For two and a half weeks prior to the start of school, Molly and Finn have joined cross country teammates for sunrise workouts on the grounds of the U of I’s Arboretum. It’s a beautiful place to watch the sun come up, especially on misty mornings while the dew still clings to the plants all around.
I usually spend the hour the kids are with their teammates on a brisk walk around the southern part of campus or the leafy “state streets” in Urbana. It’s a fun change of scenery from the regular routes we take near our house. On the last of the early morning practices this month, though, I trailed a fair distance behind the kids, poking around the beautiful course and spying the group pausing atop one of the hills. When I asked Molly later what they were doing, she said, “Coach told us to stop there and asked the 8th graders to share inspirational advice with the younger runners.” She said she told the kids that one way they can improve is to think about trying to “beat themselves” — by focusing on decreasing their own race times, instead of comparing themselves with other runners.
The group cools down with calisthenics and stretches led by the 8th graders. I’ve enjoyed watching these kids gradually become comfortable with this leadership role (and expect to see a lot of examples of that this year). On the first day, they mumbled instructions and petered out when counting for holding stretches. Coach told them if they didn’t speak up, they would be leading the group running back up and down the hill. That was quick motivation to expand their projection!
Coach does an outstanding job making practices fun. In fact, Molly and Finn say they wish they could just participate in practices and opt out of the races! Tradition dictates that one of the morning practices ends with “Water Wars.” Much screaming and scrambling ensued. Everyone went home wet from head to toe — certainly including the kid Coach saw wandering into a grove of trees to hide. Once Coach spread the word, the boy was quickly surrounded and soaked.
Family tradition also calls for at least one post-practice cafe visit: mocha for Finn, hot chocolate for Molly, and a latte for Mama. All this training (combined with a summer of semi-regular jogging) culminates in a short season of intense races. Yesterday, Finn participated in his first-ever meet, which was hosted by the kids’ school. Finn ran two miles in 22:02 in 99% humidity and heat index of 100 degrees — without vomiting, thank goodness! Molly completed the course strongly in 16:10. She’s hoping to shave a few minutes off her time in order to qualify for varsity status on the team. I think she’ll be able to do it. Weather has such a big impact on runners’ performances, and yesterday was far from optimal. We’re so proud of our young runners! Running doesn’t come naturally to anyone in our immediate family. As Molly’s and Finn’s coach says, “Running is hard and it’s painful. You have to learn how to manage the pain. You have to push yourself.” We could substitute “life” for “running,” couldn’t we? So true, so true.