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I never once used the double jogging stroller that I received at my baby shower for jogging. I took it out plenty of times to walk or hike or just to get some fresh air in the park with my twins. But run with it? Not a chance.
It wasn't that I didn't run. In fact, as soon as I got the OK from my doctor, I couldn't lace up my sneakers fast enough. After a difficult pregnancy, the final two months of which I spent mostly lying in bed, and the nonstop blur of caring for newborn twins, I had decided that running was my chance for some peace and quiet. My husband and former running partner, Scott, now held down the fort so I could head to the park and escape.
Scott and I had started running together when we graduated from college and had tackled many road races, marathons, and triathlons by the time the twins came along. As they grew, we got used to going solo as the other babysat.
Fast-forward to when the twins turned 5: Scott got the idea that Nolan and Layla should take up the family hobby and start to run with us for fun and exercise. I was horrified. I envisioned myself reduced to a slow jog with whines of "How much farther?" coming from our kindergartners. And really, how far could a 5-year-old be expected to run?
But the kids embraced the idea immediately. For years they had watched as Scott or I did one road race or training run after another, and they were thrilled to be trying something that seemed so grown up.
We started by bringing them to the tiny, indoor track at our local YMCA. The air was stuffy, and the sides of the track sloped inward, but Nolan and Layla made it a game: Who could run faster? Who could go farther? Who could find more animal-monster shapes in the peeling orange paint that bordered the track?
After six months of this, Scott decided they were ready to run a 5K. First, only Nolan accepted the challenge. Father and son planned to run their first race together through the Bronx Zoo. Layla and I stood near the sea lions, cheering as Nolan crossed the finish line in a little more than 40 minutes, wearing a look of amazement and pride, his hand held high by Scott. A few months later Nolan tried again, competing in a Halloween-themed 5K with a finishing time of 39:40 that included the wind resistance created by his vampire cape. Layla continued to run but sat out the road races until a year later, when she decided we should do the same Halloween 5K as a family.
We carefully prepared costumes: She would wear her Batgirl outfit, while Scott would sport a Batman T-shirt; Nolan and I painted a dotted yellow line down the middle of our black tees to go as "road runners."
We woke up on race day to a temperature in the 20s, high winds, and the threat of snow from an unseasonably early winter squall. We decided to go ahead and do the run anyway, swapping our Halloween getups for fleece. We were pelted with icy rain as we splashed through puddles all along the course, but, while questioning our sanity (and Scott and I our parenting skills), we laughed at the adventure. After crossing the finish line, Layla turned to me and declared the day to be "the best ever!"
That race turned out to be the first of our many 5Ks as a family. In each, we would all start at an easy clip and then team up, with Scott taking one kid, and I the other. We would spend much of the race coaching them to pace themselves, giving encouragement along the way. The races became a good way to spend some time together, and to the kids, running was just another form of playing.
But then a funny thing happened over the course of two years: Instead of my slowing down to stick with them, both Nolan and Layla started accelerating to the point where I had to push it to keep up. Each race yielded a faster finishing time. We began to pass slightly miffed runners who were at least 15 years older than our children. Nolan and Layla raced not just for the fun of it but for the thrill of beating the competition -- and each other.
Then, last summer, came a 5K we did together at a picturesque beachfront town. Halfway through I heard Layla calling out to me as I ran with Nolan; she had moved ahead of Scott a few minutes before and was making her way through the crowd to us. I tried to keep my stride steady, but Nolan, driven by the pure fear that his sister would soon reach or even pass him, started to speed up. "Stick with your pace," I told him. "If you feel good, move up." After a few minutes, he accelerated again, and I found that I could not stay with him. Soon Layla appeared at my side, gave me a quick, guilty glance for passing me by, and then sprinted toward her brother.
We were now only a few hundred yards from the end of the race, and the street was filled with volunteers ringing cowbells. I ran as fast and as hard as my legs and lungs would allow. And I realized, to both my pride and chagrin, that I had been surpassed by my 7-year-olds. At around 25 minutes, it was a fast time for me, and another PR for them. As we cheered loudly for Scott to finish, I thought ahead to the many other challenges my children would have as they made their way through the world without us. But I was glad that, at least for the moment, we could stand as a family and celebrate together.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, July/August 2013.