Last year I ran in a 4-person 20-kilometer relay race. We had a co-ed team, with each person running a 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) loop. I tried to get the same team together this year, but one of the women dropped out due to an injury, so I was left with an opening on the team.
Roughly around the same time, the wife was reminding me that we needed to make sure that Daisy got lots of aerobic exercise. The doctor had stressed that this was especially important for kids with asthma, like Daisy. Given that Daisy's soccer season had just ended, we needed a new way to get her to run around.
The logical solution to both these problems took me a surprising amount of time to reach. I am not an especially clever man. Thankfully I had recently installled an infinite number of monkeys in my brain, responsible for the firing of all neurons. Although their tireless efforts have caused me countless seizures, they were also responsible for some quality thinking. One night after a monkey-inspired epiphany, I started to explain to Daisy about how I was getting together a team for the relay but I needed another girl.
Daisy started giggling before I even got around to the question.
"Why are you laughing?"
"Because! I know what you're going to say!" and she plopped over onto her side, still giggling.
"What? What am I going to say? Sit up while you eat your dinner? Is that it?"
"No," she said, sitting up, "you're going to ask me to be on your relay team!"
So, I did. And she excitedly accepted. Daisy is nothing if not enthusiastic. I warned her that we'd probably come in last place, but she seemed ok with that.
For the next few weeks we trained. I wasn't trying to get Daisy to be able to run the whole 3.1 miles, but I wanted her to be able to run enough of it to feel proud and not be completely wrecked at the finish line. So, for the five weeks before the race, Daisy and I went on short weekly training runs. Over the weeks we slowly built up her mileage, and by the end she was able to run a whole mile without stopping.
Race day was last weekend. Our four-person team assembled right before the race started and agreed that I'd run the first leg and Daisy would run the last leg so that she'd get to cross the finish line. (Incidentally, my teammates were SUPREMELY supportive of Daisy's participation in this event, despite the fact that the presence of a 6-year old on our team pretty much guaranteed us last place.) When the announcer declared that it was time for the runners to assemble at the starting line, Daisy was beside herself with excitement. She was making an inhuman screeching hooting noise. It sounded like a pterodactyl had screwed an owl, and their offspring was VERY excited about running a 5K. You know, that noise.
I took off and ran my 5 Km leg (setting a personal record!). Afterwards, our teammate, Larry, ran his, and then Nancy ran hers. When it was Daisy's turn, and she took her first few steps, a loud cheer erupted from the hundred or so people standing around. It was the loudest cheer I had heard all day.
Daisy and I took off (I was going to keep her company during her leg). My goal was to keep her motivated and distracted so that she'd run to the first mile marker non-stop. That seemed like it would be a great race-day accomplishment. After that, I'd shut up and let her decide when to run and when to walk.
That worked pretty well. I wouldn't say she enjoyed every step of that mile, but she seemed pleased to reach the marker and she wasn't exhausted. We clocked that mile in 13 minutes. After that we took things more leisurely, with frequent walking breaks. At one point in the loop we passed by our teammates and Hank, and Daisy got tons of high-fives and cheers. She was grinning and laughing.
We kept up the run/walk routine until just before the third mile marker. She wanted to run the last part and sprint towards the finish line. During our training runs we had practiced our finish line sprint, and she was eager to show off her chops.
We started running at a faster clip and as we got closer to the finish line, the race announcer came on the microphone and announced, "AND HERE COMES DAISY!".
Daisy was delighted and her smile was huge and gleeful. I split off from her so that she could cross the finish line without her dad trailing alongside her, and she dashed to the end accompanied by the loudest cheers yet. Hank came out to greet her, as did her teammates and a bunch of friends. Daisy got even more excited when two other teams finished their final leg of the race after us. When my running coach came over to congratulate her, Daisy proudly exclaimed, "And we didn't come in last!" Attagirl. Low expectations will carry you a long way.
I've run dozens of races in my life and never has one been as rewarding as this one.