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I dedicate my Tuesdays and Thursdays to cleaning my house (mornings) and Foot Patrol (afternoons). The Foot Patrol coaches and runners have been hard at play for five weeks now, integrating fun games (running in disguise) with some distance training. The coaches and I have worked with nearly 40 boys and girls, K-5th grade this season. Some days thinking about it just blows me away. Ten years ago, if you had told me if I’d be a kids’ running program coordinator and coach, I would have laughed.

Across the street from our YMCA is a paved trail around a man-made lake. The entire circumference of the lake is 1.6 miles. For our younger runners, completing this loop is their season goal. For our older runners, two laps around makes for a great challenge. With this program and its acceptance of anyone who wants to sign-up, we really don’t know what mix of kiddos we’ll get until they show up the first day. What a great surprise we had when we found out that eight of them want to complete the full 5K run. They don’t just want to, they WANT to . . . and they want to go FAST.

Another handful of runners beg for us to play more games. They play whole-heartedly and then start suggesting new games to the coaches, or request games we’ve played earlier in the season. When our day’s session is finished, these little bodies are still in motion as they get their fellow runners together to play “just ONE more!” while they wait for their parents to finish signing them out and parent chatter. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I do look forward to integrating some of their game (and stretching) ideas into the next season’s plans. What is interesting about this bunch is that they aren’t at all interested in distance running, yet I’d be willing to bet that they cover more distance with the games than the distance runners do when they work on running around the lake. At first this bothered me because I wanted every runner to complete at least the 1.6 mile run by the end of the season, but then it hit me that this goal is MINE, not theirs. Some of these running gamers WILL complete the run, mostly because their running buddies want to. But some of these great spirits will choose to do what works for them, which truly is the goal of Foot Patrol – to introduce children to running in a FUN way so they will learn to see it as something they can do throughout their lives without seeing it as a punishment. Are they having fun – YES. Would they see running as fun if I pushed them to do the full 1.6 miles? Maybe not. I’d say the goal accomplished and we’ll just let this bunch revel in the joy they’ve discovered in the games.

And what of that last handful of runners? I’m not one for choosing favorites, but I do really like this bunch. Maybe it is because these kids remind me of my own discovery of running, or maybe because I’m a sucker for witnessing “Ah-ha!” moments, but I’m really enjoying my “I didn’t know I could do that!” group. These are the runners who are part of Foot Patrol because a sibling is also running, because on a whim they thought it “might” be fun, or because one of their friends told them about it at school and their parents were happy to have them participate in a low-cost, local fitness program. For the most part, these are 2nd & 3rd graders who are active in other sports, but who have never really paid attention to what their bodies can truly do.

Last week we were blessed with cool, but dry sunny afternoons for Foot Patrol, truly PERFECT running days. Some of the runners had been asking if we could go ALL the way around the lake. Since many of them had covered 3/4 of the distance comfortably the week before, the coaches and I divided the kids into a few different groups to meet their pacing/distance needs. I took a group of 4 boys, 3 of whom were ready to go, go, go. The fourth boy thought maybe he could, but he wasn’t sure. With one last chance to run with another group, he decided to stick with us and off we went. Thankfully there is a bathroom half-way around the lake, for despite the requirement that everyone make a pit stop before Foot Patrol starts, all four boys were happy to make a second pit stop. At this point that fourth boy started having doubts about continuing. The other kids were amazing at encouraging him and I promised to stick right with him so we could choose distances and then take walk breaks if he wanted. Feeling more confident with our newly set plan, we were off for our second half.

About .10 mile from the cross walk back to the Y, the boy looked at me and said, “I’m not sure I can run anymore.” Since he had been pretty chatty along the way, I didn’t share his doubts, but I didn’t argue with him. Instead I had him lift his chin to look ahead and see where on the path we were. When he did, his already big eyes got even bigger. “We’re HERE already? That’s the Y up ahead!”

“Yup! Did you surprise yourself?” I asked.

