I started running with Megan about three months ago. The idea being that she would run with me a couple of days a week on my easy three milers and we would get the opportunity to chat before getting our days started. The truth is Megan does most of the chatting. These runs quickly became something to look forward to.
So when Meg asked if she could join me in my next five mile race I said yes, hiding my disappointment. I had planned on running this as a real race, hoping to improve my standings in the club series. Now, I would have to run slower and possibly even walk since the longest distance she had run was a 5k a couple of months before. I suggested a strategy. We would start out slow and only pick up the pace if she felt like she had something left in the last mile. We talked about walking some of the bigger hills if she needed to, since the first three miles of this race are very hilly.
The morning of the race Megan started complaining. About everything really. Her shoes were too small, her stomach didn’t feel right, it was a bit warm. I explained that she was just nervous. We all get that way. But if she wanted to just not do it that was fine. We could go for our three mile run and forget the race. I knew she wouldn’t give up so easily. She just needed a little encouragement. I had talked about this race many times over the past month and she knew I was looking forward to it. She agreed to at least go to the start and then make up her mind.
Once we reached Severna Park High, I helped her get registered, showed her how to pin on her number and suggested that she run around a bit just to get warmed up before she stretched. Anything to get her mind off of the race itself. With a couple of minutes until the gun we waded into the crowd and placed ourselves right in the middle of the pack. Megan who is always so cheery and talkative had gone silent at this point but having run with her in the past I knew she would become chatty as soon as we started running. So I waited. And the gun went off and, just like most beginners, Meg started off a little too fast. I reeled her in a bit and told her to let the people pass her assuring her she would see many of them again. She was very patient but still not chatty. At the time I thought it was nerves and I worried whether she could finish the race. I realize now she was in the zone. At the first mile a volunteer called out our time and my heart sunk as I envisioned my name sliding down the list for the club series. Now all I could do was enjoy the race and make it as pleasant for Megan as possible.
That’s was when I noticed Meg was about ten feet in front of me. I yelled up for her to take it easy and received a “You told me to run my pace, Mom. Don’t worry this is my pace.” And with every step she pulled further and further ahead. Just then the hills started hitting us hard and I was sure that I would soon be seeing Meg walking up ahead. I did see her but not in the condition I expected. What I saw was this eight-year-old girl with NIKE written across the back of her shorts weaving in and out of the runners, passing everybody and doing it with ease. By the two mile marker I had completely lost track of her. I spent the rest of the race asking the spectators how far up she was and receiving a variety of ever widening answers.
“She’s just about a minute ahead of you.”
“She has a good minute and a half on you.”
Still, I thought I would see her up ahead. Of course I expected she would be completely dejected and walking when I caught up with her. She had to be running too fast. Just trying to catch her was killing me. I continued to ask the spectators if they had seen the little girl in the NIKE shorts. Finally, I received the answer that blew my mind.
“Yeah, I saw her. She’s at least four minutes ahead of you. She looks great.”
I couldn’t believe it. Now, I freely admit when I first started running with Megan I knew she was going to eventually be a better runner than I but I expected it to happen sometime in high school. I certainly did not expect it to happen when she was eight years old.
When I did finally cross the finish line I still had not fully grasped the idea of how well she had done. I asked her what her finishing time was and she didn’t know. It had never occurred to me to tell her to look at the clock as she crossed the finish line because I thought I would be with her. So, I asked her to look around and tell me who she came in with. She pointed to a very athletic looking six foot young man and said, “I think I finished with him.”
“There is no way you finished with him, Meg. He is twice your size and very fast.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure it was him.”
You can imagine my embarrassment as I approached this gentleman to ask his finishing time. “Excuse me but my eight-year-old daughter doesn’t know her finishing time and thinks she crossed the line with you.” You can’t possibly imagine my astonishment when he answered me.
“Oh no, she didn’t finish with me. She passed me at the four and a half mile marker.”
Still not knowing her time we decided to hang around a bit to see if they would post the results. As we made our way to the bagel line we were stopped several times by club members praising Megan for a job well done. She was lapping it up. A morning that had started with so many complaints was ending much better than either of us had expected. I bought her a t-shirt to commemorate her first five mile race and, giving up on the times being posted that day, I started to lead Meg to the car when she asked if we could stay and find out who won. Ever the protective mom I leaned close to her and made sure she understood she would not be winning anything. The age group she was in was 14 and under and there were a lot of girls there from the local cross country team. She assured me that she was fine with that so we stuck around and admired the prize table laden with cases of sodas and juices that would be given to the winners.
As we waited for the awards ceremony to begin, several more runners came up to congratulate Megan on a great race. Many telling her how amazed they were at the stride that such a tiny person had or how easy she made it look. Megan beamed. Soon the race director began announcing the winners. As with most club races the winners were easily predicted. The same men and women at every race traded off first, second and third position in any given age group. When he came to Meg’s age group the first place girl was announced and as I had expected it was a fourteen year old girl from the cross country team. The second place girl was more of a surprise – Megan Brennan, age 8. I wish I could preserve forever the excitement I saw on my child’s face. She proudly but shyly went up and shook hands with the race director and picked up a case of root beer. I could not have been more proud of Megan for just showing up that morning and running in spite of her nerves and doubts, but the thrill of seeing her place in her age group and getting such a kick out of the whole experience was indescribable.
A couple of days later all of the times were officially posted online and we discovered that Megan finished only thirty two seconds behind the age group winner, almost two minutes ahead of the girl who came in third – and four minutes ahead of her good old mom.
Originally published in The Streak – An Annapolis Striders Publication and Irongirl.com’s eNewsletter December 2006