My son Emmett is 11, and yesterday morning we ran a half marathon together.
Now, one might be inclined to think, “Wow, that’s amazing! Go Emmett!” or “What a terrific father-son bonding opportunity.” But, in all honesty, I’m disappointed in myself as a parent. I feel like, in hindsight, I let the boy down.
Soooo … Emmett is in a running club at his middle school. It’s a pretty neat program where sixth, seventh and eighth graders train together several times per week. I grew up participating in an endless string of 5Ks and 10Ks, and I gained myriad invaluable lessons in work ethic, in toughness, in timeliness. I mean, I still think about those runs quite frequently, and the idea of fighting to achieve a goal. I wound up running a year of track and cross country at Delaware, then completed 11 marathons. None of this is being stated as a brag (it’d be a pretty weak brag). I’m simply trying to say that, when it comes to distance running, I’ve long been all in.
The problem here is that the after-school club Emmett belongs to trains kids to run … a marathon. Yes, 26.2 miles. And, to me and the wife, this is wrongheaded. Marathons are brutal. They’re physically demanding. They’re emotionally punishing. They take a ton out of a person and—if one’s not careful—can cause real damage. The pound-pound-pound-pounding on the body isn’t natural. And, in my opinion, it’s especially unnatural for kids who are still developing. The idea of the club (with very good intentions) is to teach youngsters that they can accomplish a goal through hard work and devotion. And that’s a superb lesson—generally. Not with this. But … generally.
Anyhow, I consulted with myriad coaches and distance runners, and no one thought kids this age should be running marathons. We agree 100 percent, so we’re not letting Emmett train for or run the 26.2. That said, I took him to the half. I dunno—I just thought we could walk-run, go at an easy pace, hold back … whatever. And it worked. We walked-run a good amount. We went at an easy pace. We held back. But as we approached mile 10, I saw Emmett start to change. He turned less chatty. His pace slowed a lot. His ankle began to throb, and he complained about his stomach. I encouraged him to walk more, and he did.
But, truly, why was he doing this? He’s 11. How is this teaching him to love running? How is putting him through torture a good thing? I tried being upbeat and positive; even kept that facade in the hours afterward.
But as I sit here, more than 24 hours later, I know I let my kid down.
I know he shouldn’t have run.