Mama Madison: Girls on the run

It's healthy, character-building and fun

Last week, my ten-year-old daughter completed the spring season of Girls on the Run, the excellent ten-week program that inspires pre-teen girls to be healthy and confident through a creative approach to the sport of running. Given our family history, it was one of the last things in the world I would have expected her to like. Both her older brothers, if finding themselves on the inside of a burning building, would have to carefully consider whether to walk or run out. But this past Saturday, their far speedier little sister joyfully finished a 5K.

It never once crossed my mind to run for fun when I was a kid. Jim Fixx may have had a bestseller with The Complete Book of Running in 1977, but no fifth grader in my circles, or even any grown up I knew, owned jogging shoes. And when Olivia Newton John got "physical" my sophomore year of high school, I had absolutely no desire to do the same. I was first introduced to aerobics for fun and fitness in the basement of my dorm my first year of college. Ten of my girlfriends and I religiously tackled the Jane Fonda Workout video three times a week our whole fall semester. Unfortunately, all those grapevines didn't do much to put a dent in the freshman fifteen and I fell quickly off the exercise bandwagon. Not just for the reminder of college, but for pretty much for the next fifteen years.

It wasn't until after the birth of my second child that I discovered the benefits of getting active. Partly to try to lose some baby weight, but mostly as a productive way to socialize with girlfriends, I took up running. And I've been doing it regularly ever since. Never fast and never far, but for the first time in my life I finally believe there is such a thing as a "runner's high."

But given how long it took me to don the Spandex (for reason's other than bad '80s fashion), I still find it surprising how naturally my daughter has taken to running. She likes that it's individual -- no teammates to let down in the clutch. She likes that it's something she can potentially do with me; we might start "training" together this summer. And she really seems to like the races.

It was already pretty darn hot last Saturday morning when the inaugural GOTR Dane County spring 5K took off from McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg. But a little heat and humidity didn't seem to put too much of a dent in the spirit of the hundreds of aqua-clad elementary school girls, all sporting race number 1, running that morning. I know (from her mild complaining) that there were times when my daughter felt the next water station couldn't come soon enough. But I'm pretty sure during those "hit the wall" moments she could hear her coach's voice in her head, reminding her it's not about "what you can't do, but what you can do." And what she could do was to keep on running. I am proud to report my daughter never stopped running -- her major goal. She even (gleefully) passed some people.

And when she rounded the final corner, she poured it on, sprinting full speed through the balloon arch at the finish line.

As the organization's cheer says, "Girls on the Run is so much fun." It took me over thirty years to realize this.

But I'm thrilled it only took my daughter ten weeks and a little over 3.1 miles.

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