We were at the first stop on the Tour de Playgrounds, when Max, chafing at this childish format, asked if he could run around the golf course instead. He was not sure where the golf course was, nor how to get there from here, nor how far that would be. But he is in 7th grade, thus, an elder statesman.
This was to be a long run day for the middle school harriers, 20 game people with a talent for not overthinking. Mostly 6th-graders, a few in 7th. While four or five of the group, including Max, claimed experience with distances up to 7 miles, for the majority, anything over a mile-and-a-half was uncharted territory. I’d mapped out a 4-mile route defined by four playgrounds that served as destinations, rest stops, and distractions. Certainly, it lacked challenge and was an affront to the maturity of some, so I jumped at Max’s request.
I opened up what I estimated to be a 5-mile golf course option to all comers. As everyone was busy considering their immediate future, my description of the route went unheard, but the commandment to stay together must have resonated. Seven takers split off in the direction of the golf course, while the rest of us jogged to the next playground.
In the space of 75 minutes, the middle schoolers ran farther than they ever had before, and at the same time, discovered some of the great overarching truths of running, and life. It was a busy 75 minutes. Here’s some of what we learned. It might be a good refresher if your middle school years are tiny in the rear view mirror.
1. Independence and agency over one’s life is a key to happiness.
This cuts across all ages, but it’s at the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for 11 and 12-year-olds who have spent nearly every living moment under adult supervision. And running can deliver that precious freedom. Whenever possible, I let my people decide how many intervals, how far, or where they run.