A few weeks ago, I ran the 29th Annual Children’s Museum of New Hampshire 5K Race & Fun Run. Full disclosure: I didn’t run the Fun Run. I’ve aged out of that bracket.
This was my sixth CMNH 5K and, unlike the first five that I ran, I approached the sixth much, much differently.
My preparation for my first five museum races broke down something like this:
2009-2013 Race Prep
– Don’t eat or drink something stupid the night before
– Go to bed early and get plenty of sleep the eve of the race
– Eat some dry toast and maybe a few bites of banana for breakfast
– Load up my ipod or cell phone with a good race tracklist for the run (usually heavy on songs with strong, steady beats, like Daft Punk and Talking Heads) – something I find essential to a good running experience
– Walk down to Henry Law Park early enough to get in plenty of stretching time (say, 30 minutes or so) pre-race
– Find a place among the racers that keeps me as far away from the parents with strollers as possible. It’s great that they’re running with their kids, but they’ll just get in my way
– Get ready for the starting gun and focus on the goal of beating my time from the previous year
Simple enough, no?
This year’s list was going to need a little tweaking – some voluntary, some involuntary. Why? Well . . . I wasn’t racing alone this year.
2014 Race Prep
– Go to bed after I finally eat dinner which won’t happen until we finally get the 7 month old baby – who happens to be teething – down for the night
– Wake up every few hours and trade-off with my wife to see who can try to calm said teething baby down and get him back to sleep
– Wake up at 5:30 AM because that’s what time the baby has decided he’s going to be awake
– Stand at the stove half-asleep and make eggs for breakfast because the baby has decided that he wants Daddy and he to race in matching Captain America shirts and that we should use our Captain America spatula while making breakfast. Therefore, eggs
– Let the baby talk to himself in a baby mirror to psyche himself up for his first 5K
– Pose with the baby to show off our matching outfits
– Decorate our racing bibs in special Captain America stickers that the baby insisted Daddy buy for the race
– Walk down to Henry Law Park the long way so Mommy can get a coffee at Adelle’s and Daddy can stress out about potentially not getting to the race on time
– Meet up with the baby’s Nana, Memere, two cousins, Aunt, and Grandfather at Henry Law Park – all of whom are either running, walking or volunteering at the event
– Give everyone time to pose for pictures with the baby on his first race day
– Devote a grand total of 2-4 minutes to stretching before you realize they’re making the final announcement for racers to assemble
– Rush, with the baby in the stroller, to get in line
– Try to avoid the looks of some runners as you elbow your way in with your cumbersome stroller
– Check on the baby to make sure he’s ok for the 47th time in the last half hour
– Forgo any headphones or music because I’ll obviously need to be listening for every sigh, gasp, squeak and titter that the baby makes
– 1 minute before the start of the race, realize that they’re – obviously – going to be a shooting a gun off and start to panic that the baby will freak out
– 30 seconds before the gun goes off, have a mother with a stroller next to me ask me if I’m going to buckle the stroller strap into my running belt
– 25 seconds before the gun goes off, realize I have no idea what a running belt is, that I have nothing on my person to strap my son’s stroller belt into, that this is all some sort of horrible mistake and will likely end with me on the side of the road with a sprained ankle, two full diapers, and lots of crying
– 20 seconds before the gun goes off, panic. A lot
– 15 seconds before the gun goes off, remember that your race time doesn’t matter and that you’re just in this for you and the baby to have a good time
– 10 seconds before the gun goes off, hear your baby start laughing at the fact that he just stuck his whole fist in his mouth
– 5 seconds before the gun goes off, smile and remember that this is the last time you’ll be able to take your baby on his first race
It wasn’t my easiest race. But, my goodness, it was the most fun race I’ve ever run. Our volunteer staff is always awesome when it comes to cheering the racers on and this year was no different – but, for me, it felt different. The cheers seemed louder. The adrenaline seemed stronger. In addition to the volunteers, you also have many citizens of Dover who come out to watch the race. Yes, it stops traffic for a bit. Yes, there’s detours. Yes, it can be a brief inconvenience. But all the bystanders have huge smiles on their faces and – especially in the last mile – they’re yelling out encouragement, they’re telling you it’s not that much longer and they’re yelling at the top of their lungs that you – yes, YOU – are going to make it! They’re having fun and whether we runners and walkers look like it, I promise you, we’re having fun too! But this year? This year was different.
