Girls on the Run

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you’re having fun

From “Band on the Run,” by Paul and Linda McCartney

At dinner last night, the night before the Girls on the Run Montgomery County 5K, June asked me if I was excited. Beth nodded her head subtly to prompt me, but I told the truth instead. I told June I was a little nervous, because I was planning to walk it instead of run it and even though I’d been told by one of the coaches that a lot of people do that, I was afraid I’d be the only one and I’d come in dead last.

June said she’d give me a dollar if I did. I asked what I’d get if I didn’t come in last, figuring it should be better than a dollar, but she said nothing, because she knew I wasn’t going to come in last.

June had been training since early March, running before school on Tuesdays and after school on Thursdays with the Girls on the Run chapter at her school. I hadn’t trained at all, because running’s not my thing and a three-mile walk isn’t beyond my capabilities. I was a little self-conscious, though, because a lot of parents I knew were running with their kids, and I needed to find June an alternate adult running buddy who could keep up with her, as all the girls are supposed to have a grown-up with them at all times. Her buddy ended up being Zoë’s grandmother, who’s currently in training for a half marathon. “Her whole family is into running,” June told me. Indeed, Zoë’s grandfather ran with her and her mom was one of the coaches and her older brother only skipped the race because he had a viola lesson.

We needed to be at the race site by eight in the morning, so Beth set her alarm for six-thirty so we could be out of the house by seven-thirty. June had requested a special pre-run breakfast of muffins, so we’d procured those the day before. I made a fried egg and a couple slices of veggie bacon to go with mine.

It was in the 50s and raining, well misting really, because why wouldn’t it be? It’s rained almost every day this month. It feels sometimes like we’ve been cheated out of May, which is one of the nicest months in the D.C. area most years. June and I both put long-sleeved shirts on under our race t-shirts and wore leggings (an article of clothing I normally reserve for wearing under skirts or to bed on cold winter nights). Once we were dressed Beth said we were “two girls on the run.”

We drove to the staging area for the race, a mall parking lot, and waited. The race wasn’t until nine, but they wanted everyone there early. There was a D.J. playing music and leading the assembled crowd in stretches. There were stations where you could buy merchandise and get your face painted or temporary dye for your hair. June didn’t need hair dye, though because she had just cashed in her birthday gift certificate for a new dye job the day before, after two months of waiting and wondering when she should use it. Beth had worried it might run in the rain, but I think June considered the satisfying possibility of showing up on race day with a new haircut and a quarter of her hair dyed in deep blue, purple, and fuchsia and decided this was the day. Indeed, there were a lot of exclamations about it, especially from Zoë who patted it and told her it looked pretty.

Of the thirteen third-to-fifth grade girls on June’s team, four were friends of June’s—Zoë, Evie, Claire, and Norma, plus Keira, a fifth grader who used to wait at June’s bus stop before she moved to a different part of town. Norma was wearing a jacket with the face of a Pokémon character on the hood, including ears. (It looked warm and I was wishing I had a jacket—with or without ears—as we waited in the rain and I started to get chilled.)  But in the vast crowd (there were over five thousand runners and who knows how many spectators) there were a lot of other girls we know who go to different elementary schools—preschool classmates, Girl Scout troop members, etc. Some of them we saw, others I only found out were there later, from their parents’ Facebook pictures.

The crowd was divided into three sections—purple, pink, and green—and the runners started in shifts. We were in the pink group, the middle one, so we started second. Walkers were instructed to stay on the right and I did. Right before we reached the starting line at 9:05, June gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek and she took off with Zoë’s grandmother.

It was a road race and the route wound around the mall and an office park, ending where it began, under a big inflatable arch. The runners separated from the walkers pretty quickly. As a result, I spent most of the race with walkers and reluctant runners, whose coaches—especially toward the end—had to keep wheedling them to run, against their tired protests.  “Why do you want to run so much?” one girl snapped irritably at her coach and another one swore she was never doing Girls on the Run again and was reminded by one of her teammates that she can’t do it again because she was in fifth grade. (There is a middle school program but it’s new and relatively small compared to the more established elementary school program.) I can only suppose that given the enthusiasm of June’s teammates, they weren’t saying anything like that to their coaches. I did see June once during the race as we travelled in opposite directions on opposite sides of a median. She waved at me happily and yelled, “Hi, Mommy!”

June says she alternated between jogging and walking but sprinted the last few hundred yards when the finish line was in sight. I alternated between walking briskly and walking at my normal pace. It was good to be moving, probably better than waiting at the sidelines like Beth, because once we got going I wasn’t cold any more, though it started to rain a little harder and I was getting pretty damp. I stopped at the water table and considered using a porta-potty along the route but decided against it because there was a line and I didn’t have to go that badly.

I checked my time when I crossed the finish line—it was 10:04, which means I’d finished it under an hour. I wasn’t last, though it was a close thing. I heard the announcer saying the last runners were coming down the last hill before the straightaway while I was in one of the porta-potties at the finish line. I collected a bottle of water and a strawberry cereal bar and went to find June’s team, who were all there except one girl. Beth estimated June did the race in about forty minutes, about halfway between the first finisher, a middle school girl who finished in twenty minutes and the walkers who brought up the rear. This would be a personal best for June, who had completed a couple practice runs in about fifty minutes. The last runner from June’s team arrived and the girls got pictures taken with their medals and the race was over.

Rather than wait in traffic while every other family in the county with a third-to-fifth grade girl exited the parking garage, we went into the mall and got mochas and hot tea at Peet’s.

“Did you have fun?” I asked June.

“Yes. Did you?” I said.

“Yes,” I answered truthfully.

“Maybe I’ll do it next year,” Beth said. I’d be happy to have her company as a third girl on the run.

  • Well done both of you! June is lucky to have so many “girls” to look up to.

  • Nicole MacPherson

    Good for you two! That is awesome. I’ve never done a run before but you’re inspiring me to try!