Sunday morning, as rain flooded the streets and the sun refused to break through the dark clouds, the family and I woke up at 5:30 AM and prepared for the annual Santa Clarita 5K race. My son, Jacob, and I made plans a month ago to run it together, a sort of celebration of the end of his first year on the local cross country team. When we signed up, the two of us were excited about the prospect of running side by side through the paseos of our hometown and crossing the finishing line, father and son together. Needless to say, with the temperature 45 degrees and the rain coming down in a steady pour, that excitement was definitely missing.
We dressed light. Long sleeved shirts to keep us warm; Jake wearing his team singlet on top, while I went with a blue t-shirt. He had on sweat pants and I chose to man up and just wear shorts. The family watched out the window, praying that the rain would let up in time for that start of the 5K. By 6:30, it looked as if the gods would comply, as the skies began to lighten and the torrential downpour became a light drizzle. The four of us piled into our Jetta and drove off to the mall.
As we rode, Jacob, a bundle of nerves for fear that he might lose me in the crowd, went through his pre-race ritual of selecting the music we heard on the way to the race site. He played the usual line up of popular artists, many of whom Jake and his older sister introduced me to. Personally, I would have preferred a Springsteen song or even “Don’t Stop Believin’. As we got out of the car and crossed the Target parking lot to head over to the starting line by the Valencia Mall, Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” was stuck in the muck I call my memory and stayed there for the rest of the day.
The entire family joined the massive crowd waiting near the starting line. Jacob and I did a few warm up jogs before saying good bye to his mom and sister. They went off to cheer for us near the huge banner that indicated the beginning of the race. Never one for big crowds, Jacob’s nerves began to get the better of him and there were some tears shed. I assured him that I would never lose him in the race, even if I had to hold his hand for the entire 3.1 miles. At the age of ten, he was younger than I was when I ran my first 5K race and I was so proud of him for just getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning to weather the storm, literally.
My first race took place at the age of twelve, when I imagined blowing away all of the old people I’d be competing against. I can’t recall the exact event; it took place in the middle of the summer, possibly sponsored by the local Kiwanis or some other civic organization. Long ago, a picture existed of that big haired, gangly, twelve-year-old kid with huge glasses, a white headband, knee high socks and some awful running shorts crossing the finish line of that race… dead last. Not just last in my age group, but the entire race. I was embarrassed and never wanted to run another frickin’ race the rest of my life. I was going to be a football player. Screw running.
We all know how that worked out.
Jacob and I stood side by side as a small vocal group sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” As their voices blended in perfect harmony, the rain came back with a vengeance. Before we’d even crossed the starting line, the two of us were drenched. From that point on the race was… miserable. I’m not going to sugar coat it, this was a depressing, cold run. The rain never let up, our clothes were soaked through before we’d even completed a mile and Jake just did. not. want to be there. Can you blame him? I’ve run in some pretty shitty conditions before and this day ranked near the top of the list.
It was a struggle, to say the least, to maintain my composure and stay patient with my son. I even tried singing “Dynamite” to him. He immediately asked me to stop, not because I didn’t know the words, but because I was embarrassing him. More than once Jake was ready to quit because he couldn’t feel his hands, he couldn’t feel his feet and because t was “insane” to be out in the rain like we were.
And yet, he soldiered on and didn’t quit. Like so many of the challenges he’s faced in ten years, he fought through the anger and frustration and wetness and coldness and his annoying father and kept moving forward. He did not give up.
As we ran the final half mile and passed by the cheering crowd, most importantly his mom and sister, a sense of accomplishment seemed to overcome my boy. He smiled broadly and sprinted past me to be the first across the finish line. Volunteers placed gold medallions around our necks and we finally took shelter from the rain under the awning of a nearby Buca di Beppo. By the time Julie and my daughter found us, Jake was near tears. It had been a long morning and I’m positive he was glad it was over.
I’m so proud of Jacob for completing the race. Sometimes it isn’t about running the fastest or posting your personal record; sometimes it’s just about getting across the finish line and saying “I did it.” That’s what this day was all about and we have the medals to prove it.