Lessons from the pavement

READER essay
good friend and former running partner convinced me to train for a marathon with her. I thought training for a marathon would be a great way to take some time for myself and reach a goal I have had for more than a decade.

I also thought this was a great opportunity to be a positive role model for my children. They would see how a seemingly impossible challenge could be met.

After several months of intense and time-consuming training, I sensed my children were quite bored with my obsession. They were sad when I wasn’t home for Saturday morning pancake breakfasts or when I couldn’t stay awake for Friday night movies. They dreaded being stuck in the health club day care so I could squeeze in a workout.

Then one afternoon my second-grader came home from school excited about coming in first place during a mile run in gym class. She talked about how she was getting tired and felt like walking, but she knew she could do it.

I could see that my decisions and actions were positively affecting our family. Being away from home and having a goal of my own seemed to help all of us grow.

At home, I started talking about the marathon as if I had already completed it. I passed up family pizza night to eat fresh veggies. I pared down my extra activities so I could get a decent amount of sleep. I stretched, I cross-trained, I fought fatigue, I completed all my runs.

I was already summarizing my experience to my children: hard work and dedication allowed me to achieve my goals.

The week before the Chicago Marathon, I was glued to The Weather Channel. At first, rain was predicted, then record heat and humidity. On the day of the marathon, we were around mile 16, running slow but feeling strong, when we received the news that the race had been shut down. It was a tremendous mental punch.

My husband and children greeted me with a giant cake that read"Congratulations.” I had to explain to my kids why I didn’t achieve my goal. You can prepare, train, focus and work hard toward a goal, but sometimes there are factors out of your control. Life isn’t fair. I guess it had been so long since I had taken a risk and pursued a dream that I had forgotten that key element.

Although I didn’t think my children were really watching me during my training, I began to realize they had a close eye on me as I worked through my disappointment. I could sit and be bitter about a grand achievement that didn’t happen as planned or I could accept the results and figure out my next step. We’ve all had to deal with disappointment at many times in our lives. I knew I had to accept the outcome and move on. I tried to talk through my feelings out loud so my children could share and learn.

I cut back my running schedule so I was finally able to attend a soccer game. It was my older daughter’s turn in goal. When the other team scored on a breakaway, I immediately recognized that look of pain and disbelief on her face. After the game she buried her head in my shirt. A few weeks earlier, I would have had a different reaction. I would have comforted her by telling her how proud I was that she tried and all that mattered was her effort. Certainly those statements were true, but I knew there was nothing I could say at that moment to make her feel better.

Instead I held her tight and empathized with her pain. She had to learn to deal with failure, too, and fortunately I just had a refresher course on the subject. I know this was a very minor event in her life. As she gets older, the risks will be greater and the disappointments more heart breaking. But I don’t want her to sit on the sidelines of life because she’s too afraid of failure.

When people ask me if I’m disappointed that I didn’t finish my first marathon, my simple answer is"yes.” But I think the real answer is"no.” I’ve learned more about myself and parenting by dealing with failure.

Jean Costigan is a Park Ridge mom and marathon runner. She plans to run a marathon this spring to finish what she started.

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