By Andy Sandrik
One of my most haunting memories in running — and parenthood, for that manner — came several summers ago when I took my young son out for his first cross country race.
Paxton was 4 or 5, with seemingly endless energy and a vocal desire to win. But when the starting gun went off, it was obvious he was not ready.
I tried to explain to him how to pace himself, but he sprinted as hard as he could from the start and within minutes, my red-faced boy was hitting the wall, big time. He slowed to a walk, and then a complete stop, getting more sad with every child that passed us.
We eventually fell to last place by a long shot and tears filled Pax’s eyes, as he was too upset and tired to move on.
He wanted to turn around, but the fact of the matter is we were closer to the finish than the starting line. Stuck in the middle of the woods, we had no choice but to tough it out and finish.
Somehow through promises of ice cream and video games, we were able to find our way to the finish line. After a few minutes he snapped back together and went to the playground, just as cheerful as he was before the race.
Several years later, I’m thankful to say that Paxton has grown into one of my casual running partners, and often paces my runs with his scooter. I’m guessing he has probably forgotten all about this cross country race, but the experience will probably live with me forever.
All of this stress for a one-mile race.
Taking all this into account, I was at a loss for words when I learned that a 6-year-old recently completed the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. Accounts from the race, posted by the runner’s own father, said that he “was struggling physically and wanted to take a break and sit every three minutes.” The boy eventually did cross the finish line in 8:35:39 and while his family celebrated, the internet rained down fire on both the family and race organizers.
I’m a big innocent-until-proven-guilty guy, but a marathon is 25.2 miles longer than the “torture run” I had put my own son on. The family from Kentucky, which recently had a visit from Child Protective Services, insists the boy wanted to run this race and that he was intent on making it to the finish line.
Even in a world where kids are constantly proving they are much more capable than we give them credit for, this is a big stretch.
There is a reason why only one percent of adults ever finish a marathon: It is hell. While the gratification of finishing a marathon is incomparable, you get broken down both physically and mentally in the process. I’ve completed a 50K and two marathons in my running career, and the hit-the-wall feeling, which usually comes around Mile 20, is enough to make you cry.
I can’t imagine what this stress is like on a 6-year-old’s body, but doctors warn that kids can experience everything from electrolyte abnormalities, nausea, vomiting and heat stroke.
As this continues to unfold, I’m doing my best to withhold judgment, because there’s always more than one side to a story. I’d be lying, though, if I said I wasn’t struggling, considering my own child’s experience.
Unlike my son in the one-miler, however, I doubt this 6-year-old will ever forget the day he ran a marathon. I hope, first and foremost, that his body sustains no lasting damage. I’m also praying that his memories from this race are not traumatic, but rather pleasant, and that his running story has a happy ending.
1 STEP BACK, 3 STEPS FORWARD
Two of Pennsylvania’s biggest races were held on the same weekend, with both the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Broad Street 10 Miler in Philadelphia drawing their fair share of runners from Sun Country.
We’ll start in Pittsburgh, where Hershey’s Daniel Goetschius churned through rainy and miserable conditions to finish in 3:21:02. He was joined at the finish line by Palmyra’s Janelle Swartz (3:45:46), Hummelstown’s John Wagner (3:46:26) and Corey Jackson (5:06:43), Middletown’s Zach Myers (3:56:06) and Hershey’s Patrick Giffin (5:16:43), Desiree Schelling (5:44:02) and Dave Schelling (5:44:03).
There were a handful of local standouts from the Pittsburgh Half, which drew 8,505 runners. Elizabethtown’s Benjamin Grabowski ran a 1:31:11, while Hummelstown’s Selina Read (1:46:32), Lindsay Bacik (1:56:49) and Chris Read were not far behind.
From west to east, the Broad Street Run included more than 20,000 runners, including Hershey’s John Miller, who led Sun Country runners with a finish in 1:03:01. Miller was chased by Elizabethtown’s Emily Swope (1:10:21) and Cameron Loula (1:19:36), Hummelstown’s Jodi Olympia (1:21:35) and Michael Aynardi (1:26:13), Palmyra’s Michelle Kent (1:21:43), Hershey’s Riley Curtin (1:25:51) and Lindsay Adamski (1:29:22) and Grantville’s Karen Good (1:26:21).
In Lincoln, Neb., Tyler Lundquist represented Palmyra, and Pa. for that matter, in a big way with a Top 10 finish at the Lincoln Marathon. Lundquist blazed through the race in 2:38:27 to finish sixth overall.
