When Life Imitates Racing with Daughter

When Life Imitates Racing with Daughter

When Life Imitates Racing:

the parenting lessons I learned from running with my daughter!

by Valerie Riley, GOTR Mom and Coach

I recently served as my daughter’s “running buddy” during her first Girls on the Run 5K race. I have been a runner for years, but we had never had a chance to run together until this day. It was a warm Friday evening with a festive atmosphere full of girl power. We were totally energized as we lined up next to each other at the starting line, flanked by a few hundred others. When the bull horn blew, we took off together and stayed astride for the first 200 yards or so.

Then, she started to pull away from me and I could not keep up. I was a little lonely, but I delighted in her speed and endurance. For the next two miles, I could always see her running up ahead, about 20 or so yards in front of me. Sometimes she ran with other girls, sometimes with coaches, sometimes with another mom and sometimes alone. I struggled to keep my pace up to stay within reach of her.

At the beginning of the third mile though, I quickly came upon her. She was walking…well, maybe even standing and picking at a bush. She said she was tired and didn’t think she could finish. I knew she had it in her, and that she just needed encouragement to continue. I pointed up ahead to a shady portion of the route. “Let’s stay together, and we’ll jog until we get in the shade,” I said. “It will be cooler there.” She agreed and so off we went. When we got to the shady section, it seemed everyone had the same idea and it was crowded. “Let’s keep running,” I said. “It makes me feel fast when I pass a lot of walkers.” So we did. When we pulled out of the shade, I showed her that around the next corner, there would be a water stop. “Let’s run to the water station so we can refresh there,” I said, and she agreed. I tried to talk and joke with her during that long stretch to distract her, and I think she was both amused and annoyed by it, but she kept going. When we arrived at the water stop, I grabbed a cup and dumped it on her head and she drank. She giggled at my playfulness. I turned her around and pointed in the distance. “See those colorful flags up there? That’s the finish line,” I said. She looked at me and smiled. “Let’s go,” she said.

A photographer captured the joy and triumph on her face as she crossed the finish line. I instantly loved that photo, but it wasn’t until a few weeks went by that I understood why.


That race was a representation for me of what it is like to raise a daughter. In the infant, toddler and preschool years, she was always by my side, just like the beginning of the race. Then, she pulled away from me, running in the company of others and striking out on her own. This is what it is like during the school and tween years. Sometimes, though, she hits a rough patch and she still needs me, like she did at the beginning of the third mile. I was there to encourage her, help her set goals and get through the tough part. And when she was victorious, I stepped back and watched her shine, silently reveling in her triumph.

I am so grateful to Girls on the Run for creating the opportunity to share this moment with my daughter and to help me continue to learn and grow as a parent.

My girl crossing the finish line at 27:44 (and her proud mom behind her!)