Training for more than a race

Prepping for the Bolder Boulder with his son takes a father to new places as a parent

Tim and Dave Belin on a run at Waneka Lake
Photo by Elizabeth Miller

It was like running on a treadmill — except that we were outside.

We were running uphill, directly into a steady 30-mile-per-hour headwind. As part of our training to run the Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day, my 9-year-old son and I were running in a 5K race on a brutally windy spring day in April. Less than a kilometer into the race, the course turned a corner and we were faced with the daunting task of tackling this gusty uphill challenge. Holding our running visors in our hands, we bowed our heads and trudged up the incline. My legs were moving, but I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. Tim, my son, was having an even more difficult time. “Dad,” he gasped, “can we slow down?” “Sure,” I replied, though I didn’t think that we could run a whole lot slower.

We finally made it to the top of the hill, where the course made a U-turn. We absolutely sailed back the other way. I was holding myself back from going too fast, feeling like I was running down a hill three times as steep as it actually was. After a few more kilometers, we finished the race, wind-whipped and tired, another step closer to our goal of completing the Bolder Boulder.

* * * *

I’ve been a recreational runner most of my life. I like to run for exercise but don’t typically run much more than three or four miles at a time. I’ve run a few races in the past, but nothing all that serious or competitive.

I am motivated by goals, however, and four years ago I decided to run the Bolder Boulder. I started training for it in early March by following a “Couch to 10K” plan. Even though I took the training slowly and increased the mileage gradually, I ended up with a wicked case of plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the connective tissue) in my left heel. I was stubborn and tried to push through the pain, but every stride felt like my heel was landing on a small, sharp rock. On the run that would turn out to be my last, I got about 100 yards before I turned around and walked home; I was almost crying from the pain (and also from the frustration of having to give up). I couldn’t walk barefoot across the wood floor at home, let alone run any more miles. I never came close to running the race.

The injury lingered for a long time, and I basically stopped running for the next three years. During that time, I saw a podiatrist (twice) and a physical therapist, had custom insoles made, got new running shoes, and stretched and stretched and stretched my calf. The pain in my heel, though significantly lessened, was always there. I started biking and doing other general fitness activities, but limited my running to about once a week. Though I stretched my left calf constantly and applied ice religiously, it appeared my running days were more or less over.

Or so I thought. This fall, Tim ran the most laps in his school’s jog-a-thon fundraiser, and he was awarded a free entry into the 2013 Bolder Boulder. I wanted to run the race with him, but could I get back into running shape without the heel pain returning? Would we be able to find the time and dedication to train for the race? Along our running journey, those questions, as well as some unexpected ones, would be answered.

The father-son duo at the end of the Frank Shorter RACE4Kids’ Health 5K | Photo courtesy of Dave Belin

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Obviously, Tim is a good runner. He is really motivated and likes to challenge himself. The first time we ran six miles, he wanted to do 6.2, just to see if he could actually run the full 10K.

We started training in early February, 16 weeks before the race. During those pre-daylight-savings-time days, we squeezed our running sessions between school, work, karate, early darkness, homework, and making dinner. Even though the distances early in the training were relatively short, we often got home just as dusk was turning to darkness. After we gained an hour of daylight at the end of the day, the weather became the bigger factor, as Boulder had some of the snowiest weather in its history from late March into early May. More than once we trod carefully on slushy roads and icy sidewalks, bundled up in hats, gloves and light neck gaiters to ward off the below-average temperatures. We did discuss a couple of times going to the Rec Center to run on the treadmill, but decided together that we would rather enjoy the fresh cold air and the daylight than the sweaty monotony of the indoor workout. Tim never once complained about going out for a run, no matter the conditions.

In looking for ways to train for the 10K race, I turned to the crowdsourced media of choice: Twitter. A friend suggested using the RunKeeper app on the iPhone. The app uses the phone’s GPS to keep track of all our running data (route, pace, distance, etc.) and has integrated training plans for races of various distances. We have been using the sub-55-minute 10K regimen. The plan gradually builds distance and endurance, and incorporates intervals, which I had never really done before. It’s like having your own running coach right on your phone, telling you when the next interval starts and when to increase the pace, all while keeping track of your splits and mileage along the way. It also shows maps of the runs, along with pace and elevation data, which we both enjoy analyzing after our workouts.

The data from the RunKeeper app is something Tim and I talk about on our runs. I ask him questions like how long it will take us to cover a certain distance at a certain pace, or where we need to turn around on an out-and-back run. We also practice converting from kilometers to miles and back again. I sometimes feel like a math teacher asking a student a word problem:

“So if 10K is 6.2 miles, how far is 1,000 meters?”

