Running in the woods

Having fun while imparting life lessons to our children

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My tribe

“Anyone who tells you fatherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to you, they are understating it.” ―Mike Myers

I love fitness. Running, lifting, sweating and playing; its all the same to me. This summer, Fleet Feet sponsored a Global Run Day event. I quickly signed everyone, (my tribe), for the 3 mile walk/run which was scheduled to take place on a beautiful summer night. 

 That night, I had the opportunity to enjoy a 3 mile, (really 3.5 miles but apparently the .5 doesn’t count), walk with the whole family. To me, that opportunity, to bring my family into this little part of my world was an awesome opportunity that I cherish. We walked and talked along the way, enjoying the scenery. At one point, we crested the top of a huge hill and could see the entire city we live in. Everything covered in a lazy, hot midsummer haze. We crossed the finish line, grabbed our hot dogs and just sat for a few minutes in the grass. 

Shortly after the run, I received a note from my wife. She let me know that our 12-year-old daughter wanted to start running with me. More than that she wanted to complete a race with me. I told her that was a great idea and sent her a link so she could pick an easy 5k in the next couple of months.

My plan was that we would use those months between to start training. Within minutes I received another note saying, “No, she wants to join you on your next race.” 

 Just to be clear, I trail run and participate in a summer series. The typical race is ~5 miles with 500’ of incline on a trail which is anything but forgiving. I explained this to my wife and asked to her to be sure. “You realize this is a 5-mile run, in the woods, close to sunset, with 500’ of elevation change, like in the woods?” “Yup, that’s it.” “ok, um, cool”. I got home that night and with a new sense of pride explained to my daughter that to do this we needed to train over the next couple of weeks. She’d have to get up at 415am and hit the street to run.

Our first run out the door, I expected to be about 1 or 2 miles. 

We stealthily left the house like ninjas to ensure no one would wake up.

Stepping off the porch into the cool, deep darkness, I took a deep breath and just listened to the sounds of the neighborhood in deep summer. Silence. Silence broken only by the sounds of invisible crickets. And with that, we took off into the dark, only the street lights guiding our way with no preconceived direction in mind. We ran along main streets and side streets. Houses as dark as the sky above as people slept away dreaming of who knows what. 

As time and miles wore on, the houses and street began to wake up. Crickets were replaced with cars. The darkness and streetlights replaced with a deep dark purple hue overhead. 4.75 miles later we deftly crested the steps to our house and sat down as the birds cheered our accomplishment.

Two weeks and a handful of runs under her belt and we were at race day. My car climbed the steep hill towards the starting line. The air as we exited the car was thick with anticipation and excitement. 

Entering the starting gate, we both took one long breath and hugged each other and then…go! As with all of these races the first mile was an easy warm up. ¼ mile straight and flat, ¼ mile downhill and ½ mile long and flat.

I personally think they do this to lull you into an undeserved sense of ease before the course completely obliterates any sense of being. One foot in front of the other, the scent of pine and cool breeze coming in from the lake creates a sort of meditative state that causes you to feel like you’re running on the wind itself.

Just then, the trail becomes the familiar nemesis. Flat, smooth trail gives way to precipitous hills and abrupt declines. One miss step or moment of thoughtlessness could take you out completely. Navigating the terrain is a constant battle between the sweet pain of running and the mental anguish of just paying attention. 

My daughter stayed right by my side, matching step by step. And then, oh, and then. We turn a corner and follow the trail around a placid pond to see a ¼ mile hill, no mountain, in front of us. As we pull back to conserve for the upcoming battle we both gasp in pain. We were being attacked by tiny piranhas with wings. We had inadvertently run into a swarm of horseflies. The little bastards made my legs feel like someone had shot a tiny hot arrow into my legs and they slaughtered her back and legs. We fought valiantly and escaped. 

A few moments later, in pain and completely in tears she just stopped. Right there in the middle of the woods-pond and demon possessed bugs to the one side, forest and mountain to the other, she broke down. 

It is in this type of moment that I usually fail as a father. Being a dad is no joke. You’re a teacher, a counselor, a coach, and a protector and sometimes you wear all of those hats all at once. 

I quickly calmed her down and explained that quitting now would mean heading back through everything we’ve just been through for 3 miles. Going forward would mean 2 more miles. It would be hard and painful and awful but it would be done. It was there at that moment that she realized that she had just overcome the worst of it.

Nothing else lay ahead but victory. Victory over the trail. Victory over those Goddamn evil bugs. Victory over her own misconceptions about what is possible. Victory. 

 And so, we carried on. Moving along, a bit less swiftly but moving all the same. With one mile to go our trail brought us to a beautiful meadow. To the left was a steep cliff hidden by forest. The rest of the area a deep green meadow. The dying rays of the setting sun and light humid midst casting an eerie reddish hue. 

 All at once we hear it, “STOP”. We both halted dead in our tracks. Just six feet away a deer came hurling through the meadow. We both looked at each other and laughed before beginning again. We only made it ten steps before another deer came tearing out of the woods like a linebacker. I told her if it happened again to just jump on it and ride it to the finish line. 

We carried on. The last ½ mile in front of us. A long winding trail so steep you can’t see the top. One foot in front of the other we continued, energized by the knowledge that we were close to the end of the adventure. Hand in hand we ran up the hill. And then with all of her might, she crossed the finish line. Through all the battles, the tears, the strain-she overcame and said, “When’s the next race?”.

Proud doesn’t cut what I felt right there in that moment and in the moment when my whole family crossed the finish line a couple of weeks before. I’m not sure what word does. I walked away from both with a renewed sense of my role as papa and feeling closer to my family. 

 Overall though, my hope is that they walked away with something that will last. Qualities that will take them through other life events, because really, that’s what these types of things do for us. Fortitude, determination, self-confidence, elegance under pressure and a knowledge that family will always be there to support each other through every obstacle.

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