Athletics Magazine

How To Pace an 11 Year Old

By Brisdon @shutuprun

Today was a great example of how your mind can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Especially when it comes to running.

This was year #4 that my daughter, Emma (age 11), ran the Bolder Boulder 10K Race. She absolutely LOVES this race. In regular life, she doesn’t run a ton, but is a pretty active kid. She has had a great experience in the past at this race and wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Before you think I am in favor of child torture, let me start out by saying that I do not push my kids to run or to love running. Just because it’s my thing does not mean it has to be theirs. They decide if they want to do races and how they want to pace themselves. I let them take the lead.

Before the race started, it was all rainbows and Skittles. We made some friends at the start (cows), danced to the music and enjoyed the warmth of the early morning sun. I learned how to not mess my tutu in the bathroom. I just knew this was going to be the best Bolder Boulder ever.



Kathy, Emma & Me. You can call me Forehead Freddy if you want.

Then we started running.

We were seriously not .25 miles in, when Emma’s legs hurt. Then she had heartburn. Then her toes ached. Next was a cramp. All psychosomatic if you ask me.  I’m thinking to myself, “Are you kidding me?” But then I remember that she’s 11, and when I was 11 I would never have attempted this.

Emma:Mom. I don’t want to do this.”

Me: “I don’t care if you never run another race again, but we are finishing this one.” (I’m very sympathetic).

At mile .5, she wanted to walk. We took a little break.

At mile 1, she wanted to quit. I said absolutely not.  We will make it to the finish line. I reminded her she had done this three times before, and that just two weeks ago she had run a strong 5K. I sensed that it was not so much that she was tired, but that she had given up mentally. Already.

I also know about the “mom effect.” This is when a child (even a grown child like myself) automatically regresses and needs extra sympathy when they are with their mom. This is the first year that we have run this race together. Somehow when she is with Ken, it’s different.

At mile 2, there was more complaining. She said she didn’t want to do the race anyway. I held her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. I told her it did not matter how long it took us to finish, what mattered that we did finish. What mattered was her attitude, and I wanted her to turn it around NOW. I told her I thought she had given up right when she started running. I was a mom of few words, trying to make a point without lecturing.

At mile 3, I let her know we were almost halfway. I encouraged her to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. That’s when she took off.  There was a defining moment when her head got in the game and it was obvious. She was smiling ear to ear, she was running effortlessly. Something about being half way made her think she could do it.

As we got to mile 5, I told her it was only about another mile. I told her in about 15 minutes she would be done running. She was tired, we took a couple of walk breaks. I reminded her that this was when running became about what was going on in your head and not so much about your body. I’m sure she wanted me to shut the hell up, but I saw this as a fine parenting moment – a time to sneak an important lesson in there.

By the time we got into our final lap of the University of Colorado stadium, the crowds cheering and full of energy, I could not keep up with this girl. Literally. She ran her little heart out and crossed the finish two minutes faster than last year, in 1:12. She was beaming. Proud of herself. Accomplished. Confident.

She told me that when she started the race, it seemed so overwhelming. She didn’t think she could do it, and she knew how much further she had to go. She psyched herself out. Once her mind and spirit gave up, so did her body.

Then slowly, she got behind herself.

Isn’t that just what it takes? Getting behind ourselves?

Today was the perfect example of that Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right.” Yes, we train our bodies physically, but it is the mental strength that takes us through the miles. Our bodies want to stop long before our minds. If the mind is still in it, you can go further than you ever imagined. Just ask Emma!


And as for Sam – well, he and Ken were planning to run together. That is until mile 2 when Sam ditched Ken and busted out a 49 minute race! I think it was the bicep that did it. Ken came in two minutes later.


Yes, all of these people ran the race. About 54,000 of us!

Ever had a race where you were not mentally in the game, but turned it around? To be perfectly honest, almost every half marathon or marathon is like this for me. I have this feeling at about mile 2 of defeat, wondering if I can do it or not. I remember in Boston in 2011, I got to mile 1 and some douche yelled “Only 25 more miles to go!”

With races, I think  it’s especially important to break it up in a way that works for you. I should have done this with Emma. I think the distance might have felt more manageable if I had told her we were running three 2 milers or something like that. Next time. Because despite what she said at mile 2, she’s on board for next year already.


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