“Why are the 8K and 5-mile markers so close to each other on the race course map?”

My heel pain has not been as much of an obstacle as I anticipated. In the past few years, minimalist running shoes and emphasis on correct running technique have become popular. I did some reading and watched several online videos about modifying my running stride from a heel strike to a more neutral landing. I also picked up a new pair of Newton running shoes, the really gaudy, brightly colored ones worn by much more serious runners than me. Mine are bright blue with fire truck red laces and neon orange soles. I look a bit clownish, but the specially designed shoes, along with shortening (and quickening) my stride, have really helped to minimize the plantar fasciitis pain. It hasn’t gone away entirely, but enough that I have been able to focus on the training.

* * * *

My wife and I, like many parents, try to spend quality time with our kids doing fun things together. We have a couple of routines and rituals that we have incorporated into our schedule over the years: weekly ice cream nights and movie nights, Sunday morning breakfasts. We ski and hike together, too. Parenting experts will tell you that the structure of having intentional routines is important to your kids feeling grounded and part of a bigger unit. I’ll tell you that it’s just fun.

The miles Tim and I spend together running have also turned into one of these opportunities for bonding. While we run, we talk what homework he has for school, what movie he wants to pick for the next movie night, his top three favorite ice cream toppings, the form he is practicing for his next karate belt and what he wants to be when he grows up.

On a longer run in early April, Tim turned to me suddenly and said, “I have to water my daisy seeds.”

I thought about this for a second and, assuming he meant he had to go to the bathroom, I responded, “Well, we can stop behind that tree around the next corner.”

“No, I have to water my daisy seeds,” he insisted.

“What daisy seeds?” I replied.

“The ones from my Easter basket.”

I’d forgotten that the Easter Bunny had brought some daisy seeds along with chocolate, and that the boys had planted the seeds in small pots on the kitchen window sill. So he actually was talking about watering his daisy seeds, though we now use that phrase as a euphemism for needing a rest stop while out on the trail.

Often the conversations turn to our goal of running the race in 55 minutes. We talk about pacing, training, commitment, putting in the work necessary to achieve the goal and setting yourself up for success. We talk about how running is hard, but that if it was easy, everyone would do it. We talk about trying your best. We talk about how some days running are good days, and other days are hard. We talk about challenging yourself and the satisfaction of completing a goal.

I realize that many of these conversations are exactly what a father should be talking to his son about. It’s sort of clichéd, but many of these lessons are ones that extend beyond running and into life — working hard, doing your best, challenging yourself and finishing a goal. As a father, I hope that Tim will remember these lessons as he gets older, whether it is in school, work, relationships or life. It turns out that, at least for me, the goal of running the Bolder Boulder has a larger goal embedded within it of spending quality time with my son.

* * * *

As the days grew longer, so did the runs. We traded our winter hats and neck gaiters for running visors and shorts. While our typical running route was a couple of laps around Waneka Lake, the longer runs took us to various new locations: the rolling hills of Teller Farms, the awesome views from Davidson Mesa, the shade and serenity of the Coal Creek trail. The Centaurus High School track, busy with after-school Warriors lacrosse practices and soccer games on the field, served as our destination for the interval workouts. While I had run in many of those locations previously, I enjoyed watching Tim get excited about running in a new place, his uncertainty of how far we had to run on the first visit becoming a relaxed confidence by the time we returned.

While most other people on the trail don’t give me a second look, many would give Tim a high-five, a thumbs up or just words of encouragement along the way. On the Waneka Lake trail, several people we didn’t know commented what a good job we were doing training for the race. On the dirt trail shaded by the large cottonwood trees at Teller Farms, a runner passed us from behind. As he did, he gave Tim a pat on the back and said, “Great job, keep it up!” I could tell without looking at him that it made Tim feel special to receive those supportive gestures.

Our goal is to finish the race in 55 minutes. Tim and I are both looking forward to the event — the crowds, the cheering, the people, the bands, sprinklers and belly dancers. My plantar fasciitis appears to be in remission, and we are eager to see if we can accomplish our intended goal.

As a father, I have been reminded about the importance of actively seeking out situations to spend quality father-son time together. Last week, my other son Sam and I went to our first yoga class together. I wasn’t sure if he would like it, but afterwards he said contentedly, “I’m so relaxed!” We are planning to return for another class on Saturday morning, which I’m hoping will become our new ritual. As the boys grow, I know that I will continue to look for new challenges, new opportunities and new goals to achieve with them.