I’ve gone through my pre-ride prep routine so many times it’s near automatic – so you’d think that getting ready for a 5km fun run with Ben would be a breeze. Not so. My needs were simple, small bottle to sip from whilst waiting for the start and after that the water tables would take care of the rest. But then of course there’s Ben. At which point we double that water ration, add in some EnerJellies, my jumper for the cold morning, his jumper for the cold morning, car keys, plus phone to catch Yoli later. All of a sudden I’m running out of hands to carry everything and hold on to the back of his shirt when he forgets that roads have cars and tries to step blindly off a kerb. Honestly, I found myself looking in envy at the mums and dads with kids still small enough to be in prams. They had a ready made cart to carry all the junk and something to lean on as they jogged or walked around the rambling Greenpoint route.
Not that I’m complaining at all. On the way to Yoli’s start I’d snagged a most unexpected and very welcome Cappuccino at one of the sea-front cafes – a move which also gave her a legitimate excuse to use their bathrooms. And now, having seen her set off on an actual proper 10km run (the real reason we were here), Ben and I now sat in the shade of a couple of trees playing Eye Spy to pass the remaining few minutes before our start. An old cycling Camelpak was re-purposed to hold our stuff, although it took a few sips before Ben stopped complaining that the water didn’t taste nice. In fact as much of the faintly plasticky tasting water was sprayed over him and me as actually drunk, another impromptu game to keep a 6 year old busy whilst the clock ran down.
Eventually we lined up, jostling shoulders with the massive crowds. I read somewhere that over 20,000 runners took part. It’s hard to say how many of these took the shortest 5km option, but amidst the sea of faces all around I’d guess it could easily have been around half of that. Somewhere up front I’ve no doubt were some serious runners out to race. But from where we stood and backwards it was very much friends and families. There was far too much laughter, jokes and smiles for anyone to be taking this seriously. And sure enough when the gun went off absolutely nothing happened, at least not for quite some time. Everyone just carried on chatting, only shuffling slowly ahead as the vast wave in front of us began to roll slowly forward. There was no clammering surge, just a gentle stroll for several minutes. Even when gaps began to appear, only a handful began to actually run. Ben and I were amongst them – or I should rather say Ben was. He saw a small space ahead and sprinted into it yelling “Come on Daddy, we can squeeze through here” over his shoulder as he darted ahead.
You forget how young children run, or at least I had until I saw Ben suddenly take flight. With no care or concept of the distance ahead, they run for the joy of the moment – full gas as fast as they can, hands on head to stop their hats flying away. And they keep going and going like that until they run out of steam, and then just stop. We cut to a narrow space on the outside, and weaved in and out along the kerb until his gas ran out and he bent over, hands on his knees. This was no time for a lecture on pacing himself, it would have been lost on him anyway. So I just grabbed his hand and we walked for a while, chatting. I started handing down a regular supply of EnerJelies and as the sugar rush kicked in several more mad breakaway sprints resulted.
We passed at least two 1km signs early on – I’m not sure which was correct, but it was already getting quite warm after the second of them and Ben was starting to flag a bit. With a pack of Jelly Beans as backup this was no time to stint on the rations, and every time they worked – putting a smile back on the tired face. He’s really not used to having sweets very often, so getting more than a couple was a huge treat. Another thing he never gets to drink is Coke either, and his eyes positively lit up when he spied the red flags ahead as we came up from the walkway under the Greenpoint Stadium roundabout. We’d promised him it as a treat for doing the fun run, and he glugged it down in almost a single gulp. I grabbed some of the plastic pouches of water from the helpers too, although none of them got drunk. Instead they got dumped over Ben’s head as a refreshing shower to lift the heat and distance induced slump. His shoulders shrugged up and he yelled out in reaction to each ice-cold drenching cascading down his back.
It was only around 6 months back that this distance had seemed a long way to cycle with him, and now we were walking, jogging, and occasionally sprinting around it. It wasn’t a surprise to me at all that he started to flag – what was a surprise was that we were nearly half way before he did so, and that not once did he suggest just cutting across to the stream of runners coming back the other way. It would have been the simplest short cut possible, and no-one would have known or cared, except me, and that made me doubly proud of him for sticking it out all the way to the point where the marshals turned us around and sent us back the way we came. Or maybe it just didn’t occur to him.
A couple of times on the way back he tried to sit on the benches, but I managed to distract him with the lure of our return past the Coke table, which was coming in to view again up ahead. We didn’t just get caffeine and sugar loaded drinks this time though, we got a friendly word that we were almost done and something even better than that – water pistols. OK, there weren’t actual water pistols of course, but those same plastic packs of water with a small corner bitten off worked just as well when squeezed hard. They were good for two or three shots too, each one if carefully aimed capable of delivery a proper soaking. Luckily I’d grabbed five or six and battling each other with these kept us fully occupied until well after the finish came into view. Ben even managed to score an extra one for a last drenching of me, much to the amusement of the friendly lady running beside him who’d spotted our game and supplied the final ammunition for him to win the war.
All of which proved a perfect distraction, with just a few hundred meters to go by the time the water ran out and we swung right towards the arch. By this time I could see Ben was absolutely finished. I pointed at the line ahead and told him Mummy would be waiting for us at the end so we needed to lift our heads up:
“We finish like Champions”
I said as we approached the final corner and the big blue FINISH arch. I’m not sure where the words came from but he loved it and it’s become something of a catchphrase in our house since.
Sure enough, there was Yoli cheering and laughing, and moments later she was snapping a picture of us proudly holding our medals. There was more walking than running, and our time was not far different to Yoli’s for the 10km. None of that mattered at all though, we’d had a blast – and Yoli was happy with her run too, having started on less training than she’d hoped for and having no great expectations apart from a finish. It hasn’t re-ignited any passion I had for running, but I’ll definitely do it again as long as Ben can be bribed, cajoled and distracted so easily next year.