When Peyton Saltmarsh stood at the starting line of the Smuttynose Half Marathon last weekend, he had two things on his mind: wolves and 8-minute miles. Peyton has raised $2,900 for wolf conservation over the last five months. His passion for wolves and wildlife inspired him to train for the 13.1-mile race along the New Hampshire seacoast.
Like any parent, I was concerned that he might have underestimated the training and determination it takes for something like this. I was worried he might get too tired, be too busy with soccer and cross-country, or just be too young for this distance. But, over the hot summer months he progressed from a 4-mile long run to a 10-mile long run, and I began to feel a lot better about things.
I grabbed the shoulder straps of his middle school uniform to steady him as he bounced around on one foot trying to take his sweatpants off over his running shoes. A raw wind blew in from the Atlantic and made the already cool morning feel uncomfortably cold. Peyton gave me a quick hug and fist bump before disappearing into the starting corral with thousands of other runners.
The Star Spangled Banner played over the loudspeakers prompting tears and goosebumps as always, and then they were off. I jumped on my bike, balancing his sweatshirt and sweatpants on my handlebars, and pedaled to see him pass by at mile one. I found my wife there, and his clothes disappeared into one of those large bags that moms always carry. We both waved our arms and cheered wildly as he passed by surrounded by tall people.
Next, I pedaled to mile 3. Then I met him at miles 5 and 8. You might think it a bit excessive, but he enjoys my company. I carried along a secret formula for half marathon success: flat Mountain Dew with water. For a boy who doesn't drink soda, it's both a treat and a kick in the pants.
Each time I saw him, we briefly talked about his running form, taking it nice and easy, and how awesome and powerful he looked. Some of the other runners looked like they wanted encouragement too, but that's up to their parents. His goal was to run 8:30 miles, and he was ahead of pace every time I talked to him.
By the time he reached mile 10, we both realized he had a solid chance at beating the current New Hampshire state record for 11-year-olds. In fact, he was several minutes ahead of pace. After passing by his grandparents, he put the pedal down and dropped the pace even more over the last 5 kilometers.
Ironically, I missed him at the finish line because I ran into a massive crowd that discouraged any ideas I might have had about riding my bike on the sidewalk. From what I hear, it was pretty awesome as the crowd responded to seeing the youngest runner cross the line in 1:46:09. Unbeknownst to almost everyone in attendance, he had just demolished the existing half marathon single age record by almost ten minutes!
He received his finisher's medal from his older sister who was volunteering at the finish line with her high school cross-country teammates. By the time I met up with him, he was being smothered with hugs and kisses from his mother and looking for a place to sit down. We found a bench in the sunlight and listened to an '80s cover band playing Gloria in the beer garden.
Later that day, after having a decent lunch, he took a nice long nap. I hope he dreamt of finish lines and wolves running free. Arrroooooo...
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