An unrelated connection between parenting and winning

Parenting occurs in the most unexpected of ways, sometimes.  At this race, it exceeded my expectations by a lot.

On Sunday, I had a scheduling conflict.  Our health coach and her husband were to be at our house for 6 hours, and in the middle of that time, Alex and I were scheduled to run an 8K race in a town about 30 miles away.

Alex Gaura running an 8k race in Wadesboro, NC
Alex Gaura closing on the finish line during an 8K

My wife and I were learning a lot during our coach’s stay with us.  We got rid of all kinds of things in the pantry and refrigerator, and we pre-made some meals for the week and sorted out what should be a part of a good snack choice.  During the middle of her stay, we had committed to take part in a local run.  It was windy, but it wasn’t that cold, and Alex and I both decided to run it in shorts and a T-Shirt.  The start was uneventful, but I knew that I couldn’t push my foot to 100%, as I am still not yet healed.

After 5 minutes of running, I could still see the race leader, all while going at less than 100%.  I half-heartedly decided to keep them in my sight, as long as is possible.  Ten minutes later, I was in 2nd place, and we were leaving a local park onto a busy road, all without any moments of 100% effort.  The police escort in front of the race leader blocked traffic to allow him to enter the road without slowing down, and I decided to allocate a little bit of energy and catch up to the leader.  A 100% effort would perhaps be consequential, but a 90% effort seemed reasonable.  I ran in his shadow for a minute, to confirm that the pace wasn’t going to hurt my foot or zap me of my energy.  He was a young guy, running in minimalist shoes, and he should have plenty of energy, I thought.  Perhaps, he was too young…….

When I got within his field of view, I paused my music and greeted him.  We started up a conversation, and I could tell he was too winded to sustain a conversation.  We ran side by side for maybe 3 minutes before I decided that I could take this guy, all foot problems aside.  Concurrently, I remembered the Ramseur race, and decided it was more important to take him mentally.  Once we got to a steeper part of the climb, I decided to make my move. I shared with him that I was going to return to listening to the music and going with the rhythm of the music.  I poured some energy into that hill climb then really let myself go on the downhill, knowing that when he crossed the top of the hill and saw me, I would appear further away than I really was…like those signs in the mirror.  The hill climb was only 50 yards or so, and I decided to let myself put 100% into the climb, for no other reason than to mentally get him to give up.  Once I crested the top of the hill, the downhill section was steep, and I wagered that his will to run with me would break if he saw me 50 yards in front of him after running next to me only a minute or two earlier.

For the next 5 minutes, I ran efficiently without overexerting.  Most of the last 1.5 miles was some sort of hill.  Remembering James’s teaching, I kept my pace as efficient as possible, shortening my stride and keeping up my cadence as I climbed.  During the last 100 yards, I changed nothing in my stride or cadence, even though the hill got steeper.  When I got within 40 yards of the finish and it came into view, the photographer began shooting photos and the clapping from the little crowd started.  The police car in front of me pulled over, and the guy rolled down his window, saying something to me as I left my escort and headed to the finish line.  I had never had a police escort to the finish line.  Then again, I have never been in first place at the end of a race of this distance.

When I crossed the finish line, I was given a card with the number 1 on it.  Did I really just win this thing, without hitting max effort?  Yes, I had won first place!  My pace wouldn’t put me on the podium in a real race, but it felt good to have the win under my belt.

A minute or two later, the guy whom I passed later crossed the finish line.  As I approached him to greet him, he talked about how I left him in the dust.  Turns out he was a 22 year old college guy.  Since this was my first event of any sort since becoming part of TeamUSA, I decided to have some fun with it.

We shook hands and chatted.  I shared some news with him.

“The good news is that you ran with and competed with a member of TeamUSA, and you should be proud of that.  The bad news is that I am 48 years old and could be your dad.”

“Oh, man!” he said.  He turned around and walked away to get something to drink.  One of the race directors was listening in, and he had a belly laugh from it.

My youngest son finished the race with a personal best, as well.  He was proud that he did the 8k a full 10 minutes faster than the Turkey Trot, AND he arrived wearing his own shoes!  After a minute, he asked me if I had won or not.  Upon hearing the yes, we both walked over to the first place trophy and took a picture.  He seemed surprised when I told him that we needed to leave to get back to house to continue our nutrition lessons.

“Aren’t you going to stay and get your trophy?”  he asked.

“No, I don’t need the trophy to know that I won.  The real trophy is knowing that you won.”

Jeff Gaura finishes in first place at the Wadesboro 8k race in December, 2013
First Place at Wadesboro, NC 8k.

“OK, we can go, then” he said.

I think the best of the whole day was watching my son learn that material things like trophies are not where life’s value lies.  This may be the moment when Alex chooses not to be a pack rat and lets material possessions fall off of him, instead of sticking to him, like Velcro.  Seeing your parent not attach to something that most of our society deems valuable may set the tone for his life.  I sure hope so.

That said, I did post photos of us on social media before starting the car to drive home, though….

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