"Are you ok? Do you need to walk? We can walk now and just run through the six mile mark at the top of the hill." I talked quickly as I could see he was struggling to get up Torrence Avenue. "MOM!!! I'm fine." I could tell I was getting on his nerves. Again.
It isn't because it was running that I feel this way. It could have been anything in the world that he set out to do. Watching him execute his plan (with the help of a chatty annoying pacer and his real running coach, his dad) so perfectly, so maturely, so full of perseverance, struggle, sweat and guts was hands down the proudest moment to date for me, his mother. Much to my sheer blissful joy, it DID happen to be running. That's the icing.
I've written about him before. Will did not like to run. As a matter of fact, if he didn't really have to move at all, he was ok with it. His parents were not. He's played soccer for years, which is obviously a sport that requires continual running. But I think it's more because he enjoys the actual game. I won't say he loves, but for sure, enjoys it. So back in early October when John told me he was going to train Will to run the Mini Heart half marathon, my initial response was "Good luck with that." When I realized he was serious, and Will was on board, I still wasn't overly excited as I figured this would soon get very old and as the winter freeze set in, so would the honeymoon of completing his long runs be over.
Will wanted a paintball gun. They are expensive and a stupid waste of money, in my opinion. Where would he even use the thing? I didn't know many, if any of his friends that owned them. John told Will that if he completed the half marathon, he would buy him a paintball gun. I went along with it completely confident that his wish would not come to fruition.
And so they began to train, starting with a 3 mile long run. I should say to begin with, Emma trained with them, as she too, thought she'd like to run the half marathon. Her dangling carrot was getting her ears double pierced. Although she was strong and did well on the runs, she constantly complained whenever she had to run and finally just opted not to do it. We told them both that this was their choice and they would never be forced to run. But they would not be allowed to participate in the half marathon untrained. We would not go for them killing themselves for one day to get what they wanted without proper training. As any runner that has seriously trained for an event knows, the training gets the credit, not so much the race. The race reflects the training (unless you have a completely bad day... that happens) but the training is what takes character and dedication. I assumed my thirteen year old son did not have the kind of dedication to go through with something that he really doesn't enjoy.
Several weeks into their training, I decided that maybe I should check out how safe it was for a growing adolescent to run distance. After all, runners suffer from a myriad of aches pains and problems attributed to running. To put that kind of stress on rapidly growing bones and changing hormones had to be a bit risky I figured. Even though I was still pretty sure he'd not go through with it once the long runs got past 7 miles or so, I began to look some things up on the internet and finally just asked his pediatrician what she thought about the idea. She knew I was a runner and I told her that his dad was also a runner now. Her very practical approach was just to watch him carefully for signs of burnout or pain. The knees would likely be the target area if he developed a problem. She said that she was confident he would be trained well since he had parents who would be diligently watching and knew what to watch for (*blush*). She then said "That's fantastic. Good for him!"
So week after week, the boys ran on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Will had begun his basketball season and was practicing on Monday and Friday. Every weekend when the long run came around, Will grabbed his music, filled his bottles with Gatorade, usually made some "Oh brother... can't we do this later?" kind of comment, and took off with John. Many times he actually whined about it. There were some Sundays that I remember John saying "Buddy, you do not have to do this. Just say the word and we will stop training. I am not going to drag you out here." I would usually interject with "Come on, Will, this is FUN! Don't you feel great after a long run? Don't you feel accomplished?" Sometimes he would say "No, I just feel sore." But I knew he was happy every time he chose to go. He'd come back and be very chatty about how the run went. He'd tell me how he felt at different times. How he thought he wasn't going to be able to make it through but then a good song would come on and he would feel better. And each time, I know he was astounded at the distance he'd just run. I learned that during a long run, they would say a prayer after each mile. What an awesome thing for me to hear as I know that on some long runs, it's God alone that gets me to complete it. It began to make sense to me why he continued and why he stuck with it. It wasn't me and it wasn't really John. It was God guiding this boy week after week, long run after long run, helping him do something that would give him the confidence he so desperately needed as he entered his teenage years. To think it was his parents would be a selfish thing. Trust me, we set the example of picking up our things and cleaning quite a bit and it simply doesn't work. Only Divine intervention could get Will Rewwer to willfully run for a long time.