Hershey’s Anja Goetzinger showcased her trail legs at the Greenwood Furnace Trail Challenge in Huntingdon. Goetzinger finished as the top female in 2:08:26 at the race, which was measured around 13 miles. Hummelstown’s Bryan Grill took fourth overall in 2:00:55, while Elizabethtown’s Paula Burke crossed the finish line in 4:31:22.
The race field for the Race against Racism 5K in Lancaster featured more than 1,900 runners and was chock full of Sun Country runners. Alex Pearson took fifth overall in 16:10, while fellow Hummelstown runner Rachel Rowe was third female in 18:39. Other top runners included Elizabethtown’s Julie Halteman (19:05), Matthew Culp (21:26) and Holly Nash (22:16), as well as Palmyra’s Jonathan Brubaker (22:16).
Hummelstown’s Denise Little continued her hot streak on the 5K scene, as she finished second female in the Run with Rider 5K in Dillsburg with a time of 23:50. Palmyra’s Emily Kukura had a similar level of success at the Gretna Gritty 5K in Lebanon, finishing as third female in 53:35.
Finally, the Rotary Mother’s Day 5K in Elizabethtown featured Top 10 finishes from Elizabethtown’s Benjamin Grabowski (3rd in 20:46), Todd Cook (4th in 20:59) and David Greenawalt (5th in 22:17).
And now, a look ahead:
Hummelstown Hunger Run: Saturday, 10 a.m., in Hummelstown. Schaffner Park will host this race, which benefits the Hummelstown Food Pantry. Find the race on active.com.
York Marathon: Sunday, May 15, 6 a.m., in York. Fewer than 30 spots remain for this event, which also has a half marathon option. Look up the race on runsignup.com.
Halfity-Half Marathon: Sunday, May 22, 8 a.m., in Harrisburg. Enjoy your running in moderation with this event, which offers a half marathon, quarter marathon, and an eighth of a marathon. Register for the race on runsignup.com.
Also: DUI Victims Memorial 10K (Saturday, in Harrisburg); St. Margaret Mary School 5K (Saturday, in Harrisburg); Sheep Shuffle 5K (Saturday, in Liverpool); Capital Area Girls on the Run 5K (Saturday, in Harrisburg); Run the Ridge: 1-Mile Benefit Run (Saturday, in Mechanicsburg); Camp Hebron 5K Trail Run (Saturday, in Halifax); Cousler Park 5K/10K (Saturday, in York); Go Girls Go 5K (Saturday, in Chambersburg); Great Allegheny Ohiopyle Marathon (Saturday, in Ohiopyle); Jim Thorpe Running Festival (Saturday-Sunday, in Jim Thorpe); Lions 5K Country Run (Saturday, in Leola); Run the Ridge 1 Miler (Saturday, in Mechanicsburg); RunPA Kids Little Trailblazers 5K (Saturday, in Lancaster); YMCA Trails and Tails 5K (Saturday, in York); Patriot Run 5K (Saturday, in Mechanicsburg); YWCA Race Against Racism 5K (Saturday, in Carlisle); Ghost Creek Half Marathon (Sunday, in Black Lick); Independence Triathlon (Sunday, in Quakertown); Run for the Cadets 5K (Sunday, in Lebanon); York Marathon (Sunday, in York); Carlisle Downtown Mile (Thursday, May 19, in Carlisle); Thirsty Thursday 5K (Thursday, May 19, in Reading); 5K Run to Remember (Saturday, May 21, in Mechanicsburg); Conestoga Crusher 10K (Saturday, May 21, in Holtwood); Eagles Autism Challenge 5K (Saturday, May 21, in Philadelphia); Endless Mountain Marathon Festival (Saturday, May 21, in Forest City); Got the Nerve Triathlon (Saturday, May 21, in Lebanon); Lancaster Junction Trail Half Marathon (Saturday, May 21, in Manheim); Run to Restoration 5K (Saturday, May 21, in Harrisburg); Tough Mudder 8 Miler (Saturday, May 21, in Coatesville); Harpers Ferry Half Marathon (Saturday, May 21, in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.); Water Wheel 5K (Saturday, May 21, in Newville); Manheim Rock-N-Glow 5K (Saturday, May 21, in Manheim); Run to Remember 5K (Saturday, May 21, in Mechanicsburg); Joggin’ 4 the Noggin’ 5K (Saturday, May 21, in Newport); Run for Restoration 5K (Saturday, May 21, in Harrisburg).