I’ve been regularly participating in the Skagit Flats Marathon since I moved to the Skagit Valley in 2007. As a distance runner, I’ve signed up over the years to participate in the half marathon (13.1 miles) or full marathon (26.2) race. But this year I decided to run in the race’s new 5K. For a distance runner this is a sprint! It wasn’t a challenge for me and I didn’t run my fastest—not even close. But I had one of my best runs ever. Why? Because I ran it with my 8-year old son and coached him through the whole thing so that he had his best race ever! And I think I was more satisfied with his finish time and accomplishment than he was!
Before I talk more about the satisfaction of running and racing with your child and why running is one of the best sports for bonding with your kids—let me tell you a little bit more about the race. Skagit Flats is sponsored by Skagit Runners, a wonderful community-based running club that my wife and I immediately joined upon relocating to the area. The marathon is one of the flattest in the country traversing rich farmlands on the Skagit River Flats including fields of potatoes. Skagit is one of just two counties (the other is Whatcom) in western Washington that grows spuds. Currently 11,000 acres of farmland in the county is devoted to growing potatoes—mostly specialty varieties which includes reds, whites, yellows, fingerlings and chipping.
As a smaller community-based event, I’ve always enjoyed seeing friends and acquaintances in this race and along the course. But since this race is certified and as flat as they come, it attracts scads of runners from other states and Canada as well, many hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately for me, my recent Boston Marathon qualifying attempts have been coming up as flat as the race course—but I’ve always put in a decent performance despite the occasional challenges of heat, wind and wildfire smoke.
Due to the weather occasionally dealing some surprises along with other conflicts on race day, the club decided this year to move the race date from its long established early September Sunday to the first Sunday in October. And on this year’s race, the 46th annual, and the first held on the new date, the weather couldn’t have been any more perfect for a run. It was chilly at the start, but soon warmed up into the 50s and low 60s. An absolute beautiful fall sunny day. No humidity, no wind, no smoke, and no excuses to blame the weather for a poor performance!
I’ve been running with my son since he was a baby. I would load him up in the jogging stroller and off we’d go down neighborhood streets, to local parks, and area rail trails. We raced together too. Aside from getting to spend my exercise time with my boy, I got a good upper body workout pushing him along—especially on hilly courses. As he became more mobile, it was soon apparent that he inherited my high energy. This kid could keep going and going. His stamina and endurance amazed me. He did a 12 mile hike at the age of 6. And after running in a series of short kid races as a toddler he entered his first 5K race while he was still 4, finishing with his much older cousin with a time of 47.35.
As someone who has been running now for almost four decades—someone who embraces the sport as a key part of my life—I can’t be any happier that my son loves running. My wife and I signed him up for a series of summer camps, and track and field was his favorite. I would love nothing more than to continue to be able to run with him and share precious father-son bonding time together engaged in such a positive and healthy activity. One of the best things about running as opposed to many other sports is that running is something that I can do with my son and with the same intensity that he puts into it. I regularly run past soccer fields in which excited youth run up and down the field. But their parents are standing on the sidelines passively engaged with the game. Sure there are middle-aged parents that go out and kick the ball with their kids, but they are not playing in tournaments and leagues with them. That’s the beauty of running races, you can participate with your kids and for how long as your body will allow you to keep going. And for many runners that means well into their 60s and 70s.
As an older parent, nothing is keeping me more focused than to stay as fit as I can be so I can keep up with my kid. And so far when it comes to running, he can’t keep up with me! But my goal coaching him is to help him eventually leave me in the dust—and to hopefully surpass my best times when I was in my prime. But the key to all of this of course, is it has to be something he wants to do—not what I want for him. And that’s a tough one for parents. So many parents live vicariously through their children’s sporting performances. I want my son to be a runner and enjoy running, not because I want him to fill a void in my life, or reach a level that I couldn’t—but because I want him to live a healthy lifestyle and to be able to partake in something that we can continue to do together for many, many years. I’m 62 and I’m running my first 100K (62 mile) race in a few days and I have no plans to quit running anytime soon.
Running teaches self-discipline, delayed gratification, and mind over body tactics for dealing with pushing thought discomfort. All great attributes to get you through life. But running has to be fun too. And while competing can be a thrill, it can also take the fun out of the sport. My son is certainly enjoying watching his times get faster and his placing move up the ranks, but I continuously emphasize that we run our own races—do the best we can do—and not worry about what others are doing on the course. And when it comes to crossing the finish line, no matter how well we do, we humbly accept our place, graciously accept any congratulations and we extend sincere congratulations to everyone else out there fast and slow alike for having the courage to be on the course. They’re all winners.
When we run together we make it fun. And this was the first race we did together as Team Potato members. Our matching jerseys drew attention to us which spurred on some encouragement. Spud power! On the course we played mind games and used our imaginations which diverted my son’s attention from about how fast I was pacing him. One of the best ways to make sure you aren’t running at an unsustainable pace is to carry on a conversation. If you can’t talk, you’re in danger of going too fast and bonking. On this race day we played a wildlife comparison game asking each other questions such as, “would you rather have the powers of a wolf or a cougar?” Then explain your answer. So, yes it’s a sneaky way to also get a little learning in, too. But it only makes the process all the more positive—and in this day and age when there are so many negative distractions and forces tugging at our kids and society, running remains such a positive influence.
Kids are natural runners. They love to run. It’s joy watching them run. And there is nothing more satisfying as an adult runner than to have your kid running along with you. I look forward to many miles and races running with my boy. And many bonding moments strengthening our relationship as we move along though life’s stages with all of its joys, sorrows, challenges and triumphs.
Big Thanks to the Washington State Potato Commission for sponsoring me. I am proud to be a member of Team Potato and to showcase the nutritional value and performance enhancement of potatoes as I attempt to run a marathon in all 50 states and continue my journey to run a 100K (62 miles) race to celebrate turning 62! I’ve got tough journey and many miles to go—and lots of potatoes to consume and power me along the way.