Yesterday I participated in something incredible. I ran side by side with a 4th grader as she ran 3.1 miles with a smile on her face and no complaints. I’ve been an assistant coach with Girls on the Run for 11 weeks so far and every week I’m filled with joy as I watch the girls grow and learn about themselves and how to treat others. Today was something even more special than all that – watching the girls accomplish a goal that many grown adults don’t even believe they can achieve.
The day started with registration and bib pining and excitement. All four Encinitas coaches were present, along with my good friend and coworker Allison who had volunteered to be a Running Buddy and two other young women from the community who also volunteered to run the 3.1 miles with our team. Mike also came out to support me and the girls.
Some of the girls arrived early enough to get their hair braided and faces painted, but due to traffic, some of the girls arrived late. Although not all the girls made it on time, at 7:45 a.m. the team cheers started and our girls performed the cheer they had been rehearsing for the last two practices. The cheer goes like this (Hacahmama was their favorite warm-up game and they wanted to include it in the cheer):
Girls on the Run is so much fun;
We learn respect and leadership while we run!
Hachamama is our game;
No other team is quite the same!
Girls organize into a pyramid then shout:
We are Team Encinitas You Can’t Beat Us!
I was so proud of the girls already for their great sportsmanship. We continued the fun by participating in a group stretch. There was a massive group stretch held over the intercom but we couldn’t see or hear it well so we did our own group stretch, standing in a circle facing each other.
After the stretch, we moved toward the start line and eagerly waited in anticipation for the race to begin. Each of the 6 girls on our team was paired with a Running Buddy. I was Miley’s Running Buddy. Miley is in 4th grade, one of the most quiet on the team, and a very sweet girl. She always has a positive attitude and is usually near the front of the running pack. I asked her right before the race began if she’d ever ran in a running race before, and she said she hadn’t. I then told her that my first 5k was only 3 years ago, so she was WAY ahead of me!
The beginning of the race involved lots of walking and dodging the slower participants but about 1/4 mile in we were able to get into a good rhythm and jog it out. The first mile went by quickly and I was happy to see that Miley seemed to be enjoying herself and didn’t even need a walk break! My coworker Allison was a Running Buddy to Sophia and we caught up with them around this point but fell behind when Miley took off her jacket and walked a bit. We saw them several times throughout the race as our girls took turns walking or slowing down and then speeding up. The course was beautiful (the boardwalk around the harbor in downtown San Diego) and was actually close to the same route (minus 3.1 miles) that I ran for the TriRock Olympic triathlon back in September. The course was much less crowded with tourists this time since it was earlier in the morning and much colder.
Miley and I chatted a bit throughout the race. She told me a litlte more about herself and we talked about our mutual love for Taylor Swift. It was fun to watch the crowd since there were girls of all ages (Girls on the Run has a sister program called Girls on Track for 12-15 year olds) and Running Buddies of all varieties. There were plenty of women, girls and even men wearing the Girls on the Run signiture tutu (order your custom made tutu from Glam Runner here).
As we rounded the corner to get back on the penninsula that is Embarcadero Park South, we could see the finish line and festival and started to speed up. I thought that were almost there and so did Miley because she really picked up the speed. However, as soon as we got to the point where I thought we’d make a U-turn and head to the finish line, we actually kept going straight ahead and made a loop around hte south end of the penninsula. It was disappointing and Miley immediately stopped to walk. I could tell she was really tired at this point but I encouraged her to walk/run the rest of the course. As we neared the finish line I told her to finish strong and we sprinted ahead. I pointed out that there were 2 girls ahead of us and encouraged her to surge ahead of them. We ran harder and passed them just before we crossed the finish line! Miley received her first running medal as soon as she crossed the finish line. I was so proud of her!!!
As a middle schooler, I complained as I made my way through the gueling mile that I was required to run every few months in my PE class. I ran/walked it and never really considered running fun or even remotely easy. I am still in awe at these girls. I truly wish that I had a program like this to attend when I was growing up. I really believe that Girls on the Run will change the lives of most of the girls that participate. The program proves to them that you can do anything you set out to do.
This Thursday will be the last practice of the season and we will be having a end of season celebration. I am still not certain as to whether or not my Ironman training schedule will allow me to coach next Spring, but I do plan to stay involved and definitely coach another season at some point. Being a part of Girls on the Run has been incredibly rewarding and I highly encourage anyone who is interested in giving back to the community, is passionate about running, and enjoys working with young girls to join this wonderful organization.