The College Park 5k didn’t feel like any race I had run before. Sure there were cones, a course, other runners and a starting line, but right behind that starting line, my son Miles was sitting in our running stroller.
It wasn’t that long ago that Saturday mornings meant an early wake up for long runs with my club, followed by brunch, a nap, then hitting the bars at night. Now, I ‘m up just as early but it is to turn on Elmo and Sesame Street for Miles, while my wife and I get a little more sleep. Then we hit the road for a run, me pushing him.
For years, running was the center of my world, the activity by which all others were planned. But now there is a new balance in my life as a father to a toddler. I still need my daily run, my “me time.” At 41, I still have some PRs left in me, but the trick is carving out time for training that doesn’t include me using half a day each weekend. These last two years have challenged my creativity, deal-making, and compromising skills. Stroller racing is one of these compromises.
In a running career that has spanned 43 marathons in 27 different states and scores of races of shorter distances, it had come to this: my first stroller race, a low-key 5K that I only decided to run a few days earlier. If it went well, I would sign up for the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. What made the College Park 5K appealing was its separate stroller division and a 30-second head start on the untethered runners.
On race morning, Miles woke up at his normal time, right around 6 a.m. I had packed his bag with a spare outfit, made sure there were plenty of diapers, a sippy cup, some crackers, sunscreen and a hat to protect the fair skin of my redheaded child and a few toys. At the start line, my entire running career flashed through my mind as I remembered:
- My first marathon, the 2004 Marine Corps, and how I was fortunate to even finish on such little training.
- Countless long runs starting at Iwo Jima on Saturday mornings.
- My trip to Pocatello, Idaho, where I finally qualified for Boston after seven years and 16 marathons
- My first Boston Marathon – nearly 90 degrees
- My first sub-3 marathon in Houston
- The long run I took all by myself along the Capital Crescent Trail, wondering all the while about my wife’s pregnancy test
- The birth of my son and what that would mean for my training and racing going forward
I couldn’t throw up my hands and not find the time to run. I believe that you make time for the things that are important, no exceptions. To me, family, work and running are my constants. It would just take planning.
I’ve had to give up parts of my training regimen I enjoyed: Saturday long runs with the D.C. Road Runners, early morning weekday workouts, but I’ve found that I am still able to log 80-90 miles a week pushing Miles to his daycare in the stroller and then running to work in Bethesda from home in Brookland. On the weekends, I can get out for 90-120 minutes during his nap.
It hasn’t affected my speed. In March at the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC. .Marathon, I led a group of three friends, all parents. I broke 3:00 for the second time, surprising even my wife. It was extremely gratifying to run such a steady race at even pace.
In College Park, two guys with strollers ran out ahead and I settled into third. Soon, I caught up to one of the strollers and passed him. The rest of the race, I ran steady, but mostly alone. I placed second in the stroller division and 7th out of 101 overall. And, Miles had a great time, even yelling “yay” as we finished.
I felt torn – I enjoyed the race with Miles but also wanted to see how much speed I still have left, now that I am in my 40s. How much longer will it last before my eventual decline?
I decided to run the Capitol Hill Classic where the stroller racers start behind all of the runners. I couldn’t recall ever being so far back at a race other than Boston or New York Marathon. The first mile was slow. I was very cautious not to run over anyone. The second mile, we were dodging quite a few runners. We would surge when we saw an opening then slow if our path was blocked or go to the side of the road to find a lane. I heard quite a few comments of encouragement or amazement that we were passing so many runners. The spectators were great and pointing out that I was a dad running with a stroller.
Before the race, we practiced saying “beep beep.” I thought it was cute for Miles to say as we passed people to politely let them know. One guy said as I was passing him that I was a hero to Miles. I am guessing that between the crowded start, the dodging, and the added weight of a diaper bag, it slowed me at least a minute a mile. We finished in 45:15, 93rd place out of 1,897 runners. I think I was the first stroller to finish. I’ll claim first (unofficially).
While I ran 7 minutes slower than my PR for the 10K, it was still quite rewarding. I didn’t feel any pressure to set a personal best or push myself. I only wanted to finish ahead of all the other strollers – that competitive spirit is still alive and well.
Going forward, I look forward to more chances to race without my son, to test my limits again as a runner. But there will be more stroller races too. Given the time constraints of parenthood, I will only be able to get the time to run them if I bring Miles. And that’s ok. I expect that years from now a personal or age group record won’t mean as much to me as the miles I raced with Miles.