Emme had a game plan.
She would start off nice and easy, letting anyone who wanted to pass her just fly on by. Then, at the half-mile point, she would start to kick up the pace a bit. At the three-quarters mark, she would turn it up even more. Then, in the last 100 yards, well, she explained the rest.
“I’m going to turn on the juice.”
Honestly, it sounded good.
But amid the excitement and the adrenaline of her first-ever race — a fun run after the San Francisco Marathon — I expected her to forget all about the plan and just haul off the starting line like all the other kids, sprinting until her legs gave out and her lungs felt like fire.
I really don’t give this kid enough credit some times.
The organizers announced the start and there went all the kids, and there went Emme, sort of bumbling along with a smile on her face. I lost her amid the crowd but Dana, situated on the sidewalk near the start, said she saw the kid just easily bobbing along.
After that, she was out of sight for a long time.
We waited at the finish line for her. During her training, she ran her first-ever mile at 12 minutes. Later, she cut it down to 10. I was expecting something along those lines.
Finally a few boys, red faced and huffing, came sprinting into view. A few more older boys, say 10 or 11, followed. A girl about Emme’s age came not long after and good god did I feel sorry for that kid. She was literally crying and screaming and doubling over while grabbing her stomach, while her asshole dad held her hand and pulled her kicking and screaming toward the finish. If there’s a way to ruin sports for kids, that’s probably the dictionary definition of it.
But anyway. A few more older kids flew by. And then there’s this blur — a pint-sized, 6-year-old speed demon in knee-high Wonder Woman socks with little capes billowing behind the calves.
Emme’s face was red and I could tell she was pushing for all she had. The closer she got to the finish, the faster she ran, passing kids left and right in the final dash.
She slumped across the line, breathing as hard as I’ve ever seen her breath, her cheeks aflame and her chest heaving.
I would have been thrilled to run a seven-minute mile.
She was so proud of herself. Out of about 200 kids, she finished somewhere around 15 to 20. They don’t keep track, because it’s supposed to be a fun run, and I sort of feel like one of those asshole sideline sports dads for even noticing. But it was hard not to notice. Here are all these big kids and then here’s Emme, passing them in the final yards. And then there’s the rest of the crowd, trickling in.
But most importantly, she said she had a blast.
“Daddy,” she breathed, “Did you see at the dog leg that they had an actual dog! And a sign that said Woof!”
She couldn’t contain herself.
Afterward, her eyes exploded at all the goodies available for runners. Juices and snack bars and tacos and some magical squeezy thing we never let her have.
“Next year,” she said, “I’m going to win.”
As long as you have this much fun, kiddo, you can do whatever you want.