The biggest difference? The talking. Oh, the talking. Listen, I was voted Most Talkative so many years in a row in middle and high school that they retired my jersey. And my baby and I? We talk. A lot. All the time. Heck, I even talk to pictures of my baby when he’s at daycare. Is that normal? I don’t know. Maybe. Despite working with children for over a decade, this is my first time at the Dad Rodeo.* But the talking! The talking! I’m not referring to the baby. I’m referring to me! It’s one thing to regulate your breathing during a race. But it’s another thing to try to regulate your breathing while you’re talking to your tiny little son for 3.1 miles. Despite my verbose nature, I’m not used to uttering one word during a race. Maybe a cough or a vocalized wince, but certainly not sentences. Certainly not elaborate conversations.
* – (At the Dad Rodeo, you win if you can change a diaper in the dark without waking up the baby in under 8 seconds. But you’re still likely going to be a clown.)
Things I verbalize to Cap Jr. during the CMNH 5K
– How we doin’ down there?
– Believe it or not, we haven’t even officially gone over the Starting Line yet.
– We don’t have to wait for the walk sign this time. Just trust me.
– Say hi to the ladies at Harvey’s!
– Whoa. Pal, look at that guy over there. I think he’s still out from last night. No. Don’t stare.
– Yeah. It’s slow moving at first. But we’ll break away once we get to Portland Ave.
– Hmmmm . . . maybe Dad should have investigated sun screen?
– But seriously, you’re fine? Because I can’t really see you that well.
– Yup, he’s mine! What? Oh. Yeah – the one from all the pictures.
– He actually prefers Cap Jr. or Lil’ Cap! (in response to someone yelling, “Go Baby Cap!”)
– Whew. That first mile gets longer and longer each year.
– Stu! Don’t throw water at my baby! (in response to the water station volunteers’ exuberance)
– Daddy’s going to say a bad word. The other side of this cul-de-sac is &%#$@!
– If you want to yell, “Wheeeeee!” as we go down the hill, Dad totally signs off on that.
– Wheeeeeeeeeeee! (in response to Cap Jr’s failure to do so as we go down the Cocheco St. hill to hit Mile Marker 2)
– I think that’s your cousin Garrett up ahead. No . . . we’re not catching up to him. Because Daddy’s more than 20 years older than your cousin, that’s why.
– Yup. That’s what horses do sometimes, pal. Yup. Sometimes right in the street.
– Don’t yell “on your left” to Nana! It’s rude!
– Yes, those guys are running in the opposite direction. Because . . . they . . . already finished and . . . are circling back to run . . . a 10K.
– Stop asking so many questions. Daddy can’t see in color anymore.
– There’s Grampa! Wave to Grampa!
– No, Grampa! We can’t stop for a picture! Meet us at the finish line!
– We know it’s blurry, Grampa! That’s because we’re running while you’re walking next to us trying to take a picture!
– Yes, that volunteer is on a unicycle.
– No, I don’t know why that volunteer is on a unicycle.
– Aarrrrgh! (Translated: “I can’t believe your Aunt Kate just snaked by us in the last 2 seconds of the race!”)
The first thing I used to do after a race (once my vision came back, my inhaler patched my lungs over, and I wrung the sweat out of my eyebrows) was to stretch. And I made sure to stretch this time too. Once I checked on the baby and finally looked in his eyes for the first time in over a half hour and made sure he was fine. He was actually exhausted and pretty much out cold. Wouldn’t you be after flying all around Dover and listening to your Dad endlessly spout at you? And if you woke up and watched your mom cross the finish line and then she brought you to meet a giant alligator named Albert, wouldn’t that just be the best day ever?
One of the most magical things that happens at the CMNH 5K & Fun Run each year is the sense of community. Former and current employees and board members and long time volunteers return to help or participate in the event. Families run together. Elementary school classes run together. Scout groups run together. Co-workers, trivia teams, running groups – they’re all represented.
There was a runner there that told me that morning that this was his 100th race. Cap Jr. still has a bit more mileage to hit before he enters the triple digits. But I won’t care what his race times are. Or if he ate the right protein bar beforehand. Or what music he listens to when he runs. As long as he has fun.
At 32 minutes and 44 seconds, it was my worst 5K time ever. But who cares? I wouldn’t change a thing. (Well, maybe next year, we’ll aim for a bit more sleep the night before. I’m going to assume Cap Jr.’s teeth will finally be in by then.)