The first time my daughter ran a mile in competition, I was certain it would be her last.
Rachel is 11-years-old and participated this year for the first time in the Taylorsville Community Track program, part of a countywide track program in which nine other communities participated. I signed both of my girls up just to keep them busy, off the couch and because as a recreational runner, I know what it can teach you about your own limits.
Rachel was a little nervous at first, and so she started a little fast. My girls have never been around a track meet, and so the starting of races with a gun was a little jarring to them. In fact, Daphne, who is 6, didn't run when the gun fired for her 50-meter race, she looked around to see who'd done that.
But Rachel sprinted away from the noise and the starting line. By the time she started her second lap, she was slower and began to complain she was tired.
By the start of her third lap, tears streaked down her sweaty, red face. She held her side and was having a hard time catching her breath in between sobs.
"I can't do it," she cried as she stumbled along the track at Cyprus High School.
"Yes you can," I said as I ran next to her choking back my own tears. "You are tougher than this. You are stronger than this. You have done this before but just not in this way. Just keep moving."
I told her to try to stop crying so she could send her muscles enough oxygen.
She nearly stopped as she started her fourth lap. Her pace slowed almost to a walk, and then she began to run faster.
"Run with me," she gasped.
I told her I'd run the last 200 meters on the inside of the track with her and then I sprinted across the infield to meet her. Her face was still twisted with discomfort and pain. She still held her side and her breath still bordered on hyperventilation.
I rounded that last bend with her, talking to her, telling her how much I loved her and how she was almost finished.
Then the last 50 or 60 meters, I asked her to sprint. She didn't look at me, but she did pick up her pace significantly.
They took her tag and she fell into my arms. We both shed a few tears as I told her how proud I was of her.
She drank water, Gatorade and sat in some shade. Then she asked for my cell phone and proceeded to call anyone and everyone who wasn't at the meet.
"I ran the mile," she proclaimed. "Yes, I did it in 8:59. That's faster than my mom can run."
This was true, and it made me smile even more.
Rachel didn't tell me how running that mile made her feel. She might not even really understand what it did for her. But I do.
Each meet she and Daphne would discuss whether they were going to try something new or try to better their time in the same races. We talked about how running isn't really a competition about you and the other runners, it's a competition between you and your mind. The whole goal is to go faster and farther than you thought you could, and to do it better each time.
Rachel ran the mile every meet, and every race she got faster. Ironically, she only won first place in that event in the first meet. But that didn't matter to her.
When she finished her race at the all-county meet with me in the stands cheering her on, she was most proud of one thing — her time. She ran it in 8:19.
"That's almost 20 seconds faster than last time," she said and asked for my phone again.
Daphne had a similar experience with the 400. I saw one of their teammates struggle with the 3,000 meter race.
I know her name was Erin, and as she struggled around the track in 102-degree temperatures, I got choked up again. I found myself yelling the same things to her that I had said to Rachel that first meet more than a month ago.
She cried the last two laps, and her shoelace was untied for at least a mile. But her dad leaned over the bleacher wall to take pictures of her every lap and afterward she told me she was going to run the mile in the same meet.
I saw another little boy run the 300 meter hurdles all by himself at a meet at Bingham High. He was the only one willing to run and jump for nearly a lap and the crowd screamed for him as he struggled just to finish.
We've all been there, on the verge of quitting. Everybody has their limits. They have that point at which they think they can't go on. They feel pain, physically and emotionally, and the only thing that matters is making that discomfort go away.
I know the purpose of the track program, now in it's fifth year, is to expose youngsters to track and field events, to get them hooked on some very fun and challenging competition. My girls tried everything from high jump to hurdles, and unlike more traditional sports, they loved every practice and weren't wounded by the competition.
It was a program where both the competitive and non-competitive athletes found rewards.
What I really hope my girls learn from running around a track isn't that they're better or faster than anyone. But that they're better and stronger than their own self-doubt, and that the only limits in life are the ones we put on ourselves.