Kim Cowart
Kim Cowart finishing her first marathon, the Salt Lake City Marathon in 2008.

We Cowarts have set a lofty goal this month: We are teaching our 4-year-old how to tie her shoes.

This is a big deal. My goal as a parent is to raise children who need me less and less each day. Such an endeavor can be, and most often is, painful for both parent and child.

My pain stems from the need to feel needed, and while I rejoice with each milestone met — potty-training, cutting your own pancakes, putting on underwear not backwards — there is a pang in my heart knowing that eventually my children’s independence will march them right out the front door for good.

The children’s pain has a different root. Every milestone for them is a mountain of challenges. Hand-eye coordination, patience and the ability to follow directions are qualities found lacking in our household, yet these are the very same qualities necessary when learning how to walk, feed, dress and, yes, tie one’s shoes.

My daughter began her shoe journey with excitement. She has decided to do a one-mile kids’ race in April. She has learned from her mother, and rightly so, that such an undertaking requires new running shoes with real laces — laces which require tying.

She was going to learn a skill that her big sister has mastered. This, obviously, is a skill that separates the kids from the babies. Eager to graduate from that category, she sat down with her sneakers and hefty set of expectations.

All that disappeared not two minutes later when the little girl we call “Bug” hadn’t mastered this feat with 100 percent perfection. After twice failing to make perfect bunny ears, she threw the shoes on the ground and commenced whining.

Have I mentioned that patience is a virtue we have little of in our house?

I feel Bug’s pain. She’s more like me than she realizes.

When it comes to running, I have some lofty goals and high expectations. I research training plans, read up on the latest strength workouts for runners, and set plans for each year that, while big, seem very attainable with a little hard work and effort.

By the time spring rolls around, I inevitably find myself frustrated, disappointed and sometimes even injured. I put in the time, effort and workouts. Why aren’t I faster, better, stronger?

This whole shoe-tying business has been more of a lesson for me than it has been for Bug. Anything worth doing well takes time. It takes patience.

I always tell people running their first marathon to never, ever think about how far they have to go until they reach the finish line. Set smaller goals and, eventually, you’ll get there. Many elite marathoners run smaller races within the larger race; they’ll race three 10K’s and then the last two miles.

No one rolls out of bed with no running experience and heads out the door for a nice 12-mile long run. You run 10 minutes one day, 20 minutes the next. Next week, run three miles. Then four. Then five. Before you know it, those three-mile runs are easy. That 11-minute pace that once took your breath away is now a recovery pace.

I remember my first 10-mile run. I came home exhausted and drained. I couldn’t believe I had run double-digits. I collapsed on the couch and reveled in my fatigue — it was the perfect excuse to get out of doing dishes.

Today, a 10-mile run is a thing of regularity for me. I won’t say it’s easy, but it doesn’t get me out of doing dishes anymore.

The lesson here is not to become overwhelmed. Lofty goals are good. We need to strive to be better, stronger and smarter tomorrow than we were today. It’s when we dare to leave the known and trespass into the unknown that we discover our true nature and potential.

But like making a good bowl of chili, it takes time to get there.

So I keep plugging away, putting in the miles of training. There will be some awful, disappointing runs. But I’ve been at this long enough to know that there will be some wonderful runs, too, so long as I don’t give up.

If I think about all of the race plans I have set for the year, it’s daunting. It’ s enough to make me want to pull the covers over my head and hide. So I won’t think about it. I’ll do today’s run. Now. Tomorrow? We’ll face it later. Small steps.

Our little Bug? Not only will she be tying her shoes soon enough, but with patience, work and her own small steps, come April she’ll be racing across her own finish line a little better and stronger than she was before.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner who takes running and parenting one day at a time.