Marlene Farrell: Thanks For Asking, Alice
Most of us runners, when we have a goal on the horizon, create a training schedule to move us along a path toward that goal. Sometimes it’s as simple as a weekly mileage target and a planned long run; sometimes it’s specific day to day workouts. We log our progress, holding ourselves accountable to reaching milestones along our path, as the long run gets longer and the intervals get faster.
We could hold back on a tough workout, shorten a long run in the rain, write excuses for ourselves in our training log. Which is harder to accomplish, training at a high level or being completely honest with ourselves?
I am lucky because in the past year I have benefited from a new tool to help me double check my running, looking one day ahead while keeping the big picture in mind.
My daughter Alice just turned four so she’s not exactly a certified personal trainer. I can, however, describe her as methodical and resourceful in keeping tabs on my training. Every night after her hair has been combed glossy smooth, her teeth brushed minty clean, stories read with Alice and her brother Quentin jockeying for best spot on my lap and overflowing it, finally lights are off and kids are in bed. I kiss them and we share a few murmured ponderings and feelings that are unique to this crepuscular hour.
And from Alice there’s always “One more thing, Mom. Tomorrow, are you going for a short run, medium run or long run?” Before I can leave I must answer this earnest question. Often it’s clear and I can give a quick answer. But when I’m between goals, like I am right now, it makes me pause and rouse myself out of my sleepy stupor, to contemplate the new day and imagine how would be best to start it. I want to answer truthfully because Alice will calculate how it affects her day (she is an early riser and likes a warm drink first thing) but also because I want to give myself a worthy challenge and a way for me to start out the day feeling fulfilled with much opportunity remaining.
Alice is not judgmental. She won’t berate me if I say “Short run,” time after time. But she also won’t flinch if I say “Long run,” so her question sometimes makes me think, “Why not?” She and I have never discussed the specific lengths of a long, medium and short run but she intuitively understands that a long run is less frequent and thus the day it precedes may unfold differently.
Alice knows I love to run so I think it is kind of her to take interest in my morning jaunts. And the nightly ritual of her asking, followed by the actual run, is just as engrained in her (and Quentin’s) daily life as washing hands, eating meals together or saying thank you. My running structure, which seems to hold its shape better than my parenting at times, shows my kids that exercise is a normal and joyous component of everyday living. Like all young children, Quentin and Alice incorporate exuberant spontaneous physical activity all day long. As they get older I hope they find sports and hobbies that they practice habitually, as they will gain strength from that dedication. Running has certainly provided that bedrock for me, even through some big life changes.
In the meantime, I’ll ponder the corollary to Alice’s first question: “Mom, be sure to find something on your run.” A penny perhaps, but what else can I find?