I learned two valuable lessons when I introduced my oldest daughter to running. First, keep expectations low and the energy high. Second, frustration is part of the package. Do not be deterred.
So when my youngest daughter, who just turned 13, asked if we could run some races together this year, I quickly and happily agreed. Choosing some fun races was the easy part. Getting her to agree to any kind of training proved to be mission impossible.
And I had an advantage, or at least I thought I did. I was prepared for the excuses, complaints and the barrage of "I can't do that" and "This is too hard." I was even prepared for all the aches and pains her 13-year-old body seemed to manifest at the very mention of training.
But Daphne is different from my other children for one very important reason —she has a congenital heart defect. She required open-heart surgery when she was 11 months old and she will likely have to have surgery again to repair a leaky pulmonary valve.
Determining what someone else is capable of is always a challenge. But add a serious health issue to the equation and that proposition becomes even more difficult. I had no trouble ignoring my older daughter's declarations that she was near death during a run, but when my youngest daughter clutched her chest and protested that she couldn't breath, I was suddenly filled with fear.
So I admit, I backed off. I eased up. I told her she'd have to push her own limits and that I trusted her to do so.
I tried to explain the reasons for training, the joy of training and how it became the best part of being a runner if she could just stick out the first few weeks.
It was in vain.
She never increased her mileage and she always fell short of any goal we set. It was even more frustrating than I thought possible. Often I ran ahead of her by a couple hundred yards, in part to give her room to have her own running experience, but also to give my frazzled nerves a break from the near-constant complaints.
"This isn't fun," I told her. "I think we should have tried the training before we committed to the races. "
"I don't like running," she said reluctantly. "I thought I did, but I don't. It hurts."
We wrestled through a couple of weeks of half-hearted training runs before we traveled to California for our first race this year — the Color Run. We'd been invited to try the new race series that will come to Utah next year. Daphne was thrilled to give it a try, or at least she was before I tortured her in our training runs.
She was shy, self-conscious and nervous when we got to the start of the Color Run.
I assumed we'd be walking most of the course, because her training runs were so lethargic I had to run loops around her just to be able to run.
The gun went off and off she went. She was running what had to be about a 9-minute mile to the first color station. It was yellow, her favorite color, and her only request was that I let pass through on her own.
She exited the color station with a huge grin. We ran to the next color station as fast as she could go. I was getting winded trying to keep up with her.
"Green was awesome," she said, showing off the massive amounts of color she'd collected. Then she beckoned me on, "Let's go. What color do you think is next?" Suddenly I realized I'd been duped. She wasn't near death. She was capable of so much more than I suspected.
She sprinted between every color station and afterward declared her affection for running again. And I realized that I had learned another valuable lesson: Even the hardest things seem easier when you're having fun.