On race day, I woke Will up early. I wanted him to eat breakfast two hours before the start. I had him eat two mini bagels with peanut butter and drink some water. I told him that ten minutes before the start, he should drink Gatorade or take some of his gel bites. He seemed pretty relaxed and free from nerves though he said he was a little nervous. I think was more nervous than he was.
On the way to the race, we stopped at Starbucks so that John and I could get coffee. Will asked for a "shot of espresso.." I replied with a "Hell no you are not going to try something new on race day...." rather than "Will you are thirteen and have no business drinking espresso..." I was now in coach/runner/racer mode. Not mom mode.
Once downtown, parked and at the start, we were ready to run! I "informed" the boys that I would set the pace for the first few miles. I knew that adrenaline and nerves would cause that knee jerk reaction of starting out way too fast. Given the course was a challenging one full of hills, which Will did not train on, I was hoping that our average pace would be under an eleven min/mile for the duration. They had usually done their long runs just under 10 minute miles. I reviewed John's Garmin and noticed that they always started out faster than they finished. I told them we would start out in the 10s and bring it down. I figured it would be the last 3 miles that slowed us considerably as Will's longest run to date had been 10.5 miles. I also knew those hills would play a hand in wearing him out and I thought if we can average a sub 11 minute pace, we would have done really well. But all along, I told Will the goal was to go the distance. To walk if he needed to, even if it wasn't a scheduled "walk break". The plan was to run the race the way they'd trained on the long run... run 1 mile then walk 1 minute. Mentally, he never had farther than a mile to run, he could get a quick recovery and start again.
The first couple of miles went off without a hitch. I did have to constantly remind him to slow down as he would get faster and faster when we'd start up after each walk break. I would tell him when to drink, when to eat and not to "zig-zag" because he was adding distance. I listened to his breathing to gauge how hard he was working. I continued to nag him about his pace and by mile 5, I just thought "Well, it's his race to blow. The kid's got to learn and after all this training, it's going to be a hard lesson for him." I decided just to follow his lead. I constantly asked him if he was ok and he constantly replied that he was fine. As suspected, Torrence was rough for him, but he flew down it. Once we made the right turn onto Columbia Parkway and immediately into another hill, he slowed down. John looked at me and said "We got him...", indicating that Will was now going to struggle after exhausting himself. My heart sank as we were not even at the halfway mark.
Mile after mile, the kid amazed me. Our splits stayed pretty even despite the hills. He seemed so tired but he kept the pace. His breathing was getting pretty labored, his face red and caked with salt and his form was suffering a bit. But his pace stayed even. At mile nine I could tell he was so tired. I suggested walking 30 seconds every half mile instead of 1 minute every mile. He liked that idea and mentally, it was easier to think of running just a half mile before a break. Like magic, it worked. Mile 10 he was asking for water. We had not come across an aid station in awhile and I didn't see one close either. I was very upset as I said out loud "WHERE IS AN AID STATION? He NEEDS a drink!!" No one on the course uttered a word at that point. The sun was out in full force and we were all pretty warm. I think we hit the aid station at mile 12 (gee, thanks Kentucky!). I looked at Will and said "Last mile buddy. You have done so awesome. Grammy and papa are waiting at the finish. Let's run strong." Then a damn hill. For God sakes, did they not know the kid was only THIRTEEN when they routed the course out? What is wrong with this race director. He is just sick.
Up the hill he went. Strong but oh so tired. Into the city and around the bend and there it was... the finish line banner waving ahead. "THERE IT IS WILL!" I was trying to motivate him and get him to run strong. God did he try, but he had given his all on this course. All he could do was maintain his current pace (which was pretty impressive still). John said "Go get it buddy!" To which Will snappishly replied "Dad, I AM!" John and I hung back and watched as our boy crossed the finish line. As I crossed I stopped my Garmin and checked out our overall average pace... my stats said 13.2 miles in 2:07:33, which gave us an average pace of 9:40 (official 13.1 in 2:07:36 with an avg pace of 9:45... I knew that race director was shady).
Will ran a beautiful race. Each 5k faster than the previous. He exceeded both mine and John's expectations of what he would do (not necessarily what he COULD do, as we always can do more than we believe we can). I am still in awe over his performance. Although I shouldn't be. That morning, before Will and John were awake, I said my morning prayers. I asked God to give Will the courage, confidence and strength it would take to complete this race.
I would say God answered my prayers... and then some. And I have not stopped grinning.