For 2014, I chose a new way to start New Year’s Day. I ran the Black-Eyed Pea run. It’s a long-standing tradition for a lot of the runners here. But I never have participated. I guess this year I just wanted to do something a little more public to demonstrate my commitment to running and taking care of myself this year.
In the Black-Eyed Pea run, you predict your finishing time on the registration form, and you can’t use a running watch or anything else to track your pace on the course. I like that. It’s just you against your self-perceptions. Guess too fast, and it can be a humbling experience, I would think. Guess too slow, and it might be time to think more of your abilities.
I stared at my registration for what seemed like 15 minutes, arguing with myself about what time to write down. I wasn’t very happy with with the number I finally wrote down, but I did think it was an accurate reflection of where I was. But before we even started running, something happened that would alter my entire game plan: my 6-year-old son said he wanted to run with me.
Hadley has been there for almost every one of my big runs. He’s joined me for the last 50 yards or so on I don’t know how many races. He and my wife, Melissa, were my faithful road crew as I ran countless miles on deserted country roads training for my first marathon. But this was something new. On this crisp, clear New Year’s Day, Hadley was determined to match me step for step.
When the race started, Hadley took off as fast as his little legs would cary him. Me, I held back a little bit. I was pacing myself. Hadley turned around, perhaps to make sure I was following him. The joy on his face at that moment was contagious, and I couldn’t resist getting caught up in it.
We ran until he got a little winded. Then we walked for a little while. We ran and walked and ran some more. Along the way, Hadley eagerly shared every thought his enormous 6-year-old imagination dreamed up. “Daddy, what if we finished the race in, like, five minutes?” We talked about baseball and horses and where he wants to go to school next year. We we stopped a few times along the way for him to tie his shoes. He laughed every time and asked “Why do they keep coming untied, Daddy?” I didn’t have an answer. I was too busy remembering when he couldn’t tie his shoes.
When the faster runners started passing us on their way back in, Hadley cheered for every one of them. Many of them know Hadley and cheered him on, too.
I could tell Hadley was getting tired. I asked a couple of times if he wanted to turn back. Each time he responded quickly and resolutely, “I want to do the whole thing.” But after about 2.75 miles, I knew he was fading fast. So I scooped him up and put him on my shoulders. I was prepared to carrying him the rest of the way, if necessary.But about 25 yards from the finish line, he piped up: “Daddy, I was to run the rest of the race together.” So I put him down and we crossed the finish line side-by-side.
As soon as we finished, Hadley caught me off guard when he asked me “Did you beat your prediction time?” I told him the truth: “Hadley, we missed it by 11 minutes. But that’s OK, buddy. I’m glad I got to run it with you.”
That’s the way I want this entire year to go. Sure, I have my goals. And I am going to work hard toward achieving them. But if I focus so hard on the goals that I don’t enjoy the fact that Hadley, Melissa and the rest of my family and friends are along for the ride, then what will I have truly gained?