It’s special when two sons run at the same cross country invitational and parents can cheer for both. Last Saturday, my two sons competed at the 25th Wilton XC Invitational in Wilton, Connecticut, on an absolutely spectacular autumn day. The older son ran for Amity High School’s varsity team, while the younger son ran for the New Canaan Running Club (middle school team). Both had ambitious goals: the older wanted to solidify his place on the varsity team (top 7) and run a PR, while the younger wanted to place in the top 10 of the youth race and run a PR.
In the weeks leading up to the Wilton Invitational, both sons crushed their workouts and my older son improved in his last dual meet, so the goals appeared reasonable. We were able to preview the varsity and youth courses the weekend before the invitational. Unexpectedly and unfortunately that Monday, my younger son became sick and by the end of the week he was no better. It would have been devastating to pull him from the event, and while it was safe for him to run, we knew that the illness would impair his ability to achieve his goals. He insisted in participating anyway to help his team.
The varsity race was exciting to watch and my son attacked with a 5:25 opening mile for the 3.15 mile course. At the two mile point he was running 6th for Amity, and in the top 30 overall. With less than 400 meters to go, he had moved to 5th with 3 teammates within 50 meters behind him and closing. I cheered, screamed and motioned for him to surge and kick. He was spent and in the finish chute was outkicked by a teammate and dropped back to 6th. It was one of his best high school races, and he achieved his goal of solidifying his top 7 varsity spot (and only 4 seconds behind 4th), placed 30th overall, and ran a 17:37 PR for 3.15 miles (5:35 mile pace).
While warming up with my younger son, it became obvious that he was hurting and weak, but compelled to run and finish his race. He recalled the movie “Without Limits” about the talented US distance runner Steve Prefontaine, and I realized that I wasn’t going to convince my son of drop out. Pre wouldn’t have either.
It was with mixed emotions that I watched my 11 year old run the 1.5 mile race. Last year, he finished 1st for the team and 18th overall in 9:36 (6:24 mile pace), and although he started strong and moved up during the opening 400 meters, he quickly started to lose ground and drop back. At the mile marker he was about 30th, not near the top 10 finish he set as a goal. And his time was much slower than last year. But I was proud that he ran, that he fought, and that he finished 3rd for his team and 38th overall in 10:02.
My son told me that he ran a terrible race (including losing his breakfast during the race) and felt humiliated, and I told him that I couldn’t be prouder and that he ran an excellent race. My older son and his friends echoed my sentiments. And his coach patted him on the shoulder and after telling him he ran well, let him know that “to be a good winner, you have to know what losing feels like.” And my son understood that today was not his day, but there should be many days ahead when he will achieve his goals.