Posts Tagged ‘male bonding’

When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.
– Winnie the Pooh

Purple & gold celebration

“How far do you want to run?” I asked.

“A really long way,” was the reply, “Because I don’t get tired. How long would it take us to run 100 miles?”

I thought about the question. I could give my indefatigable companion an honest yet unproductive answer. Instead, I opted for a more open-ended response: “Let’s start running and see how we feel,” I said. “I’m not sure we’ll have time for 100 miles today.”

Today had already been a full & productive day by most standards. With summer still two weeks away, the mercury in the East Bay had already topped out at 100°F. And yet technically speaking, this would be our second run of the day. Our morning had begun with a spontaneous “interval” session around the neighborhood—brief sprints of 50 or so yards punctuated by frequent stops, the Nephew taking advantage of these stops to bend down and pocket a handful of seemingly nondescript pebbles, while I caught my breath and watched in amusement.

We’d returned home from that impromptu sprint workout sweaty and triumphant, his shorts hanging two inches lower and clacking away like a walking bag of marbles thanks to all the rocks he’d pocketed.

After lunch, Katie joined us for an early-afternoon outing of batting practice and ‘90s arcade games at the nearby batting cages. We hesitated outside the slowest of the facility’s batting cages, the sharp THUMP! of fastball hitting backstop greeting our ears as an older boy waved helplessly at a passing pitch.

Throwing

Katie and I looked at each other, concerned that even the slowest cage may be too fast for a newly minted second-grader. The Nephew seemed unimpressed. In he went, and after lowering the height of the pitches to accommodate his smaller frame, there we stood outside the fence watching with fascination as pitch after pitch leaped off his bat, its owner eagerly scooting forward in the batter’s box (despite my protests) to greet the ball sooner.

In the parlance of his hometown, the Nephew is hella athletic for his age, with precocious eye-hand coordination that makes him the clear choice for leadoff hitter on his little-league baseball team. And it’s amazing how fast his basketball skills developed from “cute” to “formidable” in the span of one year, despite his lack of a significant growth spurt during that time. Watching him bury running bank shots, his forward momentum helping him get the ball over the rim, on a standard ten-foot basket in the first grade gave me goosebumps.

But next-gen Steph Curry or not, I assumed that when the time came for me to squeeze in my own training run later that day in the heat, the Nephew would be perfectly happy to crash in front of the TV. After all, what 7-year-old wants to go running when there’s no ball involved, much less twice in one day? I figured he’d be about as likely to welcome more running as he would be to sit still during dinner. So I was surprised when he insisted on joining me, still crackling with energy and intent on racking up 100 miles by dinnertime.

Tweaking my own expectations a bit, I laced up my running shoes, strapped my Garmin (GPS unit) to my wrist to measure our mileage, and the two of us set out toward the neighborhood sports park. The plan, formulated by Katie and me, would be to run around the sports park until the Nephew inevitably got bored/hungry/tired, then drop him back off at his house before continuing on to finish my scheduled 10-mile run. The perfect plan! {cue mad scientist laugh} Or so it seemed, at least to the naïve adults who crafted it.

Prisma-rrific

(With thanks to the Prisma app)

Before his front door was out of sight, the Nephew had already stopped twice — once to pick up a discarded bolt and again to tear open a plastic-bagged advertisement for lawn care services, laying claim to the tiny rocks used to weigh down the bag and prevent its blowing away. He jammed the ad down in one pocket and dropped the pebbles in the other, intent on adding them to the two dozen or so he’d collected that morning.

Somehow, without further distraction we reached our destination. Like most cookie-cutter sports parks in suburban America, this one was organized into multiple baseball & soccer fields, concession stands to serve the summer crowds and rows of colorful flowers to keep even the littlest spectators entertained. We set off in a clockwise loop around the complex, with the Nephew leaving the paved path and darting across the grass, because what fun is running on concrete when there’s so much grass available?

Happily we ran through the sparsely populated park, cutting through the empty parking lot which this late in the day lacked the usual hustle-and-bustle of little league activity and childhood in progress. My companion paused at regular intervals to rest, assuring me that “After I rest, I can run fast again.” But I agreed with him that this was just a run and not a race, since it wouldn’t be good to stop during a race.

Taiwan

Keeping cool in the Taipei heat (left); a first-rate photobomb, courtesy of the Niece & Nephew (right)

With the calendar approaching the longest day of the year, the sun remained high in the East Bay sky. The sweltering day had cooled off and surrendered to what was now a perfect evening for running. But more than that, it was a perfect evening for stopping. And we took full advantage:

  • We stopped to watch two teenagers hit baseballs.
  • We stopped to check out the scoreboard mounted beyond the outfield wall, its lit facade displaying a score of 0-0 to no one in particular.
  • We stopped to watch two boys and (presumably) their mother coast by slowly on bikes, the mom scolding one boy for ignoring her orders. “He’s in trouble,” the Nephew—speaking from experience—noted matter-of-factly.
  • We stopped so he could kick a semi-deflated ball over the low chain-link fence several times, and so the adult in me could dissuade him from carrying it home with us.
  • We stopped so he could pick up a discarded potato chip bag and recycle it.
  • We stopped to drink from the water fountain… after all it was still a warm evening, and running makes you thirsty!

“Are you tired?” he’d ask every so often. “Nope,” I’d answer honestly, “But I do this a lot more than you.”

Victoria Harbour

Surveying Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong

  • We stopped probably a dozen times to look at the posted sign showing a map of the park (a perfect excuse to rest, I realized), decide on a route and then quickly deviate from that route ten steps later.
  • We stopped at one end of the two football fields to touch the crooked goalposts, then race back across the semi-overgrown field to touch the opposite goalposts.
  • We stopped just because.
  • We stopped so he could pick up a discarded water bottle and, before I could protest, toss it over a tall fence with a “BEWARE OF THE DOG” sign nailed to the wooden pickets. Beware of the boy, I thought wryly.
  • We stopped to watch two pitches of an adult softball league game. Nothing interesting of note there, so we moved on.

