Mama Madison: Running for a reason

Exercise can be good for kids, and good for others too

I took up running four months after the birth of my second child. I'd learned the hard way with baby number one that breastfeeding alone, while an awesome calorie-burner, will not undo the damage of nine straight months of nightly Ben and Jerry's. And at a time in my life when convenience was key, no activity seemed more efficient for getting back into shape than lacing up running shoes, plopping my infant and toddler sons in the Baby Jogger and heading out the door. I'm proud to say that, even though both the single and double running strollers (I was a total baby-gear junkie) were retired years ago, I've kept up my exercise commitment. I dare say I've even come to enjoy it.

But don't ask me to consider running any further than the just-shy-of-three-miles loop I currently embrace, regardless of weather, four times a week. I have no desire to push my luck and train for a 10K, or even attempt a 5. And I certainly don't plan to add either competitive biking or swimming to my repertoire any time soon. I get anxious riding fast, especially in crowds, and hate getting my hair wet (yes, I've become my mother).

Sure, I have a healthy amount of respect for the men and women who will be competing in the Ironman Wisconsin this weekend. But there is no chance of even a sprint distance, much less a triathlon on steroids (probably not the best choice of words) in my future.

My salient childrearing philosophy, though, has come to be "Do as I say, not as I do." And I wouldn’t mind my kids getting a little more cross-training action. Multi-sports have such a nice Jack-of-all-trades appeal to them. If it was winter, and we were gun owners, I might look into the biathlon; there is something delightfully fringe about it. But utilizing sneakers, bikes and swimsuits, things readily at my disposal, is probably a more practical choice.

And there is a great opportunity for kids to try a "tri" this coming Saturday, Sept. 10, when the Madison Area Sports Commission, along with sponsor Hy-Vee, hosts the inaugural IronKids Madison Triathlon at Middleton High School. The event, a part of the national IronKids circuit, is open to kids 6-15 years old who wish to compete in age-appropriate distances with an emphasis on fitness, fun and safety. I think my 9-year-old daughter could probably complete the swim, bike and run required of her age group. But I'm a little less sure of my older kids' motivation and stamina -- maybe I kept them in the running stroller just a little too long.

I'm positive, though, even they would find inspiration in meeting 2011 IronKid ambassador Winter Vinecki, who has been in town all week promoting Saturday's event. This remarkable Salem, Ore., 12-year-old is not only an elite triathlete on the national circuit, but she has grand plans to run seven different marathons next year, each on a different continent. Her hope, by undertaking this incredible feat, is to help raise global awareness of prostate cancer, the disease that took her father's life when she was only 9. Winter is out there racing to prove that one can take personal loss and turn it into a source of hope for millions of men who've battled prostate cancer. She runs marathons to help motivate other kid athletes to compete for a cause that is meaningful for them. It's not just about fitness for her; it's about her father's memory.

"When I'm out there [racing], I know my dad is watching over me," Winter has said. "When I cross the finish line, he's there waiting".

When I think about her story I am reminded that my kids, as well as I, can always push just a little bit harder. Maybe I do have a 5K in me, especially for a cause as important as Winter's.

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