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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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Tomorrow is my son’s fifth birthday (that’s him doing what he loves best above). As my mother-in-law says, he’ll officially be a whole handful.
I find birthdays and anniversaries to be great times to reflect on personal growth and to check-in with progress on goals I’ve set. Don’t worry, there will be cake and singing and silliness, too. And a few tears that only mothers know how to cry when their babies get older.

When I think back over the “whole handful” of years, I’m amazed at all that has happened in our little family (I’m keeping with the “5” theme):

1. We moved all the way across the country from Charlotte, NC to just outside Seattle, WA. If that situation doesn’t provide growth, I don’t know what will!
2. After two serious allergic reactions before his first birthday, our son was diagnosed with a long list of food allergies. As of last week, we’ve been given the green flag to add in larger amounts of eggs & milk into baked food products. This is cause for celebration at our house!
3. Our son became a loving big brother to a spit-fire little sister.
4. We’re now able to enjoy family adventures lasting longer than 6 hours. We’ve managed 2 weekend-long camping trips already this summer. I really never thought this day would come.
5. Our kids speak of their futures using empowering phrases like, “When I’m a runner . . . “ and “I’ll do that, too, because I’m strong!” I can’t wait to see what will happen when they make those phrases come true.

Although the birthday is HIS, as the mama who birthed him, the day belongs to ME, too! This gives me the clearance to evaluate my goals in relationship to his life-span.

1. In his short/long (I haven’t decided if the time has been fast or slow!) life I published a book and sold over 1,000 copies of it.
2. Two weekends ago I set a running PR that blows anything from my “pre-kids life” out of the water.
3. I have completed at last a dozen quilts and already have a growing list of quilts to create over the course of his next five years. Only one quilt in his lifetime was for me – the others have all been gifts to celebrate weddings and births.
4. I started a non-profit social moms group in our community 3 years ago and it is still running.
5. My husband and I celebrated our 10 year engagement-iversary last week and our marriage is still going strong.

Now that know I can guide a child through life longer than I’ve held down any single paying job, my challenge begins. I must ask myself:

What are my new goals?
What experiences will I have the pleasure of remembering when the NEXT birthday rolls around?

Don’t go yet! I have a challenge for you:

What life events prompt YOU to take a look at where you’ve been on your life path? What experiences lead you to set new goals as you head forward?