daughter is good, but it’s changing from that type one daddy’s little girl relationship. She makes me laugh, she gives me a kiss good morning and she smiles when I drop her off at school, quickly glancing around to make sure nobody is watching before giving me a kiss on the cheek and telling me she loves me. It’s more of a struggle. I get more emotional with her, choking up at the smallest things, like watching her play her clarinet or trombone in her school’s jazz ensemble, or symphony. Hell, I have to hold back tears when I hear her practicing scales in her bedroom.

I love watching her run. She hates to run, or at least that’s what she tells me. It’s my thing, running, but she loves the feeling after she runs. She is her happiest when I pick her up from track. With that post-workout endorphin rush, she is like so many other runners that deal with the pain and suffering just for the feeling they get after they finish, the type two fun. It’s different for me, I love the feel of running, I love the people I run with, and I love the stillness that comes on those rare occasions where everything just flows. But there are days when it sucks. Days when I have pushed too hard and ended up dehydrated, laying on a random road in the mountains while my friend hitchhikes to our car miles away, and drives back to pick me up. Those are the most memorable runs, the runs I never tire of talking about, and the runs that transform a post-run mediocre hamburger and draft beer to the level of Michelin-starred excellence.

New Balance sent shoes to me and my kids, and asked me to try them out. My initial goal was to get the three of them together in their bright new shoes, and hit the trails for a family run, taking pictures along the way, stopping on the hill above my house to enjoy the sun as it dipped into the ocean. I wanted to get it done before Father’s Day. This weekend is Father’s Day and my youngest daughter has soccer practice, my oldest daughter has a Senior Recital (where I’m sure I’ll cry), and my son would rather attempt his 6,834th kickflip. The idyllic family run is not going to happen this weekend, but the shoes are well used. My youngest daughter’s shoes are brown from the mud of the SD 100 trails and the soles are worn from playing soccer in the streets before school, my son has already started wearing a hole in the top of his, and my daughter will wear hers out through the painful heat of summer cross country practice, hating the running, but loving how it makes her feel after, and how it changes her.

Running continues to weave itself through our family, unstructured with that sweet mix of elation and agony, like that old song that I keep playing for my kids until they discover their own.

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