The runner in the child
By Marlene Farrell
It is Sunday and the day is escaping me. I flit from email, laundry and cleaning a lizard cage, to overseeing piano practice and cookie making. After an hour is committed to Quentin’s science fair project and I toss the Frisbee with Alice on our sun-dappled driveway, I know I must run now if it is going to happen at all.
Alice perks up at the mention of running and insists on joining me. The day before we had alpine skied soft snow under sunny skies at Stevens Pass. “I need to run because skiing doesn’t use my muscles like cross country (skiing),” Alice explains. At 7, she is already aware of her muscles. She flexes them and they visibly bulge. She knows the sensation of working them until her legs feel heavy, shackled with invisible weights.
Alice waits while I change clothes. There’s no fuss for her – capris, t-shirt and braids serve her as well for running as they do for school and play.
We cross the road and hop a log to enter a small path leading to the Sleeping Lady property. I let Alice lead. She is unaware of the beauty of her stride. She is long-legged like a colt and runs with a bounding lightness that carries over from her ballet training and is supported by her strong core.
It’s easy to run alongside her because she paces herself. This is unusual as most kids run with stop-and-start motion. Equally instinctual for Alice is her runner’s etiquette. Side by side we run until we approach a narrow bridge. “Is it OK if I go first over the bridge?”
“Of course,” I say. She doesn’t know that I’d follow her anywhere. I’d chase her like she’s a figment of my dream come to life.
We pause to catch our breath. “Feel my heart.” It thumps with exuberance. But I can feel it slow down quickly. After about 10 seconds we take off again. Our course meanders according to Alice’s whims. We twist and turn around outbuildings and jump over dirty snow patches.
When I was little I didn’t run except to sprint to a thicket or a fat tree trunk in games of hide-and-seek. Or I ran downhill, pulled along gravity’s string. Running for its own sake seemed foreign and taxing. It wasn’t until high school that I learned what running could be from my first mentor, a neighbor who encouraged me to enter a local fun run.
Alice has many choices because she’s not just strong, but also agile and coordinated. If running nudges her more because it’s also my love then I’m delighted to offer that gift. I am rewarded as well, seeing the promise of a future runner. Alice will run places I’ll never see and for years after I’m gone.
Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer and long-distance runner who has qualified twice for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She also helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.