The race is all he talked about for days. He would tell anyone who would listen that he was going to run in a kids' race. The night before the big day, we picked up our racing packets. As Jacob emptied his packet on the floor, I showed him the wonders of free promotional gear (deck of cards from the local casino, marketing pencils, and chip clips covered in business logos- kinda useless but hey....FREE!).
I also explained the intricacies of racing bibs. You have to crumple them up so that they are aerodynamic. A track/cross country superstition? Perhaps. But that's the rule in our house. (Plus, a crumpled up race bib looks so much more intense than one that looks like it came straight off the printing press).
Jacob was amazed at the racing bib. "Mom look! I'm No. 1!" All the kids' race bibs said No. 1, but I didn't feel the need to tell him that just then.
Ready to race! There is nothing more fun than bonding with your child over a shared love of your favorite activity.
The day of the race, I was up first for my four mile race. I had been very nervous the night before (waking up every two hours to check the clock) and all morning despite the fact that I repeatedly told myself that this was going to be just a "fun run." I wasn't going to try anything crazy. No pressure. I'd be happy if I just crossed the line at 32 minutes. Ha! Yeah right.
When the gun went off, I started off easy and right on pace. But then we came upon our first hill and people started to slow down. I felt so good. Maybe I'll go for it just a little bit? I chugged steadily up the hill passing people left and right. Little did I know, the hill steepened and continued for a full mile! But I kept my pace and kept picking people off. Halfway through the race, I could see the leaders up in front and I realized I was actually in the game! I killed it the last two miles and crossed the line at 29:40- a 7:25 minute mile pace! I later discovered that I had finished 8th out of 185 women. Not too bad for being 27 weeks pregnant (that's officially the third trimester)!
The race was called "Whale of a run." And as one of my FB friends pointed out, that was a very fitting name for me....ha!
After the 4 mile race, the kids' dashes were next. All the kids gathered together according to age group. When Jacob's heat was up, he stepped up to the white line with several other kids. Jacob's face looked stern. My only worry at that moment was, "I hope he's having fun." As it turns out, he just takes racing very seriously.
Racing is serious business.
The announcer yelled "go!" and the kids were off. I cheered and chanted. Such a proud mom. Then a girl with long flowing blond hair and a blindingly-bright pink shirt began weaving in and out of the crowd of kids. She bumped into several kids and sent them off course for a second or two. It all played out in slow motion. The girl darted right in front of Jacob. His foot caught on hers. They both stumbled. But the girl ran off and Jacob fell, knees first on the pavement.
My heart dropped instantly. He put his face on the road and curled up into a ball, clutching his knee. He made a sad and lonely figure on the now-empty course. I approached him and rubbed his back (I was holding Ryan so I couldn't pick him up). He looked up at me and all I saw was disappointment in his eyes.
I felt horrible for him. His excitement sunk. His dreams dashed. His knees scraped up. A week's worth of anticipation, completely destroyed. I was so angry at that little girl. I hate to admit it now, but in my mind I called her several horrible names and the thought of slapping her snotty little face did enter briefly into my thoughts.
At that time, my husband arrived. Jacob wouldn't stand up so my husband picked him up and jogged with him across the finish line. Upon inspection, it became apparent that Jacob didn't have any visible injury and was able to walk just fine. That's when I realized he was only suffering emotional hurt and a blow to his confidence. I wasn't satisfied with my husband carrying Jacob across the line. I wanted him to be proud of his own accomplishment. I wanted him to feel that awesome sense of pride that you get in facing and conquering a challenge. That's one of the best parts of racing, after all.
I gave Jacob a hug and walked him back to the start line. Together we looked out towards the finish. "Do you want to try again?" I asked him. He nodded. I lined him up behind the white line. Several parents were staring at us like we were crazy. I ignored them.
"Ready. Set. GO!"
With a look of fierce determination, he took off and didn't look back until he had crossed that white line. So, he didn't break any records for the 50 yard dash. He wasn't even particularly fast. He didn't pass a single soul. But I was so proud of him. He learned the hardest lesson that both life and running have to offer. Sometimes we fall. Sometimes we land short of our own expectations. Sometimes we don't even finish on our own the first time. But we have the power to never fail. As long as we get up try again. Even with hurt knees and a bruised ego.
Later that day, Jacob would tell me several times in a quiet tone, "Mom, my race didn't go so well." (Yes, "well" instead of "good"-- he has awesome grammar and I'm very proud.) Each time he said that my parental heart-wound opened up and ached a little more. I didn't know what to say exactly. That's life, right? All I could muster was, "I'm so proud of you for trying again, even when it was hard. It doesn't matter who wins. What matters is who tries the hardest."