This past Saturday my daughter Grace ran her first 5k. It was all the better for me because I got to be a part of it. It’s not unusual for a parent to be enthusiastic about their children’s achievements, whether they be in school or on a field or court, or on the grassy confines of a neighborhood park. I’m full on chest-bump proud of my girl.
Grace’s run is especially touching for me because as my youngest daughter at 10, Grace has been the last: The last kid her mom and I had. The last one to walk. The last to talk. To enter school and to have the same teachers her older sisters had. The last to wear certain clothing or shoes her si￼sters wore. The last to get her ears pierced. And now the last to run a 5k with her dad.
In fact, Grace’s life has been full of hand-me-downs.
She has been on me to run with her since I came home with Claire and Paige, her two older sisters, from their first race several years ago.
“You promised me, dad,” Grace begged. “When are we going to run a race together?”
Taking her out on a warmish Saturday to run 3.1 miles for the first time was the equivalent of keeping a promise.
My girls know the hold running has had on me forever. I ran the mornings each of them was born. They have been aware “dad runs” for as long as they have been alive. So to have my kids embrace my endeavor fills me with guilty pride. I hoped it would become theirs too, but I am a reluctant proponent because I want them to choose on their own not because I push them.
The night before our run, Grace was giggly and concerned about her race outfit, laying out her running top, shorts, socks and shoes the night before. “Dad, is this okay?” she asked, pointing to the carefully laid out clothing on the floor of her bedroom. “That looks fine, Grace. You are all matched up,” I said. Even her socks were coordinated.
On race morning she was too nervous to eat anything. In the car on the way she asked, “Are you nervous Dad?”
I’ve been running long enough that I could do 5k on no sleep, no training, a full stomach and in combat boots but I was aware that for a 10-year-old who’d never jogged more than a mile, 3.1 sounded like a marathon.
“No, Grace, we are just going to have fun. Don’t worry about anything,” I said. “I will be with you the entire way.” “Ok,” she said. T
hen, a few minutes later she said, “Dad?”
“Are there going to be a lot of people there?”
“I don’t want to be last,” she said, concerned.
“WE won’t be last, Grace. I promise.”
As we turned into the parking lot, I worried if I could keep my promise and how she would handle actually being last if it came to pass. I wondered if I was placing unreasonable pressure on both of us by promising we wouldn’t be the ones kicked off the course because we were too slow. I remembered conversations like this with my Dad when I was a little older than Grace. My dad and I never ran together but one weekend when I was about 13 we went to the local drug store (shows you how old I am) and bought two wood tennis rackets and a couple cans of balls. We played for a couple hours that Saturday and many days after that. It was the start of a tennis career for me that spanned into my 30s. And whether my dad played with me or just watched me play in tournaments from the sidelines, it mattered.
I didn’t care how fast Grace and I ran and I don’t think it actually mattered to Grace either. It was one of those watershed moments for both of us wrapped in a father and daughter sharing an experience. One that I hoped would stay with her fondly forever.
The run was a small, free, timed 5k called parkrun held at Bicentennial Park in Livonia. I am on the board of parkrun usa so showing up with my family was important to me. It was a decidedly low-key event for her first 5k. There were no bibs to pin on, no “elites” nervously jogging warm-ups, and no megaphone-blaring race director calling out instructions. A cadre of runners gathered briefly at the start. Grace and I got in near the front as I was worried that starting in the back would mean we finished in the back.
We just started running.
Four girls who looked to be in their early teens took off ahead of us and in no time Grace and I were jogging along alone, stuck between the front runners and the “pack.” I alternated between joking around with Grace and checking in to see how she was doing. To my surprise she was really cruising, honing in on a pace that it appeared she could stick with. I watched her run and smiled. Grace is strong and muscular. She doesn’t have the gangly cross country runner physique like the four teen-age girls who ran ahead of us. She looks more like gymnast or a sprinter than a waif-like runner. Today she was as graceful as any runner I’ve ever seen.
Somewhere mid-race, the pack of four girls started breaking up, with two of them falling back and then looking at us and suddenly sprinting ahead. Eventually Grace and I picked off one, then two then a third girl as the effort of sprinting wore them out. I said something stupid to Grace about a tortoise and a hare.
At about two miles we caught the fourth girl and I patted Grace on t￼he back. Her cheeks were just starting to flush as the air, which earlier had just tasted hot and sticky, began to blow full-furnace. To her credit, Grace kept her pace. It wasn’t until about half a mile from the finish that she had to walk. It took some coaxing to get her running again, but Grace humored me and picked it up. She beat me out at the wire and we finished well ahead of more experienced runners.
As we both chugged water from our bottles Grace smiled at me. “How’d I do, dad?”
“You were awesome Grace,” I said. I’m not one to overplay my feelings when my girls do something that matters to me. I had to contain my enthusiasm for her effort. This day was a perfect introduction to what I hope will be a string of races she and I run together. And I can be included a bit longer in my little hand-me-down girl’s life.
“Can we go get a bagel now?”
“Yes, Grace, let’s go get a bagel.”