The last time I wrote about doing junior parkrun with my 8 year old daughter Evie, we were going through something of a trying time (you can read about it here). She just didn’t seem to be enjoying it, and I was pretty much thinking, OK, that’s the end of that, then. I tried and if she doesn’t want to do it, I don’t want to force her into it. I want her to run because she wants to. Also if she’s going to moan constantly for the entire 2K run, then it’s just not fun for either of us… and I REALLY didn’t want to have to give up my only chance of a lie-in for the whole week to drag, cajole and bribe an 8 year old round a field.
I don’t know what changed, so I’m pretty sure I can’t take any credit, but something DID change. Maybe something about my letting go of that expectation on her helped take the pressure off. Or maybe it was just that when you run 11 junior parkruns it adds up to a half marathon, and you get a half marathon wrist band, which was something she really REALLY wanted. Because she persuaded me to take her again the following week, and she just pulled something out of the bag and ran the whole way. She’d never done that before, she’d always get to the point where it started to feel slightly uncomfortable and just stop and walk a bit. Complaining. But this particular week, and literally EVERY single time we’ve done it since, which I think has been about 5, she just ran it. No walking, no stopping, very little moaning in fact. She’s just gone up a jump in what she can do. It’s amazing. And she wants to go every week if I’m not racing! She doesn’t care if it’s raining or freezing cold. She’s still up for it.
So the other night, when I was planning my own running and thinking that I’d really like to do my longer run on Sunday but that means not doing junior parkrun, I said to her, “Evie, how would you fancy having a pop at the Saturday parkrun? The grown-up, 5k one?” She replied (she’s nothing if not a tough negotiator, and is as motivated by post parkrun caramel wafers or promises of trips to her favourite cafe as she is by the prospect of time alone with Mummy, sans the mostly cute but sometimes bonkers attention diverter that is her little brother Joe) and I quote: “What do I get afterwards?” This was her first response, not how much longer is it or anything about the set-up. So upon the promise of an actual proper bit of cake in an actual café, the bargain was struck. I also promised that we could totally take it at her speed, walk when and as much as she wanted to, and that we would only have to do one lap (it’s a two-lap course) if she wasn’t feeling it, and she would still get the cake. I’m was just really proud of her wanting to give it a go and immediately saying yes. She’s never really shown an interest in doing more than a junior parkrun and the longest she’d ever run before was 2 miles and that was ages ago. So I immediately started worrying that I was pushing her too hard and that she’d hate it and again, that would be the end of that…
So I did have a slightly sleepless night last night, worrying about it! And the forecast was vacillating wildly between torrential rain all weekend and it actually being fine. Anyway at around 7:20 this morning I heard Evie getting up and taking herself downstairs, so assumed she was still up for it, got myself up and went downstairs. She was super casual about the whole thing, chatting away while I got her breakfast and tried to wake myself up with my standard pre (not a long) run breakfast of a pint of water and as strong a coffee as I can stand. If it’s a long run or a race I’ll add malt loaf and/or a banana. She did seem a tiny bit apprehensive for about a millisecond as she realised it wasn’t the same park as the junior one, but as we parked and walked to the start she was ‘talking like an alien’ and then saying, ‘Maybe I AM an alien, how would we know?’ I said, ‘Evie, I KNOW you’re not an alien, because I know exactly where you came from and it took a very long time and it wasn’t outer space.’ She replied, ‘Yeah I came out of your bum’ which… well, I wasn’t going to get into the actual biology of it, and by that point we were starting to catch up with people I knew from the running club and I tried to steer the conversation back to less graphic, biological and/or disgusting topics. There were lots of people that I knew around the start line, and a slight delay in starting because of a tree across the course meant that we had lots of time to chat to everyone. The running community, and especially parkrun folk, are so inclusive; everyone was so lovely to her. And then what felt like very suddenly, we were off. She took off at her usual pace, actually not going super-fast like she does sometimes at junior parkrun, so maybe something had gone in about pacing for a much longer parkrun than she was used to! I had a moment of worry when she starting complaining and asking how far we’d run, and have we run a mile yet, when it was actually only quarter of a mile in! But then we got to the muddy bit of the course, and she started exclaiming how pretty it was and how much fun, and how much she likes running through the muddy bits and could she run through that big puddle? I think we’d run about three quarters of a mile before she needed a walk break – and that was only to take a slug of water and then she was off again! There was a Dad with his son ,whose first parkrun it was as well, and we kept catching each other up and going past each other when one of the kids wanted to slow down, which we did for the whole of the rest of the run. We got chatting as we were having the EXACT same conversation with our kids, which was “Try to take it at a steady pace rather than stopping and going off really fast again, and repeating the cycle!”
Evie had a slight wobbler (the only one actually, amazingly) when we got towards the end of the first loop and the faster people started to lap us. I think it threw her that these fit, mostly but not all, young things were whizzing past twice as fast as us. I hear ya, Evie. But once we were past the point where people were going to lap us she cheered up again. She did start to get a bit tired around 2 miles, but I used my mum-distracting technique of asking her what her IDEAL cake would be. This has changed since she really got into Bake Off. Prior to her obsession with both junior and adult Bake Off she would say chocolate. Now I can keep her going for far longer talking about sugar-work, ganache, meringue and all these things I don’t have a clue how to make… so that got us from mile 2 to 2.5 and then not only had she done a massive distance PB but I could say to her that we only had to get up that hill and round the corner and we were almost at the finish line. AND we were going to do it in under 40 minutes (I’d kept that under my hat because she’s actually not that motivated by time or competition, but can be DE-motivated by it if she, for example, thinks she’s going to come last!). And then finally we were at the end and she could see the finisher’s tunnel and we could see Helen and Sean, who she’d met at the start, cheering us, and Helen was taking the brilliant pictures you see here! And Evie just took off. It took me a second to register, and I had to sprint myself to catch up with her! Also, I haven’t mentioned that I was at this point carrying her hat, hoodie, water bottle etc., as is the wont of the Mum (sometimes both kids manage to foist ALL of their stuff onto me on the way back from school without me even registering that I’m carrying everything and threatening to chuck it all up in the air like some kind of human Buckaroo!).
Her official finish time was 37 minutes and 40 seconds, which I think is an amazing first 5K time for an 8 year old. I was envisioning it taking us 40-45 minutes so I’m super proud of her for that. But I’m mainly just proud of her for giving it a go, getting out of her comfort zone, and holding her own amongst a bunch of adults. She can now officially run further than her dad (who, to be fair, is the actual most stoical person I know, so if he says running hurts his knees then he’s probably in actual agony, so we don’t force the issue, and he can swim WAY further than me). She was so full of beans afterwards it was an absolute joy, and insisted on going to the playground for a bit after we’d scanned our barcodes, so she obviously had plenty left.
But I will leave the last word to Evie herself, because I absolutely LOVE this. In the car on the way to get the promised cake at a real proper café, I asked her if she’d enjoyed herself, and she said, “I was a bit worried before we started, but when I started running my worries caught some sweat and got blown away”. Thus proving what every runner knows is that there aren’t many worries that can’t be blown away with your sweat on a good run!