In January, when New Year’s resolutions were still fresh, I signed up to run a 5K.
Every few months or so, I make a renewed effort to be healthier and try to lose some weight in the process. I figured training for a 5K for the next four months would hold me accountable and help me shed a few of those pounds that seem to cling to me for dear life.
As I started my training program, I was prepared to be sore and sweaty. What I didn’t expect was how much my young children, ages 4 and 5, would learn from watching me train for a 5K.
1 | Exercise is important, even when it’s hard.
Seeing me focus more on physical activity set a good example for my kids. We are a rather active family, but most of our exercise fits into the fun category. We go for walks and hikes, kick the soccer ball around the yard, go to gymnastics class, and swim in pools. However, this does not seem like exercise to my children. Watching me leave for a run with a smile on my face and then return exhausted and sweaty was a different experience for my kids. They also got a front row seat as they watched me attempt to run as fast as I could on the treadmill. Hopefully, witnessing all of this huffing and puffing showed them that exercise can, and should be, challenging sometimes.
They also saw me prioritize exercise. One of the main reasons I signed up for a 5K was because I am terrible about fitting exercise into my daily routine. While I was training, I would often tell them that I had to complete my run before taking them to the library or to their cousin’s house for a playdate, which showed them that exercise and living a healthy lifestyle were top priority.
2 | It’s fun.
Sometimes, I desperately hated climbing onto that treadmill, but I tried not to complain about it too much in front of the kids. Instead, I turned on music and sang along with my daughter when she came looking for me. I encouraged her to exercise with me when she walked by, so she would hop onto her nearby trampoline and bounce along as I ran. Seeing her blonde head bopping up and down as I pushed myself through mile three actually did make it more enjoyable for me.
Outside, we practiced running up hills together. I would slowly make my way up a hill as my son pushed his dump truck along beside me. As I caught my breath at the top, I would hear his gleeful squeal as he pushed the truck back down the hill.
After I completed the 5K, I downplayed my exhaustion and sore muscles and made sure to emphasize how much fun it was. I showed my children pictures of me smiling before the race and proudly posing with my participation medal after the race. They promptly confiscated the medal and took turns wearing it while running around the living room cheering, “Go! Go! Go!” and “You can do it!”
3 | You don’t always look pretty when you work out, and that’s okay!
My daughter immediately seeks me out when she hears the treadmill stop. Right now, thirty minutes is a long time for her not to be the center of my attention, so she bombards me with hugs and kisses as if I have been gone for a week. Inevitably, she quickly pulls away, scrunches her face, and complains, “You’re sweaty!”
I smile and reply, “I sure am! That means I worked hard!”
My son will join in the conversation, “Mom, your face is all red!”
I smile again. “That just means I worked extra hard. I pushed myself as far as I could.”
I don’t want my kids to think that a woman needs to worry about what she looks like all of the time. There are more important things to worry about like being healthy and happy.
4 | It’s important to follow through with a commitment.
There were days I didn’t want to exercise. Sometimes I would grumble about not wanting to run. “Let’s watch a movie instead!” my daughter would quickly chime in.
It was tempting. I am much more a movie watching person than an athlete, but I knew I had to do it. I wouldn’t quit, not only because I had paid money to register, but because I had made a commitment and I was starting to realize that two children were following this journey more closely than I imagined. Instead of relaxing, they saw me get back on the treadmill and continue to work toward my goal.
5 | Winning isn’t everything.
When I started to talk to my kids about how I was going to run in a race, my son would exclaim, “You’re going to win!” At this point in his life, it is all about winning or losing. He refuses to play board games just because someone will lose, and if he finishes dinner before his sister, he exclaims, “I won!”
Although I was delighted that he actually thought that I had potential to come in first place (I most definitely did not!), I started to emphasize to him that I was going to run because it would be healthy and fun and not because I would win. It was the perfect opportunity to teach him that it is okay if you don’t win all of the time. Sometimes just participating is most rewarding.
On the day of the race, I left right after the kids woke up as they were sleepily eating their cereal. “I’m going to run my race now!” I exclaimed as I bent down to give hugs and kisses. My daughter wrapped her arms tight around me, and then pulled back to look into my face. She then repeated words I have said to her hundreds of times, “Try your best. Don’t give up. And, most importantly, have fun!”
These words echoed in my head throughout the day. I realized that while I had been thinking running a 5K had been all about me, it actually wasn’t. Running a 5K was just one more way I could show my children how to lead healthy and happy lives.