“Hey, why don’t you run the Dog Day Race with me,” I suggest to my fteen-year-old daughter.
I’m fully expecting her to dismiss me out of hand. You get used to this sort of thing when you have teenage children, even if you say something like, why don’t you help me spend this extra thousand dollars I have burn- ing a hole in my pocket.
We are on vacation on the Jersey Shore. The town where we stay has its annual ve-mile race to bene t the local re department the next morning. I don’t usually run short races, but this year I’m thinking there might be an easy age-group award for me to grab. There is a pathetic side of my brain that loves collecting these things. So I am in. Meanwhile, my middle daughter has caught the running bug these past months. She’s gotten addicted to healthy living lately. She’s a vegan, doesn’t smoke, rarely drinks, as far as I can tell, and has inherited my compulsion to exercise every day. More often than not, that is a late afternoon run. I’m early morning, so we don’t run together, but one day maybe, especially if I can get this running bug to stick. Running alone is getting kind of old. I’m going to need a running buddy before too long. I’ve got my eye on one.
Though I don’t tell her that’s why I’m suggesting she join the race, there is something about the way her head jerks around when I ask the question that makes me think I might have just hooked a sh here. Now I just have to reel her in. Within seconds, she is spewing self-doubt. She can’t race. She’s too slow. It will be embarrassing. What if she has to stop.
I know these are all absurd thoughts. She’s plenty fast, running any- where between four and six miles a day at a pace between eight and nine minutes. I love how sweaty and red she is when she is done, that look of exhausted accomplishment on her face at a time in her life when this is all so new. She’s on tennis and soccer and softball teams and runs a bit in practice but it doesn’t feel anything like this.
I explain to her that a race like this isn’t really a race, but more like a group run, a celebration. I will run with her if she wants—she does not— and it’s all about the free T-shirt anyway, a sweet yellow and blue thing that she’ll have for years and get happy every time she puts it on. She says,
“Fine,” in that tone where this is something she really really wants to do but doesn’t want to admit it, because being too enthusiastic about something as lame as running a race with your dad, even though you aren’t running with him, would just be the worst thing ever.
Until, of course, it isn’t. Until we cut up one of her T-shirts to turn it into a racing singlet. Until she pins a number on her shirt for the rst time. Until she heads across the start line at the blast of a re horn, moving within this little mass of humanity, a part of the human race. There’s a turnaround on the course so I pass her about midway through. She’s working. It’s a hot, heavy, late-summer morning, but there’s no way she’s going to stop.
I nish about 13 minutes ahead of her, so I’m there at the nish to watch her last steps. She’s still trucking along, running strong to the end. A real o cial race in the books. Later, after a shower, she comes up to the kitchen for a joyous breakfast. She’s wearing the shirt. So am I.