I kept a close eye on my charge, urging him to let me know when he felt hungry or tired. Yet onward he ran with me trailing behind. “I’m not tired, but my legs are tired,” he reported as we stopped to study and re-study the map of the park.

Watching

His mom said it best: “Objectively, he’s a very good athlete.”

“I have to push myself,” he offered another time, before promptly pausing for another walk break. It reminded me of the time several years earlier when I’d first explained to him at dinner that Katie and I were vegetarians. “Me too,” he’d agreed earnestly, emphasizing his point with a wave of the oversized duck leg he was gnawing.

  • We stopped so he could walk the curb like a tightrope walker, trying to avoid brushing up against the bright pink flowers and then, when he couldn’t, creating the rule that as long as he touched them for less than five seconds they couldn’t hurt him. As he pushed his way past the branches overhanging the curb, pink petals fluttered to the ground in his wake. And his first encounter with a thorn quickly ended that game.
  • We stopped to watch a dad pitch to his son and bark at him in clipped Japanese after every swing, whether the boy made contact or not.
  • We stopped so he could try to sneak up on some seemingly unsuspecting squirrels who were, in fact, very much onto his game. Scurrying up the closest tree, the two playful park residents easily scampered out of his reach as he moved to surprise them.
  • We stopped so he could ask me which of the two side-by-side playgrounds I preferred, and we agreed that the one with the adult swings (i.e. no harnesses) was far and away the better of the two.

By stops and starts, across grass and concrete the miles faithfully ticked by. When we reached mile 3 my smaller half asked, “Is this one of your longest practice runs?”

Star Wars boy

Wookie experts agree he’s a huggable kid, as long as you don’t get on his Dark Side

  • We stopped so that, at his pleading, I could transfer the Garmin to his tiny wrist. I explained that the red button started the timer while he was running and stopped it while he was walking (a strategy I’d been following to that point). Gesturing at the screen he asked, “How many of these does it take to make a mile?” And it struck me — decimals are a foreign concept to 7-year-olds. So I taught him that once those last two numbers passed 99, the mile would end and a new one would begin. So our last mile quickly became an exercise in staccato-style sprints, each one culminating in his looking at the GPS and announcing, “It went up by 2! It went up by 2 again! It went up by 2 AGAIN!”
  • And just as we were exiting the park on our way home, we stopped one last time so he could turn and run back to the water fountain — not to drink, but to douse his head with water so the others waiting at home would think he was totally sweaty.

Watching his wrist intently the Nephew led us toward home, the Garmin chiming for the fourth and final time just as we reached his front yard. Beaming proudly, he announced to the adults waiting at the door that he’d just run 4 miles. I congratulated him on his longest run ever. “I think I’ve gotten my exercise for the day,” he agreed with a weary smile.

(And about those adults waiting at the door—apparently we’d been gone for 1½ hours, during which time Katie had set out to look for us. Not being a parent, I’d become so engrossed in our carefree uncle-nephew bonding time that I’d been oblivious to common-sense parental considerations like dinner time, shower time, bed time, the fact it was a school night, etc. The fact that we’d encountered not one other kid his age during our run probably should have clued me in but hey, hindsight is 20/20!)

June7route_GE_BCH

Garmin tracing of our 4-mile route—landmarks have been omitted to protect the guilty

In the end, our meandering route resembled a Sunday “Family Circus” cartoon—across the lawn, over the fence, through the neighbor’s flowers… it was spontaneous, it was unpredictable, it was frustrating yet freeing in its lack of structure. It was nothing like my usual training run. And it was fun.

Conventional running wisdom tells us here’s the start line, there’s the finish, get from here to there by the shortest route possible, don’t stray, don’t meander, don’t roam. Every training run should serve a purpose, or else file it under “junk” miles and don’t waste your time. Coloring outside the lines—particularly if you’re a road runner—is actively discouraged. And more often than not, we oblige.

And yet signs of pushback have surfaced within the running community. The sport’s rigid adherence to protocol and “one size fits all” mindset have helped fuel the rise of more whimsical options like runDisney, as well as the recent explosion in popularity of mud runs and obstacle course races. At the same time, increasing numbers of conventional runners are eschewing concrete for dirt—truth is, there’s no better playground than Mother Nature’s backyard.

Orange you glad he's running?

In my head I run like this, but the race photos tell a different story

As we mature, so do our hobbies—running evolves from play into sport into highly regimented activity. Strict training schedules tell us what we should run, frenetic daily schedules dictate when we should run, and wearable technology provides constant feedback on how well we’re running.

And the why? That one’s in the eye of the beholder. Like everything else the why evolves with age—from getting in shape, to completing our first half marathon, to chasing personal bests, to (re-)qualifying for Boston, to staying in shape. Grown-up goals framed on the backdrop of ever-increasing grown-up demands.

But once upon a time—before tempo runs, before specialized shoes and before personalized GPS data—there was a much simpler & more lighthearted why. Watching my Nephew run, his unchoreographed strides offered a moving reminder of that original why.

Because nothing instills joy like recess without rules. Because running always gets us where we want to go. Because there’s no such thing as “junk” miles. Because we really are born to run. And because running, at its core, is child’s play.

A day like ours deserved a happy ending, and I’m happy to report it got one, with our exhausted hero falling into a deep slumber almost before his head touched the pillow. And with that my work—scratch that, my play here was done.

Whether my Garmin said so or not.

Santa Monica Pier

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