I fly back to my hometown of Boulder, Colo., every Memorial Day weekend to run in its annual 10k race. While I’m sure the “Bolder Boulder” race began as an actual competitive event, it’s transformed into a mobile festival that winds through the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. My husband and I have participated in it every spring since we first met. My daughter, now 14, started joining us later with this past event making it three years in a row the three of us ran together. It has become an official family tradition.
As a recently crafted family, we’ve been building these family traditions one ritual at a time. We celebrate the end of the week each Friday with burgers at our favorite restaurant. We have certain songs we now listen to each December when we decorate our Christmas tree. We hike up to our favorite scenic view spot every year on my daughter’s birthday. And now, every May, we run this race.
Some family traditions are tougher to maintain than others as we move further into my girl’s teen years. We used to play frequent card games together after dinner, but now she’d rather disappear into her room for the evening. We used to love to sing boisterously to the radio together in the car, but now she prefers to block us out with her own earbuds in the backseat.
But despite her growing independence and predictable self-imposed adolescent separation from us, my daughter loves running the Bolder Boulder with us.
She shouldn’t. It involves several things for which she has total disdain: athletic activity, getting up early, and being around people she doesn’t know. Anyone who knows her would expect her to detest a 10k.
Family traditions start on your marks
On race day, we wake, stretch, eat a light breakfast, pin on our numbers, and have a relative drive us to the starting line where we join thousands of people — many in costume — eager to kick off their heat of the race.
My daughter grins ear to ear. Her mood is bright. She lets me take selfies with her as we get closer to our start time. She laughs at my husband’s jokes. She waves at the local TV news crews filming from the sidelines.
During the race itself, she maintains the attitude of a champion, as we alternate between running and walking, threading our way along a race course flanked by rock bands, belly dancers and Elvis impersonators.
She paces herself like a pro, never balking when we pick up a little speed at each mile marker. The girl even shows a rare willingness to high-five strangers on the sidelines who are out to show support. On race day, she puts away her teenage angst for a few hours and becomes this luminous, long-limbed gazelle girl with her ponytail streaming behind her, face shining.
I watched her this year, as our sneakers slapped the pavement together and we ran through town. This girl, my girl, who prefers to have most of our conversations lately with her closed bedroom door between us. This girl who can barely get through a sentence at dinner some days without a professional-grade Sarcastic Eye Roll. This girl who wouldn’t give me any details about her school day when she gets home if I held her at gunpoint.
Why does this race make her feel such open, unabashed joy?
It’s not the running. It’s not a need to compete. So … what is it?
I would ask her, but I don’t want to jinx it. (I tend to be the king of that: experiencing a nice moment with someone, and then ruining it with talking and questions and overanalysis.)
Plus, I don’t need to ask her. I think already know.
Her family structure was reshuffled several years ago, which is tough on any kid but probably especially so on one whose father divorced her mom, came out as gay and then remarried a man. But through all the changes she’s been through, my daughter knows she is surrounded by love and support. Even on her most temperamental day, she knows she has a father and stepfather who are with her, all the time, all the way. With her at the starting line, with her at the finish line. It’s true on race day every spring, and it’s true in her life.
This year, as always, we started our race together. We also finished it together, crossing the line at the end in the middle of a stadium with crowds cheering. As we did, I looked up and caught a glimpse of us on the Jumbotron screen: my daughter in the middle, her dads on either side, shoulder to shoulder, holding hands up high, cheering for our own victory.
It looked how it felt: good, strong, reassuring. It felt like something to be proud of.
That’s why my daughter loves the race.
I get it, of course. That’s why I love it, too.
Family traditions photo courtesy of Seth Taylor.