Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Other People's Running

For the past few weeks, much of my running efforts have been focused on what can only be described as Other People's Running. I've ramped up the volunteer efforts this year, most recently dedicating myself to helping out with Cornbelt Running Club's kids' track program and volunteering at the Quad City Senior Olympics.

When I saw the list of volunteer opportunities for Racing Team members, kids' track was a natural choice for me. Go out and have fun with kids, one of whom could be Jack? You bet! The program is totally free, lasts six weeks, and introduces kids, aged six (plus bonus 5-1/2 year old Jack) to ten to the fun that is track and field.

Some of my fellow volunteer coaches have been focusing on a single event, but I've been roving with the littlest kids, answering their questions and keeping them corralled. Every week starts with a 1/4 mile warm-up... and a lecture from me about what a warm-up is. Specifically, that we do not attempt to kill the warm-up by racing as fast as we can around the track; that it is not a race, and that in fact, it would be smarter to wait until we actually are racing before putting in such efforts, and that if you are first around the track during the warm-up, nobody will be impressed. Most of the kids listen to me, but there are a few who tear off as fast as they can, then inevitably find themselves walking on the back straightaway and dramatically collapse at the end, claiming to be too spent to stretch. I have no sympathy for that and remind them that they should have listened.

After stretching, it's time for the entertainment that is a bunch of little kids attempting to do the hurdles. The club has special kid hurdles, an ingenious invention of squared off swimming noodles with little pegs that attach to traffic cones. Almost to a person, the girls are much better at hurdles than the boys, far more capable of leaping gracefully over them and less likely to crash into them over and over again. Jack is a crasher. There's usually a lot of setting hurdles back up after he tries it. The good news is, he has fun with it and seems to be getting better.

Next, we do some running. One week, the focus was on sprints, and the coach spent a lot of time showing the kids how to get into proper starting position - a feat that intimidated me so much that, when I ran track, I was always grateful to not be a sprinter so I didn't have to worry about my starting stance. The next week, we had the kids try some distance running, with an 800. The woman in charge of running was not so sure the little kids would be able to make that distance. I offered to bring up the rear to make sure everybody was okay. One of the kids, who is, shall we say, not a good listener, decided after about 50 meters that he was "too tired" to continue. He did, however, have the energy to turn cartwheels. I told him to knock it off and run; luckily he did.

After running, it's time for either relays or long jump. The kids have been incredibly excited about relays. Something about the baton is just cool to them. They also love the long jump, and seem to be totally unaware that most of them suck at it. I have taken to giving them some gentle coaching, like, "That was good, and I think that next time, you can do even better if, instead of stopping when you get to the place where you jump, you ran up until that spot, then jumped."

The best part of working with these kids is their absolute enthusiasm. "Can we please run another lap around the track?" Well, okay, if you were good. Jumping into a pit of sand? Never tried it, but bring it on. I see a few kids who have some real talent - there is a girl who is only 4-1/2 but can rock out the hurdles like nobody's business, and my boy can churn out 800s all day long with a smile on his face. But even if I'm not coaching the next Usain Bolt or Kara Goucher, my hope is that I am working with a bunch of people who will sign up for several 5Ks a year, finish in the middle of the pack, and have fun with it. I just want them to love running.

I want them to be just like the people who competed in the Senior Olympics. The Senior Olympics is a very cool event, held all over the world, in which people who are 50 years and older (40 for track and field events) compete in a variety of athletic events. We are talking everything from a 5K road race to basketball free-throws to kicking a soccer ball for accuracy. I intended to volunteer for the 5K, but thanks to the charm of the race director, I wound up helping out with the triple jump, the softball throw, and the discus as well.

As a runner, despite having competed in track for six years, I spent almost no time watching field events. The men who did the triple jump had to explain the rules to me and were really nice about helping me measure the distances. I have never tried the triple jump, but let me tell you, it looks hard. I admire anyone who is willing to attempt it, no matter what their age, but the men who were over 70 and decided to give it a shot just for fun are incredibly cool in my book. And if you are over the age of 20 and own your own discus? That's badass.

The softball throw moved the athletes to different points on the field, at different angles and distances, where they attempted to toss the ball into a target. I learned that a couple of the women competing had played professional baseball in the All-American Girls League, as seen in the movie A League of Their Own. These women managed to be professional athletes during the time before Title 9. They are heroes to all women in sports - and they are still competing. Awesome.

Working on Other People's Running has given more focus to my own running and my goals. Yes, I would like to put some new PR's on the side of my blog. But more than that, I want to have fun with my running like the kids do, and I want to keep it up for my entire life, like the athletes in the Senior Olympics do. I want to love running forever.