By Guest Blogger Tricia Nitsche

I’m 43 years old. A stay at home mom to four.  And I love to run.   I love to run far, love to run fast, love to run alone and love to run with others.  And I’m getting better at it.  Despite not being naturally fast, thin or athletic—I’m managing to run faster, longer.  Since having four kids pushes things a bit toward the chaotic, I have found that I crave order, routine, discipline.  Running checks all those boxes for me:  I run almost daily, document my workouts, obsessively tracking miles run and pace for each.  Different work outs?  Check.  I dutifully do my long run, my easy run, my speed workouts and, despite absolutely HATING it, my hill workouts.  I cross train, stretch, prioritize sleep, eat enough and (try to) eat mindfully.  I work HARD.

But here is the thing.  I’m still 43 and I’m still not a naturally gifted runner.  So while I can occasionally place 2nd or 3rd among other 40-45 year old women—in local  races—I’m never going to be Great.  When I run a huge race like the Boston Marathon, I am completely a middle of the pack runner.  There are simply too many truly talented, truly fit people also running for me to rise above that.

Some of the people who regularly blow my running efforts away work harder than I do.  Even though I do a great job of pushing myself and dedicating many hours to becoming a better runner, I’m sure they do more, run more, run harder.  But, some of the people probably are working about as hard as I am.  What makes them able to consistently win is some combination of natural gifts and hard work.  Which is comforting to me.  I know I am doing my best, with the body I was given. As an adult, I know that I can’t expect to be among the best.  I know that there is only so much I can do to improve my times.  I’m limited.  And that is OK.  I think most adults realize that their chances of being “among the best” is low.   We work hard and are rewarded for that anyway.

All these thoughts had me thinking about my kids and my expectations of them.  I’m much more likely to think that the relationship between effort and results is linear with my children.  Not only do I think this, I (and other adults) tell them this. Think “practice makes perfect.” They are constantly told that if they just work hard enough, they can expect to be among the best students, athletes, artists, musicians… And that it is not true for me and my aging body, and it is also not true for all kids.  Kids have natural talents too.  One child may excel at math with no effort, another may rise to the top of their class with talent and hard work and yet another may be working just as hard and never be more than average.  Some are natural athletes and their bodies “know” how to do what coaches and teachers are asking, while others are completely flummoxed at their inability to make their body do what is being asked.

So, I need to remember to think of my kids and other kids with the same generosity and grace that I give this old creaky body of mine when I line up behind a starting line.  I need to be really clear that I am applauding their effort, their determination, their dedication not just their talents. Because just as only a certain number of people will place in that race, only a certain number of children can rise to the top of a class, a team, a band.  And it is not necessarily obvious who has been putting their heart and soul into getting themselves where they are, it is just as likely to be the child who is mid pack. And as anyone who has been to a race knows, you cheer for every single runner.