One of the more interesting parts of being a parent is getting to relive parts of your childhood, and as the end of last school year approached, I found myself thinking about the joy and misery of my experience with grade school “field day” events.
Yet last spring, 40 years later, my son was nearing the end of first grade at Baker , where every kid in grades 1-8 run a 5K as an end-of-the-year activity. It is not optional. Many of them are joined by their parents. It sounded like a perfect opportunity for me to run a 5K despite never having done so before.
“Running the Baker 5K with my child easily ranked as one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed in my whole life.”
I must admit I was a bit skeptical about the prospects for successful completion of this 5K run. Thinking back on my childhood, I don’t recall running a distance even remotely close to that. Honestly, I wasn’t really sure what was going to transpire. Was the kid going to go out sprinting about 200 yards and then collapse into a kind of whining misery for the remaining three miles? Would I have to carry him back home? With 6-year-olds, you just never know sometimes.
Even for myself, this was going to be a challenge. I hated running as a kid and although I’m pretty active with biking, going out and running a 5K with no preparation didn’t seem very feasible (especially in light of my Clydesdale-like computer coder’s body and a recent rib injury). In fact, I did about six weeks of training prior to the 5K day — mostly just running increasing distances around the neighborhood in the early morning hours before I had to take the kids to school.
Yet in the end, running the Baker 5K with my child easily ranked as one of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed in my whole life. In fact, I’ll admit that I shed a few quiet tears of joy thinking about it the days that followed.
Running day arrives and I find myself in the local park with all of the kids and parents. Each grade is to start the 5K run at staggered times, with the first-graders leading the whole thing off. The kids gather with their parents in the starting area and the rest of the school gathers in front of them. We’re off, and the first-graders blast out of the starting area like rockets. The whole school is cheering “Go, first grade! Go, first grade!” It is amazing.
After the initial excitement of the start wears off, the kids settle into a more steady pace and spread out a bit. I’m running alongside my son, carrying some water. At every turn, people are cheering him by name and offering high-fives as we pass. It is inspiring.
From time to time, we stop to walk a bit and have some water. However, for the most part we continue to run along — often inspired by some fast second-graders who catch and pass us, offering encouragement. It is about this point that I start to think about just how awesome this whole experience is compared to the field days I grew up with.
Most field day events are finished in a few seconds — a long throw, a jump, or whatever — followed by a lot of time standing around to think about how poorly you just did and how you won’t be getting a ribbon once again. Running a 5K is a whole different game altogether.
Aside from it being a legitimate accomplishment for someone at any age, the kid is out there running nonstop for 30 or 40 minutes. How did the school actually prepare my kid to have the focus and stamina to do this? My mind is blown as we continue to run toward the halfway mark.
We reach the halfway point and Mr. Schwartz, the Head of School, is there to greet us, give us a special hand stamp and send us on our way back in the direction that we just came. As an out-and-back running route, we’re now passing by all of the older kids as we continue to run. People are offering encouragement all around — especially to the first-graders, who are doing this run for the first time. The pace accelerates a bit as we reach the 30-minute point and the finish line is nearing. The kid is still hanging in there and running along as I’m watching in disbelief.
As the finish line approaches, we’re now being cheered by a crowd of eager kindergartners who have been watching the whole affair in anticipation of their turn to run next year. We cross the line with a total time of about 39 minutes, which I thought was not too bad. (Confession: As part of my training, I ran a non-stop 5K the week before just to see if I could do it — that took 35 minutes.)
The run was awesome on so many levels. For one, there’s the immediate satisfaction of simply having completed it. I didn’t know if I could run a 5K and I certainly had no idea if my kid would do it. Seeing it happen was deeply moving.
In preparing for the run, I also realized that running wasn’t nearly as bad as I remember from childhood. Although I don’t see myself running a future marathon, I’ll admit that it felt pretty good to go out there and run a bit in the morning. In fact, I’ve continued to run a bit even though the 5K is over. Involving the parents was a pretty neat move, if you ask me, and made the whole affair so much more of a community event.
At a deeper level, though, I was amazed by the 5K in an education landscape where so much attention is focused on fierce competition — competition for test scores, for sports, for science fairs, for the arts, and the race to get into the most elite schools. I think the real genius of the Baker 5K is that it is none of that.
For the first-graders, it was simply a challenge to see if they could complete a non-trivial goal. Each subsequent year, Baker students measure their progress against themselves in a challenge of continuing self-improvement and offer their support to the younger kids.
In the end, maybe that’s the most important lesson they could learn. There’s a lot of wisdom in that.
Now as this year’s 5K approaches on May 26, I find myself out running in the early mornings once more. Bring it on!
Mr. Beazley is a kindergarten and second-grade parent at Baker. Visit our 5K page  to learn more about the event or become a sponsor!