My Little Runner

“Shall we run? Here, first hold my shoes.”

I once won a two-mile race – and then spat up blood.

That was in university.

My competitors congratulated me and said, “You were fast.”

And then they said, “Can we help you?”

They walked with me to the changing room, all 10 or so of them.

It wasn’t a formidable contest. But I won and survived. And kept running and went on to run the L.A. Marathon. But as my easy days of single living turned to that of the breadwinner for a growing family now of five, my running days became less frequent and then were replaced with running after the children.

Now I’m back.

In glory?

Not yet, that’s for sure.

I told my kids about my plans to start running again and showed them my new shoes, bought eight months earlier on a trip to L.A., where I grew up.

“I want to come,” the youngest said.

They all wanted to come. So we went, first on a warm-up jog around the sandy lanes in the forest behind our house in Pinamar on the coast of Argentina. I told them it is good to get warmed up first, to gradually ease into the running, to run a bit further every time, to run a bit faster. To pace yourself.

The youngest, who is three years old, decided to start her running career on my shoulders. So we walked a couple of blocks to the back lanes that run through the deeper parts of the forest.

Then the youngest got down off of my shoulders and said, “Now let’s go running.”

She took off her flip-flops and handed them to me and said, “Let’s go!”

She bolted down the lane and we watched. She raced fast and then stopped, turned around and said, “Come on, Daddy!”

So I ran and tried to catch her. But she took off again, running barefoot down the sandy lane and I had to sprint to catch and pass her and then slow down for her to catch up. And she did – and she kept racing to become in my eyes my very own Zola Budd, the South African racer who mainly competed barefoot, including at a legendary race at Crystal Palace in London on July 13, 1984. I still remember watching the race live on TV, when the presenter called her “the little girl” as she accelerated in the last meters to out-sprint her closest competitor and win. She set a world record for 2,000 meters.

Now I am watching my mini version of the racer, my little girl.

She is the only kid I know with more than 45 pairs of shoes – most of them hand-me downs or inherited – who prefers to run barefoot.

I smiled as she raced past me and put more distance out in front.

Good pace, I thought. She won’t be coughing up blood like me.

So I took off after her – and two my other children did, too, as we started my return to running and their start.

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