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A reason for running

Last night I went for a late night run with my son.

It makes me smile to say that.  In all the years I’ve been running I never thought I’d be able to say that.

To look at my son, you’d think there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be able to go running with me. Justin is a slender, fit, active 13 year old. He runs up and down the stairs and through the hallways of our house all the time… a little TOO often, if you want my honest opinion.  When he was a toddler all he did was run. I could never keep a handle on him.  With all the energy he has, you’d think he’d love going for a run with me.

What’s kept him from running with me all these years isn’t his body, it’s his mind. Justin displays some common signs of a child with Aspergers, a mild form of high-functioning autism. He is incredibly focused on minute details of any function, especially if it’s mechanical. He talks incessantly about these details to anyone who will listen, and often he doesn’t notice if his audience actually isn’t listening. The world is literal to him, and things don’t make sense if they aren’t exact. He’ll argue the point forever that the world isn’t round and no one should ever say it’s round, because of its elliptical tendencies. (And he’ll get awfully mad at me for saying “he’d argue the point forever” because no one can actually argue forever.)  He has a hard time with jokes and sarcasm, because they aren’t real

My son is also challenged socially. He often says things that seem mean and hurtful. We used to say it’s because he has no filter from his mind to his mouth, but it’s more than that. If he hurts your feelings it’s not because he doesn’t care about your feelings, it’s because he has a hard time conceptualizing the fact that you have feelings.

He’s also a genius. If you’re thinking “Sheldon” from the Big Bang Theory you’re on the right track. That’s my son.  Sometimes.

Other times Justin is the most loving child I’ve ever met. He lights up and seems to just glow when he learns that something he did made me happy. He’s the first to respond when he finds out that I’m sad. At thirteen, he’s still not embarrassed to have a mom who wants to hug him each day.

When he wants to turn on the charm, he does. And you know it’s genuine. Amidst all the struggles and frustrations people have with him, he seems to win the hearts of everyone he meets.  Which is why I wish he’d go running with me.  I’ve always wanted to have more time to spend with him. Just him. Away from the distraction and overstimulation of the rest of the family (heck, the rest of the world). But I could never convince him that it was a good idea. Justin simply never could comprehend why anyone would want to run. He knows that being active is good for you, and therefore he’s active.  He eats right, most of the time…and he’s happy for me that I’ve found running to make me happy. But he sees no point in doing it himself.  Why run around the block just to arrive back home if you’re already at home?

To my immense joy (and my husband’s disdain), he changed his mind this January. My husband, who is not a runner, decided to accompany me during the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in Orlando. He wanted to complete a half marathon just to say he did it. For someone who doesn’t run, I was so impressed and immeasurably proud of my husband when he completed the race in 3 hours, 15 minutes. To him, I think our son rained on his parade when he said “It took you that long?  I could do it much faster than that.”

“Well, Justin,” Rob said, “I just decided to do it. I didn’t train or anything, so for someone with no training or conditioning, that’s not a bad time. It’s pretty inconsiderate of you to say it was too slow or that you could do better… at least I did it.  I don’t see you signing up for any half marathons.”

And that was all it took. Justin saw how proud I was of Rob, and wanted me to feel that proud of him. He saw a reason to run: there was a time to beat. Not just a personal goal like we set for ourselves, but a real number that he had to come in under, because he’d let it slip that he thought he could.

Justin now borrows my Garmin from time to time and heads out for a few miles. He sets goals for himself about how far he can go without taking a walk break, what pace he’s running at, and his endurance over longer distances. He loves pouring over his statistics and calculating his probability of improvements. Often he does this alone, because that’s his nature and because I’ve been working long hours lately.

Yesterday I found myself feeling guilty that I wasn’t spending enough time with him on this, and I asked him if he’d be interested in a late night run when I got home from work. Surprisingly, he said yes, and although I was sure he’d change his mind as the evening dragged on, he was full of energy and ready to go when I got home at 9pm.

Our block was nearly pitch black. Justin is afraid of the dark, but somehow the blackness helped him to open up more socially. He actually admitted for the first time that he is afraid of the dark (we all knew, but he’d always deny vehemently). He told me about the difficult decision he was facing going into high school: continue with college prep courses or transition to trade school to work on mechanics. We talked about fun things we wanted to do together when we travel to Disney World for his first half marathon this November. He asked me how my day was.  And he listened when I told him.  Sometimes he was silent and let the soft pounding of our feet be the music that we ran to.

Last night I went for a late night run with the coolest guy I’ve ever met. My son.

Written by

Tracy is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She’s employed by a major fitness footwear retailer as a Regional Product and Sales Trainer. By working in what she considers to be “as close to a dream job as you can get,” Tracy gets to travel the east coast while educating her co-workers and potential clients on the benefits of embracing a healthy lifestyle.

Filed under: Time on Feet

4 Responses to "A reason for running"

  1. Aw, Tracy! I LOVE this!! And it made me miss you guys that much more! <3

  2. julie says:

    Tracy,What a beautiful thing to share such precious moments with us. I am so happy you all are doing so well! Miss ya and hope to be good enough to run with you soon!

  3. Sue says:

    So touching. I hope one day to be able to run with my kids. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Nana says:

    Yes!!!!! Justin IS the greatest guy I have ever known!! And thank god he still likes to hug his Nana, too!!!

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