It took less than a week before you dragged your heavy limbs through the door and mumbled, “I hate cross country.” You were too tired to shout it. Your shoes were soaked with creek water. Your face, though you hid it from me, was soaked in tears.
You had your reasons, and they were good ones. Running hurts. It isn’t fun. It’s every man for himself. It’s not a team sport. No matter how fast I become, I’ll never win.
I had my reasons for wanting to quit training for my last marathon too. This season was never about winning. You’re barely 12 years old, so I guess I can’t expect you to know how little it means to win. Empty and fleeting, the cheers will always die down. No one claps forever, and cloud nine turns to wisp or rain.
There will always be someone faster (unless you’re Mo Farrah). There will always be someone with more muscle, more talent, more strength, more opportunity. If your goal is to win, to “be the best”, then yes, you might want to pack it up now, because otherwise it would be a long and disappointing season. But that is not why you run.
While you sat at the table and shoveled a post-practice snack in at record speed, I resisted the urge to give you what you pleaded for–the green light to quit. That might be the easier way for both of us, but I know it would only lead us in circles, back to the start at best.
This season is not about your times, your placing, or your accomplishments. This season is about growing in strength, in confidence, in humility, in perseverance.
What I want for you in these six short weeks of “torture” as I believe you called it, is to learn what it means to work hard and to push your limits. I want you to learn to fall and get back up, to put your perceived failures into a compost pile and turn them into fuel to grow stronger and more confident.
I want you to stare down your fear of failure and win that blinking contest, to don a new layer of toughness that you can take with you into every life challenge you face. And most of all, I want you to know and feel the bone-deep joy of overcoming.
There will be days ahead when you will wish your biggest obstacle was to get through a 5k race. I want you to be prepared for those days. I want you to have that unflappable confidence that comes from knowing you’ve faced down your demons, you’ve pushed through pain, you’ve climbed that endless hill, and that you are strong enough and tough enough to do it again.
Ultimately, I’d love for you to be happy. I know that’s a tall order, especially for a middle-schooler. And I know it seems that the quickest path to happiness would be to run away from this cross country season, to wash that stinky racing tee and stuff it into the back of your drawer, never again to be worn.
But the path to real happiness means you have to put that shirt on again, at least a few more times. You have to take the difficult way, the scary way, the painful way. It’s the only legitimate way to the finish line. And yes, I know the literal finish line might not be all that fabulous either given the fact you usually feel like hurling upon arrival. But you know I’m talking about the big picture finish—the kind you reach after you have tried and failed, surged and fallen, leaned in and lost.
Happily ever after is for fairy tales. Coming from behind to win the state championship is for Disney movies. That’s not going to be your story this season. Your story is about the kid who wanted to quit but didn’t, the one who showed up and did the work day after day, mile after mile. Your story is about becoming stronger for every courageous step you took out of your comfort zone. Your story is about becoming the best version of yourself, with no shortcuts, no stopping, and no regrets.
Your story is waiting. It’s time to lace up and get after it.
Do your kids run? Have you ever thought about quitting?