“Yeah I did. I didn’t think I’d ever make it around. But I DID! That was EASY!” He quickly shook off his self-doubt as he stood a bit taller to finish up his run. That Saturday he showed up for the YMCA’s annual Fall Classic 1.6 mile/5K fun run to run with his parents and little brother. His little brother is a Foot Patrol runner, too, and was so inspired by his big brother’s accomplishment (and his own good training, of course) that he decided HE could do the 1.6 mile run, too. And he did.

What about you? Do you find yourself facing a daunting task and wonder how you’ll ever accomplish it? Put your chin up, face that finish line and surprise yourself. You can do it.

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Though the morning was chilly and drizzly, it turned out to be a good one for a run. I got the kids ready for the day while my husband caught a few extra minutes of sleep, then headed out on my own to join about 100 or so locals for the Riverview Educational Foundation Turkey Trot in Carnation. This relatively new race (this was the second year!) offers a 5K, a 10K and a scavenger hunt – The Wild Turkey Hunt Urban Legend.

I opted to run the 5K, as we’ve been passing around cold after cold at our house and I have only been able to run a handful of times in the last few weeks. This race was great motivation for me to get back into a regular routine of running. Also, I’ve been focusing on my foot strike form, so the race presented me with the opportunity to try out my new foot strike outside on a trail. This race was just the thing I needed all around!

There weren’t many of us on the course this morning (compared to the summer races around here, anyhow) and I found that I really didn’t know any of my fellow runners. I usually enjoy the energy of running with friends and neighbors that I know, but this morning I found that the energy in the air was just as positive and encouraging amid the crowd of unknowns, giving me an opportunity to reflect and truly focus on my return to running and my physical form. Yet another thing this usual social bug needed!

The school district’s superintendent, Conrad Robertson, warned us at the start line that there might be a few muddy spots along the way and that we were welcome to run around or through any puddles on the course, the choice was ours. He got a few chuckles of response, but little did we know that in a few places there wouldn’t be too much choice.

I found myself remembering Robertson’s words as I watched the field of runners ahead of me seemingly dance across a narrow bridge, manuvering across the leafy, puddle heavy stretch of the course with fancy tip-toe footwork. I joined in with my own leaps, twists and occasional light splashes, thinking that the bike riders that were politely awaiting their turn to cross the bridge wouldn’t have nearly as much fun as they rolled through our obstacle course.

Only one dog participated in the event, a young Weimaraner who doubled the distance her person had to cover to reach the finish line. I was fortunate to follow this twosome for the first third of the race, laughing to myself about how that pup really had no idea what was going on and why she wasn’t allowed to take a dip in the river along the way. While the river was off limits for her, she did manage to take Robertson’s words to heart, choosing to run full speed ahead through a LONG puddle, splashing her owner as she moved her gangly, too long for her body, legs. This was a good morning for a pup to run, too!

The race course took us along the outer loop of a Girl Scout camp. It was the perfect location for a fall race, which would have been even more enjoyable if the sun had graced us with its presence, BUT, still provided a calm atmosphere for the middle of the race. The unexpected suprise on this stretch was a cabin full of girls in their pajamas cheering for us as they watched us through the giant picture window. There they were, with pigtails and slippers, jumping up and down, waving excitedly as we hurried past and waved our own greetings in return. I wonder how many of those girls might lace up their own running shoes for a race someday in the future, thinking back on our field of runners as we trotted through the drizzly morning in conquest of the finish line.

In the end, this race was probably the slowest I’ve run (I finished right around 30 minutes flat), but it was what I’d consider one of my best. I took the time to enjoy what I was doing, I was focused on my body position and technique, and had time to reflect on my surroundings. Today’s Turkey Trot reminded me of my passion for the sport of running – my love of the process, being in the moment and the groove of a good pace, respecting the generosity of the volunteers who enable me to race, and the fun of rubbing elbows with others who enjoy a good run.

Originally Posted by me on 11/10/2007 on the Balanced Steps site: www.balancedsteps.com