Two weekends ago, I ran in my first 5K race for the Doug Flutie Foundation for Autism.
Wait, did I say ran? I meant I ran, walked, moaned, cried, and finally mustered every bit of energy possible to run through the finish line.
I had a really great plan for running in this race. I decided back in May that I was going to run in a 5K for the first time ever, and announced it in grand fashion to all my friends and family on my facebook page and in my blog. I bought new running shoes, joined the “couch-to-5K” program, and loaded new songs onto my iPod. This was going to be my new thing.
Best laid plans ...
I lost my way several times in the months leading up to the race. I had all sorts of excuses. It was hot. My kids were not sleeping well during the summer and I was tired. I lost my running partner to scheduling incompatibilities and an injury. And did I mention it was hot? There were several times when I reeled myself back in (even wrote about my new determination), but ultimately, my motivation was gone.
But I was going to run it anyway.
I went to the race with four friends – all experienced runners. Two of my friends were using this race as a warm up to a half marathon. I was the rookie of the bunch, and I told them all that I would just meet them at the car after the race. No need to wait for me.
As I lined up with 900 other runners, I felt a twinge of excitement. Of hope. “I can do this”, I thought. Of course, I had never actually run this distance before. Ever. Not only that, but this was the first time in three weeks that my running shoes were on my feet, instead of collecting dust in the corner.
My pace started off ok and I was keeping up with my friends for the first ½ mile. But that was it. I slowed down considerably and watched their backs move further into the distance. At about the first mile marker, I was toast. I officially slowed down to a walk and started to get angry.
As an 80 year old woman passed me at the halfway water stop, I felt the wind kick out of me (literally and figuratively). Those moments of excitement were replaced with self-doubt. With the Dixie Chicks singing “There’s Your Trouble” in my ear, I was ready to quit. I was embarrassed by my pace and my lack of stamina, and mostly ashamed that I had been unable to stick with my training plan. If I had any idea where I was at that point, I would have walked off the course to go home to hide under the covers.
You know, like I want to do many days.
That’s when it hit me. This race was an awful lot like my daily life as a parent. I was feeling just as overwhelmed and unprepared at that moment as I do so many days as a mom.
Those months before you become a parent are amazing - filled with excitement and anticipation. You can’t wait to meet that incredible new life, and you spend days and nights planning what your life will be like together. Your thoughts are full of trips to the playground, first days of school, family vacations to Disney. Life will be beautiful and perfect.
But no one tells you that you might have to deviate from that plan. No one expects to learn phrases like “failure to thrive” or “verbal stimming” or “sensory processing disorder”. No one teaches you ahead of time what a feeding tube is, or warns you that you might spend days and nights in the hospital while your child is poked and prodded by various specialists. Nor should they, really. Those days before your child arrives should be full of that same excitement and hope that I felt at the beginning of the race. But somewhere along the way, some of us learn that our plans for the playground and Disney get replaced by just trying to get through the supermarket checkout line once a week.
What struck me most as I was huffing and puffing my way to the 2 mile marker (yes, I’m ONLY at mile 2 by this point), is that it doesn’t matter what plans we had. What matters is how we replan. What matters most to our kids is that we readjust our goals and expectations to fit their individual needs, and when that stops working, we change our goals again. Because in the long run, it’s for a good cause: our kids’ health and happiness.
This race was also for a good cause. This was about the Flutie Foundation and all the good work they do, and not about me. So I changed my plans. I decided my goal was to finish in under an hour and not finish last. This was a huge shift in thinking from my original expectation. I challenged myself to run for one song, then walk the next. When that stopped working, I would run for half the song, then walk. All I wanted to do was hit that finish line.
As I rounded the final corner, the race volunteer yelled “Just up the hill and you’re at the finish!” (did there really have to be a hill at the end?). I was almost done and I gathered every last bit of strength I had to run across the finish line. My friends were there cheering me on, even though they had been waiting for over 20 minutes at this point. They were as excited for me as I was for myself. These are the same amazing people who cheer me on everyday as a parent to a special needs kid.
Because we’re all friends here, I’m not ashamed to tell you my time. I finished just over 46 minutes and came in 805th. My time was under an hour, and I was not last. Mission accomplished. I got through it one mile marker at a time, just like every day.
A few days after the race, my four year old asked me if I had won. “No,” I told him, “but I finished it, and that’s all that mattered.” He smiled and put his arms around me in a hug. Not his usual “hugging-me-so-tight-I-can’t-breathe” sensory input hug, but a nice gentle hug, with a little tap on the back.
“What kind of hug was that?” I asked him.
“That was an ‘I love you’ hug”, he said.
My first one ever. Another finish line crossed.
I’m already planning for my next 5K in April. Who’s running with me?
Alysia Butler is a stay at home mom to three boys, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder. She writes about that and other things at Try Defying Gravity and is pretty close to understanding Twitter @trydefyinggrav.